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Lot # 466 (of 1411)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

1909 Al Spalding Signed Letter Regarding The Origins of Baseball

Starting Bid - $2,500.00, Sold For - $4,930.00

This extraordinary letter, written by Albert Spalding in 1909 to one of Alexander Cartwright's descendants, reveals the incredible lengths to which he was willing to go in order to both perpetuate the Abner Doubleday creation myth and deny Alexander Cartwright his rightful title as one of the founding fathers of our National Pastime. In order to fully appreciate the historical significance of this letter, a brief prologue is in order. Spalding was an inveterate patriot and he bristled whenever he heard historians declare that baseball evolved from the English game of rounders or some other foreign game. He passionately believed that our National Pastime was American in origin and that its roots could be traced back to an American inventor. The fact that all of the available evidence supported the opinion of the historians mattered little to him. In an effort to prove his belief correct he sponsored a fact-finding committee, named the Mills Commission (after A. G. Mills, the former National League President and head of the commission), to finally settle the question once and for all of "who invented baseball?" Two years later, in 1907, the Commission finally arrived at an answer to that question: Abner Doubleday. Ignoring all contrary evidence at the time (most likely on the orders of Spalding), the commission based its surprising conclusion entirely on the oral testimony of a "reputable" 71-year-old gentleman by the name of Abner Graves, who claimed that, as young boy in 1839, he witnessed Abner Doubleday invent the game of baseball in Cooperstown, NY. The knowledge that Graves was only five years old in 1839, and that military records confirm Doubleday spent that entire summer stationed at West Point mattered not; Graves had spoken. For Spalding it was perfect; he had the inventor he was searching for, he was American, he was a Civil War hero, and, best of all, he was dead, so he could never refute the claim. Ironically, Doubleday's obituary in 1893 described him as a man "who did not care for outdoor sports" and his personal diaries (consisting of many volumes) never once mention the sport of baseball. When the Commission's final report was published in 1908 and historians began to question its conclusion, an interesting thing happened: all of the evidence accumulated over the past two years mysteriously disappeared. So did Abner Graves, in a manner of speaking. He was committed to an insane asylum shortly after the announcement of the Commission's findings. While many scholars at the time were upset with the findings of the Commission, their displeasure was nothing compared to that of the Cartwright family. When the news finally reached Hawaii (Alexander Cartwright emigrated there in the 1850s), Cartwright's descendants were outraged that he was not even mentioned in the report. Many scholars cite Alexander Cartwright, a member of the New York Knickerbockers in 1845, as one of the chief architects of a new set of rules for the local ball-and-bat games being played in the area. (There is additional controversy even regarding the extent of Cartwright's contributions to the game, but that story is for a different description!) Those rules included many of the elements by which baseball is now defined. For that reason Cartwright has long been hailed as one of the true founders of the the game. In an effort to understand the reasoning behind the Doubleday declaration, and to make their case for Alexander Cartwright as the rightful inventor of the game, the family wrote to Spalding in 1909. Offered here is Spalding's typewritten response to the family in which he deftly refutes the claims of the family. He does so by first cleverly acknowledging Cartwright's prominent status within the Knickerbockers Club. Spalding begins by saying: That Mr. Cartwright was one of the founders of that first organized base ball club, there can be no doubt. Not only does his name appear frequently in records of the social side of the organization, but at the very beginning of the the club's history Mr. Cartwright was in evidence at every practice game. Note how Spalding simply refers to Cartwright as "one of the founders of the first organized base ball club," but goes no further in crediting him with having developed the rules by which their games were governed. He further seeks to strengthen his argument by citing the Knickerbockers' team scorebook. He states I have on my desk as I write this letter the old Knickerbocker Score Book of Games played in 1845, and the name of Cartwright, with more than the average runs to its credit appears at each succeeding game. That he was a very active spirit in guiding the counsels of the great original club, is also most apparent. Beyond this statement of fact, I find nothing in these records that would interest your friend. Again Spalding reiterates that Cartwright was simply an important member of the club and the records only indicate that he was present at many of the games, nothing more. He hammers that point home with his final statement: Further research would simply multiply the number of practice games in which he participated and number of meetings at which his voice was heard in earnest espousal of the game's best interests. Hoping this will be quite satisfactory, and with the assurance of my appreciation of the honor to him of having been identified with that grand old organization, believe me. Spalding has flawlessly signed the letter "A. G. Spalding" in black ink ("10") along the base. Spalding has also added a brief handwritten request in the bottom left corner that reads "Can you not secure for me a photo and some historical data, personal, of Mr. Cartwright." The letter, which is dated "Point Loma, Cal., Mar. 1, 1909" and is written upon Spalding Sporting Goods Company stationery, was obtained in the 1980s directly from the Cartwright family. In many ways this is perhaps the finest Spalding letter in existence. The findings of the Mills Commission not only gave birth to the Abner Doubleday myth (historians today are unanimous in their opinion that Doubleday had absolutely nothing to do with baseball) but also resulted in Cooperstown having been chosen as the site of the Baseball Hall of Fame. This remarkable letter demonstrates Spalding's commitment to the end to gloss over any and all conflicting evidence regarding the results of his investigative committee. It also reflects the stature of Spalding within the baseball community. At the time this letter was written he was perhaps the most powerful and well-respected figure in the game. Despite the public criticisms of the report (especially by Henry Chadwick), it was solely by virtue of Spalding's influence and determination that the historical hoax succeeded. The letter (8.25 x 11 inches) displays normal mailing folds and two notebook holes along the top and left borders, respectively. The letter is in Excellent condition. LOAs from James Spence/JSA and Steve Grad, Mike Gutierrez & Zach Rullo/PSA DNA. Reserve $2,500. Estimate $5,000/$7,500. SOLD FOR $4,930.00

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