Pops weighs in on the birthplace of baseball

It started with a 215-year-old document that historians claim is the oldest reference to baseball, a 1791 ordinance that prohibited anyone playing the game within 80 yards of the Pittsfield, Massachusetts, meeting house.

Pittsfield is my birthplace and the county seat of my home town, Lanesborough, where my parents still live.

Like many small towns across the country, Pittsfield is eager to put itself on the map and has audaciously claimed itself the birthplace of baseball, elbowing Cooperstown from the hallowed spot.

The Pittsfield group hopes their find puts to rest once and for all the debate about the game's origins. "Pittsfield is baeball's Garden of Eden," Mayor James Ruberto said.


Pittsfield might be a sensible home for the sport. Some historians have documented "the Massachusetts game" as a precursor to modern baseball, where runners were thrown out if they were hit by a ball.

[Jim] Bouton, whose decade-long career as a pitcher included stints with the New York Yankees and Houston Astros, lives in nearby Egremont and is helping to restore Pittsfield's Wahconah Park, the former home of several minor league teams. He hopes the discovery helps bring attention to the project.

"We thought this was a lucky stroke," said Bouton, whose 1970 book "Ball Four" offered a scandalous look behind the scenes of professional baseball. "I'm sure Pittsfield will live off this for a while."

And this article from the Red Sox’ website has a classic quote by Bouton:

"Cooperstown used to brag about inventing baseball in 1839. Heck, by 1791, baseball was already a nuisance in Pittsfield."

Naturally, the city and county are doing everything to promote the idea that baseball was born in Pittsfield. Enter the “Art of the Game” project:

[Pittsfield’s] rich [baseball] heritage will be celebrated the next couple of years by Art of the Game, an art and baseball project produced by a unique collaboration of public organizations and private groups, including The Berkshire Eagle. Front and center are 100 large and imaginatively decorated plastic baseball gloves, 80 of which are in Pittsfield, with 42 of those on North Street. The gloves, as different from one another as snowflakes, are in the tradition of the colorful sheep from the city's popular Sheeptacular exhibit.The Art of the Game also features 23 baseball-related works by local artists and a storefront exhibit of baseball art, "Windows on Baseball," will be exhibited later this summer. The project details can be found on the Art of the Game Web site at http://www.artgamepittsfield.org/home.htm.

My old man, a natural-born curmudgeon, finds the whole promotional project faintly ludicrous. So just yesterday he wrote me about a letter he wanted to write to the county paper, the Berkshire Eagle, with an idea on how the city could further its claim as the incubator of ideas for our nation’s pastime. The letter would combine my dad’s belief in the inherent laziness of baseball players and his disdain for Pittsfield’s “Art of the Game” project:

I think we should go further and make the next development in the future of baseball and change the rules to operate like the NFL, i.e. offense and defensive teams. If the footballers can be so out of shape that they need to go to the sidelines to sniff oxygen after a hard 20 yard run, baseball players should have their rest as well. I am proposing a defensive (fielding) team of 9 players, and another nine offensive (batters) players to do the hitting. When this concept takes off, we (Pittsfield) can take credit for that as well. After all it is only taking the DH role a little further. What do you think??

Do you think the readers would take me seriously?

Pops: (a) I think it’s a terrible idea. (b) Yes, people would take you seriously. It might be worth submitting, though, just to read the responses from subsequent letter writers.

Ultimately, I admire my old man’s pluck and ironic approach to sports. He enjoys watching the games more to criticize the players’ energy and performance than for the outcome. To him sports isn’t about the competition, but the execution of the players’ soldierly roles. He mocks the games as he watches. After all, this is a man who drafted his fantasy World Cup squad (yes, we’re pathetic) based on alphabetical order. His roster includes the three Als, the Saudis Mohammed Al Anbar, Mohammed Al Deaya, and Hamad Al Montashari. He may be last in our league, but it’s fun checking his results every morning.

Sure he’s playing the game, but with a little contempt for it as well.

Let's hope that he submits the letter. If so, we'll be sure to follow its progress here on 4&20…

  1. I appreciate your occassional sport references, particularly baseball. Love your Dad’s spunk! How about a post from him on time to time, an editorial from Pittsfield. Great trivia, thanks Touchstone (and your Father)

  2. Lime D. Zeze

    I actually like Blackbear’s offense/defense idea. Rather, I like that it would certainly take the piss out of people who choose to take it seriously. He’s a funny guy.
    I was wondering why his fantasy WC team was doing so poorly. I didn’t actually bother looking at his roster.

  3. Punky

    Just goes to show you… and I thought all this time he loved the game. He’s always watching it when I call. Hmmm, now it makes me wonder about all that golf he watches…..

    PS Those “gloves” make good little chairs. We’ve got one right out in front of work. You can sit and waive at passing traffic.

    PS – I’m the weird one! smooch

  4. Punky

    PS – he did send in the letter. It was in todays Editorial section. You go pops!

  1. 1 4&20 blackbirds » Blog Archive » Paper prints Pops’ baseball letter

    […] Pops weighs in on the birthplace of baseball […]

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