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Tunes for 'Toons: Music and the Hollywood Cartoon
University of California Press, 2005
243 pp., $85.00
In the early years of my boyhood, we listened to Bill Stern's Sports on the radio. Although I did not hear Stern tell his most amazing story, my father often repeated it to me, and I took it to be God's truth. When Abraham Lincoln was shot in Ford's Theater in April of 1865, the mortally wounded president was taken across the street to the house in which he would soon pass away. In attendance at his bedside was General Abner Doubleday, a hero of the battle of Gettysburg. At the end of his agony, Lincoln beckoned to Doubleday, and whispered his last words into the general's ear: "Don't let baseball die." I knew that Doubleday had founded baseball in Cooperstown, New York in 1839. Stern's story thus linked the two most important things about American life, the savior of the Republic and the national pastime.
By the time I was a knowledgeable baseball fan, the myth about Doubleday and the beginning of baseball at Cooperstown was on its last legs. The legend had justified the location of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but everyone with even a passing knowledge of and interest in the game thought that the story was fanciful, that people had probably played baseball earlier and in other places. Baseball historians soon demonstrated these ideas with greater authority, and part of what David Block does in his curious book is to drive some last nails into the Cooperstown coffin. Baseball Before We Knew It, however, goes further and tells us how and why baseball promoters and publicists developed the tale about Doubleday and Cooperstownthey wanted to secure an American starting point for the game, and not an English one.
More important, for Block, is his challenge to the alternative accounts that have arisen since scholarship debunked the Cooperstown fable. A legion of historians has told us that in the 18th century the English played various ball games. One of these was "rounders," a game so called because the players went "round" some bases. Baseball, these historians ...