Baseball is one of the most popular sports in the world. Of course, it’s by far the most popular in America, where it considered by many to be the country’s biggest pastime. Some people consider it the most American of sports. Nostalgic films always seem to have a scene where the protagonist is taking part, or spectating a game of baseball. Yet the origins and history of baseball are not as all American as you might think.
The Origins Of Baseball.
Baseball originated as a hybrid of old English folk sports. It is thought by historians that cricket, baseball and rounders all share a common ancestor, which probably arose from various English folk games, such as stool ball, tut-ball, Fletch ball, round ball and “Base.”
Actual Baseball and Cartwright.
Baseball as a sport of its own was first part of the public consciousness due to Alexander Cartwright. He wrote a rule book of Knickerbocker rules in 1845. From there, the evolution of the sport can be traced. The Knickerbocker rules included:
· Home base through bases one to three, as well as the distances between each base.
· The ball must be pitched, not thrown, to the bat.
· A ball knocked out of the field is a foul ball.
· Three strikes mean that you’re out.
· The batsman is out should the ball be caught by a fielding player.
· Three hands out, all out.
The first recorded game of baseball was in 1838, but Cartwright’s rules would codify the game. He also umpired the first ever game according to what would become universal baseball rules in 1845, in New York.
The first newspaper reports began surfacing in 1851, showing that the sport was getting a grassroots following. 1857 saw the first standardized rules start to be applied, which was soon followed in 1858 by the first cross-town games which saw teams leave their own home grounds to play teams in their fields.
1862 furthered this effect, with some baseball grounds and clubs being opened to the general public in some areas.
The first set-back In the growth of the sport came with the American Civil War, yet in the end the Civil War had the opposite effect: the game was spread due to the various armies spreading across the country.
1869 saw the first professional team formed.
Then, the game that had been played to that point split off. This was “old rules” baseball, which is still played to this day as vintage baseball.
The first National league formed in 1876, and by 1893 the modern rules were all in place.
The last major change to the rules, counting foul balls as strikes, was imposed in 1901.
As the game became more profit motivated in the early 20th century, there was increasing tension between the players and managers/owners of the teams. This would later lead to the formation of unions in the game.
Whilst the rules were in place, in the early 20th century it was a stylistically different game. Pitchers were more dominant, and teams had to really work hard for runs.
Then, it all changed.
Babe Ruth, considered the first legendary player of the game and the first “big hitter,” changed the game stylistically forever. Big hits meant more runs, and the excitement factor of a player knocking the all out of the park led to increased popularity.
The sport became immensely popular, but it wouldn’t last long.
By the time this was occurring, World War II was on the horizon. As such, a lot of teams – starved for players -shut down. This mainly affected the minor leagues, although it caused considerable strain on the major league as well.
After World War II, more seismic shifts would also have their effect on the game. Baseball became a centerpiece in the growing Civil Rights Movement. In the late 40’s, the first black minor league player was Jackie Robinson, and he shortly followed that by becoming the first African-American player in the major leagues as well.
Shortly after, baseball would face its toughest challenge to date – competition. The rise of television, cinema and other sports (including football, basketball and a range of others) meant that competition for attendance was fierce, and once again, baseball as a sport suffered. The Major leagues once again survived, yet they were fortunate – whereas the minor leagues once again practically dissolved.
At around the same time as the recovery from this, the league became more exclusive (or minority races,) expanded (each major league had ten teams) and the player’s associations gained in power. In the late 1960’s and 1970’s, the unions became more powerful – leading to minor changes in the rules, and increased player salaries.
These things coincided with a boom period between the late 1970’s and early 90’s, where baseball became most popular, setting record attendances. The nineties also saw the various leagues and professional entities be swallowed up and conglomerated to create the federation “Major League Baseball,” which oversees the sport in America to this day.
Between then and now, there has been one more major setback for the sport; this time, illegal steroids. Barry Bonds, in 2001, hit a record of 73 home runs in a season – and this kick-started a snowball effect of media scrutiny, investigations and steroid busts which caused major uproar within and outside the sport. This media frenzy started in 2002. There were no penalties for using steroids in the sport until 2004, and in 2007 Bonds and his contemporaries broke a huge amount of records; adding fuel to and doing so in despite being involved in the ongoing steroids scandals.
Since the cleaning up of the sport, baseball has had a brief period without scandal or danger of non-existence. It is now popular not just in America, but around the world once more. Despite being removed from the Olympics as of the 2012 London games, it has gained in popularity around the world – especially in the Americas (including Cuba,) Asia (Particularly Japan) and Europe (particularly the United Kingdom – bringing the 200+ year old sport home.) Sign up for one of the Time Warner Cable Sports Packages and don’t miss a game with your favorite baseball team.