History of Baseball in America
The modern game of baseball, as it is now played, fully emerged in North America in the 18th century. However, there is evidence and documentation of the game being played long before this. Although it is difficult to trace exactly when and how the game originated, it is generally agreed that baseball developed as a progression from other bat and ball games like rounders.
The earliest ever mention of the game “base-ball” was in 1744 in a British publication, and the game pictured was very similar to the one that is played today. The first American reference, however, is not found until 1791 in a Massachusetts statute which prohibited people from playing the game within 80 yards of Pittsfield’s meeting house. Although proof that the game was played locally, the oldest complete description and documentation of an early version of baseball and its rules only stretches back to 1838. The document was later published in an 1889 copy of Sporting Life magazine.
Shortly after this article was written, an early codification of the rules was produced, referred to as the ‘knickerbockers rules’, in 1844 by Alexander Cartwright. The invention of the baseball field is accredited to Cartwright and members of his New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club. These guidelines set in place many of the main rules which are still used today, and introduced the idea of a hardball being used instead of a softball. Indeed, the first ever game of recorded baseball was in 1846 when The Knickerbockers lost to the New York Baseball Club.
Semi-professional baseball was introduced in the 1830s in North America. The first ever fully professional baseball club, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was formed in 1869. This truly integrated baseball into the hearts and minds of American citizens and, by the following decade, baseball was being referred to in national newspapers as both a “National Pastime” and even the “National Game”.
With the introduction of baseball at professional level came the development of a major league. In 1871, the National Association was born, lasting until 1875. This was swiftly followed, in 1876, by the National League, which still exists today as one of the two major baseball leagues. Several other major leagues were formed across the country, but the only one that lasted the duration was the American League, which originated from a minor league called the Western League. It was established in 1901, and stands as the only other remaining league in existence.
When baseball was first played at a professional level. it was more violent and aggressive than the current incarnation. The breaking point came in the 1920s with several changes made to the rules. Alongside regulations geared towards preventing such violence, guidelines were included to bring the outfield fences closer to the infield so that the parks were not as large. Moreover, extremely strict rules were introduced which made tight measures as to how the ball was constructed, and as to its size and shape. These changes made it easier to hit the ball further, which increased the possibility for batters to hit a home run and, by consequence, the entertainment provided in each game.
In the early 1890s, a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ was introduced into professional baseball, which barred African-Americans from being able to play in the major leagues and their affiliated minor leagues. This colour line lead to the introduction of several ‘Negro leagues’, many of which are still in existence today. Such segregation ended in 1946 though, when Jackie Robinson was signed by the National League’s Brooklyn Dodgers, which lead to the lifting of the ban one year later.
History of baseball outside America
Baseball’s popularity has spread to many countries around the world, including Canada, where its history closely parallels that of American baseball. A professional league, the International Association, was not formed until 1877, which is considerably later than in North America. The league featured teams from both Canada and North America. However, no American major leagues took on a Canadian team until 1969, which is when many people feel that foreign baseball was finally accepted within America.
Baseball quickly moved to other parts of America and, in 1878, a formal team was constructed in Cuba. Outside of America and Canada, Cuba retains a strong baseball tradition and the country’s national team has been one of the best in the world since international competition began in the 1930s (many of the squad actually plying their trade in MLB). In general, Latin America has the widest baseball following outside of North America and, after World War Two, many professional leagues were formed across the region.
However, professional baseball has sprung up in other countries around the world, with changes taking place in Australia in 1934, Japan in 1936 and Puerto Rico in 1938. Asia has an especially, and somewhat surprisingly, strong following of the sport, with professional leagues formed in Korea in 1982, Taiwan in 1990 and China in 2003.
Some professional leagues have been founded in Europe but, compared to its following in Asia and Latin America, baseball has never received the same recognition in this continent or in Australia. That said, with the introduction of worldwide competitions, the appeal of baseball has started to increase in these places.