From the sandlot to stadiums seating over fifty thousand people, the game of baseball has provided people of all ages with a common foundation; a sport we can all call our national pastime. Though its concept sounds simple, a game using a ball and a bat, millions of people all over the world have sought involvement in it by either playing at some level, or just sitting back and watching a game. With professional baseball attracting more and more fans each season, no one knows what limits this sport can reach. For the time being though, it has been a real “home run. “
Like any other sport, baseball developed over an extended period of time spanning way back to the 1600s. The first evidence of the sport was a game called rounders, which was played in England (Lewine 27). Players hit a ball with a bat, which is parallel to todays game, but the methods to how the defense put the runners out was the big difference. Similar to dodge ball, an infielder or outfielder had to throw the ball at the runners. If the ball hit a runner who was off base, he was out. This formula was called plugging and soon after, its popularity ceased as did the games (29).
Soon after, a transition occurred and the name rounders changed to town ball and then to Massachusettss game, and finally the name baseball, developed by American colonists, stuck. Rules did change over the period of them the names did, such as the number of players, distance between bases and etc. Around 1840, the Americans solidified the rules and rounders had become baseball. Even with evidence that baseball developed from rounders, it is believed that a United States Army general named Abner Doubleday invented the sport in Cooperstown, New York, current home of the Hall of Fame (30). After many disputes,
Albert Spalding, a sporting-goods manufacturer and player of baseball, decided to have a commission decide who originated the game. In 1908, the commission credited Doubleday with creating the game and it was based on a letter from Abner Graves, a friend of Doubledays. In this document, Graves stated that he had been present as Doubleday conceptualized the game in 1839 (30). As a result of this decision, historians research concluded that Doubleday had little to do with the discovery of baseball and his friend Graves described plugging in the letter, that being a major fundamental in rounders.
While all the ontroversy over who invented the game persisted, people of all ages, and an early system of baseball organization developed explored this new sport. A man by the name of Alexander Cartwright, a sportsman from New York started the first organized baseball club, the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York (30). Along with establishing the first baseball club, he added a set of written rules, which are extremely parallel to the ones of today (30). Some of these rules, stated in 1845, include, the distance between all the bases being ninety feet, and having nine players on each side.
No longer would players be plugging runners, but now hey would be tagging them with the ball. The rule of forcing a player out at a base was also introduced in 1854. Finally, other rules changed over time such as the length of the game change to nine innings and the distance from the pitchers found to home plate now being sixty feet. Another major landmark in the history of baseball, the invention of the newspaper box score, occurred in 1845 as well. With all these new advances, the game naturally began to spread across the country (32).
Not only did the famous Civil War (1861-1865) spread our nation into the north and south, but on a positive note, it also pread the sport of baseball all over the country. As an example, the union soldiers would play the game as a form of recreation as the rest of the union troops and even confederate prisoners would watch (47). Something similar to a domino effect started as the prisoners and soldiers came home from the war and taught their other peers how to play the game (47). Through this manner, people in all cities, towns, and farms began playing baseball.
Amateurs started playing on different baseball clubs and this gave rise to professional baseball. Like any other pastime, some people will be better than others at it, nd this goes the same for baseball. Better players were attracted by teams through jobs or money and by 1869, the first club to pay all its players, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was started. Followers advanced on and by 1876, there were eight professional teams, paying their players in some way or another. These eight teams made up the National League and they played in Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Cincinnati, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Saint Louis.
In 1903, the American League was started, and it had teams playing in the same places as the national league with exception to teams in Washington DC and Cleveland. Ironically, these same sixteen teams ended up creating the major leagues and played in the same cities for fifty years to come. With this new contingency of teams, strategy and a new approach to the game came along during the Dead Ball Era (49). This period of time was denoted by this simply because the actual baseballs that were being used werent nearly as lively as the ones used currently (49).
The materials used for baseballs during this period of time from about 1890 to 1920 included a less dense cork and horsehide. For this reason, the ball did not travel as far as it does today, even when perfect contact is made etween the bat and ball. The batter philosophy during that time consisted of hitting the ball where other people werent, in the field, that is. An indication of this is shown by the batting leader of this era, Wee Willie Keeler, stated, “I hit em where they aint. ” Another major introduction to baseball history during this period was the concept of base stealing.
A big base stealer during this time, King Kelly, demonstrated an ability and fame for running the bases and making that crucial steal. He paved the way for the big base stealers of our generations including Lou Brock who shattered the stolen base record during the 1970s riginally held by Billy Hamilton, with 938 steals. Finally, the baseball player with the most stolen bases of all time, Rickey Henderson, is still playing today. With all this new popularity, baseball had gained, we often wonder when it was actually denoted our national pastime.
Well, with the beginning of the modern era of baseball, starting in 1900, the sport gained the recognition (50). During this period, boys every day would spend all their leisure time playing baseball during the warm weather, and players became more and more popular in the National and American leagues. Pitcher Cy Young, whose award is given to the best pitcher in the National and American leagues every year, dominated during this time and set the all time record for number of games won by a pitcher, with 511, over a twenty one year career.
