Some say the truth is stranger than fiction. But getting to the truth isnít
always easy. Take, for instance, the strange history - or myth - that
Abner Doubleday, an Army officer that served time at Port Isabelís
Fort Polk, invented the game of baseball. Could the game
have been born in Port Isabel? Maybe...
By LOGAN HAWKES
Itís strange, but common, that history should become muddled down through the years. For instance, did the Roman emperor Nero really play the lyre as he watched Rome burn? Did George Washington actually chop down a cherry tree? Did Davy Crockett really wrestle with a bear?
Truth, they say, is stranger than fiction. But determining the truth is often -- well -
problematic. Take for example the story that Abner Doubleday invented the game of American baseball. Fact or fiction?
Doubleday was a celebrated U.S. Army career officer. As a young West Point graduate, he was stationed at Port Isabelís Fort Polk and was involved in the Mexican-American War. He later was hailed as a key military figure in the Civil Warís famous Battle of Gettysburg. But perhaps the greatest accomplishment accredited to this historical figure is his role as the father of baseball, a Ďfactí that Professional Baseballís Hall of Fame proudly supports.
It is said that Doubleday invented the game, supposedly in Elihu Phinney's cow pasture in Cooperstown, New York, about six years before being stationed in Port Isabel as a young Army officer. Could the game of baseball have played out on an empty pasture of what is now downtown Port Isabel?
Perhaps so, if you believe a special report commissioned by baseball historians in 1907. The Mills Commission, chaired by Abraham G. Mills, the fourth president of the National League, was appointed in 1905 to determine the origin of baseball. The "Mills Commission," also appointed by Albert Goodwill Spalding, consisted of the following members; Chairman Abraham G. Mills (National League President from 1882 to 1884); Morgan G. Bulkeley (the National League's first president in 1876); Arthur P. Gorman (a former player and ex-president of the Washington Base Ball Club); Nicholas E. Young, (the first secretary of the National League and its fifth president, 1884 to 1902); and others.
The committee's final report stated that "the first scheme for playing baseball, according to the best evidence obtainable to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, New York, in 1839." It concluded by saying, "in the years to come, in the view of the hundreds of thousands of people who are devoted to baseball, and the millions who will be, Abner Doubleday's fame will rest evenly, if not quite as much, upon the fact that he was its inventor as well as an accomplished military leader."
Long since that report was issued near the beginning of last century, there has been some controversy about the accuracy of all the facts. Baseball historian George B. Kirsch has described the results of the Mills commission as a "myth." He wrote, "Robert Henderson, Harold Seymour, and other scholars have since debunked the Doubleday-Cooperstown myth, which nonetheless remains powerful in the American imagination because of the efforts of Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown."
So who do you believe?
The Plot Thickens
Perhaps another bit of unsubstantiated truth is just as interesting and controversial. It
involves a local story about a group of U.S. soldiers, while stationed at Fort Polk, who
discovered the powerful influence of a ďregional herbĒ - namely the aguave plant of northern Mexico, which was mashed and fermented to distill a popular drink known as mescal, or tequila. Some say it was not the aguave plant, but a more intense natural hallucinogen found in abundance in the mountains of Northern Mexico, another cactus derivative, peyote - or maguey. Itís not hard to imagine a group of off duty troops pausing to drink a little tequila before engaging in sport. And itís not a far stretch to imagine, like modern day baseball players who chew a wad of tobacco or gum while engaging in the game, those players of old might have chewed on flavorful peyote buttons.
Drug Use and Baseball?
With all the hype and controversy over the use of steroids in the modern game of baseball itís interesting to consider - if there is any truth to these unconfirmed stories, that the sport of baseball may have been riddled with accusations of drug use all the way back to the days of the sportís origin.
Back then it may not have mattered. Port Isabel was on the very edge of the frontier in those days, and life and times were tough with little recreation or relaxation opportunities. While a cold beer and a wad of tobacco may be common practice among amateur baseball players in the modern world, perhaps a shot of tequila and a peyote button was a common diversion from the rigors of military duty on the frontier back in the days of Doubleday and friends.
Or perhaps there is no truth at all to the stories.
But whether Abner Doubleday invented the game of baseball or not, it is certain that this
colorful historical figure did live an interesting and event-filled life in early America. After his retirement as a career military officer, Doubleday moved back to the New York-New
Jersey area where he became a prominent member of the Theosophical Society. When two of the founders of that society, Helena Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott, moved to India in 1878, he was constituted as the President of the American body. The Societyís initial objective was the investigation, study and explanation of mediumistic phenomena. In later years, the society divided into sub-sects, including a secret society that counted Adolf Hitler among its students.