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  • The Prehistories of Baseball by Seelochan Beharry
  • Seth S. Tannenbaum
Beharry, Seelochan. The Prehistories of Baseball. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2016. Pp. 322. Notes, appendices, bibliography, index. $39.95, pb.

Seelochan Beharry's The Prehistories of Baseball traces baseball's roots and role in society from prehistoric times to the present. Beharry locates baseball's origins in ancient warfare tactics and pre-Christian religious traditions in Britain. Relying extensively on secondary sources, he shows how players adapted when those pre-Christian religious traditions were banned and examines the predecessors to American baseball. Baseball continued to be popular across the centuries, Beharry argues, because it fulfilled primal desires, re-enacted ancient rituals, and therefore connected humans with their ancestral past.

Beharry breaks his book into three sections. The first, "Primal Beginnings," examines how human warfare evolved, focusing on throwing and hitting. It concludes with a discussion of ancient games as training for warfare. The second section, "Roots and Foundations," traces the development of bat- and-ball games in Britain and their relationship to various religious practices. Here, Beharry frequently cites David Block's Baseball before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game (2005) and similarly concludes that baseball did not descend from either rounders or cricket, but rather from earlier bat- and-ball games. In the third section, "Modern Times," Beharry looks at contemporary baseball fans as participants in the game, not merely observers, and highlights the useful lessons baseball teaches young [End Page 485] people. The author also offers six textual appendices examining ancient Europeans and Indians and their connections to baseball. He does not, however, examine the histories of other peoples who eventually played baseball, such as Africans or natives of the Americas, nor does he explain this absence.

When analyzing the development of bat- and-ball games in Britain, Beharry's evidence is strongest. When analyzing warfare, religious practice, and baseball, however, he often relies on phrases like "it is easy to picture" to draw conclusions. These phrases indicate that his conclusions are based (perhaps by necessity, given the available sources) on similarities rather than direct connections. While these claims are very plausible, there is little concrete evidence to support them.

Beharry has a tough task in covering a long period of time during which baseball changed greatly. He does well to differentiate British baseball from American baseball, but he does less well in analyzing American baseball's changes over time. Two claims he makes to support his argument—that the batter–pitcher matchup descended from prehistoric duels and that the pitcher's mound is rooted in religious rituals—do not square with baseball's history. In early American baseball, the batter and the pitcher were not engaged in a duel; instead, the pitcher had to deliver the ball where the batter wanted it. Additionally, there was no pitcher's mound at that time. While Beharry correctly notes surface similarities between pre-Christian behaviors and modern baseball, he neglects the changes in American baseball and society that make direct links between them tenuous. Despite its limitations, The Prehistories of Baseball offers an interesting examination of baseball's roots and its role in human evolution and might spur some scholars to rethink how they teach the origins of the game.

Seth S. Tannenbaum
Temple University


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pp. 485-486
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