It turns out, America's national pastime probably predates the nation itself. That's one of the fascinating things Bryan Curtis at Grantland learned by paying a visit to David Block, one of the only people investigating the secret prehistory of baseball. The 69-year-old has reinvented the field by approaching it as a book collector. He scours libraries around the world looking not for early books about baseball, but early books that mention baseball. In the process, he's thoroughly discredited both of the sport's established origin stories.
The official story is that Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown, NY, between 1839 and 1841, but serious baseball historians have never believed that. More highly regarded was the theory, mentioned in an 1860 book, that baseball was "derived" from the English game, Rounders. But Block has found references to baseball that predate any known mention of Rounders. For instance, one 1749 English newspaper contained this small item:
- "On Tuesday last, his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and Lord Middlesex, played at Base-Ball at Walton in Surry; and notwithstanding the Weather was extreme bad, they continued playing for several Hours."
Block's current theory is that baseball descended from, well, baseball. He believes the sport slowly evolved on its own over the centuries. For much more, including how Block believes the early game was played, check the source