When I was a young lad in London, many evenings I used to lie under the blankets in the dark listening to American Forces radio. I heard about the 1960 Presidential elections, I heard the News in Special English (what I assume was the basis for Bob & Ray’s wonderful “Slow Talkers of America” skit), and I am pretty sure that was where I first heard Bob Newhart. But mostly I enjoyed the word pictures conjured up by the wonderful commentators on boxing and baseball.
I was aware of baseball in a general way because, in those Cold War days, there was a US Air Force base nearby and they occasionally allowed us to visit to watch inter-service games. For a boy brought up on cricket and rugby and soccer, this game — so much like rounders which in England was only played by young girls — seemed tame, slow, and frankly boring. For good or ill, I have never grown out of that opinion, even as I recognise that this view is not shared by the millions of the game’s supporters.
All this is to introduce a review of Davis Block’s “Pastime Lost: The Humble, Original, and Now Completely Forgotten Game of English Baseball.”
“David Block’s 2005 book Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game … persuasively argues that an early form of baseball (known by that name) was well-established in England by the mid-eighteenth century. In his new book, Pastime Lost, published just in time for the opening of the 2019 Major League Baseball season, Block reports on his research in the intervening years, adding a good deal of new evidence …
Baseball in those early days did not include bats. The ball was soft and was struck by hand … Beyond the bare bones of the game—that it included running to bases and returning “home”—we still know very little. But I think any fair-minded reader of Block’s book will conclude that he’s made his case.”
Whether the sport was developed in England or invented by Abner Doubleday, both Brock’s history and the reviewer note that baseball has been subject to constant change. I happen to believe it has changed these days into little more than a way in which vast and unseemly wealth is lavished on a few lucky players. I am astonished that professional cricketers can now make a million or more a year but that pales into insignificance when compared to the $10 million, $20 million, $30 million a year contracts that are becoming commonplace in Major Baseball.
I remain unconvinced that this change is good for this or any sport.