Kelly Boyer Sagert. Berkshire Encyclopedia of World Sport. Editor: Karen Christensen & David Levinson. Volume 1, Berkshire Publishing, 2005.
Baseball most likely evolved from the British bat-and-ball games of cricket and rounders or perhaps from the more ancient English game of stool ball. Organized play of “base ball” began in the United States in 1845; in 1856 it was dubbed that country’s “national pastime” (Ward and Burns 1994, 6), and by 1869, the amateur-only sport progressed into one including an openly professional component. Traveling teams spread the sport to locales around the world, with Latin American countries—including Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Puerto Rico—as well as Japan, Taiwan, and Australia being the most receptive.
Traditionally, it was believed that Abner Doubleday, who later became a Civil War Union major general, transformed casual bat-and-ball games into the modern-day sport of baseball; this legend suggests that he created its rules in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839, but no supporting historical evidence exists. Origins of the Doubleday myth trace back to Albert Spalding, an early scion of the sport and successful sporting goods entrepreneur, who publicized the story in 1907 to make baseball appear purely American (Spalding 1991).
As further proof that Doubleday did not “invent” baseball, a Pittsfield, Massachusetts, ordinance, dated 1791, referred to “base ball,” prohibiting its play within 80 yards of the town meetinghouse. Moreover, it is highly probable that Alexander Cartwright Jr. created the first written rules in 1845, compiling them for the New York Knickerbockers, a team that played gentlemanly matches in Hoboken, New Jersey. These rules resemble modern-day play and established the foul line, distinguishing baseball from other bat-and-ball sports; there are, however, noteworthy differences when comparing Cartwright’s rules with those of the modern-day game. Balls caught after one bounce constituted an “out” and, originally, the winning team was the first to score twenty-one runs. The pitcher threw underhanded, with the batter permitted to request a high or low pitch, and no strike zone existed. Furthermore, “New York ball” contrasted significantly with the rougher Massachusetts style of play; in those games, players were out after being “soaked”—or hit—by the ball.
Organizing the Sport
By 1858 the National Association of Base Ball Players was codifying rules and charging a fifty-cent game admission; James Creighton served as the first star player. Enthusiasm for the sport was growing when the Civil War began; instead of slowing its progress, the war actually spread the game when it was played at battle encampments and prison grounds, extending baseball to southern states and other regions of the country.
In 1869, four years after the war’s end, the Cincinnati Red Stockings shed all pretense of amateur sport and openly began paying players. As the sport turned professional, though, there came the taint of gambling and purposefully lost games, and the National Association of Base Ball Players could not control these undesirable elements. A new organization, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, formed in 1871, but it struggled with similar issues. To simultaneously solve this dilemma and further his own career goals, coal magnate William A. Hulbert lured the best players —against association policy—to form a new team; in a more drastic move, he also formed his own league in 1876: the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs (NL).
Although it may sound similar to previous organizations, it was radically different. In this league players were, for the first time, employees of team owners. Because of the “reserve clause” included in contracts, players lost their ability to choose where to play; this clause was formulated to prevent the frequent “revolving”—or team jumping—of players in search of a better deal, but it also drastically shifted the balance of power from the players to team owners. Ball clubs, for their part, were also now committed to playing all scheduled games, rather than choosing the most lucrative.
Attempts to challenge the National League’s monopoly on professional baseball ensued, most notably by the American Association, a league that played in uneasy tandem with the NL for ten seasons (1882-1891); less successful attempts included the Union Association (1884) and the Players League (1890), both of which focused on the needs and wants of the players, partly as an attempt to lure quality players to their organizations and partly because of genuine intentions to improve their circumstances.
It wasn’t until 1901, when Byron Bancroft Johnson renamed the Western League the American League (AL) and decided to pursue major league status, that changes were effected. Johnson saw the problems caused by alcohol and gambling in the NL and, spotting an opportunity for a rival major league that could be extremely profitable, he vowed to create and run a clean association. He directly challenged the NL by putting teams in some of the same cities, and for three years the NL struggled with accepting the equal status that the AL desired; in 1903 a truce was called, solidifying the two-league system that exists today.
The last significant attempt at creating a third league occurred in 1914-1915 when the Federal League, which was created in 1913 but did not announce its major league aspirations until 1914, directly challenged the monopolistic nature of major league baseball in court. They ultimately failed, in large part because the judge, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, procrastinated in giving his ruling. Landis was a passionate fan, and he feared that ruling against the current structure would destroy the sport; and yet, as a judge who traditionally ruled against reigning monopolies, he could not in good conscience rule for the major league system. Therefore, he stalled and allowed the Federal League’s increasingly difficult financial situation to cause the league’s collapse.
