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Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game Hardcover – March 1, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 340 pages
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press; 1st edition (March 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803213395
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803213395
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,065,924 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Given North American baseball fans' nearly inexhaustible appetite for the arcana of their favourite sport, astonishingly few scholars have ever undertaken the detailed historical and anthropological research to find out where the game actually began. . . . Now, through painstaking bibliographic and archival research, on display in his extensive appendices, Block has established . . . the true forerunner of American baseball. . . . By pushing beyond baseball's reputed origins in an English children's game, David Block has discovered the game's true origins in an even older English game."—Warren Goldstein, Times Literary Supplement
(Warren Goldstein Times Literary Supplement)

"The suggestion that America's Game might have originated somewhere besides America so 'inflamed passions and patriotism,' writes David Block, that the idea still burns us. . . . Block has produced a deliciously researched feast that lays this controversy to rest. . . . Block has assembled such a rich pile of evidence for the game's European origins that one might wonder why there ever was a controversy. . . . Once an American reader gets past the disappointment of discovering baseball's deep European roots, Block's book is a perfect delight. He has unearthed magnificent medieval manuscripts . . . That show that baseball is just the latest in a very long line of stick-and-ball games."—Charles Hirshberg, Sports Illustrated
(Charles Hirshberg Sports Illustrated)

"As if this country doesn't have enough to worry about, it turns out America's national pastime may not even be American. At least according to Baseball before We Knew It, a new book by David Block. Block contends the origins of the game date to the mid-14th century and can be traced to northern Europe and parts of Africa. Hold on there, pal. What about good old Abner Doubleday? 'There's no evidence he even played baseball,' Block says. 'It's simply a case of people passing down stories that have never been substantiated.' Now, there's something we seem to be very good at." —Morty Ain, ESPN: The Magazine
(Morty Ain ESPN: The Magazine)

"Baseball, Block convincingly argues, was not a product of rounders, and its essential form had already been established by the late 18th century. Where, then, did baseball come from? In search of an answer, Block, a retired systems analyst and an antiquarian book collector, has attacked baseball's literary record with methodical zeal. The result is a joyfully discursive romp through the history of ball sports and a compelling new theory of the game's origins."—New York Times Book Review
(New York Times Book Review)

"Baseball before We Knew It is a rare piece of historical research that transforms the historical landscape. It is also elegantly written and lightened with a subtle humor. No one who makes any claim to being a baseball historian or a student of the game can go forward without Block's stunning work."—Sports Literature Association
(Sports Literature Association)

About the Author

David Block is a long-time collector of early baseball books and memorabilia, and is a passionate, lifelong fan of the game and its history.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 22 customer reviews
An absolute MUST READ.
Angus A. Macfarlane
David Block's elegantly written and exhaustively researched look at the roots of the game of baseball is sure to turn more than a few heads.
Judy C. Sloate
Yet, his organization and style of writing are clear and engaging.
Peter Mancuso

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Richard Hershberger on October 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I was initially not going to write a review of this book, as there are already many justly praising it. The one negative review, however, saying that this book has little in it not in Harold Peterson's "The Man Who Invented Baseball" (published over thirty years ago) gave me pause. On one level it is clearly true. I remember as a boy my father telling me about Alexander Cartwright and the New York Knickerbockers, and dismissing the Abner Doubleday story. I don't know that he read Peterson's book, but the timing is right and Peterson did popularize the Cartwright story. This provoked me to dig out my out copy of Peterson and read it for the first time in many years. I can now definitively assure you that David Block is most certainly not just recycling Peterson's book.

They agree that there were earlier versions of ball-and-stick games, which they discuss, and that the version of the game that has come down to us as modern baseball was standardized by the Knickerbocker club.

That may make it look like they have similar theses, but they really do not. Peterson's thesis is right there in his title: someone invented baseball and he knows who it was. Earlier versions were fundamentally different from the Knickerbocker game, and the Knickerbocker game was the product one man's flash of genius. Earlier games are discussed, but they don't really matter, since the Knickerbocker game is taken as being so different. The discussions of earlier games mostly are there to discredit the Doubleday story, which typically has predecessor games being even more primitive than in the Cartwright story

Block's goal is also named in his title: he is seeking baseball's roots. The Knickerbocker game is part of a story that began centuries earlier.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Theo Logos on August 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Baseball is a "what have you done for me lately?" kind of game, which in part may explain how little has been written about the game's earliest origins. Add that to the facts that many baseball fans are satisfied to believe the false myth (discredited almost from the point that it was first put forward) that Abner Doubleday invented baseball out of whole clothe in Cooperstown, New York, and that some fans are only interested in baseball history that can be explained through statistics, and you begin to understand why the game's true origins have been so widely ignored.

David Block steps into this breach with a well researched, fascinating book that examines the history of our National pastime from its earliest origins through its evolution into the modern game. His original intent was simply to compile a bibliography of all the books and sources that touch on this subject, and indeed, nearly half the length of `Baseball Before We Knew It' is taken up with his bibliography and various appendices. He spends several chapters debunking not only the already thoroughly debunked Doubleday myth, but also challenging the more widely accepted theory that baseball evolved from the English game of rounders, and even calling into question how important Alexander Cartwright actually was in formulating the earliest rules of the official American game.

The most fascinating part of Block's book is his delving into the early European origins of Baseball. Much of his research here is not original, but he does have some interesting original interpretations of the scant evidence that can be gleaned from these early references to games that seem to have a family resemblance to baseball.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Peter Mancuso on February 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The scope and depth of Block's research is staggering. Yet, his organization and style of writing are clear and engaging. Both his research and his writing make this a great work of integrity; the integrity to delve so far and wide, the integrity to personally view each source (of which there are hundreds), the integrity to correct the mistakes of previous findings even when it subtracted support for the author's own findings, and most of all, the integrity to resist conjecture.

The book's bibliography of nearly 60 pages is in itself a book, containing hundreds of literary and other references to baseball between the years 1450 and 1861. The author not only provides informative notes on the baseball related content of the individual sources, but often makes engaging comments on the rarity, location or visual aspects of the source such as illustrations, diagrams and other characteristics of particular works.

There is even a chapter which the author, generously and wisely, included that was contributed by his brother Philip. If you think that it is enough to know that the Abner Doubleday-Inventor of Baseball is just a worn out myth, think again. This chapter sheds a whole new light on the whole affair, and gives additional insight into this portion of our National Pastime's "history."

David is more than just kind to those who's shoulders he admittingly stood upon. He not only is quick to acknowledge their pioneering work, but when his own work effectively nullifies the work of those who labored before him, he is quick to offer additional insights into how erroneous conclusions may have been reached and is just as quick to point out that his predecessors did not have the modern technological research tools available to him.
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