Baseball is a sport played internationally but mostly in the US and Canada between two teams of nine players over nine innings. At any one time one team will be on field with one of the players designated pitcher while the remainder field, and the opposing team rotates a player to bat. Baseball is similar to other bat and ball sports such as cricket, but differs in having four bases the hitter needs to negotiate before scoring unless a home run is hit.
Despite the US dominance in Baseball, the game was not in fact invented in North America, and owes it origins to medieval games that also developed into cricket, the bat and ball game that is generally more popular outside North America, Japan, and Cuba, and a small number of other countries. Medieval bat and ball games from England are the most likely parent of modern baseball, although games played in Russia (Lapta) and Romania (Oina) during the 14th century that were similar to all of the English variants suggests that games played with a bat and ball may have collectively originated earlier in history, perhaps as early as Celtic times.
English medieval bat and ball games included Stoolball, rounders, dog and cat, and perhaps cricket as well. Stoolball seems to predate all of the other bat and ball games being mentioned in texts around 1070 and was played by milkmaids using a milkstool as the wicket, with a ball thrown and the batter being required to hit the ball with their hand or a small bat to prevent it hitting the stool. The amount of physical activity was limited to throwing and hitting and was unlikely to have required a great deal of space so could be played in small courtyards.
Many historians believe stoolball may have been adopted by men in medieval towns and villages and become the precursor to cricket since by the 1500s running between the wickets was an integral part of scoring runs, but curiously the ball was thrown on the full in the same style as modern baseball. Rounders, a game primarily played in Ireland today also originated in England, but is more similar to modern baseball than Stoolball.
In Rounders two opposing teams field and bat similarly to baseball, and the hitter needs to pass four bases before scoring a point for his team. The modern version of rounders sees the ball thrower bowl underhand to a batsmen who must bat one handed and is required to run whether he hits or misses the ball, but in older times before rules were written each locality was free to create its own rules, some of whom are believed to have come very close to modern baseball.
In the US, a game known as Town Ball, which appears to have been brought to the Americas by English and Irish immigrants, was very similar to rounders, but every region in which it was played had their own rules. Town Ball is known to have been played as long ago as the 1740s, but perhaps earlier, and in some parts of the US was known as base, base ball, ball, or round ball. The name base ball has long been considered to have been coined in the US, even to the extent of Albert Spalding, the founder of the Spalding Sports Equipment inventing a history that included a man by the name of Abner Doubleday supposedly the game independently of its true origins in England.
The earliest known reference to baseball comes from 1791, from a bylaw of the Pittsfield town hall barring the playing of baseball within 80 yards of the town meeting house. But the first recorded rules of the game of Baseball come from 1845 when Alexander Cartwright, a New York firefighter gathered together a group of men and created the Knickerbocker Club and at the same time formulating a set of rules to administer the club and adjudicate play. Their first game under Cartwright’s rules (also known as the Knickerbocker Rules) took place at Elysian Fields on June 18th 1846 against the New York Nine. Despite having written the rules, the Knickerbocker Club lost the game 23-1.
Enthusiasm for Baseball at club level and amongst spectators was responsible for several new clubs forming during the following years, so much that in 1858 it was possible to bring 25 clubs together and create the National Association of Base Ball Players. In 1869 the very first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings started a national recruitment drive followed by a tour of the East Coast and winning all but 6 matches. The NABPP, and its successor the National Association were less successful at encouraging growth in teams and competitive play, so in 1876 the National League was formed which continues to this day.
Originally the National League was made up of 12 professional teams, but declining ticket sales forced the league to downsize to 8 teams in 1900, a decision the minor Western League had been waiting for so that they could quickly expand into cities dropped by the National League. The expanded Western League renamed itself the American League, leading to competition between the two leagues and a World Series competition held every year between the winning team of the National League against the winning team of the American League.
The differences between the two major leagues are very small, both operating under essentially the same rules with the exception of the designated hitter rule adopted by the American League in 1973 allowing teams to nominate a player who bats in the place of the pitcher allowing pitchers to concentrate their training on throwing and hitters to concentrate on batting. The National League by contrast does not endorse this rule and requires all pitchers do their own batting. There has been some speculation the rule has contributed to the overall wins by American League teams in the World Series Championships.
In the history of baseball some great players have inspired fans and players alike and have become celebrities from their humble beginnings, many of them transcending sport and gaining immortality in songs, movies, even in politics. Players like Babe Ruth, Joe Di Maggio, Lou Gehrig, or Mickey Mantle lending their names. Sadly a number of America’s best players were never allowed to play the major leagues due to color. The lack of integration in Baseball between the 1870s and late 1940s meant that many great players were restricted to playing in negro leagues that whilst popular, meant these players could never be compared directly with their white counterparts.
Baseball started to integrate from 1945, many club owners and major league executives were not in good conscience able to continue to deny black players their chance in the majors after the contribution African-Americans made to the war effort. Some of America’s greatest players Joshua Gibson (the black Babe Ruth), Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard, Martin Dihigo, Judy Johnson, players who made it in the negro leagues were never able to play the major leagues. In the late 1960s a movement began to have these players recognized by the Baseball Hall of Fame, an event that finally occurred in 1971 with the induction of Satchel Paige.
In the 1990s Major League Baseball was hit with a players strike in 1994, and the Steroids scandals of the 1990s and early millennium years. Declining ticket sales and audience cynicism resulting from the big money of the league that often seems to work against minor league players being called up have had their impact forcing the MLB to tighten up anti drug policies and go into damage control to protect the spirit of the game. Their efforts upto 2006, including the consolidation of media management into a single corporation, and in 2000 the Commissioners Blue Ribbon Panel report on revenue and payroll differences between clubs finally showed signs of paying off with attendance numbers higher than the previous high in 1993.
Successful changes to the structure of major league baseball and club finances have been credited with several minor clubs in the MLB winning the World Series in recent years, including the Arizona Diamondbacks (2001), Anaheim Angels (2002), florida Marlins (2003), and the Chicago White Sox (2005).