America's pastime really English? Earliest reference discovered

Updated: September 11, 2008, 6:09 PM ET
Associated Press

LONDON -- Baseball is as American as ... tea and crumpets?

That may be case, according to a diary uncovered in southern England last year but only now being made public.

Julian Pooley, the manager of the Surrey History Centre, said Thursday he has authenticated a reference to baseball in a diary by English lawyer William Bray dating back to 1755 -- about 50 years before what was previously believed to have been the first known reference to what became the American pastime.

"I know his handwriting very well," Pooley told The Associated Press in a telephone interview, adding he believed the game wasn't very common at the time. "He printed it to show it was new to him. He doesn't mention baseball again. It was something that seemed special."

Bray wrote that he played the game with both men and women on the day after Easter, a traditional holiday in England.

"He was about 18 or 19 [at the time of the diary entry]," Pooley said. "He was a very social man. He enjoyed sports."

The entry reads:

"Easter Monday 31 March 1755

"Went to Stoke Ch. This morning. After Dinner Went to Miss Jeale's to play at Base Ball with her, the 3 Miss Whiteheads, Miss Billinghurst, Miss Molly Flutter, Mr. Chandler, Mr. Ford & H. Parsons & Jelly. Drank Tea and stayed till 8."

Baseball has long been thought to have been an American invention, with roots in the British games of rounders and cricket.

The first recorded competitive baseball game took place in Hoboken, N.J., in 1846 between the Alexander Cartwright's Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York and the New York Nine. The first professional team played in 1869 and the first professional league started two years later.

Bray, who died in 1832, kept a diary for much of his life and wrote a history of Surrey. He also transcribed and published the diary and writings of English writer John Evelyn.

Pooley said he first became aware of Bray's reference in July 2007 after local historian Tricia St. John Barry notified Major League Baseball to say she found a notation of the game that predated their own findings.

"She said, '... I've got a reference in a diary I found in the shed,'" Pooley said.

Pooley said St. John Barry only told MLB about the diary after researchers came to England last year working on a movie by Major League Baseball Advanced Media called "Base Ball Discovered," which examines the origins of the sport.

"She didn't realize its significance [before that]," Pooley said.

The movie is to be shown next week at the Baseball Film Festival in Cooperstown, N.Y., the home of the sport's Hall of Fame. No one at the Hall was available for comment Thursday.

"While filming our documentary in England, we met Tricia, who responded to a BBC piece on our film crew being in country, looking at the roots of baseball," MLB.com said on its Web site. "This discovery places William Bray in a new role of importance and provides insight into baseball's beginnings."

The Surrey History Centre said there is a reference to baseball that came earlier than Bray's, but it appears in a fictional book by John Newberry called "A Little Pretty Pocket-Book." Jane Austen's "Northanger Abbey" also refers to baseball. It was written in 1798 but not published until 1817.

"It is a game steeped in history and now Surrey County Council's History Centre and an inquisitive local historian have provided the earliest manuscript proof that the game the Americans gave to the world came from England," said Helyn Clack, an executive member for safer and stronger communities at Surrey County Council.

A copy of the diary is to go on display at Surrey History Centre on Saturday.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press