- I – INTRODUCTION
- II – HOW BASEBALL IS PLAYED
- III – ORGANIZED BASEBALL
- IV – THE HISTORY OF BASEBALL
I – INTRODUCTION
Baseball, competitive game of skill played with a hard ball and bat between two teams of nine players each. Baseball is often called the national pastime of the United States, because of its strong tradition and great popularity. It is played throughout the world by people of all ages.
Baseball is one of the oldest and most popular spectator sports. The game as it is known today developed during the early 1800s among children and amateur players. Today, professional baseball attracts millions of spectators to ballparks each year and entertains millions more through radio and television broadcasts.
II – HOW BASEBALL IS PLAYED
A baseball game is divided into nine periods of play, called innings. The team that scores the most runs by the end of the ninth inning wins the game. Play starts when a player called the pitcher throws a ball toward the batter, a player on the opposing team. The batter tries to hit the ball into the baseball field. Players score runs by hitting the ball and running around a series of bases before a player in the field can put them out. Batters and runners can be put out in a variety of ways.
Innings are divided into two halves, referred to as the top and bottom of the inning. During the top of an inning, one team is at bat while the other is in the field. After the team at bat has three outs the two teams switch these roles, and the bottom of an inning begins. If the game is tied after nine innings, the teams continue to play until one has scored more runs at the end of an extra inning.
The following sections describe the elements of baseball in more detail. A knowledge of the design of the field, the use of baseball equipment, and the role of players is crucial to an understanding of how the game is played.
A – The Field
Baseball is played on a level field, which usually covers about 2 acres (0.8 hectares). (The field dimensions in this section refer to high school, college, and professional baseball. Youth baseball competition, such as Little League, uses smaller dimensions.) The playing area is divided into the infield and the outfield. Together, these two areas make up fair territory. The rest of the field is called foul territory.
The infield consists of a square-shaped plot called the diamond, which measures 90 ft (27 m) on each side. One corner of the diamond is marked by a five-sided piece of rubber called home plate. Batters hit the ball from a position on either side of home plate, depending on their preference. At the three other corners of the infield—moving counterclockwise from home plate—are first base, second base, and third base. Each base is marked with a canvas bag.
The pitcher’s mound, a slightly raised piece of ground, lies near the center of the infield, between home plate and second base. A strip of rubber is nailed to the top of the mound, 60 ft 6 in (about 18 m) from home plate. Pitchers place one foot on the rubber when they put the ball in play.
Base lines run from home plate to first base and from home plate to third base. Extensions of these lines, called foul lines, run along the outer edges of the outfield. These lines divide foul and fair territory. Base lines also extend from first to second to third base, marking the path of a runner. The region of the outfield behind first base is called right field, the region behind second base is called center field, and the region behind third base is called left field. A curving fence runs along the farthest limits of the outfield, typically about 90 to 120 m (300 to 400 ft) away from home plate at various points.
Two covered shelters called dugouts are located in foul territory along each base line. Players occupy the dugouts when they are not on the field. The baseball field is also designed with a number of markings that indicate the use of certain regions. Boxes outlined in chalk on each side of home plate indicate where a batter may stand. Chalk boxes in foul territory near first and third base define the position of team coaches. Similar regions limit where pitchers may warm up during the game and where players may prepare before batting.
B – Baseball Equipment
Basic baseball equipment includes a hard ball, a wooden or aluminum bat, a padded leather glove for each fielder for catching the ball, cleated shoes, and protective helmets for batters. Catchers wear special protective gear, including a helmet, a cagelike mask, a padded chest protector, and shin guards.
A baseball has a cork center wrapped in layers of rubber and string. It is covered by pieces of leather that have been tightly stitched together. A baseball measures about 9 in (23 cm) in circumference. Bats are usually made of aluminum or of springy wood, such as ash. They may be no more than 2.75 in (7 cm) in diameter and no more than 42 in (107 cm) in length. Specific rules also describe the size and construction of gloves, spiked shoes, batting helmets, and other baseball equipment.
C – The Baseball Team
A baseball team fields nine players. On the field, each player is responsible for a particular position. The pitcher puts the ball into play by throwing it toward home plate. Each throw is called a pitch. By holding the ball in special ways and adjusting its spin, pitchers can throw a variety of pitches. They use these techniques, along with changing the speed of their throw, to make it more difficult for batters to hit the ball. The catcher receives the ball and returns it to the pitcher unless the batter hits the ball. Catchers also defend home plate when a runner tries to score.
The first baseman, second baseman, and third baseman are each stationed at or near a base. The shortstop stands between second and third base. These players are responsible for fielding, or handling, the ball when it is hit to the infield and for putting out runners as they attempt to advance around the diamond. Three outfielders are stationed individually in right field, center field, and left field. They are responsible for fielding balls hit to the outfield.