While the National League and the American League were developing, other teams were also participating in amateur games and minor leagues, and the term minor league had a different connotation then. Now, minor league teams are farm teams for the major leagues, but in this era they were often high-quality teams playing in smaller towns; and they were, without exception, independent of the major league system. Moreover, milltown teams and other teams in the southern states were highly competitive, and black teams were developing their own leagues. Teams were also forming in Latin America.
Racial Issues Emerge
As early as 1911 baseball pundits were pointing out that premium players were being banned from the major league system because of the darkness of their skin. After a series of games between major league and Cuban ballplayers that year in which the Cubans often outplayed their opponents, Johnson, the AL president, banned future matchups. This ban led some reporters to point out that top-notch players were being “elbowed off the diamond” because of racial prejudice (Cottrell 2002, 8).
Blacks nevertheless played ball; the National Colored League appeared briefly in the mid-1840s, and black players participated in racially integrated teams or on all-black clubs. During the Civil War era, a significant number of black teams formed in northern states, but in 1867 the National Association of Base Ball Players banned any team containing “one or more colored persons,” presumably to avoid racial tensions (Cottrell 2002, 60).
In 1878 John “Bud” Fowler pitched for the International League, breaking the minor league color barrier. Many white teammates would not accept his presence, and he spent the next ten seasons playing second base for various minor league teams. In 1883 Fowler was playing in the Northwestern League; then the Toledo team in this league signed catcher Moses Fleetwood “Fleet” Walker, a black man who had played integrated baseball for Oberlin College. The following year, Walker’s team merged with the American Association, a major league system, thereby making Walker—who was soon joined by his brother, Welday—the first black player on a major league ball club.
During the 1880s thirteen black players—including Fowler, the Walker brothers, Bob Higgins, Andy Jackson, William Renfro, Richard Johnson, George Stovey, Sol White, Frank Grant, and Jack Frye—participated on minor leagues teams populated by white players, with 1887 being their peak year. Moreover, there were successful all-black professional teams, most notably the Cuban Giants. Those players were, however, neither giants nor Cuban; the United States was currently on good terms with Cuba, so players felt that white spectators would be drawn to a team dubbed Cuban; the name “Giants” cued fans that players were black.
Although all-black teams were finding some successes, integrated play was not harmonious, with fans hollering death threats at black players. Moreover, some ballplayers intentionally made errors when a black teammate pitched, while others would refuse to pose for racially integrated team photos. The worst blow to integrated play occurred on July 14, 1887, when NL star Cap Anson demanded that George Stovey be banned from exhibition play, for racial reasons. The following day, the International League agreed to “approve no more contracts with colored men” (Dixon and Hannigan 1992, 51). Although Grant and Higgins continued to play through 1888, and Fleet Walker through 1889, by the mid-1890s, the only integrated play occurred during unofficial contests in the off-season (Jackie Robinson being the first player to break the color barrier of the National League in 1947).
From the 1840s until 1919, entrepreneurs struggled to form all-black leagues. They often lacked sufficient financial backing, so players’ wages were uncertain. The better-situated leagues did follow predetermined schedules, but teams also “barnstormed”—or traveled across a region—in search of quality local teams to challenge; game receipts were divided according to prearranged plans. In 1920 a more successful and stable league—the Negro National League—was created by outstanding pitcher, Andrew “Rube” Foster.
Foster’s league continued until 1930, and a second version ran from 1933 until 1948, the year after major league baseball finally became integrated. There was also a Negro American League from 1937 until some time in the 1950s; because of integration occurring in the major leagues, this league also folded.
During those years of “blackball,” Foster and many other nonwhite players—including “Smokey” Joe Williams, Josh Gibson, John “Buck” O’Neil, Oscar Charleston, “Bullet” Joe Rogan, and James “Cool Papa” Bell—played with skill and power equal to their major league counterparts. They never became as well known as Jackie Robinson, the player who broke the color line by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers—and who won the Rookie of the Year Award—in 1947, or Larry Doby, who broke the American League color barrier later the same year by joining Bill Veeck’s Cleveland Indians team and who participated in All-Star games from 1949 to 1954. There was also Leroy “Satchel” Paige who, after pitching in the Negro leagues for twenty-two years, finished his illustrious career in the major league system, joining the Cleveland Indians in 1948 and pitching well into his fifties. Another well-known player who started in the Negro leagues but finished his career in the major leagues was catcher Roy Campanella, who also played for Branch Rickey’s Dodgers.
