The Origins of Baseball
The precise trace of baseball's evolution from the old bat and ball games is a difficult task. The earliest account of a possible baseball type game was a French game called La Soule. There are illustrations of the game in a French manuscript that was circulated in 1344. Theque, La Balle Au baton, and La Balle Empoisonee are other earlier French games that have similarities to baseball. There was a popular game called rounders in Great Britain and Ireland that historians said the North American version of baseball evolved from. The 2005 David Block book, Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game, stated that the game of baseball originated in England. Since then, there has been historical evidence to back up his claim. Block claims that the game of rounders and the first games of baseball evolved from the English games of stoolball and tut-ball. Cricket was thought to also have come from these games, but in 2009 historians discovered evidence that showed the game was imported from Flanders to England.
The 1744 John Newberry book, A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, was the first book to make a reference to baseball. The book included a woodcut that showcased the field, which at the time was more of a triangular shape than in the diamond shape we see today and the bases were poles. There was also a description of the game, which rhymed. On Easter Monday of 1755, an English Lawyer, William Bray, made the first recording of a baseball game in Guildford, Surrey. English immigrants brought this first form of the game to North America. Irish and British immigrants brought the game, rounders, to North American shores. In 1791, Pittsfield made the earliest reference to American baseball in a bylaw prohibiting the playing of the game in front of the newly constructed meeting house. German scholar books about pastimes were mentioning the game by the year 1796. Englische Baseball, as it was called by Johan Gutmuths, was described as a competition between two teams. Each batter was allowed three attempts to hit a ball pitched by a member of the opposing team while at home plate. At that time, if the team got one out, then their turn was done.
North Americans had a few bat and ball games being played around the continent by the 1830s that were said to be the first baseball games. These amateur games were called town ball, round ball and even base ball. In 1838, Sporting Life Magazine, in Beachville, Ontario, received a letter describing a detailed description of the game. The first games of baseball have similarities and differences to the modern day game. For example, there were five bases, which were called byes, instead of four, and the first one was only 18 ft (5.5m) from home plate, and a batter could be called out if the ball was caught after the first bounce. For a long time, it was said that Abner Doubleday invented the game of baseball in Cooperstown, NY in 1839. That story is no longer accepted by sports historians.
The Knickerbocker Rules of baseball were created by a member of New York City's Knickerbockers Club, Alexander Cartwright, in 1845. Soaking or plugging, which was hitting a runner with a thrown baseball and common in the games of those days, was banned. This allowed the use of the smaller, harder version of the baseball, which is what the baseball of today evolved from. The Knickerbocker Rules created has similarities to today's game, but a person could still be called out after a ball was caught on the first bounce. In the early games, there was only underhand pitching allowed. On June 19, 1846, the earliest official baseball game was recorded in Hoboken, New Jersey. There were reports of games being played throughout 1845, by the Knickerbockers. In first recorded game in baseball history, the Knickerbockers lost to the New York Nine in four innings with a score of 23-1. Over the next 50 years, the rules of modern baseball continued to evolve from the Knickerbocker Rules.
The United States History of Baseball
Amateur Games Turn Professional
Baseball became very popular in the New York metropolitan area by the mid 1850s. Baseball was being called the national pastime or national game by journalist in 1856. In 1857, there were six clubs that came together to form the National Association of Base Ball Players, the earliest governing body. New rules were implemented in 1863, the rule about an out happening after a fair ball was caught on a first bounce was no longer allowed. In 1867, African American players were no longer allowed to play the game. In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings formed a professional club. They went undefeated against numerous semipro and amateur clubs, proving the game had commercial potential. The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, the earliest professional league, was involved in the world of baseball from 1871 to 1875. Baseball historians debate the status of this league.