While one team is in the field, the other team takes its turn at bat, one player at a time, according to a specific order. Batting rules vary slightly in the two major leagues of the United States. In the National League, the pitcher is also a batter. In the American League, a player called the designated hitter bats in place of the pitcher. Designated hitters do not play on the field.
D – Managers and Umpires
In organized baseball, several people help the game run smoothly. They include managers, coaches, and umpires.
The manager is a team’s leader and is responsible for the team’s strategy and conduct. Managers determine which members of the team play, what positions they play, and the order in which they bat. During the game, most managers prefer to perform their duties from the dugout, except for occasional visits to the field to remove a pitcher or argue a call with an umpire. Two or more coaches, positioned closer to the field, assist the manager by communicating with the players. For example, managers may decide what pitches should be thrown, when batters should swing at a pitch, and how runners should move around the bases. The manager relays these decisions through special hand signals that the coaches repeat to communicate to the players.
Umpires are responsible for interpreting and enforcing the rules of play. They rule on the results of each play—for example, an umpire determines when a player is out. Umpires have complete authority over the game. They may eject from the game players, managers, or coaches who break rules of conduct. In the major leagues, a crew of four umpires is assigned to each game. They are stationed at home plate, along the first and third base lines, and in the infield near second base.
E – Basic Rules
In a baseball game, one team is designated the home team and the other is the visiting team. The visiting team always bats first, or at the top of the inning, while the home team takes the field. When a team is at bat it is playing offense—that is, trying to score runs. Teams score runs after their players get on base, primarily by hitting the ball, and then continue around the bases in consecutive order and successfully cross home plate before the third out is made. When a team is in the field it is playing defense, or trying to put opposing players out before they can travel around the bases. After three outs, half of the inning is over and the teams switch sides.
F – Pitching
Throughout the game, play revolves around the action between the pitcher and the batter. The pitcher has the first opportunity to put the batter out. Pitchers throw the ball to the batter, usually attempting to pass it through the strike zone, an area directly over home plate and roughly between the batter’s armpits and knees. Pitches thrown into this area that the batter does not hit are called strikes. Strikes also include (1) pitches that the batter swings at but does not hit and (2) the first two times that a batter hits the ball into foul territory. (Subsequent fouls do not count as strikes or balls.) After three strikes, a batter is out. Pitches outside of the strike zone that the batter does not swing at are called balls. If a pitcher throws four balls, the batter proceeds to first base. This is called a base on balls or a walk. An umpire determines whether pitches are strikes or balls.
G – Getting on Base and Running
If a batter gets on base by hitting the ball so that fielders cannot successfully field it, the batter has recorded a base hit. On a base hit, the runner tries to advance as many bases as possible without being put out. A base hit in which a batter gets to first base is called a single; one in which the batter gets to second base is called a double; and one in which the batter gets to third base is called a triple.
Batters can reach first base in several ways, in addition to base hits and walks. The most common are (1) when the batter is hit by a pitched ball; (2) when a fielder mishandles a ball hit in fair territory and the batter reaches base safely as a result of the fielding mistake, known as an error; (3) when the catcher interferes with the batter’s attempt to swing at the pitch; and (4) when the catcher drops a third strike and the batter reaches first base before a fielder tags the base or the batter.
Batters who reach base safely are referred to as base runners. Base runners can proceed to the next base when a subsequent batter hits the ball. If a batted ball is caught on a fly, the runner may advance, but may only leave the current base after the catch is made. Subsequent batters sometimes sacrifice their chance for getting a base hit in order to advance the runner. One way to do this is to hit a sacrifice fly ball. Another way is to bunt—that is, simply hold the bat out toward a pitch rather than swing the bat, so that when the ball is hit, it rolls slowly toward the infield. Ordinarily, in a sacrifice, the batter is put out, and the runner reaches the next base safely.
Runners also may advance by stealing a base. They may steal only under certain circumstances, such as when the pitcher is delivering a pitch or when the catcher drops the ball. To prevent steals, fielders must tag the runners by touching them with the ball.
H – Fielding
If the batter hits the ball, fielders have opportunities to prevent the batter from reaching a base safely, known as putting the batter out. For example, a batter is ruled out if a fielder catches a batted ball before it hits the ground, in foul or fair territory. A batter is also out if a fielder holding the ball tags the batter or tags first base before the batter can reach it. Fielders often retrieve the ball from where it is hit and throw it to the player covering first base, who tags the base. If the batter reaches first base safely, however, fielders have additional opportunities to put players out and prevent a run. If a runner occupies a base to which a subsequent batter or runner must advance, runners are forced to move to the next base. In a force, fielders can put the runner out by tagging the base before the runner reaches it. If there is no force—that is, if there is no runner approaching from the preceding base—fielders must tag the runner out.