Development of the Sport
In the 1860s-1870s, when professional leagues were first organizing, rules were becoming more standardized; significant credit goes to journalist Henry Chadwick, who later developed the modern box score, and who created two important statistics: batting average and earned-run average. He also edited numerous baseball guides and served on rules committees.
When individuals began to invest their funds into teams in the 1870s, teams became more financially stable; prior to that time, teams used gate receipts to cover expenses and, if applicable, to pay their players. This was the beginning of many decades whereby players had little control over their careers, and team owners made nearly all decisions. During this decade players focused more heavily on defensive strategies, backing up one another during plays; equipment such as the catcher’s mask and fielding gloves were also introduced. Schedules were still unpredictable and rules often changed. Stars of the era included Adrian “Cap” Anson, Albert Spalding, Charles Comiskey, and Michael “King” Kelly.
During the 1880s teams were first required to announce batting orders before the game started; this negated the strategy employed by some, which was to keep the opposing team wondering when a power hitter would appear at the plate. Meanwhile, owners continued to gain control over their teams and began to build their own stadiums. The first night game was played in Massachusetts on 2 September 1880, under dim electric lights.
Mitts and chest protectors were introduced for catchers, along with a rubber home plate; previous home plates had been stone, iron, or wood, causing injuries. The sport was still rough, with players and owners arguing fiercely; to add to the difficulties, players often arrived obviously drunk, and brawls would often ensue.
The following decade saw quality play by William “Dummy” Hoy, “Wee” Willie Keeler, and Denton True “Cy” Young, but there was also much violence on the field, especially by John McGraw’s Baltimore Orioles. Players spiked one another and shoved, spat on, and punched umpires. Catchers began signaling pitchers more frequently, letting them know which type of pitch to throw, and this led the Philadelphia team to create the first system to intercept an opponent’s signals. Two percent of minor league teams were no longer independent; they were now associated with a major league team.
The Twentieth Century
At the turn of the century, attendance skyrocketed, in part because unruly behavior on the field was better controlled, in part because of publicity given the sport by newspaper syndicates, and in part because the stable two-league system allowed for an exciting postseason competition, the World Series. Significantly fewer runs were scored because foul balls were now strikes; this change, according to baseball historian Harold Seymour, “fortified pitchers further”(Seymour 1989, 123). Star pitchers included George “Rube” Waddell, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, and Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown; they faced challenges from talented hitters such as Nap Lajoie and Honus Wagner.
During the 1910s, baseball was seriously disrupted when many players left to fight in World War I or to work in shipbuilding plants. Earlier in the decade, though, young players such as George Herman “Babe” Ruth, “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, Eddie Collins, “Smokey” Joe Wood, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, and Pete Alexander piqued the interest of fans. Owners were hiring coaches, who were starting to use relief pitchers and pinch runners.
The 1920s brought renewed interest to postwar baseball, with over nine million people attending games in 1920 alone. The spitball pitch had been banned and a better quality of baseball introduced, ending the “dead ball era” and ushering in the “lively ball.” Babe Ruth and Rogers Hornsby dominated the offense, with Ruth hitting a record sixty home runs in 1927, for a total of 467 from 1920 to 1929; Hornsby batted .424 in 1924, still the highest batting average, post-1900. Quality pitchers included Grover Cleveland Alexander, Red Faber, and Dazzy Vance. By this point, 50 percent of minor leagues were part of the major league system.
1930s and 1940s
During the 1930s night baseball games were scheduled, and Sunday games became more acceptable; ironically, attendance was down, due to the Great Depression. Offensive stars included Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, and Joe DiMaggio, while Lefty Grove and Dizzy Dean excelled as pitchers. During this era pitchers were increasingly specializing as starters or relievers.
World War II affected major league baseball: Many players fought overseas, and as the quality of the ball itself declined due to a shortage of raw material. Major league teams culled new talent, offering high school students lucrative signing bonuses, and the farm system became firmly entrenched, with 80 percent of the minor league teams now part of the major league system. Stars included Bob Feller, Stan Musial—and Ted Williams, baseball’s most recent (and last) 400 hitter.
