David Block's Data (so far) for Early English Base Ball Games
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Welcome to David Block's Database on English Base Ball
David Block, celebrated author of 'Baseball Before We Knew It' (2007) and 'Pastime Lost' (2019) has agreed to share his data -- over 500 finds, and counting -- via Protoball.org. Not that long ago, many of us saw American baseball as the brainchild of a future Civil War general in Cooperstown. That theory weakened under the strain of new research, and David's persistent digging helped reveal that an older and dimly remembered English game, commonly called, (of all things) "base ball," was a central part of the story.
David here also offers data on games played under different names -- pize-ball, tut-ball, etc. You can browse them here, and include them in the Protoball site's Enhanced Search feature. His introduction to the site is shown below.
Data On Early English Games
An Introduction to the English Baseball Data Base, by David Block
While researching the largely forgotten game of English baseball for my 2019 book Pastime Lost, I found it helpful to document every reference to the game that I encountered in the course of my fifteen-year project. In addition to creating a printed copy of each primary reference for my files, I entered its pertinent data into a spreadsheet organized chronologically, a spreadsheet that includes not only my own findings but those discovered by others as well. All of this material has is now being made available to the public through Protoball. The information for each reference includes:
1. the date of the reference. 2. the name of the English county where it originated. 3. a brief description of the reference, including an exact quotation of its baseball passage. 4. the title, date, and page number of the source. 5. an optional note.
Upon first consideration, many of the hundreds of entries in the database may appear insignificant. A majority of them constitute brief, 19th-century newspaper notices describing summertime gatherings--many involving school children--where baseball was identified as one of the day's activities. Taken separately, many of these notices provide scant information about the game of English baseball other than that it was played by a particular group of people at a certain time and place. Taken as a whole, however, their sheer numbers and the breadth of their locations and dates established for me that the little-remembered game of English baseball had long been a fixture within the folk culture of many southern English counties. It was my realization of this, along with the startling fact that a game bearing the name baseball had been all but forgotten, that motivated me to write Pastime Lost.
An examination of my English baseball database reveals that the number of entries dated post-1850 exceeds considerably those occurring prior to that year. This, in my opinion, is solely due to the far greater number of potential source documents available from the later era owing to the proliferation of local and regional newspapers after 1850. It is my studied opinion that the popularity of English baseball was as great, if not greater, in the 18th and early 19th-century period compared to the post-1850 era, notwithstanding the smaller number of documented references. Indeed, it is this earlier body of references, most of which were taken from source material other than newspapers, that are among the most significant historically. I elaborate on their significances in the notes section of the spreadsheet.
Because spelling of the word baseball was not standardized in England in the 18th and 19th centuries, I've chosen to highlight the spelling and format of baseball found in each of the database entries. These identifications, such as “base-ball,” “bass-ball,” “baste-ball,” etc., appear in the first sentence of my reference descriptions, often as their first or second word.
I must acknowledge that my labelling of every reference in this database as an example of English baseball may not be 100% accurate. American-style baseball was introduced into Britain in the latter decades of the 19th century, and each published reference to baseball played in England from that point onward needed to be scrutinized to determine if it was citing the English game or the American import. Most examples were obvious. American baseball was typically identified by words such as “diamond,” “nine,” “umpire,” etc. that were never associated with English baseball, whereas English baseball, by the late 19th-century, was rarely still played by anyone other than children on school outings. Still, despite this fine-combing, there may be as many as 5% of my examples that are mislabeled, and for this I apologize.
During the course of my research, I discovered that several other folk games played regionally in Great Britain during the 19th century bore strong similarities to English baseball. Among these were the games of tut-ball, pize ball, and ball-bias. I created spreadsheets for each of these three following the same format I used for English baseball, although their entry numbers are considerably fewer. As yet, I have not created spreadsheets for a handful of additional similar games, including those from Scotland.
I am grateful to the Protoball project for generously hosting my English baseball research data. The references are freely available to anyone who chooses to use them, and I ask only that I, David Block, and Protoball be credited when using data that are not readily accessible from other sources.
-- David Block, September 2020