History Of Baseball

Baseball is America’s national pastime, but how much do Americans really know about the history of baseball?

ArticlesandContent.com · Oct 7, 2021 (written 2005)

The game has been played in the United States for nearly two centuries, from its humble beginnings in the Northeast to the multi-million dollar professional sports franchise we know today. The history of baseball began when the English game of “rounders” was first played in America, where it was referred to as “townball,” “baseball,” or simply “base.” The first milestone in the history of baseball came about in the mid-nineteenth century.

The Invention of Baseball

Alexander Cartwright invented the game we know today as baseball in 1845. Cartwright’s New York Knickerbocker Base Ball Club was the first organized ball team in the history of baseball. Though the Knickerbockers were strictly an amateur team from formation to disbandment, Cartwright developed the “Knickerbocker Rules” of baseball, which were later adopted as standard by the growing sports league. One of the most significant changes from rounders to Cartwright’s baseball was the ban on “plugging” a runner—which meant hitting him with the ball to get an out. Cartwright intended baseball to be a gentleman’s game.

The First Recorded Game

The first recorded game in the history of baseball took place in 1846 between the Knickerbockers and the nine-man New York Baseball Club. Despite having invented the game, the Knickerbockers lost 23 to 1. Still, the Knickerbocker Rules were accepted and implemented. At first there were two sets of baseball rules, commonly called the New York rules (Knickerbocker) and the Massachusetts rules. However, the Massachusetts variations were eventually discarded.

1857 marked another turning point in the history of baseball when the first organized baseball league was formed. Along with fifteen other teams, the Knickerbockers formed the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) and established the first championship games. League membership grew to nearly 100 clubs by 1865, and in two short years there were more than 400 clubs enrolled in the NABBP. The most prominent member club of the NABBP was the Cincinnati Red Stockings, who also held the distinction of being the first professional team, as they were the first with openly salaried players. At its inception, the NABBP was an amateur league.

Popularity among the American public marked the history of baseball almost since the beginning. By 1860, baseball was already being hailed as the national pastime, a tag that remains with the sport today. 1870 brought another hallmark in the history of baseball when a division developed between professional and amateur players, resulting in the formation of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. The name was soon changed to the National League of Professional Base Ball Players as the amateur clubs drifted from the baseball scene, and this became the National League that operates today.

The “Dead Ball Era”

Beginning in 1900, the history of baseball entered a dark period known as the “dead ball era”. This period, which lasted until 1919, was characterized by low-scoring, pitcher-dominated games that offered little in the way of entertainment for stadium crowds. Adding to the troubles was the actual monetary cost of the baseball itself: three dollars, a hefty sum at the time that club owners were reluctant to pay. For this reason, a single baseball was typically used for an entire game, and by the end of the ninth the ball would end up misshapen and black with mud, grass and tobacco juice. “Dead ball” also referred to the condition of the baseball itself.

Despite its troubles, the sport of baseball continued to flourish. During the dead ball era, the history of baseball was fortified with the construction of new, large stadiums dedicated to the game. Famous fields built in the early 20th century included Fenway Park in Boston; Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field; Shibe Park in Philadelphia; and Chicago’s two baseball signatures, Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field. This era also featured some of the first legendary players in the history of baseball, including celebrated shortstop Honus Wagner and the irascible Ty Cobb. Legendary pitchers Cy Young, Walter “The Big Train” Johnson, and Grover Cleveland also hung their stars during the dead ball era.

What was responsible for the end of the dead ball era? There is little disagreement that a major turning point in the history of baseball came about in 1920 with a single rule, and a single player. The rule, enacted by the National League, outlawed tampering with the ball, which eliminated pitcher tricks such as spitballs, shine balls, and other methods of producing unnatural baseball flight. Discolored balls, which were harder for players to see, were also banned. This was strictly enforced following the death of Ray Chapman, who was struck in the temple by a wild pitch from Carl Mays and died the following day. The player who turned the tide of baseball was a star of the Boston Red Sox who was sold to the New York Yankees at the close of the 1919 season, by the name of George Herman Ruth: baseball’s own “Babe” Ruth.

The history of baseball featured several milestones. The Baseball Hall of Fame was instituted in 1936 with the election of five players: Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and living legend Babe Ruth. 1947 saw the re-introduction of African-Americans to the national leagues, and in 1951 center fielder Willie Mays rocked the world of baseball with the infamous “shot heard round the world”. Also during the 1950’s, baseball’s first television appearance skyrocketed the sport’s popularity.