1950s and 1960s
During the 1950s attendance dropped. Rather than attend games in aging stadiums often located in declining urban neighborhoods, with poor public transportation systems and inadequate parking, fans watched an expanded schedule of games on television. Team franchises were switching locations, and fans in abandoned cities often resented the changes and did not support baseball; team owners began building new stadiums to replace obsolete ones and gain fans in their new locations, but team loyalty could not be rushed. Batting helmets became mandatory in the NL (1955) and in the AL (1956); games were longer, and fans were restless. New stars of the era included Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron, the last of whom holds the record for the most career home runs (755).
Players were rediscovering speed an as offensive strategy, and in 1962 Maury Wills stole 104 bases. Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1961 with 61. It seemed likely that offensive performance would dominate the game, as it had in the 1920s. In 1963, though, the strike zone was increased, causing home runs to decrease by 10 percent and overall runs by 12 percent, and so the anticipated offensive explosion did not occur.What did happen was expansion. Each league increased from eight teams to twelve, which made domination by any one team more difficult. Outstanding pitchers included Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, and Tom Seaver; Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, and Carl Yastrzemski also offered fans stellar performances to applaud.
A player’s strike occurred in 1972, and a landmark court decision in 1975 revolutionized owner-player disputes. For nearly one hundred years, players had been bound to owners, by means of the reserve clause contained in their contracts. In 1975, though, a baseball arbitrator ruled in favor of two players, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, who challenged that interpretation—and the advent of “free agency” occurred. This gave players significantly more control over their careers.
In 1973 the American League approved the designated hitter rule, which permitted another player to bat in place of the pitcher, who was almost invariably the worst hitter in the lineup. This freed pitchers to focus on their pitching and allowed managers to add another powerful hitter to their batting order. The AL expanded to fourteen teams in 1977. Stars of the era included Nolan Ryan, Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, and Johnny Bench.
The free-agency ruling of the 1970s segued into a decade of contract arbitration; players could now earn salaries in the millions. Strikes occurred again in 1981 and 1985. By the 1990s players were moving from team to team in greater numbers, and contractual disputes increased. To encourage fan interest, baseball administrators approved interleague play. The National League expanded to fourteen teams in 1993, but a strike during the 1994-1995 seasons canceled a World Series for the first time in ninety-two years, and caused some of the most loyal fans to question the direction that professional baseball was heading.
Leagues in the Twenty-First Century
Current East Division AL teams include the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and Toronto Blue Jays. In the Central Division, there are the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins; the Anaheim Angels, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers make up the West Division.
East Division NL teams include the Atlanta Braves, Florida Marlins, Montreal Expos, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies; in the Central Division, there are the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, and St. Louis Cardinals. West Division teams are the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, and San Francisco Giants.
Overall major league attendance totals approximately 70 million annually; this includes repeat attendees, of course, but it does not include attendance at minor league games or any other amateur or professional baseball leagues around the world. Early in the game’s evolution, the majority of baseball’s fans were men; today, people of both genders and all ages enjoy the sport, and team management promotes family friendly events and atmospheres.
Scandal in the National Pastime
Although baseball teams and players have been much revered by fans, the game has had its share of scandals. Most scandals have centered on gambling and/or game throwing in exchange for pay, with an early example occurring in 1865 when the New York Mutuals were accused of accepting money to deliberately lose games; something similar occurred with the Louisville Grays in 1877. Dead-ball era first baseman Hal Chase was especially noted for being involved in illicit schemes, and one of the greatest disgraces of baseball history—the Black Sox Scandal—emerged in 1920.
Eight White Sox players were accused of having collaborated with notorious gamblers to “fix” the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds and deliberately lose the Series in exchange for payoffs. This scandal served as the impetus to replace baseball’s three-person ruling body, the National Commission, with a baseball commissioner. Owners chose Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the judge who had stalled on the Federal League rulings five years before. Landis’s first significant act as commissioner was to ban permanently the accused players from professional baseball, although they had not been found guilty in the courtroom.
No scandal of magnitude occurred again until the banishment of Pete Rose in 1989. Rose, the career leader in hits, singles, at-bats, and games played, had retired from playing and was managing the Cincinnati Reds. He was reportedly deeply in debt and accused of betting on his own team—an act that became illegal after the Black Sox Scandal of 1920. Rose has requested reinstatement to professional baseball, not to participate in the sport again, but to gain Hall of Fame eligibility. All requests, to date, have been denied.
