Jesse Jarnow

the man who invented baseball

This passage from Harold Peterson’s The Man Who Invented Baseball was so bizarre and Museum of Jurassic Technology-like that I had to retype it:

By the strangest sort of chance, some thirty-five years ago [c. 1938], just the right man on just the right kind of mission happened into the one small village on earth that could provide the best clue to baseball’s origin and the best evidence of baseball’s incredible antiquity. The man was an Italian expert on population problems who happened to be enough of an Americanophile to be familiar with the game of baseball and even its immediate antecedents. The location, bizarrely, was a Berber village in the desert of North Africa. The reason his remarkably correct conclsions, and those of a Danish colleague, are virtually unknown is that they appeared principally in certain small scholarly journals — for example, in Danish-accented English in an Italian demographic journal, Genus.

On a 1937 expedition to investigate the disappearing traces of a strange blond strain among the Berber tribes of Libya, Professor Corrado Gini of Rome came upon the lost village of Jadum in the Gebel Nefusa, a hilly high desert plateau in western Tripolitania. To his intense surprise, Professor Gini found the tribesmen playing a game he recognized as rudimentary–or not so rudimentary–baseball, Ta kurt om el mahag, the tribesmen called it — “the ball of the mother of the pilgrim.”

Jadum was the last stronghold of the blondish tribesmen; Jadum was also the only place in all of North Africa that om el mahong was known. What gave Gini chills up the spine was his realization, as an expert in population migrations, that all evidence indicated the game had been introduced by the blonds. But this was spooky, since he knew the light-haired tribesmen to be the remnant of an invasion which took place thousands of years ago — in the Stone Age!

More skin-prickling: He and other scholars believed the blond people to be invaders from northern Europe. The latest invaders had been the Vandals, under King Genseric, who established a Nordic African kingdom in A.D. 429. But Gini considered the Vandals to be too thin a veneer of overlords to leave lasting customs behind. Gini–and other anthropologists–were quite sure that the blond Berbers were northerners who colonized Africa in the Old Stone Age — 3,000 to 6,000 years before Christ!

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