If fielders put two runners out in one play, it is called a double play. If they put three runners out in one play, it is called a triple play. A typical double play occurs when the batter hits the ball on the ground in the infield. As the runner tries to advance from first base to second base, an infielder gets the ball, steps on second base to force out the base runner, and quickly throws the ball to the player covering first base to put out the batter. A triple play is relatively rare in baseball.
I – Scoring
A runner scores by successfully moving around all the bases and crossing home plate without being put out. Scoring is usually the result of a combination of base hits, walks, or sacrifices; skillful baserunning; or errors by the defensive team. Sometimes the batter circles the bases on one hit. This is known as a home run. A batter usually scores a home run by hitting the ball over the outfield fence. On rare occasions, however, the batter may round all four bases without hitting the ball over the fence. This play is known as an inside-the-park home run. If there are base runners at the time the home run is hit, those players also round the bases and score. If there are base runners on all three bases when the batter hits a home run, the team at bat scores four runs, and the play is called a grand slam.
III – ORGANIZED BASEBALL
Baseball is played in organized leagues throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and other countries. An organized league can be defined as a group of teams that play one another regularly and adhere to an official set of rules. In professional baseball, players receive payment for their play. Professional baseball includes the major leagues and the minor leagues. Amateur baseball, in which players are not paid, includes most other leagues, such as Little League, high school, and university competition as well as various community leagues. Softball, a sport similar to baseball, is also played in leagues throughout the United States.
A – The Major Leagues
Major league baseball represents the highest level of baseball competition in North America. It includes teams from the United States and Canada. The major leagues are divided into the National League (NL) and the American League (AL). The teams of each league are grouped into three divisions within their league. In both the NL and AL, the divisions are called the East Division, the Central Division, and the West Division.
In the National League, the East Division consists of the Atlanta Braves, the Florida Marlins, the New York Mets, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Washington Nationals. The Central Division consists of the Chicago Cubs, the Cincinnati Reds, the Houston Astros, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the St. Louis Cardinals. The West Division consists of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Colorado Rockies, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Diego Padres, and the San Francisco Giants.
In the American League, the East Division consists of the Baltimore Orioles, the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and the Toronto Blue Jays. The Central Division consists of the Chicago White Sox, the Cleveland Indians, the Detroit Tigers, the Kansas City Royals, and the Minnesota Twins. The West Division consists of the Los Angeles Angels, the Oakland Athletics, the Seattle Mariners, and the Texas Rangers.
B – The Major League Season
The major league baseball season lasts from April (or late March) to October and includes the regular season, the playoffs, and the World Series. Teams play 162 games during the regular season. The team with the most victories in each division becomes the division winner and earns the right to compete in the playoffs. The team with the best record in each league after the division winners also is included in the playoffs as a wild-card team.
Each league holds a separate playoff, featuring their three division winners and the wild-card team. These teams are paired and face each other in a series of games. The teams that win the most games in a series earn the right to move on to the next round of playoffs. The final series in the league playoffs determines which team wins the pennant, or championship, of their league. The NL and AL pennant winners meet in the World Series, and the winner of this series becomes the major league world champion.
The major leagues also hold an annual competition called the All-Star Game, which matches a team of NL players against a team of AL players. Baseball fans select the starting players in the game. It takes place during the All-Star break, a period in the middle of the regular season during which teams temporarily rest from competition.
C – Team Management
Every major league baseball team is part of a baseball club, which includes the team, the owner, and the team management. The owner may be an individual, a group, or a corporation. Club owners provide the money that a team needs to operate. They work with the team management to organize activities such as running a stadium and selling tickets and concessions.
Club owners and management recruit players for the team. The complicated system of recruitment and payment of players is controlled by strict league rules, which involve the number of players clubs may have and the contracts, or agreements, that clubs and players sign. A union, called the Major League Players Association, advises players in these matters.
D – The Minor Leagues
A minor league is any association of professional baseball clubs apart from the major leagues that is recognized by the official Minor League Baseball association. This organization ranks leagues into various classes, depending on the players’ level of skill. Ranked from the lowest level of skill to the highest, these include Rookie, Class A, Class AA, and Class AAA.
Many major league baseball clubs own or operate minor league teams, known as farm teams. Major league clubs use these teams to give players the opportunity to develop their skills in minor league competition. Exceptional players on farm teams may then be brought up to play on the major league team. Farm teams also enable major league clubs to keep additional talented players whom they may trade for players from other major league teams. Minor League Baseball has helped form agreements between the management of minor and major league teams.
E – Amateur Baseball
Amateur baseball is the oldest form of organized baseball. The first professional teams began as amateur baseball clubs. Today many youth groups, high schools, universities, branches of the military, businesses, and social groups, such as the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), continue to sponsor amateur baseball teams and leagues. Many of the greatest professional baseball players began their careers in amateur baseball before signing with professional teams.
The most common amateur leagues include those organized for young people. Little League, established in 1939, is an organization that operates baseball programs in communities of many countries. Boys and girls from 5 to 18 years old can play Little League. Each year an annual Little League World Series is held in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where Little League was founded.
Many high schools and universities have baseball teams made up of student players. They usually play against other teams in their athletic conference during the spring. Professional baseball clubs often recruit outstanding players from high schools, colleges, or universities.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, businesses commonly organized amateur teams made up of their employees. These teams played in leagues that were sometimes called industrial leagues. Teams sometimes hired former professional players to improve their squads, and large crowds attended some of the best industrial league baseball games. Today softball has largely replaced baseball as a favorite athletic competition among businesses.
IV – THE HISTORY OF BASEBALL
Although it is clear that modern baseball developed in North America, the exact origin of the game is difficult to determine. Most scholars believe that baseball evolved from a variety of similar games that have been played for centuries. A popular legend claims that Abner Doubleday, who was a Union officer during the American Civil War (1861-1865), invented baseball in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. But there is little support for this story.
A – Origins
There is evidence that people played games involving a stick and a ball since the early days of civilization. Ancient cultures in Persia, Egypt, and Greece played stick-and-ball games for recreation and as part of certain ceremonies. Games of this type had spread throughout Europe by the Middle Ages (5th century to 15th century) and became popular in a variety of forms. Europeans brought stick-and-ball games to the American colonies as early as the 1600s. Until the late 1700s, however, they were widely considered children’s games.
By the early 1800s, a variety of stick-and-ball games had become popular in North America. Most of these games originated in England. Many people in northeastern cities such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia played cricket, a traditional game of English aristocrats. But an English game called rounders, which was eventually played in rural and urban communities throughout North America, most closely resembled modern baseball.
Rounders called for a batter to strike a ball and run around bases without being put out. Balls that were caught on the fly, or in some cases after one bounce, were commonly outs. Rounders also involved the practice of plugging, soaking, or stinging, in which fielders could put runners out by throwing the ball at them as they ran between bases. The rules of rounders varied widely from place to place, and people used various names to describe it, including town ball, one o’ cat, and base ball (which was eventually shortened to baseball).
B – The New York Game
By the 1820s and 1830s baseball had become a common form of recreation, played according to local customs throughout Northeastern America. Early forms of baseball were played in cities such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Rochester as well as in many rural towns and villages. On June 4, 1838, a group of residents gathered in Beachville, Ontario, to play a local version of baseball with five bases, a game believed to be the first ever played in Canada. People in some communities formed clubs especially to play the game. But elements of rounders, such as plugging the runner, remained common, and baseball lacked official rules or formal organization.
The most important early organized baseball club was formed in 1845 by a group of young men in New York City. This group, led by Alexander Cartwright and later by Dr. Daniel L. Adams, called their club the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. The Knickerbockers developed a set of 20 rules—14 governing play and 6 relating to administration—that became the foundation of modern baseball. These rules, first published in 1845, defined the playing field with a home plate and three additional bases set apart at specific distances. They also abolished plugging and replaced it with the practice of tagging runners or forcing them out at a base.
The Knickerbockers also established foul lines, which became one of the most significant developments in baseball. In previous versions of the game, the ball could be struck in any direction. By drawing foul lines from home plate, the Knickerbockers added focus to the game. Perhaps more significantly, they created an area close to the action where spectators could gather and watch the game without interfering. Although there were few baseball spectators in the early days of the Knickerbockers, the creation of foul territory established an area where onlookers might safely gather to watch the game. Eventually, as the Knickerbockers’ style of play became popular, baseball games drew increasing public attention.
On June 19, 1846, the Knickerbockers played in what is widely considered the first modern baseball game. They met another organized baseball team called the New York Club in what is now Hoboken, New Jersey, and played a complete game according to the Knickerbocker rules. The Knickerbockers lost, 23-1.
The Knickerbocker style of play spread rapidly during the 1850s, when baseball clubs formed throughout New York City and adopted the new rules. By the late 1850s the game’s popularity had spread beyond the city, and it became known as the New York Game. By the mid-1850s crowds of several thousand were not uncommon at baseball games in the New York City area.
The New York Game spread more rapidly during the Civil War as Union soldiers introduced the game in places where they traveled. By the end of the war in 1865, the game had become the most popular variety of baseball throughout the country. Soon after, the name New York Game disappeared—it became simply baseball.
C – Professional Baseball
As baseball’s popularity grew, many people began to see its potential for financial profit. By the 1850s landowners were regularly maintaining baseball parks to rent to baseball clubs. Baseball teams customarily collected donations from fans to cover costs. The first fully enclosed baseball park, the Union Grounds in Brooklyn, was completed in 1862. This style of park soon became popular because owners could sell food and drink to spectators without competition from street vendors.
