For all the information, misinformation, and controversy surrounding the origin of the game of baseball, one piece of trivia is rarely mentioned. Whether Abner Doubleday or Alexander Cartwright should be credited as the father of America’s pastime, it seems to me that the more pressing question–the question that nobody is asking–is, “Where would the game of baseball be without second base?”
What you have to understand is baseball began as a competition, similar to cricket, which involved balls and bats and home plate and base. Initially, there were not four bases, mind you, just one. The player would hit the ball and run back and forth between two points in space–home plate and base. What most people don’t bother wondering about is how home plate and this single base (just called ‘base’ as there wasn’t, at that time, another base which necessitated the distinctions “first” and “second”) multiplied into the modern baseball diamond comprised of home plate, first base, second base and third base.
As you are no doubt realizing, the addition of a second base was no trivial matter. Without adding a second base, there would have never been a reason to add a third base, and without third base, there is no baseball diamond. So, we must ask how second base came to be. More to the point, we should want to know who to credit for the addition of a second base. As fate would have it, it was none other than than “father of American music” himself–Stephen Foster.
Having recently penned such classics as “Oh, Susanna” and “Camptown Races”, Foster was a veritable celebrity. He was the man of the hour in the mid-1800s. And he happened to be a bit of a sports nut. No one knows for certain how it happened, but after some light reflection it should be no surprise to anyone that Foster, who became known for writing songs with special emphasis on the refrain, was the man who suggested adding another base to the playing field. After all, it was the addition of second base that gave baseball what some might call musicality.
Think about it. A game where men simply run back and forth between two designated spots offers no real distinguishing excitement, no real flow. But, as we all know and love, if a player makes it to second base on the diamond of today, he is in “scoring” position. Reaching scoring position, then, is similar to the unique characteristic of Foster’s own music. That being, the emphasis on the refrain. As a verse of Foster’s music concludes, everyone knows the refrain is coming, and still everyone can’t wait for it to happen. Regardless the amount of listeners singing the verses, everyone in earshot contributes their own voice to “Oh, Susanna, oh don’t you cry for me!” Is it not the same when the runner reaches second base? Maybe the inning is dragging on, maybe it seems all hope is lost, maybe you are lost in thought trying to remember when they stop serving beer–it doesn’t matter. The minute the runner makes it to second, he might score a run. And if he does, his crossing home plate triggers another batter and extends the offensive strike; in other words, it acts as a refrain. Is there anyone who would attempt to argue that there is any quantifiable difference between crowds cheering upon their team scoring a run and crowds singing “Oh, Susanna, oh don’t you cry for me. Well I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee”?
I don’t know why I feel its important to bring this to your attention. Not forgetting the little man is just in my nature. Blame my dad. The point is, next time you’re feeling a profound love of the game, toss some of it to Stephen Foster; for who knows where America’s pastime would be if it wasn’t for the “father of American music.”
Happy Birthday Dad. Thanks for the memories.