In 2004, a federal investigation uncovered evidence that a lab had been supplying certain well-known professional baseball players with banned performance-enhancing drugs; some players admitted to using these substances. This series of events has caused great debate in the baseball world and the media at large. These drugs enhance muscle mass at a faster rate and allow fatigued muscles to recover more quickly, thus permitting the athlete to engage in a much more rigorous training regime. These substances are banned for two reasons: one, it is illegal to distribute and/or use them; and two, the side effects, especially after long-time use, may be significant. Moreover, these drugs are deliberately designed to avoid detection, opening players who use them to charges of cheating and deception. How the commissioner of baseball will ultimately address this issue and what the legal consequences may be to players who have been using these drugs are still open to question.
Nature of the Sport
Two teams alternate between playing offense (batting) and defense (fielding) for nine innings, with the home team batting last. If a batter reaches first base on a hit, that is a single; second base is a double; and third base a triple. Runners generally advance on the base paths when teammates hit the ball, but they can also “steal”—or advance to the next base—when the pitcher is preparing to pitch. If the pitcher tosses four “balls”—nonstrikes—to a batter, that qualifies as a “walk,” and the runner automatically goes to first base; if a pitch hits the batter, he goes to first base. A run is scored whenever an offensive player successively and safely lands on first, second, and third base—and then home plate. If a ball is hit directly over the outfield fence in fair territory, that is a home run; if it bounces and then goes over the fence, a ground-rule double. If someone reaches base after a defensive mistake, that is a fielding error. The team that scores the most runs, wins; a tie is resolved by playing extra innings until one team secures the lead. Baseball is the only game in which the defense controls the ball.
Defensive positions are the pitcher; catcher; first, second, and third basemen; shortstop; and right, left, and center fielders. Their goal is to cause the offensive players to become “out” via three strikes—a “strikeout,” or by a tag, cleanly played ground ball, caught fly ball, or force out at the base. Once three outs are obtained, the two teams switch sides.
In amateur play, for youth or adults, rules may be modified. In some leagues, for example, steals are not permitted. In softball leagues, a game increasing in popularity, the ball is pitched underhanded. In leagues for the youngest players, pitching is sometimes eliminated entirely, and batters are permitted to hit the ball from a stand—or tee—for training purposes.
Facilities and Equipment
Baseball facilities have ranged from park space with no permanent seating to those with bleachers and dugouts. As the game developed and increased in stature, full-fledged stadiums were built—first wooden, then steel—complete with rest rooms, restaurants, and gift shops. Throughout most of baseball’s history, the game was played on grass or dirt; in 1965 artificial turf was introduced and used throughout many stadiums. Domed stadiums, which allow games to be played in inclement weather, have also surfaced in modern-day play. Basic equipment—bat, ball, gloves, and batting helmets—has remained constant for decades, although technological improvements have altered the appearance and quality of all items.
Opening Up the Game
Originally, the sport was a gentleman’s game, but rougher elements entered the equation when salaries were first paid. The New York Times called baseball players of that era “worthless, dissipated gladiators; not much above the professional pugilist in morality and respectability” (Ward and Burns 1994, 51). Many immigrants—most notably the Irish—dominated early teams; when the American League formed, Germans settling in the Midwest flooded the league. College baseball programs became more competitive around 1905; when those graduates entered the major league system, well-educated men played beside the illiterate. In the 1930s, baseball “offered mill hands, plowboys, high school kids a better way of life. They rose on sandlots to big city diamonds,” according to the resident “mastermind” of the St. Louis Cardinals, Branch Rickey (James 2001, 146).
Breaking the Color Barrier
By the 1950s the color barrier was broken, and 8 percent of major league players were black. Polish-American participation was at an all-time high, and Latin/Hispanic players were joining the major leagues in greater numbers. Latin/Hispanic players continue to play an expanding role, and college-educated players are in greater demand.
Women and the Game
Although nowhere near as extensively as men, women have played baseball almost since its inception. A collegiate female baseball team briefly existed as early as 1866 at Vassar College, but women’s teams did not survive for long. Novelty acts such as the “Blondes and Brunettes” lasted only a short time, while late nineteenth-century professional ball clubs with both men and women on their rosters—known as “Bloomer Girl” teams—challenged all-male teams, an activity often deemed improper. When, in 1904, five female students joined a men’s baseball game in progress at the University of Pennsylvania, campus administrators contacted the police to prevent any such games in the future.
In 1931 pitcher Jackie Mitchell was signed to a minor league contract, the first female to play professional ball since Lizzie Arlington’s brief foray in 1898. In 1934 Babe Didrikson—a star athlete who also excelled in track, basketball, and golf—pitched two scoreless innings for a Cleveland Indians minor league team.
