History of Major League Baseball

Photo by Joshua Peacock / Modern baseball began in the 19th century

There is a commonly held legend that baseball is a sport invented in the summer of 1839 by a man called Abner Doubleday, who lived in Cooperstown, New York. This famed father of baseball also supposedly became a hero in the American Civil War, making Doubleday a legendary character in American History.

However, like with many “great man” stories, historical facts differ wildly from the popular folk stories. It is true that a man named Abner Doubleday did exist, although he did not have any involvement in the sport of baseball, and he certainly never claimed to be its inventor. It is possible that the character of Abner Doubleday was invented by the original owners of Major League Baseball to help promote it during the 1930s.

The Ancestors of Baseball

Like many other modern sports, baseball is a variation of other sports that were played in the 18th and 19th centuries. Games that look very similar to baseball have been recorded in the United States by historians as early as the 1700s.

The predecessors to baseball were first played in Britain, and both are still in existence today. The first, cricket, is a popular international sport that is played by many countries in the British Commonwealth, including Australia, India, Pakistan and New Zealand. The premise of the game is to hit a ball and run between two sets of wooden posts in the ground. These are known as “stumps”, and are similar to the “bases” seen in baseball today. Aside from the stumps, the other major difference between cricket and baseball is that the bat is flat and rectangular, rather than rounded.

The other game popular in Britain is “rounders”. It is a lot more similar to baseball than cricket, so much so, a casual fan may not be able to spot the difference immediately. Rounders is still popular in British schools, being played during physical education lessons in the summer. The game works by one player hitting a ball with a rounded bat and then running between four bases. The game of baseball most likely descended directly from rounders, since the only major difference is baseball has one less “base”.

The First Professional Team

Photo by John Btz Jr /  A Baltimore baseball team from 1896

Whilst the first baseball games had taken place in New York during the 1860s, the first professional baseball team was founded in 1896 in the Ohio city of Cincinnati. This team was known as the Cincinnati Red Stockings, not too dissimilar from the current Major League Baseball team the Red Sox. Other teams had existed before it, but none had formally paid all of their players for their participation in games. Major League Baseball uses the founding of the Cincinnati Red Stockings as the date of the founding of professional baseball. Shortly after this, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed, with the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs both having direct links to it.

Multiple Leagues

Also like other sports in the United States, baseball went through a period where two leagues battled for supremacy. Just like nearly every other sport, having multiple leagues created a dilution of money, talent and fans, all of which were spread too thinly to make any of them sustainable. The National League was formed in 1876 and is widely regarded as the predecessor to the modern day Major League Baseball. Upon its formation, the National League began to introduce rules that would ensure teams kept to game schedules and that players did not repeatedly jump from team to team without regard to their contracts.

The World Series

The modern World Series is part of Major League Baseball, but its format has its roots in the era of competing leagues. The original National League’s strongest rival was the American Association, a league which ran from 1882 to 1891. During this period, the two leagues held a championship competition after the main season to pit the best teams from each league against each other.

Wagering

Wagering on baseball began before the founding of Major League Baseball and its predecessors, with evidence demonstrating fans were placing bets on baseball games in the 19th century. Technology has revolutionised the way most wagering is done in the 21st century though, many online services exist for players to find the latest MLB betting tips and odds. This has allowed them to stay up to date with information faster and place bets from their mobile devices, wherever they are.

Expansion

Baseball was most popular in the mid-western and north-eastern parts of the United States. This meant that baseball fans in other areas of the country were either completely unable to make it to a game, or had to face a travel that could take more than a day just to watch baseball. From the 1950s, teams began moving from their original cities to set up home in other states. For example, the New York Giants, who had been suffering from declining attendance, moved to California to become the San Francisco Giants.

As well as teams moving from one city to another, new franchises were granted, expanding the size of the leagues. In 1961, the American League added the Los Angeles Angels and the Washington Senators, whilst in 1962 the National League added the Houston Astros and the New York Mets.

The Merging of Leagues

Up until 2000 the America League and the National League were both separate legal entities. From 2000 onward Major League Baseball became the single league with the former leagues becoming conferences within it. This brought Major League Baseball inline with other major sports leagues in the United States, including the National Basketball Association and the National Football League.

Baseball shares many similarities in its history with other sports. It has roots that can be traced back to England, its rules have evolved from other games, and it was created in the United

States. Also like other sports, baseball has seen rivalries between multiple professional leagues which created issues that threatened their survival. So, in a bid to survive, the competing leagues merged to create a single league that still exists today. Whilst baseball was initially confined to small parts of the USA, the modern MLB now spans the entire country, allowing fans to enjoy the game wherever they are.



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