The National League was founded in 1876. It is sometimes referred to as the senior circuit, because of its long history. There were many other major leagues that formed over baseball's rich history and failed. The American Association had two African American players, Moses and Welday Walker, in 1884.Moses Walker's baseball career ended after he suffered an injury. African American players were banned in the early years of the 1890s from playing in major and minor professional leagues owned by whites. Soon after the formation of professional Negro Leagues came about, but were quickly disbanded. There were a few African American teams that survived. Overhand pitching was allowed in the game as of 1884. Indoor baseball or indoor-outdoor baseball, more commonly known as softball, was invented in 1887 as another version of the game for the winter months. By 1893, all the rules that are followed in modern baseball games were implemented with the exception of one. In 1901, the rule of counting a foul ball as a strike was added to the modern rules of the game. During 1901, the first successful National League counterpart was formed, the American League. The American League evolved from what was known as the Western League, at the time, which was a minor league. Each league formed eight teams. These rival leagues would fight for the best players. They were often engaged in bitter legal disputes, because they disregarded each other's contracts with players.
There was a measure of peace established between the leagues, which lead to the drafting of the National Agreement of 1903. The peace pact formed between the National and American league included the National Association of Professional Base Ball Leagues, which represented the minor leagues of the time. In the fall of 1903, the first World Series, without the sanction of the major league, was played between the Boston Americans of the American League and the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League. The winner of the first World Series was The Boston Americans. There was not a World Series held in 1904, because the manager of the National League Champions, the New York Giants, John McGraw, refused to acknowledge the status of the American League and its champion. The Giants retained the National League championship in 1905, but this time John McGraw allowed the team to play in the World Series, which established it as an annual event.
Players began to write grievances against owners of teams about control and income through the early years of the sport becoming increasingly popular and more profitable. Throughout the first few decades of the game, players attempted to form strikes to get what they wanted, but once their jobs were threatened they went back to playing the game. The leagues drew up strict rules and contracts with reserve clauses that bound the player to a team after the contract had ended, which helped to keep the players in line. In 1919, members of the Chicago White Sox worked the throw the World Series game, because of the actions of the greedy and disliked owner, Charles Comiskey, and gamblers. The scandal, commonly known as the Black Sox scandal, led to the leagues forming a National Commission, which caused the two leagues to become closer. Kenesaw Mountain Landis was elected as the major league baseball commissioner in 1920. He was the first one. In 1920, the Negro National League was founded. The league would continue to operate until 1931. Throughout the 1920s, the Eastern Colored League joined the Negro National League.
Babe Ruth and the Integration of African Americans and Others
In the first portion of the 20th century, pitchers, like Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson, dominated the game by keeping the scores low. What was commonly referred to as the inside game, which forced players to scratch for runs, was aggressively played. The baseball playing of Ty Cobb is one of the examples of this type of game. There were rule and circumstance changes that gave hitters the advantage in the 1920s, thus ending the dead ball era. There were new regulations implemented when it came to the ball's size, shape, and composition. With new materials being available for the production of the ball after World War I, the ball could now travel farther when it was hit. New seating areas had to be built for new fans of the game, which forced the outfield lines to come in closer to the bases, making it possible for hitters to hit more runs. The earliest great power hitter of the game, Babe Ruth, changed the nature of the game. The New York Yankees solidified their historical record as a premier team, because of the slugging records of Babe Ruth. Branch Rickey, the St. Louis Cardinal's general manager, invested in a few different minor league camps, creating the earliest farming system of players in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In 1933, the organization of a new Negro National league took place. In 1937, the Negro American League was formed, joining its national counterpart. In 1936, the earliest inductees were voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Little League Baseball began in 1939 in Pennsylvania. Little League became the body for children's baseball leagues throughout the United States by the late 1940s.
