Curtis: The baseball archaeologist, David Block

From Bryan Curtis at on September 18, 2013, on SABR member David Block, with mention of SABR members Tom Shieber, John Thorn, Thomas Altherr and Larry McCray:

In a just world, [David] Block would be an archaeologist hero. What Bill James did for 20th-century baseball, Block is doing for 18th-century baseball. Eight years ago, Block came out with a book called Baseball Before We Knew It. Said Tom Shieber, the senior curator at the Baseball Hall of Fame: “Baseball Before We Knew It and its aftermath is to me probably the single most important baseball research of the last 50 years, if not more.”

“He definitely is on a mission,” said Block’s brother, Philip. “It is a passion. It is everything like those archaeological hunts, looking for whatever holy grail you want to be looking for.” Holy grail is the right term, at least in the Dan Brown sense, for with those old books Block is trying to solve a riddle: Who is the father of baseball?

Block has discovered a 245-year-old dictionary and a 258-year-old comic novel and other “interesting things” that point toward the answer. But that afternoon, he left the room and came back with a copy of his newest find: a 264-year-old English newspaper called the Whitehall Evening-Post. The paper has news of inmates attempting a jailbreak from Newgate Prison, and of a chestnut mare that disappeared from a local forest. On Page 3, there is a small item. It reads:

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.

The date of the game was September 12, 1749. That’s 90 years earlier than, and 3,500 miles away from, baseball’s alleged conception in Cooperstown, New York. The “Base-Ball” player is the heir to the British throne. Block is rewriting the prehistory of the game. He is exposing a century’s worth of lies. He has come up with a shocking answer to the riddle of baseball’s parentage.

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Originally published: September 18, 2013. Last Updated: September 18, 2013.