Medieval texts suggest baseball’s English antecedents may themselves have descended from Continental bat-and-ball games. An illustration in “The Romance of Alexander,” a French manuscript from 1344, depicts a group of monks and nuns engaged in a game, thought to be “la soule,” that looks a lot like coed softball (no sign of a keg, however). Two other French games, “théque” and “la balle empoisonée” (“poisoned ball”), also bear similarities to early baseball. Could they have migrated to England? The record is vague, meaning, in Block’s words, the field is clear for the French to claim “parental rights over America’s National Game.”

Even these games, however, may be recent developments. In 1937, Corrado Gini, an Italian demographer, found a remote group of blond-haired Berber tribesmen in the Libyan desert playing a game, “ta kurt om el mahag” (“the ball of the pilgrim’s mother”), that bore an unmistakable resemblance to American baseball.

The New York Times > Books > Sunday Book Review > ‘Baseball Before We Knew It’: What’s the French for 'Juiced’?

From a 14th-century manuscript at Oxford University.