Today, a multi-billion dollar industry, baseball has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a folk game in the nineteen century…
The interest in the game of baseball has not captured the imagination of the people across the globe like professional basketball and American football. The reasons for the same can be attributed to decline in participation at amateur level and protracted labor problems. Despite the uncertainty of ‘America’s National Pastime’, baseball will always occupy an important place in American culture.
The debate and controversy on the origin of baseball or rather history of baseball has been going on for a century now. However, the general consensus is that baseball has been derived from a European folk game known as ‘Town Ball’.
The earliest known newspaper account, which provides first written proof of baseball history was about a game in the United States and was published on September 11, 1845, in the New York Morning News, which announced a game that occurred the previous day. The first recorded Baseball game was played on October 6, 1845 at Elysian Fields, in Hoboken, New Jersey by fourteen members of the New York Knickerbockers Club. Alexander Cartwright captained knickerbockers team. Duncan Curry, the club president captained the other team. Curry’s team won 11–8 in three innings.
A New York Club ‘Knickerbockers’ published the first book containing the baseball rules in 1845. The author, Alexander Joy Cartwright is known as the ‘the father of baseball’. In June 3, 1953, the Congress officially credited him with inventing the game. Cartwright wrote twenty rules in the book, which are now known as the ’20 Original Rules of Baseball’.
The new rules changed Baseball in a number of ways, further differentiating it from Town Ball, the main changes being three strikes to a batter, three outs to an inning, tags and force-outs in lieu of hitting a runner with a thrown ball and the addition of an umpire. The rules set by Cartwright also established the idea of ‘fair’ and ‘foul’ territory. Earlier, the batter could run the bases any time he hit the ball, like in cricket. The new version of the game became known as the ‘New York game’ further distinguishing it from ‘Town Ball’ which also was known as ‘The Massachusetts game’.
A small section of people wanted baseball to remain an amateur endeavor, but there was no way they could compete with the professional teams. The amateur teams began to fade away as the best players became professionals. Baseball was institutionalized and further developed by the National Association in 1858. The Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first all-professional team in 1869. The rival National (1876) and American (1903) Leagues competed in the first World Series in 1903 and All-Star Game in 1933. In 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson, removing the color barrier that had consigned black players to the “Negro Leagues.”
Through the first decade of the twentieth century, baseball remained a game of strategy. The so-called “dead ball” provided few homeruns. The game relied on contact-hitters, bunting, and base stealing for its offense. The adoption of a ball with a cork center in 1911 changed the game dramatically. Forty years of baseball records began to fall, and the game started to gain immense popularity.
Like all Americans, a large number of entered the armed forces during World War two, hence turning the forties into a tough time for baseball, but as we all know, new era beckoned. Although there was no written rule, baseball had always been racially segregated. In 1947, Jackie Robinson finally broke the color barrier, joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. But integration turned out to be a very slow process. Other teams were slow to adopt African-American and other minority players. It took about ten years before all of the teams had integrated, and it wasn’t until the early sixties that professional baseball could truly call it integrated.
The impact of the game in America can be best described by citing Charles A. Peverelly who in an era as early as 1866 described baseball as “The game of base ball has now become beyond question the leading feature of the outdoor sports of the United States … It is a game which is peculiarly suited to the American temperament and disposition; … in short, the pastime suits the people, and the people suit the pastime.”