Baseball Reflections

Book Review: Baseball Before We Knew It

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Our national pastime has a long-debated history. Was it really good o’ Abner Doubleday who invented the game? How ‘bout that Spalding character we keep hearing about and to this day has his name on baseball gloves in sporting goods stores? How was he involved? The New York Knickerbockers…weren’t they the first club? Aren’t they on record of having recorded the first rules of the game? Depending on who you are, and how you were raised, you may believe one, or parts of all of these, or maybe a different history of how our great game was made. In the book, Baseball Before We Knew It: A search for the roots of the game, author David Block sets out to try to find the truth.

For Block, the history of baseball has always been a passion, and this work seems to be meant to be a culmination of his life of being a long-time collector of early baseball books and memorabilia. This reviewer having read many works on the history of the game himself, was impressed by the in-depth levels of history the author gets to in his research and explanation of where our game originated. It is typical of the many books like this already written, about this history of baseball that is, to focus simply on the game’s origins in the United States. Block, figuring just as most people in the US did, the game had to have origins somewhere else. Even if it wasn’t baseball as we know it today, he had seen evidence versions of the game were started elsewhere and was then brought over to the US.

The book looks at possible roots in many foreign countries, mostly in Europe. In addition to text, Block includes pictures he has found throughout the world depicting what one could argue is a kind of baseball. Readers may be familiar with some of these pictures, but others, and the explanation of them, will certainly be a surprise.

To give you a taste of some of the topics Block tackles in the book, here are a few of the chapter titles:

  • Uncertainty as to the Paternity
  • Abner and Albert, the Missing Link
  • Was Abner Graves Telling the Truth?
  • How Slick Were the Knicks?
  • Stools, Clubs, Stops, and Jugs
  • It’s Starting to Look Familiar

The book itself is just 162 pages long, however, included in the work is an extremely comprehensive early baseball bibliography and over 100 pages of appendix broken down into seven sections.

There are certainly times in the book that the text gets extremely dry. To get through it, the reader must be interested in the subject as it is a history, in some ways a text book, of baseball and we all remember from our schooling days that text books didn’t have the most exciting language. In Block’s defense, he did have a much more exciting subject to work with, and the dryness doesn’t run through the whole text. If nothing else, it’s also a handy reference book to have on hand as the argument of who, or what, created baseball is seemingly always just around the corner.

The work was published in 2005 from the University of Nebraska Press and retails for $29.95.

Baseball Reflections Rating: 3.5/5

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