True Blue: The Story Behind the Auburn Doubledays

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Minor league baseball teams have been drawing inspiration from popular myths for team names for decades—from knights and dragons to alien creatures to the elusive Chihuahuas of El Paso. In upstate New York, nestled among the Finger Lakes just south of the Canadian border, the tiny town of Auburn, New York, plays host to another team named for a mythological creature—the short-season single-A Auburn Doubledays.

Abner_DoubledayTo be fair, Abner Doubleday was a real person. He was a significant figure in American history in a number of ways. He was a Union general in the American Civil War, the patent holder on cable cars in San Francisco, and the president of a thing called the Theosophical Society, which describes itself as “an unsecterian body of seekers after Truth, who endeavour to promote Brotherhood and strive to serve humanity.”

But as the inventor of baseball, Abner Doubleday is very much a mythological creature. In 1907, 14 years after Doubleday’s death, baseball’s Mills Commission, named for National League president Abraham Mills, announced that it had determined the origin of the sport. Rather than evolving from a series of European games like cricket, round ball, and stool ball dating as far back as the 11th century, the commission gleaned that baseball was basically invented out of thin air by a guy in New York.

According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, “The committee’s final report, on Dec. 30, 1907, stated, in part, that ‘the first scheme for playing baseball, according to the best evidence obtainable to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, N.Y. in 1839.'”

If the commission had been able to ask Doubleday himself about it, the report would have ended up looking quite different. According to basically any baseball historian, Doubleday never tried to take credit for inventing the sport, and never even really talked about it that much. The Mills Commission relied heavily on testimony from Doubleday’s childhood classmate, Abner Graves, who spent the final years of his life in an insane asylum after murdering his wife.

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Despite the apocryphal nature of baseball’s origin story, Abner Doubleday remains tied to baseball lore. The cow pasture owned by Elihu Phinney, where Doubleday is purported to have invented the game, is home to Doubleday Field at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Desite its tiny size, the town of Auburn claims several historical figures as its own, including Harriet Tubman, William Seward, and one Abner Doubleday, who spent his childhood there.

“Because the city has adopted that ‘History’s Hometown’ theme, the Abner Doubleday connection to the baseball is something that the residents of this area really take pride in,” said Mike Voutsinas, General Manager of the Auburn Doubledays. “They still take pride in Abner Doubleday’s role, whatever that role was.”

Since 1958, the team has gone by nine different names, including the Red Stars, Sunsets, and Americans, as well as many years in which they adopted the name of their various Major League parent clubs (Yankees, Mets, Phillies, Twins, and Astros).

In 1996, a year after moving into a new ballpark, the team adopted the name Doubledays, which has become by far its longest-lived nickname. The design of the logo has remained unchanged since then, but the colors have changed.

auburn_doubledays_thumb“Originally, the colors were kind of like an aqua or a teal and yellow and the uniforms had dark pinstripes. That was while the team was affiliated with the Houston Astros,” Voutsinas said. “Then the team became affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2001 and the colors changed to more of the Blue Jays blue, the lighter blue with some red. Then in the 2011 season, the team changed affiliations to being a Washington Nationals affiliate, and the people who ran the team kind of moved more toward a navy blue and a scarlet red.”

That affiliation with the Nationals has created an all-American branding connection between a team named for the origin of the national pastime and its parent club in the nation’s capital.

“Switching to Washington, the whole patriotic thing—I mentioned that Auburn loves its history—it really does tie in nicely,” Voutsinas said.

That said, regardless of future affiliation changes, the current look is here to stay.

“Since Abner Doubleday is a historic, American, patriotic kind of thing,” Voutsinas said, “we just felt that the navy blue and scarlet red that we’re currently using really fit the theme and identity of our team regardless of our Major League affiliate.”

While the primary logo has remained unchanged except for color since the 1990s, the team did introduce an alternate mark in 2007. A letter A with a Civil War cap and a bushy mustache has served as the logo for alternate and home cap, and this coming season will be the team’s road cap.

“That A with a mustache is probably our most popular logo in terms of fans wearing it, people buying different items from the souvenir store,” Voutsinas said. “For whatever reason, that’s hot right now.”

It’s a widely accepted fact that Abner Doubleday was a significant person in American history, but he did not invent baseball. Even so, he’s an important part of the mythology of the sport, and Auburn’s claim to his childhood home is the perfect connection for a unique team name.