Backtracking: The Early Years: Oneontan christened Doubleday Field with first home run in 1939

Mark SimonsonDoubleday Field is shown in 2008. The first game played in the newly re-constructed ballpark took place on May 6, 1939, between two military training academies from Manlius and Albany. A few local men played for Manlius.

For local trivia buffs, here’s one you can store away for when you’re asked this question in a possible contest.

Who was the first baseball player, a local man, to hit the very first home run out of the newly re-constructed Doubleday Field in 1939? Hint: it was not a Major League player.

The feat was accomplished during opening festivities for the celebration of a baseball milestone in Cooperstown, as reported in The Oneonta Star of May 6.

“Cooperstown’s opening gun in the hundredth anniversary salute to baseball will be fired this afternoon when the first of a series of commemorative games is played. On the historic field, where a young cadet named Abner Doubleday first introduced baseball in 1839, cadets from Manlius academy and Albany academy will open the centennial program.”

The claim about Abner Doubleday has always been questioned by other cities near and far, but Cooperstown aggressively sought to become a baseball destination and did so successfully in the early 20th century.

The day was anything but a gathering at the ballpark for a routine game.

“The day’s events,” according to The Star, “are scheduled to begin at 2 DS with a parade of the cadet corps and bands from the participating schools. Parade will form at the Clark gymnasium, which is found next door to the National Baseball museum and Hall of Fame, and will move along Main street to the Doubleday field entrance.

“Entering the field, the youthful military men will be joined by officials and members of the school ball teams in a march to the flag pole in center field. While the school bands play the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ Old Glory will be raised for the first time over the re-constructed ‘dream’ diamond.

“Doubleday field, which with the Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame, makes Cooperstown a shrine for baseball fans, has been reconstructed by the WPA and the village of Cooperstown at an estimated cost of $42,402. A brick and steel grandstand will seat 800. Bleachers will seat about 9,200 more. The playing field itself has been brought up to the big league standard under plans approved by Henry Fabian, grounds keeper at New York Polo ground.

Although these teams were from Albany and Manlius, there was plenty of local interest.

“For Oneontans and others who have followed scholastic baseball in the Southern Tier, the opening event will have particular significance, in that Charles ‘Jigger’ Swart, an Oneonta boy, and former Oneonta High school star, is scheduled for the second base berth with the Manlius team.”

Other local notables for Manlius included “Toots” Mirabito of Norwich, Lew Hubbard of Bainbridge and “Bunky” Morris of Morris.

Cooperstown Mayor Rowan D. Spraker took the mound and threw the first ball, with Albany Mayor John Boyd Thacher as the batter and WPA administrator Lester W. Herzog as catcher, with a crowd of about 4,000 watching. This followed the official turning over of the WPA project to the village by Mr. Herzog.

Manlius won the game handily, 9-2. The one and only home run of the day was hit by Oneonta native Charles Swart, the first at the re-constructed ballpark.

Festivities continued later that month, with “Christy Mathewson Day,” in honor of one of the most beloved figures in baseball of the era. Nearly 3,000 attended a ceremony on May 28 when a bronze bust of the pitcher was unveiled at the new Hall of Fame.

Then on May 30, close to 6,000 paid tribute to Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday, with an unveiling of an oil portrait.

It was an exciting start of a series of tributes throughout the summer to the centennial of one of America’s favorite pastimes.

One Tuesday: A month of firsts in our region in May 1959. 

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area before 1950. His Tuesday columns address local history 1950 and later.  If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/opinion/columns/.

Ask Mark... 

Have you ever had a question about a history-making event or a prominent person in our area and didn't know where to find the answer? Well, we've got an expert who might be able to help you. Historian Mark Simonson has spent many years chronicling major local happenings, and he's ready and willing to dive into The Daily Star archives for answers, which will appear in this newspaper and online at www.thedailystar.com.

Write to him at "Ask Mark," The Daily Star, 102 Chestnut St., Oneonta, NY 13820 or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com