Baseball before We Knew It


Baseball before We Knew It

A Search for the Roots of the Game

David Block

352 pages
29 illustrations, 2 maps, index


March 2006


$19.95 Add to Cart

March 2005


$29.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

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.

Author Bio

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.


"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

"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

"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

“Block is so thorough in his research, so meticulous in documenting his sources, and so generous in acknowledging his predecessors that it’s hard to imagine anyone having done more impressive work on this subject--ever.”—David Shiner, Elysian Fields Quarterly

"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

"Block's book obviates the need for any other analysis of baseball's origins and roots. Including the illustrations that go back to the 14th-century manuscripts in the Bodleian Library emphasizing pre-Civil War sources, this one volume contains everythingregarding the history of the origin of the American national pastime. Myths are debunked, fables are demystified, and in the end one is left with a comprehensive and convincing historical record."—Choice

"This is without question the book for anyone at all interested in the history of the world's greatest game or, for that matter, in the manufacture of history."—Boston Globe

“To quote from no less an expert than John Thorn, Block has created a knowledge base for the origins of baseball on which all future research will rely. That’s a big claim, but if you read Baseball Before We Knew It, you’ll know it’s correct.”— John Shiffert,

Baseball before We Knew It is a magnificent piece of work that puts an end to the myths and errors that have clouded our understanding of where and how our national game began and developed. This definitely settled, we are now also clear about the source and cause of the previous notions—altogether a masterpiece of research agreeably presented.”—Jacques Barzun, author of From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life—1500 to the Present

Baseball before We Knew It is an important book, erudite, entertaining and truly groundbreaking. David Block goes beyond debunking the game’s creation myths to creating a knowledge base upon which all future research will rely. This brilliant book takes a place on my shelf alongside Seymour, Voigt, and Henderson.”—John Thorn, editor of Total Baseball


2006 Seymour Medal from SABR
2005 Choice Outstanding Academic Title
2006 North American Society Award for Sport History Book

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