Longtime readers of my stuff — back to the Shysterball days — will recall my fascination with the early roots of baseball. The really early roots. Games like rounders, bat and trap, and stool ball. The games which, over time, meshed together in important ways to form what we now know of as baseball. It’s a fascinating history, featured in a great documentary, which reveals that baseball wasn’t truly invented. Rather, it evolved like many other bat and ball games, from some primordial common ancestor, probably in England.
Those who study all of this have spent a lot of time trying to find the earliest recorded reference to baseball. Before today that earliest reference was thought to be from the 1755 personal journal of an English nobleman named William Bray. Yes, Bill Bray. Yes, an actual ancestor of the major league relief pitcher Bill Bray. That was pretty cool. This news from the BBC, however, is cooler. UPDATE: way, way more information here at the SABR site.
The first recorded game of baseball took place in Surrey in 1749, a specialist in the game’s history says. Author David Block has discovered the reference in the Whitehall Evening Post, dated 19 September 1749 … The Whitehall Evening Post item reads: “On Tuesday last, his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and Lord Middlesex, played at Bass-Ball, at Walton in Surry; notwithstanding the weather was extreme bad, they continued playing several hours.”
They continued playing, I presume, because it was Ye Olde Getaway Day and the schedule didn’t have The Prince of Wales and Lord Middlesex meeting again for the rest of the season. This is what happens when you don’t like to schedule Ye Olde Doubleheaders because clubs are trying to horde as many pounds as possible. Either way, you’d think with people as important as royalty playing games that those cheapos at Walton in Surrey would get a retractable roof.
UPDATE: More from David Brock, describing his discovery: