Block, David 1944–
Block, David 1944–
PERSONAL: Born 1944. Hobbies and other interests: Collecting early baseball books and memorabilia.
AWARDS, HONORS: Seymour Medal, Society for American Baseball Research, 2006, for 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, foreword by Tim Wiles, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: David Block's book Baseball before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game traces the origins of America's greatest pastime back hundreds of years to the ball fields of medieval Europe. Among baseball's predecessors were the early English games of cat, stoolball, trap-ball, and tut-ball. Block's research seems to have put to rest once and for all the century-and-a-half-long debate over whether or not the sport is indigenous to the United States. He also disproves the assertion of many baseball history books that the game had its roots in an English children's game called rounders.
Block makes his case by producing evidence that a game called baseball was played widely in eighteenth-century England, well before the game of rounders first came upon the scene. Among Block's evidence is a detailed description of English baseball—discovered in an eighteenth-century German book—that proves it to be the immediate ancestor modern baseball.
Block also provides new insight into the old legend of Abner Doubleday having invented the game at Coo-perstown, New York, in 1839. The Doubleday story came about as the result of an early-twentieth-century patriotic effort to prove that baseball was American born. It has long been thought that sporting goods mogul A.G. Spalding, the chief proponent of Doubleday as baseball's inventor, did so because Doubleday had been a hero of the Civil War. Block, however, shows that Spalding had a hidden ulterior motive, as Spalding and Doubleday had both been members of the same secretive religious organization.
Unlike so many other baseball historians, Block relishes the evidence of the many European games that are obvious precursors of the sport. Charles Hirshberg, writing in Sports Illustrated, appreciated the history lesson. "Once an American reader gets past the disappointment of discovering baseball's deep European roots, Block's book is a perfect delight," he wrote. Similarly, Mark Lamster, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called the book "a joyfully discursive romp through the history of ball sports." Commenting on Block's discovery of a medieval manuscript depicting French nuns and monks playing a baseball-like game, Ed Smith, writing in the London Observer, wrote: "To saddle the French with inventing the game of tobacco chewing and spitting … [is] a delicious historical discovery."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Boston Globe, April 3, 2005, Joshua Glenn, review of Baseball before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game.
Charleston Post and Courier, April 3, 2005, Carol Edwards, review of Baseball before We Knew It.
New York Times Book Review, April 10, 2005, Mark Lamster, review of Baseball before We Knew It.
Observer (London, England), July 3, 2005, Ed Smith, review of Baseball before We Knew It.
Rocky Mount Telegram, March 13, 2005, Mae Woods Bell, review of Baseball before We Knew It.
Sports Illustrated, March 21, 2005, Charles Hirshberg, review of Baseball before We Knew It, p. Z8.
Baseball before We Knew It Web site, http://www.baseballbeforeweknewit.com (February 24, 2006).