The National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP), an organization formed in 1858, prohibited members from taking payment for playing baseball. During the early 1860s ballpark owners earned large profits while the amateur ball players provided free entertainment. Pressure from players eventually forced the NABBP to change its policy in 1868 and allow players to accept money. This ruling marked the birth of professional baseball.
The first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, began play in 1869. They traveled the country that year, playing before thousands of fans and winning 60 games without a loss. Soon baseball’s promoters began forming professional baseball clubs in cities across the Northeastern and Midwestern United States. By 1870 professional players outnumbered amateurs in the NABBP and the remaining amateurs withdrew. In 1871 the organization became the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players.
The new National Association represented players from ten clubs. In effect, these clubs made up the first professional baseball league. They introduced the practice of league competition and concluded their regular season with a pennant race and championship. However, the National Association suffered from poor management and by 1876 it had folded completely.
D – The Major Leagues
In 1876 representatives of eight baseball clubs, led by Chicago White Stockings officials William Hulbert and Albert Spalding, sought to replace the National Association with a more structured organization. They created the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, known as the National League, which consisted of teams from Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; Cincinnati, Ohio; Hartford, Connecticut; Louisville, Kentucky; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; New York City; and St. Louis, Missouri. They adopted a constitution that regulated club activities, required players to honor their contracts, and banned gambling completely.
A rival league, the American Association, was founded in 1882. American Association clubs charged lower admission prices and, unlike National League teams, played on Sundays and allowed the sale of liquor. Tension between the two leagues increased as they competed for the best players. In 1883 the leagues formed an agreement that established exhibition games between the leagues’ best teams following the regular season. In addition, the American Association agreed to adopt the National League’s reserve clause, which required players to obtain permission from their club’s owner before joining another club.
Attendance at baseball games grew during the late 1880s, as clubs built larger ballparks and the quality of play improved. The leagues added new rules, which included permitting the overhand pitch. Previously, pitchers were required to use an underhand or sidearm delivery. The use of baseball gloves gained general acceptance and new standards for the design of balls and bats were adopted. John Montgomery Ward, captain of the New York Giants, founded the first players’ union, the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, in 1885.
The American Association folded after the 1891 season and its four best teams joined the National League, which remained the only major league through the end of the 1800s. Public interest in baseball decreased during this period, and many clubs experienced financial difficulty.
Baseball entered a new era in 1901, however, when the American League opened its first season. It was founded by Ban Johnson, president of the Western League, a successful minor league organization that he renamed the American League. In 1903 the National League agreed to recognize the American League, and championship teams from each league met in the first World Series.
E – Growth and Prosperity
Major league baseball enjoyed widespread popularity during the early 1900s. Attendance at games swelled, and the World Series became one of the leading annual events in sports. Outstanding players such as Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, and Ty Cobb emerged as national stars. Owners responded to the prosperity by building larger, more modern ballparks.
Baseball’s success also brought difficulties. Many players argued that their salaries were too low, and the players’ union tried unsuccessfully to change the reserve clause and other major league policies. But baseball faced its greatest challenge following the 1919 World Series, in which the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Chicago White Sox. The following year, seven Chicago players were banned from baseball for intentionally losing the series in exchange for bribes from professional gamblers. An eighth Chicago player was banned because he knew of the plan but did not report it. This scandal severely damaged baseball’s public image.
Baseball’s reputation recovered, however, under the leadership of its first commissioner, a federal judge named Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Several other factors also contributed to baseball’s renewed popularity during the 1920s. A ban on trick pitches such as spitballs and shineballs and the development of the more lively cork-centered ball led to an increase in home-run hitting. Babe Ruth, initially a star pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, joined the New York Yankees in 1920 and became one of the greatest home-run hitters of all time. Many hitters imitated Ruth’s style, and baseball developed into a higher scoring and—to many fans—more exciting game.
The growth of baseball continued into the 1930s, when radio broadcasts of games became common. The first major league night games were also held during the 1930s, enabling fans to attend games after work. In 1939 the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum was opened in Cooperstown, New York, to display baseball memorabilia and honor the game’s greatest players.
F – The Negro Leagues
From the mid-1880s until the mid-1940s, black players were not allowed to compete in the major leagues. Instead, they joined teams made up entirely of black players, and many of these teams formed leagues that were known collectively as the Negro Leagues. One of the best known was the Negro National League, which was formed in 1920. Another, the Eastern Colored League, formed in 1923, and the champions of the two leagues met in a World Series every year from 1924 to 1927.
The Great Depression disrupted play in the Negro Leagues during the early 1930s. A new Negro National League formed in 1933 and was joined by the Negro American League in 1937. These leagues held an annual World Series until 1948. Outstanding players in the Negro Leagues included catcher Josh Gibson; pitcher Satchel Paige; and outfielder , who used the nickname “Cool Papa.” The integration of the major leagues, which began in 1947, drew the best black players from the Negro Leagues. Declining attendance spelled the end of the Negro Leagues in the early 1950s.
