There is something inherently American about baseball. From its humble beginnings in New York City to today’s Major League Baseball, the sport has come a long way evolving in the process. Along with hot dogs and apple pie, baseball continues to be enjoyed by Americans from coast to coast. It all started in the 1830s.
There is some dispute about Abner Doubleday inventing baseball in 1839 in Cooperstown, New York. While bat-and-ball games were being played in various communities throughout the U.S., the game as we know it really got its start with New York City’s Knickerbocker Club. Alexander Cartwright developed a set of rules, known as the Knickerbocker Rules, which gave us the game of baseball.
The first officially recorded game took place in Hoboken, N.J., in June of 1846 when the New York Nine beat the Knickerbockers, 23-1. By the 1850s, baseball was already being called our country’s national pastime. Interestingly enough, one of the original Knickerbocker Rules allowed for a putout if a player caught a hit ball on the first bounce.
By 1869, the first bounce rule was changed and the first professional baseball team came into existence, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Two years later, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players formed and by 1876 the oldest surviving major league, the National League, began. In 1901, the American League was formed and the two leagues, each with eight teams, fought for the best players.
The World Series
The feud between the two leagues was brutal back then and in 1903 the champions of each met and played the very first World Series. The American League champion Boston Americans defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League. The next year, the New York Giants won the National League title and refused to accept the major league status of the American League. That is how bad the feud between the two leagues was at the time. In 1905, Giants won the National League and relented and the World Series became an annual event.
Baseball’s early legends were pitchers like Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. The most dangerous hitter of the early years was the legendary Ty Cobb, who was the American League’s batting champion 12 times. He finished his Hall of Fame career with a .367 batting average.
It was Babe Ruth in the 1920s and ‘30s that became baseball’s first true power hitter. Many forget that Ruth was so talented that he won 94 games as a major league pitcher before becoming baseball’s all-time home run leader (714) until Hank Aaron broke his record in 1974.
Synonymous with major league baseball is the sport’s most storied franchise, the New York Yankees. The Yankees are one of the most successful sports franchises in the world. They have won more World Series titles, 27, than any team in major league baseball. The Yankees have 18 division titles and 40 American League pennants to their name. The number of championships won by the Yankees is more than any other franchise in any of the four major sports in the U.S. Many of the game’s greatest players – Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle – played for New York. The franchise has placed 44 players and 11 of its managers in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Modern Game
In 1968, Curt Flood won a legal battle to become baseball’s first free agent. Free agency has had a huge impact on the game and on player salaries. Each of the now 30 MLB teams must meet salary cap restrictions all while trying to put together a lineup that gives it the best opportunity to win a World Series.
Over the course of the past decade or so, major league teams have utilized an assortment of metrics to help guide them in assembling their rosters. In 2016, the Chicago Cubs finally put together a roster worthy of ending baseball’s longest World Series drought. The Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians in seven games to claim their first title in 108 years. Last season, Houston beat the Los Angeles Dodgers four games to three to win their first-ever World Series title.