World War II brought on many professional players leaving the game to serve in the armed forces. There were many minor teams that fell apart after the war began. The major league games were becoming increasingly threatened as the war waged on. Philip K. Wrigley, the owner of the Chicago Cubs, formed a women's professional baseball team, All American Girls Professional Baseball League, in order to keep the game popular with the public. The league existed from 1943 to 1954. In 1947, the initial College World Series took place, launching the Babe Ruth League youth program. This organization became an important part in the world of children's baseball. In 1946, Jackie Robinson set forth a crack in the law banning blacks from playing in white controlled professional clubs by being signed to the National League's Brooklyn Dodgers by Branch Rickey, who was the general manager at the time, beginning to play for the club's minor league team in Montreal. The color barrier was broken in 1947 when Jackie Robinson made is official debut with the Dodgers. Later in the 1947 season, Larry Doby made his debut with the Cleveland Indians, further signifying the end of the color lines. The overlooked Latin American players began to enter the professional leagues in large numbers. Two members of the 1951 Chicago White Sox team, Chico Carrasquel, who was born in Venezuela, and Minnie Minoso, who was black and Cuban, became the earliest Hispanic players on the All Star team. Baseball attendance began to decline with competition coming from television and other sports, like football. By the mid 1950s, the major leagues saw a rebound in attendance, but the semipro and minor leagues continued to dissipate. Integration continued to take place at a slow pace. There were only 6 of the sixteen teams that had an African American player on them by 1953. In 1953, the Major League Baseball Players Association was invented. This was the earliest baseball union to be formed. It remained a big part of the game, even when it was ineffective for years. In 1958, there were two teams, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, that relocated west of St. Louis. These two teams were the first teams to be located in the Los Angeles and San Francisco area. In 1959, the Boston Red Sox was the last of the teams to add an African American player to their roster. In 1960, the last of the Negro Leagues disbanded, because of the major leagues taking all of the best African American players to now perform on the major league teams. Two significant things occurred in 1961. The first thing to happen was the American League was now on the west coast with the Los Angeles Angels. The second thing was the season was expanded from 154 games to 162 games per season. The expansion of the season help Roger Maris to break Babe Ruth's long standing home run record. After the Angels were formed, there were three more franchises added to the leagues throughout 1961 and 1962. There were now 10 teams on each league.
A Shift in Attendance and the Age of Steroid Abuse
Marvin Miller, a former United Steelworker Chief Economist and Negotiator, was elected the executive director of the players' union in 1966, allowing it to become bolder. The pitchers were beginning to become a dominant force in the world of baseball, once again. Between the 1968 and 1969 season, it was decided to lower the pitcher's mound and reduce the strike zone to restore the balance between pitchers and hitters. There were two more teams added to the American and National leagues, giving each league a roster of 12 teams. The leagues became split into two divisions each. The governing body now came up with the post season playoff system leading to the World Series. Curt Flood. A St. Louis Cardinal team member, made the earliest challenge to the reserve clause in 1969. In 1972, the earliest strike by the major league players took place. In 1973, the American League implemented the designated hitter rule in an effort to gain more offense to the game. In 1975, the free agency system was put into place after the reserve clause was struck down. This allowed for an increase in the union's power and the player's salaries. Two more teams joined the American League in 1977. In 1981 and 1994 strikes occurred. The 1994 strike caused the World Series to be canceled for the first time. Attendance for games had been increasing since the 1970s. Before the strike took place in 1994, attendance was at an all time high.
The 1993 season brought two more expansion teams and a restructuring of the major leagues once again. The leagues were divided into three divisions. In the 1993 and shortened 1994 season, home runs had taken over the game. The trend of hitters out hitting the best pitchers continued through the 1995 season. The wild card teams became a permanent part of the playoff season. In 1997, interleague play was introduced in the regular season. A second highest attendance record was set in the 1997 season. In 1998, two more teams were added to the leagues. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased Mari's homerun record and surpassed it. National and American Leagues were ended, but remained as a part of the scheduling. The regulations that were put in place were consolidated under the Major League Baseball (MLB) rubric.
Barry Bonds took the lead for the new home run record in 2001 with 73 runs. In 2002, there was suspicion of illegal steroid use happening. There was no penalty put in place to prevent players from using the drugs until 2004. Barry bonds surpassed Hank Aaron's total homerun record to become the homerun leader in 2007. As a result of this, attendance at minor and major leagues reached an all time high. McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, and Roger Clemons, the New York Yankees long time pitcher, were all named in the steroid abuse scandal that rocked the sport, but the accomplishments the men achieved are still the high light of the game. Little League enrollment has been in a steady decline since 1997, dropping by 1% a year. Now that there is more rigorous testing for performance enhancement drugs, the swing of the batter has not topped the throw of the pitcher. The year 2010 was coined the Year of the Pitcher. In 2010, runs per game were at the lowest level seen in 18 years. The strikeout rate for pitchers was at its highest level in 50 years.