G – The Impact of World War II
Baseball suffered during World War II (1939-1945), as hundreds of major league players were called to military service. Teams and fans also endured travel restrictions and limits on supplies. To overcome the shortage of players, some club owners began to recruit players from Latin American countries. More than 40 players from these countries joined the major leagues during the war.
The effects of World War II also contributed to an increased interest in women’s baseball. In 1943 Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley founded the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, which featured teams from Midwestern cities. The league lasted until 1954.
After the war, baseball began to grow again. Veteran stars such as Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Ted Williams, and Stan Musial returned from military service to the major leagues. Night baseball games resumed, and attendance at games climbed. In 1946 viewers in Boston observed the first television broadcast of a major league game.
H – The Integration of the Major Leagues
Jackie Robinson, the first black player in the modern major leagues, made his debut as a Brooklyn Dodger on April 15, 1947, bringing an end to baseball’s exclusion of blacks. In his first year, Robinson led the Dodgers to the National League pennant and was named rookie of the year. Although Robinson was often confronted with bigotry from the stands and on the field, his outstanding performance and composure on the field helped overcome racial prejudice.
Robinson’s success as a player opened the door for other blacks to play professional baseball on previously all-white teams, but not all teams signed black players immediately. By 1950, only 5 of the 16 major league teams had integrated—the Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns, New York Giants, and Boston Braves. By 1953, blacks had played on 8 of the 16 teams. Not until 1959, when the Boston Red Sox acquired Pumpsie Green, had every major league team signed a black player.
Bill Veeck, president of the Cleveland Indians, was one major league executive who recognized the competitive advantage black stars brought to baseball teams. Noting that Robinson’s presence on the Brooklyn roster made the Dodgers a pennant contender and improved their attendance figures, Veeck signed a black baseball star to play for the Indians. On July 5, 1947, Larry Doby joined Cleveland and played his first major league game as a first baseman against the Chicago White Sox.
Few people welcomed Doby to the team, and two of his teammates refused to shake his hand. Eddie Robinson, the Indians’ regular first baseman, feared losing his job and refused to loan Doby his first baseman’s glove; the Indians borrowed a mitt from the Chicago White Sox for Doby. Fans shouted racial insults at Doby from the stands. Taunts and jeers also came from rival players on the field. When the Indians traveled, Doby had to stay in a separate hotel that catered to blacks. Doby found life in the major leagues isolated and lonely, and his experience was typical of what many black players encountered through the 1950s. Not until the United States Congress passed civil rights legislation in 1964 were blacks guaranteed the right to stay in the same hotels and eat meals in the same restaurants as their white teammates.
Besides Robinson and Doby, other players who became the first blacks on major league teams were Henry Thompson (St. Louis Browns, July 7, 1947), Monte Irvin and Henry Thompson (New York Giants, July 8, 1949), Sam Jethroe (Boston Braves, April 18, 1950), Minnie Minoso (Chicago White Sox, May 1, 1951), Bob Trice (Philadelphia Athletics, September 13, 1953), Ernie Banks (Chicago Cubs, September 17, 1953), Curt Roberts (Pittsburgh Pirates, April 13, 1954), Tom Alston (St. Louis Cardinals, April 13, 1954), Elston Howard (New York Yankees, April 14, 1954), Nino Escalera (Cincinnati Reds, April 17, 1954), Carlos Paula (Washington Senators, September 6, 1954), John Kennedy (Philadelphia Phillies, April 22, 1957), Ozzie Virgil (Detroit Tigers, June 6, 1958), and Pumpsie Green (Boston Red Sox, July 21, 1959).
In 1954 only 7 percent of all major league players were black. By 1980 the number of black players on major league rosters reached a high of 22 percent. In 1990, however, 17 percent of all major league players were black. An influx of Latin American ballplayers and growing opportunities for black athletes in other professional sports, notably basketball, are thought to be responsible for the decrease in black major leaguers.
In the 1980s, Major League Baseball (MLB) came under sharp criticism because few blacks filled jobs as team managers, coaches, umpires, and front office personnel. In response to this criticism, Major League Baseball began an affirmative action program in 1988 to increase the hiring of blacks and other minorities for managerial positions. In 1992 Cito Gaston became the first African American manager to win a World Series championship, as he led the Toronto Blue Jays to the title. Gaston and the Blue Jays repeated the feat in 1993.
I – League Expansion
Several major league clubs relocated during the 1950s. The first, the Boston Braves, moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1953. Other key changes occurred in 1958, when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, California, and the New York Giants moved to San Francisco, California, expanding baseball’s market across the United States. Professional baseball had become so popular that many cities began requesting permission to create new clubs.
