September 22, 2013
THE ANGLOSPHERE'S PASTIME:
The Baseball Archaelogist : In Search of Baseball's Holy Grail : How one man is rewriting the history of the game -- one diary at a time (Bryan Curtis on September 18, 2013, Grantland)
Posted by Orrin Judd at September 22, 2013 8:13 AMDo you think anybody will find this interesting?"David Block was being painfully modest. I'd gone all the way to San Francisco to meet the Robert Langdon of baseball's Da Vinci Code, and here was Block trying to suppress my interest. His wife, Barbara, knows the drill. David will flip through an old book and find a secret about the ancient game of baseball. At dinner, he'll casually tell Barbara, "Oh, by the way, I found this interesting thing today ... "The Blocks live on the top two floors of a blue house in the Mission District of San Francisco. Block is 69 years old, with a bald head and neatly trimmed beard. One afternoon, Block was pulling old books off his shelf. They are volumes with disintegrating covers and foxed pages and the labels of long-dead booksellers. "I have tons of stuff," Block said. "It literally takes hours to look at all my stuff. And I never have the opportunity to show it to people."This is our fault rather than his. In a just world, 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.