David Block combined his passions for history and baseball with his longtime love of antiquarian books. This has led to his groundbreaking explorations into the origin of American baseball and its roots in other countries. After taking an early retirement from a career in information technology, David initially set his sights on creating a bibliography of books published prior to 1860 that contained evidence of early baseball and related games, the very types of books that were part of his own collection. This quickly expanded into a full blown study of baseball's origins, and in 2005 David released his first book, Baseball before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game (University of Nebraska Press). Its importance was recognized almost immediately, receiving full page reviews in both The New York Times Book Review and Sports Illustrated. Baseball before We Knew It was awarded the Seymour Medal in 2006, given by SABR to the best book of baseball history or biography from the previous year. It also received the 2006 book award of the North American Society for Sport History, and was named an Outstanding Academic Title of 2005 by Choice Magazine of the National Library Association. John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, has identified Baseball before We Knew It as one of the best five books on baseball.
In 2019, following more than a decade of additional research, David released his second book, Pastime Lost: The Humble, Original, and Now Completely Forgotten Game of English Baseball (University of Nebraska Press). This work revealed the previously unexplored history of an 18th century game, called baseball, that was the immediate ancestor of American baseball. Pastime Lost was named a finalist for the 2020 Seymour Medal.
History of American Baseball's Origins & its Roots in England
Collecting Antiquarian Baseball Books
Pod Cast & Radio Interviews
Media Quotes & Inquiries
The Humble, Original, and Now Completely Forgotten Game of English Baseball
Long before baseball became America’s national pastime, English citizens of all ages, genders, and classes of society were playing a game called baseball. It had the same basic elements as modern American baseball, such as pitching and striking the ball, running bases, and fielding, but was played with a soft ball on a smaller playing field and, instead of a bat, the ball was typically struck by the palm of the hand. There is no doubt, however, that this simpler English version of baseball was the original form of the pastime and was the immediate forerunner of its better-known American offspring. Strictly a social game, English baseball was played for nearly two hundred years before fading away at the beginning of the twentieth century. Despite its longevity and its important role in baseball’s evolution, however, today it has been completely forgotten.
In Pastime Lost David Block unearths baseball’s buried history and brings it back to life, illustrating how English baseball was embraced by all sectors of English society and exploring some of the personalities, such as Jane Austen and King George III, who played the game in their childhoods. While rigorously documenting his sources, Block also brings a light touch to his story, inviting us to follow him on some of the adventures that led to his most important discoveries.
Baseball Before We Knew It:
A Search for the Roots of the Game
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