During the 1960s, the National League and American League each added four new teams, creating a total of 12 teams in each league. Beginning in 1969, each league was divided into separate East and West divisions, the winners of which played each other in the league playoffs. Expansion proved successful, as millions of fans attended major league games across the country each year. Television networks also purchased the rights to broadcast major league games, which added to baseball’s growing popularity. In 1973 the American League adopted the designated hitter rule in an effort to increase scoring. The American League expanded to 14 teams in 1977.
Relations between players and club owners reached a crisis in the 1972 season, when the Major League Players Association called a strike protesting the owners’ unwillingness to improve player benefits. In that same year, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the reserve clause. But in its ruling, the court supported many of the players’ complaints, paving the way for free agency later in the decade. Relations with owners remained strained, however, and in 1981 the players staged another strike.
The major leagues expanded again in 1993, when the National League added two new teams: the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins. Club owners and players agreed to a realignment of league structure in 1994. Under this realignment, each league grouped its 14 teams into three separate divisions. The leagues also added another series to their playoffs, enabling more teams to compete after the regular season. In 1994, however, no postseason play was held because major league players went on a season-ending strike in August. As the strike continued during the off-season, club owners threatened to field teams consisting of replacement players for the 1995 season, but in April 1995 the major league players ended their strike.
In an attempt to draw more fans, MLB instituted interleague play in 1997, matching AL and NL teams against each other in a limited number of regular-season games. These interleague matchups were previously confined to spring training and the World Series. Designated hitters appear in NL lineups in games held in AL ballparks, and AL pitchers bat during games at NL parks. Interleague play also was intended to foster local rivalries, such as by pitting the Chicago White Sox against the Chicago Cubs (teams that last met in the 1906 World Series) and the New York Mets against the New York Yankees.
Another expansion took place in 1995 as the major leagues capitalized on the growing population of baseball fans in the Sun Belt by establishing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in Saint Petersburg, Florida, and the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix. The clubs began play in 1998. The expansion necessitated a minor realignment of the leagues and divisions, however. In a deal brokered by franchise owners and MLB, the Milwaukee Brewers left the AL and joined the NL Central Division before the 1998 season, thereby becoming the first team in modern professional baseball to switch leagues. In turn, the Detroit Tigers filled the vacancy in the AL Central Division, opening a spot in the AL East Division for the Devil Rays. The Diamondbacks joined the NL West Division.
J – Recent Developments
Baseball’s popularity surged during the 1998 season as sluggers Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs chased the single-season record of 61 home runs set by the Yankees’ Roger Maris in 1961. McGwire broke the record first, hitting his 62nd home run on September 8, 1998, off Steve Trachsel of the Cubs. McGwire finished the season with 70 home runs and Sosa finished with 66.
The outstanding play of the New York Yankees also drew attention to the 1998 baseball season. The club won 114 games during the regular season to break an AL record of 111 wins set by the Cleveland Indians in 1954. On the way to their World Series championship, the Yankees amassed a total of 125 regular-season, playoff, and World Series wins—the most victories in one season by any team in the history of the game. New York repeated as champions in 1999.
In the 2000 postseason, the Yankees and Mets renewed a hallowed baseball tradition when they met in an all-New York World Series—often referred to as a Subway Series. The meeting, won by the Yankees in five games, was the 14th World Series between two teams from New York City. It was the third straight championship—and fourth in five years—for the Yankees. In 2001 the Seattle Mariners won 116 regular-season games to break the Yankees’ record and tie the major league mark, but the Mariners fell to New York in the AL Championship Series (ALCS). In the World Series, New York lost its crown to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a taut seven-game series. Also in 2001 slugger Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants broke McGwire’s record by hitting 73 home runs. Bonds and the Giants reached the World Series the following year but lost to the Anaheim Angels in seven games.
The Yankees returned to the World Series in 2003 but lost again, this time to the Florida Marlins. It was the second championship for the Florida franchise in just 11 seasons in the major leagues.
In 2004 Bonds became the third baseball player to hit 700 home runs, joining Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714). Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners broke George Sisler’s 84-year-old hits record with 262 base hits during the regular season. In the playoffs the Houston Astros won a postseason series for the first time in club history, while the Boston Red Sox pulled off a historic comeback by winning the last four games of the ALCS from the Yankees after losing the first three. In the World Series the Red Sox ended 86 years of frustration, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in four straight games.
In 2005 another long championship drought ended, as the Chicago White Sox swept the Astros in the World Series. It was the first World Series appearance for Houston, and it was the first title for Chicago since 1917.
In March 2006 the inaugural World Baseball Classic (WBC) was held. The 16-nation tournament featured many professional stars representing their native countries, something that the Summer Olympics could never produce because of scheduling conflicts with the major league regular season. The star-studded United States squad did not advance out of pool play, losing to Mexico in the final game of the second round. Led by Ichiro Suzuki and legendary manager Sadaharu Oh, the Japanese team won the championship, defeating Korea in the semifinals and Cuba in the title game. The event is next scheduled for 2009.