The Game of Baseball Around the World
Baseball has been established in many other countries, despite it being America's pastime. Canadian baseball will always be synonymous with the history of the game in the United States. The International Association, which was a professional league established in 1877, included teams from the United States and Canada. Several of the minor league teams are based in Canada, but the American major league did not include a Canadian based team until 1969. The Montreal Expos were added to the National League roster. In 1977, the Toronto Blue Jays were added to the American League roster. In 1992 and 1993, the Blue Jays won the World Series, making them the only team to ever win the World Series outside of the United States. Between the 2004 and 2005 season the Montreal Expos were relocated the Washington, D.C. and are now renamed the Washington Nationals.
In Parque Los Berros in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico, the very first game of baseball was played outside the United States by American soldiers in 1847. The soldiers used the wooden leg of a general in Santa Anna as the bat in the game played a few days after the Battle of Cerro Gordo. In 1878, the earliest formal baseball league to take place outside of the United States and Canada was formed in Cuba. This country continues to have strong teams and be rich in baseball tradition since the 1930s. Since the Cuban Revolution, all the teams formed in the country have been amateur teams. In 1912, the Dominican Republic held its first island wide championship contest. Other countries began forming their own leagues and competitions between the World Wars. The Netherlands leagues formed in 1922. Australia formed their leagues in 1934. Japan formed their leagues in 1936. Mexico formed their first league in 1937. Puerto Rico formed their first league in 1938. The Central and Pacific League from Japan have been regarded as the highest professional league outside of United States soil. Japan also has a semipro minor league, but they only allow one minor league per team as opposed to the United States' four or five per team.
Latin American nations began to form their own professional leagues after World War II. Venezuela, who began in 1946, and the Dominican Republic, who began in 1955, are the two dominant countries. The annual Caribbean Series, established in the early 1970s, is played between the championship teams of the four leading Latin American winter leagues. The Dominican Winter League, Mexican Pacific League, Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League, and the Venezuelan Professional League all take part in the Caribbean Series. Asian countries that have formed their own professional leagues are South Korea in 1982, Taiwan in 1990, and China in 2003.
The Dutch League is the most successful of the European leagues, but others have been formed, like the Italian league that was established in 1948. The European and Australian leagues have had no more than a niche appeal. The Asian and Latin American leagues far surpass the other leagues outside of the United States. At the Olympic Games in 2004, the Australian team won the silver medal. In 2007, the Israeli baseball League was formed, but was disbanded after the season ended. In 1953, the European Baseball Confederation, Confederation Europeene de Baseball, began organizing contests between teams from various different countries, as well as the national teams. In 1938, the International baseball Federation (IBAF) began forming competitions, like the Baseball World Cup and the Olympic Baseball Tournament, between national teams. The IBAF has a recorded 117 countries as members as of 2009. There are women's amateur leagues in many different countries where the sport is designated as a male sport. The Women's Baseball World Cup has been played with national teams since 2004 and sanctioned by the IBAF.
In 1992, baseball became a part of the Olympic Games, but after the 2005 Olympic Committee meeting it was decided that baseball would no longer be a part of the games beginning in 2012. Baseball and softball were played in the 2008 games. The Olympic Committee believed that eliminating baseball and softball would allow them to introduce two new sports to the 2012 games. There were not any sports that received enough votes to replace the games. One of the factors to drop the games was the lack of following it has over the rest of the world. Another factor is that the MLB does not want to have a broken up season for the players to go play in the Olympics, like hockey does for the winter games. The break in the season for the Olympic Games would force the player to play in the colder weather, risking more injuries. The IBAF wanted to reinstate baseball to the 2016 Olympic Games with a promise of a shorten competition to allow the top players to participate in the games and return to the regular season sooner, but the proposal was turned down. The World Baseball Classic was started by Major League Baseball, set to be played before the beginning of the regular season, as a replacement tournament featuring high profile international players. In March of 2006, there was an inaugural Classic that featured international teams and MLB participants.