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Babe Ruth

Famous Baseball Legends

Babe Ruth

Even people who don’t know baseball know Babe Ruth, born February 6, 1895, or at least know he was one of the all-time baseball greats. Inducted into the baseball hall of fame in 1936, George Herman “Babe” Ruth was among one of the first five players to be so honored and is probably the most famous baseball player ever. Playing for the Red Sox and mostly for the Yankees, the “Sultan of Swat” baseball card legend finished with 714 home runs and multiple American League Pennants and World Series titles. The Bambino’s Hall of Fame plaque states that he was the biggest drawing card in all of baseball history.

The only player to hit 3 home runs twice in a World Series game, baseball greatest hall hero player Ruth’s famous Louisville Slugger bat was reportedly auctioned off at Sotheby’s in 2004 for 1.26 million dollars. Only Honus Wagner’s 1909 baseball card has surpassed Ruth’s bat in baseball memorabilia value and only by five thousand dollars.

If the music died the day Buddy Holly did, baseball sure took a beating when we lost the Bambino who died from cancer at the age of 53 on August 16, 1948. Baseball hero hometown fans reiterated that sentiment in September of 2006 when Ruth was voted one of the “Hometown Heroes” on the show with the same name produced by Major League Baseball Productions.

Yogi Berra

Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, born May 12, 1925, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 after playing most of his career as a catcher for the New York Yankees. One of the most popular players in major league history, a fan favorite and baseball card legend, not only was Berra a talented catcher and hitter, but at age 81, he is still famous for his “Yogi-isms”, those beloved, sometimes nonsensical sayings that became famous right along with him.

The baseball greatest hall hero player, Berra’s career featured 14 pennants and 10 World Series Championships, which at the time of his induction was a record.

Lou Gehrig

People who don’t follow baseball remember Lou Gehrig, who was born June 19, 1903 and who died much too young and far too tragically just 17 days shy of this 38th birthday on June 2, 1941. Some still hear of him for the first time today because of the disease that carries his name. The first player to have his uniform number retired, Henry Louis “Lou” Gehrig played for the Yankees for 16 years, arriving 3 years after Babe Ruth’s famous sale to the team.

Dubbed “The Iron Horse” for his endurance and persistence no matter how much pain he was in, especially with his decades-lasting record of most consecutive games played, baseball greatest hall hero player Lou Gehrig played 13 consecutive seasons with both 100 runs scored and 100 RBI. He still holds the record for the most RBI; 184 in a single season in the American League. He kept the record for most consecutive games played, 2,130 until 1995 when it was broken by Cal Ripken, Jr.

Nolan Ryan

A Texas legend according to his Baseball Hall of Fame Plaque and several million fans, Lynn Nolan Ryan, Jr., elected to the hall of fame in 1999, had a pitching career like no one before him or since; a career that spanned four decades, lasted 27 years and struck out over 1100 different players. Interestingly enough, those strike-outs included 27 Baseball Hall of Fame members. Born January 31, 1947, this baseball card legend was also the oldest member the Texas Rangers ever had, and he pitched his last game at the age of 46.

Still holding that strike-out record, Nolan Ryan, AKA “The Ryan Express”, will always be remembered as one of baseball’s greats, most notably for his fastball. Ryan was one of the “Hometown Heroes” Major League Baseball Productions announced in September of 2006 on its Hometown Heroes program. The fans have spoken. In fact, they spoke more than once. Ryan was nominated and won the baseball hero hometown award not only from Rangers fans, but baseball hero hometown Astros fans named him their hero as well.

Alex Rodriguez

Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez or A-Rod as he is affectionately known, has the enviable distinguishment of being the highest paid player not only in baseball but in sports history, having signed a $252 million, 10 year contract with the New York Yankees. Born July 27, 1975, A-Rod is arguably the favorite current baseball player in the Major Leagues, having set his share of records.

At the age of 30, Rodriguez became the youngest baseball player in history to have hit 450 home runs. That hit was also his 2000th hit and came just 6 days shy of his 31st birthday. Although he’s received his share of criticism, A-Rod has already proven himself to be one of baseball’s greats.

Each baseball legend mentioned here has the one thing in common that makes a player great regardless of his stats, and that is the undying love of the game. It is the kind of love you give your heart and soul to. That’s how they played, that’s how they lived, and that’s why we love them.

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