The St. Louis Cardinals won their tenth World Series title in 2006, defeating the Detroit Tigers 4 games to 1. It was the third time the two teams had matched up in the World Series. The Cardinals won in 1934 and the Tigers in 1968. The 2006 victory was the Cardinals’ first world title since 1982. Cardinal manager Tony La Russa became only the second manager to win world championships in both the National and American leagues (Sparky Anderson was the first).
The Boston Red Sox repeated as world champions in 2007, sweeping the Colorado Rockies who made their first World Series appearance. Also in 2007 Bonds broke the career home run record set by Aaron. But a cloud hung over Bonds’s achievement because of his reported use of steroids.
K – Steroid Use
At the turn of the 21st century baseball was confronted with a growing controversy over the use of performance-enhancing drugs, particularly steroids. Some athletes have used these drugs to increase muscle mass and improve their performance, but steroids have been shown to pose serious long-term health risks. As early as 1971 Major League Baseball (MLB) prohibited players from taking a prescription medication without it being prescribed by a doctor. Then in 1991 MLB commissioner Fay Vincent specifically banned steroid use in a newly adopted drug policy. But unlike other professional sports, the 1991 policy failed to provide for mandatory drug testing. Drug testing was not implemented until after team owners and the players’ union reached a collective bargaining agreement in 2002.
In the second half of the 1990s the sport’s home run totals began to climb, culminating in 1998 when both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa broke the record for most homers in a season. Their record chase generated huge media coverage and fan interest, boosting the sport’s popularity.
Questions were raised, however, when McGwire admitted during the season that he had used a steroid-like compound known as androstenedione, a drug banned by the National Football League (NFL) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The suspicions increased when the 37-year-old Barry Bonds broke McGwire’s record with 73 home runs in 2001, 24 more than his previous career high.
MLB announced a new steroid testing program for the 2003 season, but many observers and sports officials criticized the policy as flawed and too lenient. More controversy ensued in early 2004 when Bonds’s personal trainer was among those indicted for illegally distributing steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs to high-profile athletes. Bonds was called to testify before a grand jury, and details were later leaked to the media. In his testimony Bonds reportedly said that he had used a steroid-laced substance provided by his trainer, but he claimed that he was unaware of its contents at the time. Other famous athletes, such as baseball player Jason Giambi and sprinter Marion Jones, were also implicated in the scandal.
In January 2005 MLB and the Major League Players Association announced a new steroids policy that increased the frequency of testing and strengthened the penalties for violations. In February former major league star José Canseco released a book admitting that he had used steroids during his career. The book alleged that many other major league players took the drugs, including Canseco’s former teammate McGwire. A month later McGwire, Sosa, and MLB commissioner Bud Selig were among those who testified about the issue before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform. During the hearing the committee members urged Selig and the players union to adopt a more stringent policy toward steroids and other drugs.
In August 2005 Baltimore Orioles star Rafael Palmeiro was suspended for ten days after he tested positive for steroids. Palmeiro, who had collected his 3,000th career hit just two weeks before the suspension and was considered a strong candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame, became the first high-profile major league player to be suspended for using performance-enhancing substances.
Three months later, under increasing pressure from Congress, Selig and the MLB players union agreed to strengthen the sport’s drug-testing program. Under the new rules, a player’s first positive test for steroids would result in a 50-game suspension—five times longer than the previous penalty—while a second violation would trigger a 100-game ban. A player testing positive for a third time would be banned from Major League Baseball (and affiliated teams), although he could apply for reinstatement after two years.
Another important aspect of the new agreement was the inclusion of testing for amphetamines and a number of other powerful stimulants. The penalties for using these drugs include mandatory follow-up testing for a first violation, a 25-game suspension for the second, and an 80-game ban for a third offense. Many players and baseball officials acknowledged that stimulants have been commonly used by major league players for decades to overcome fatigue and improve reaction time. Use of the stimulant ephedra was linked to the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler in 2003.
The full extent of drug use in baseball did not become apparent until December 2007 when former U.S. senator George Mitchell released the results of a 20-month investigation that named about 90 players as users of performance-enhancing drugs. The Mitchell report identified many of the sport’s top stars, including players who had won the most valuable player (MVP) and Cy Young awards and had been named to All-Star teams. The most prominent players named were Bonds and pitcher Roger Clemens, both of whom had been regarded as certain to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Among the American League MVP winners named in the report were Clemens, Frank Thomas, Mo Vaughn, Jason Giambi, and Miguel Tejada. Thomas and Giambi were the only players to actively cooperate with the investigation. Among the National League MVP players named were Bonds and Ken Caminiti.
The Mitchell report said that a “steroids era” had begun in baseball in the late 1980s and that the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs threatened the integrity of the game. The report concluded that all parties involved, including team officials, MLB commissioners, players, and their union, bore responsibility for a “collective failure to recognize the problem as it emerged and to deal with it early on.”