Chief curator Daniel Piazza shares intimate knowledge, little-known facts and secrets about the stories told in “Baseball: America’s Home Run,” highlighting some of the spectacular objects on display, including discussions with key lenders to the exhibition on artifacts never-before displayed for pubic view.
The Mesoamerican Ball Game
I'm Dan Piazza, curator of the National Postal Museum exhibition, Baseball: America's Home Run on view until January 2025.
Join me for an inside look at some of the most exciting objects from this blockbuster show that explores America's national pastime through stamps, mail, and memorabilia.
Modern baseball emerged in the northeastern United States during the 1830s and 40s, but did not become widespread until after the Civil War.
As the nation absorbed millions of immigrants and asserted a prominent role in international affairs at the turn of the 20th century, baseball's promoters began describing the game as the national pastime.
To present the game as distinctly American they invented an origin myth that had no basis in real events.
In the process, they overlooked baseball's relationship to the ancient ball games played by Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Aztec, Maya, and Zapotec.
Let's take a closer look.
Albert Goodwill Spalding, a former major league pitcher who built a sporting goods empire and organized baseball's earliest world tours was irritated by claims that his beloved game had foreign origins.
He formed a committee called The Mills Commission whose members birthed the myth of baseball's invention at Cooperstown, New York by Abner Doubleday in 1839.
Spalding's obsession with proving baseball's quote, purely American origin, played out in the pages of his own publications.
He uncritically incorporated the Abner Doubleday myth into his book America's National Game because it supported his predetermined views.
Although biased and flawed, Spalding's book was nonetheless the first serious attempt at writing baseball's history.
But today's game of baseball has at least as much in common with pre-hispanic Latin American ball games as it does with North American folk sports.
Indigenous ball courts flourished in the great city centers of Mesoamerican society and the political and ritual dimensions of their games are reflected in modern baseball as much as any European antecedent.
There's a long tradition among Latinos of commemorating this association through trophies, art, and postage stamps.
The trophy awarded each year to the Mexican Baseball League's Northern Division champion is modeled on the Aro de Palota, stone rings that served as the goal of the ancient ball game.
Modern team names such as Aztecas and Cuauhtémocs further link modern spectacles with the Mesoamerican ball games.
For more on the intersection of postal and baseball history visit the National Postal Museum exhibition, Baseball: America's Home Run online at postalmuseum.si.edu/baseball