Academic journal article Base Ball

March, Conquest, and Play Ball: The Game in the Mexican-American War, 1846-1848

Academic journal article Base Ball

March, Conquest, and Play Ball: The Game in the Mexican-American War, 1846-1848

Article excerpt

It could have been the perfect story, worthy of being told again and again. That kind of short tale that explains it all-that of Abner Doubleday in Mexico.

The alleged inventor of baseball passed 17 months fighting a war in his busier hours, while delineating baseball diamonds in his leisure time among spines of saguaros in the deserts of northern Mexico. At least, that is what the perfect myth would tell.

In 1846 a war started between the United States and Mexico, leading American troops to invade their neighbor country. As part of the 1st US Artillery, Abner Doubleday saw combat for the first time in his military career, attacking the west side of Monterrey and then spending the rest of the war stationed in Saltillo. Just seven years had passed since Doubleday had allegedly invented baseball in Cooperstown. According to the Doubleday legend, he was, at this point, in Saltillo surrounded by native children teaching them how to play the game-his game.1

A daguerreotype that survived the war features a young Abner Doubleday striking a perfect pose. Elegant, thin, and with his emblematic curly hair barely contained under his cap, Doubleday is captured in the company of several native Saltillans. This document would seem to corroborate the Doubleday-in-Mexico story, were it not for the inconvenient fact that Abner Doubleday did not invent baseball. He died unaware that, for many decades, he would be considered the father of the game despite the voluminous evidence proving the existence of baseball since 1744, evidence that defies any creationist myth.

As soon as historical records emerged about the presence of Abner Doubleday in the war, mythical stories of baseball pioneering began to be fabricated. For example, in Port Isabel, Texas, there is a modern unsubstantiated legend that Doubleday "set out to organize an inter squad baseball game that was played outside the walls of Fort Polk."2 In Saltillo, local historians assume that in 1847, after the Battle of Buena Vista, Doubleday remained in town until the end of the war among the Saltillan natives "explaining the rules and basics of the game, creating a pair of nines and playing several friendly games."3 Another apocryphal tale was published in 1974 in a Mexican newspaper where José Luis Juárez, a former player, claimed to have evidence that the American soldiers played baseball in Churubusco, Mexico, with Abner Doubleday participating in the game. But Doubleday never was in Churubusco.4

Doubleday had, in fact, fought in Mexico during that war; that much is beyond doubt. But he did not go into every battlefield carving baseball diamonds. Actually, Doubleday wrote a vivid account of his experience in the Mexican-American War, recalling in great detail his experiences in Point Isabel and Saltillo without any comment about baseball or ballplaying.5

Regardless of the Doubleday myth, contemporary accounts and oral tradition indicate that ball games such as baseball and town ball were played during the Mexican- American War by encamped soldiers.

In the fall of 1845, while diplomatic tensions between both countries made the war imminent, in New York, the Knickerbockers Base Ball Club drafted a set of 20 rules to play baseball, laying the groundwork for organized baseball. In those days, the several variations of baseball were popular pastimes in the American Northeast and Midwest, regions in which large numbers of soldiers were recruited to go to the war-some of them taking the game with them.

There are only three contemporary sources documenting the practice of ball games by soldiers in the camps during the war, but they offer clear evidence of an increasingly popular pastime. Additionally, there are four accounts published many years after the event that have not been confirmed with contemporary support, but still retain some degree of credibility.

It is in 1846, as soon as the American troops initiated their advance and occupation of northern Mexico, that first-hand accounts of ballplaying by soldiers in their camps emerge. …

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