Baseball before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game

Baseball before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game

Baseball before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game

Baseball before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game


It may be America's game, but no one seems to know how or when baseball really started. Theories abound, myths proliferate, but reliable information has been in short supply- until now, when Baseball before We Knew It brings fresh new evidence of baseball's origins into play. David Block looks into the early history of the game and of the 150-year-old debate about its beginnings. He tackles one stubborn misconception after another, debunking the enduring belief that baseball descended from the English game of rounders and revealing a surprising new explanation for the most notorious myth of all- the Abner Doubleday- Cooperstown story. Block's book takes readers on an exhilarating journey through the centuries in search of clues to the evolution of our modern National Pastime. Among his startling discoveries is a set of long-forgotten baseball rules from the 1700s. Block evaluates the originality and historical significance of the Knickerbocker rules of 1845, revisits European studies on the ancestry of baseball which indicate that the game dates back hundreds, if not thousands of years, and assembles a detailed history of games and pastimes from the Middle Ages onward that contributed to baseball's development. In its thoroughness and reach, and its extensive descriptive bibliography of early baseball sources, this book is a unique and invaluable resource- a comprehensive, reliable, and readable account of baseball before it was America's game.


This whole subject needs elucidation,
and a careful study of the rural sports of the
mother country would undoubtedly
throw much light upon the history
of base ball


“The Ancient History of Baseball,”

The Ballplayers' Chronicle, July 18, 1867

The front page of the Sunday New York Times is a forum reserved for the most important news of our nation and culture. So it seems fitting that the edition of July 8, 2001, carried a story on the discovery of evidence showing that young men were playing an organized brand of baseball in Manhattan as early as 1823. This, of course, was twentythree years before the New York Knickerbockers played the first match under a written set of rules at Hoboken, New Jersey, long considered a watershed moment for the organization of formal baseball teams. It was also sixteen years before the mythic date of 1839, when the game's folklore posits its invention at Cooperstown, New York, by Abner Doubleday. The Times reported that New York University librarian George Thompson Jr. had unearthed two newspaper references to baseball games published on April 25, 1823. The alert Thompson, not a scholar of the sport's origins, had noticed the references while pursuing other quarry.

The historiography of baseball's beginnings is dotted with similarly dramatic finds, such as the 1991 discovery of a notice in an 1825 Delhi, New York, newspaper, in which nine men of the town of Hamden sought another group with whom to play “Bass-Ball” for a wager of one dollar per game. And now the latest discovery is David Block's startling revelation of the existence of a German book, published in 1796, that contains seven pages of rules for “das englische Base-ball.”

These references cast the Knickerbocker Club's accomplishments . . .

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