Even with the good, he did deal with the bad and has the all time record for losses by a pitcher, with 313. While you will always have a great pitcher, you will always have a great hitter. No one can fit this description any better than Ty Cobb (69). He was known for his arrogance and hard demeanor, but his various hitting records put a gleaming mask over those qualities. His batting average of . 367 ranks highest for all time in that category. In addition to those numbers, his 4,191 hits over his career are second only to Pete Roses 4,256.
In addition to the new records and popularity, baseball became even more majestic. Starting in 1903, the World Series joined all common men, women, and children during each October to celebrate the two best teams in the National and American leagues (McCarver 101). In fact, baseball had post-season competition before 1903, but the concept of having National and American league pennants came about in 1903, and were formally given the title, the World Series. It gave all fans a final opportunity to share baseball before the game disappeared into the cold silence of the winter ahead.
During its early years, the World Series kept fans sitting by their transistor radios and as recent as today, fans of all ages receive maximum exposure of the championship games on their television sets at home (102). Players on each team need to perform under the highest of pressure and it pays off in the end when the winner becomes crowned, best baseball team in the world (102). As popular and important to the average American as baseball was during the early 1900s, many were disturbed as scandal it the diamond (Levine 74).
The games reputation was hurt with the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. In the 16th World Series match up, between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds, eight White Sox players were accused of throwing, or trying to lose the World Series, in return for money obtained through gambling. The commissioner of baseball at the time, judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, banned the eight White Sox players from baseball permanently. Landis was a federal judge who had a reputation for honesty, and he successfully restored the public confidence baseball had had before the incident.
Now that candal was behind, as was the First World War, fans of all ages were about to experience a phenomenon for which a candy bar had even been named (75). Babe Ruth started playing professional baseball in 1914 with the Boston Red Sox. While everyone knows him as being a big home run hitter, he actually started his career as a pitcher, and soon after made the change to the outfield. He started hitting more and more home runs than anyone thought possible. This was shown by his totals of 50 homers in four different seasons, which also includes the 60 home runs in 1927, fourth to Roger Maris 61 in 1961, and Sammy Sosas 66 and Mark
McGwires 70, both broken last year. His career total of 714 home runs is second all time to Henry Aarons 754. No one had experienced a player like Ruth and baseball in the 1920s was called the Babe Ruth era (82). This can be attributed to the tons of fans that flew to Yankee Stadium to watch him play. His success even helped to change baseball strategy in that more batters became full swingers, rather than a place hitter, meaning that the home run would soon become prevalent as one of the most important parts of baseball history.
Another major player of this time was Lou Gehrig, the “iron-man” first baseman of the New York Yankees, who played in 2,130 consecutive baseball games, a record until Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken Jr. broke it with 2,632 consecutive games (83). Nothing is ever perfect and thats the way it went for baseball as the Great Depression of the early 1930s hit home. Baseball was professional and it was a business and like all other businesses, it suffered due to the financial hardships it faced (84). To alleviate the situations, radio stations donated money in order for the right to broadcast the games to help the team economic statuses. One big broadcast happened on July 6, 1933, as the first annual All-Star game was played in Chicago.
Its still a Major League classic today as the best players from the National and American leagues congregate to play against each other where one league will come out the winner (McCarver 115). A major breakthrough also occurred during this time with the installation of lights in some ballparks, which gave the fans a chance to see the games because of their working hours during the day. The first game played with a lit field took place in Philadelphia in 1935 in a battle between the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies. In the years ahead, war would reach all bases and hit home with many of the players.
When the United States entered the Second World War in 1941, many of the ball players served in the armed forces, such as Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and Bob Feller. Before leaving for war though, one player made baseball history that will certainly be tough to ever break. Joltin Joe DiMaggio reached base successfully over a 56 game hitting streak. After Joe and the other players left, players that were too young, too old, and physically deteriorating were playing Americas pastime. Naturally, to many fans liking, after the war, he players came back.
Attendance at ballparks across the country soared, and with the new invention of the television, many fans were in their living rooms taking in the action without having to be at the park (Lewine 94). Another major event occurred in 1947 when second baseman Jackie Robinson entered Major League Baseball from the Negro Leagues. Before this year, African American baseball players experienced prolonged segregation and werent allowed to play in the Major Leagues. Therefore, the Negro Leagues exhibited some of the finest African Americans to play baseball, but did not receive the publicity hat Major Leaguers did.
Finally, Robinson became the first African American male to play Major League ball and did so with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. Many other black males entered the major leagues thereafter including pitching phenomenon Satchel Paige, who threw his first major league pitch at the age of 43. During this period of time, the dominant team throughout all of professional baseball was the New York Yankees. From 1949 through 1953, the Yankees won five straight American League pennants and World Series under the direction of manager Casey Stengel.