The notion of women playing baseball became more acceptable in the World War II era, when “Rosie the Riveter” was leaving domesticity behind to support the war effort, doing factory work. In 1943 the owner of the Chicago Cubs, Philip Wrigley, proposed a professional women’s league, intended to fill the void in case World War II caused a major league hiatus. Even though the hiatus didn’t occur, the result was the All-American Girls Baseball League, which lasted until 1954. In 1974 young females began participating in Little League.
Female pioneers include pitcher Maud Nelson—who played, scouted, and managed in baseball from 1897 to 1935, and was called the “the greatest: the reliable starter and the keeper of the flame” (Gregorich 1993, 10)—and Alta Weiss, the “Girl Wonder,” who took the mound in Cleveland’s major league stadium in 1907 to successfully pitch against a roster of semiprofessional male players. Many women currently umpire games; one of the earliest female umpires was Amanda Clement, who started professionally in about 1904.
Baseball Goes Global
Although baseball first gained strength in the United States, the game quickly spread to other locales, most notably Japan and countries in Latin America.
The sport of baseball was introduced in Japan as early as 1873; taught by teachers and professors, early Japanese baseball was seen primarily as a method to strengthen oneself, both physically and mentally, much like the philosophy undergirding martial arts. Because baseball was used as a teaching tool, amateur ball—in high schools and colleges—predominated. In 1915 Japanese educators formed the National High School Baseball Tournament; even today, Japan is at the forefront of amateur baseball.
In the early 1930s, Matsutaro Shoriki sponsored a tour during which major league players from the United States—including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig—played against Japanese college all-stars. Inspired by the interest in this matchup, Shoriki formed the Great Japan Tokyo Baseball Club in 1934; this led to the formation of the Japan Pro-Baseball League in 1936. Seven teams were in the original league, with the Kyojin team most prominent. They won six titles from 1936 to 1944, along with two half-season titles; star players included pitchers Eiji Sawamura, Victor Starfin and Hideo Fujimoto.
Teams were sponsored by newspapers that wanted to increase circulation or by train lines wishing to increase the number of people using their mode of transportation. During World War II, though, baseball was chaotic; teams were formed, merged and disbanded, and English names of teams were forbidden. In 1946, though, baseball resumed in a more orderly fashion with eight established teams; and English names began to be used again by all teams.
English nicknames of teams returned after the war; in 1950 seven teams were added, forming today’s Nippon Professional Baseball League, consisting of the Central League and the Pacific League. The winner of each league—each of which currently has six teams—meets in the Japan Series to determine the year’s overall champion.
In 1965, to counteract the imbalance of player talent on teams—with the Central League Giants being the most powerful—the player draft was introduced. Nevertheless, the Kyojin Giants remained a powerhouse; media has paid significant attention to its players, and even when Japan’s baseball commissioner ruled against a contract the owners had signed, the Giants won the dispute after threatening to withdraw from the league. Interest was also strong in the Giants because of Sadahara Oh, who hit 868 home runs from 1958 to 1980.
The Pacific League, which has received less media attention, has tried to garner some of the spotlight by using a designated hitter, hiring flamboyant mascots, and designing neon uniforms. They also hosted an intraleague playoff from 1973 to 1982, whereby the first half leader challenged the leader of the second half of the season.The Pacific League’s most popular team, the Lions, won eleven pennants and eight Japan Series titles from 1982 to 1994.
Baseball continues to be popular in Japan and is currently one of the country’s favorite forms of athletics. In recent years some of the better players—including Hideo Nomo, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Ichiro Suzuki, and Hideki Matsui—have been choosing to enter the major league system in the United States. Nevertheless, Japan’s quality performances in the Olympics and other international championships demonstrate that a significant number of quality players are still participating in Japan’s leagues.
Known as “el beisbol,” baseball is also an integral part of Latin American athletics; Cuba, in particular, gained early predominance as a baseball powerhouse, winning twenty-four world championships and two Olympic gold medals. Moreover, off-season matchups between Cuban players and major league players from the United States created exciting games to watch.
Sailors from the United States introduced baseball to Cubans in the 1860s. After that Cubans spread the game to other countries, most notably Mexico (1890), Puerto Rico (1890), Dominican Republic (1891) and Venezuela (1895). In 1900 a United States team of color barnstormed against Cuban teams; by 1904 there were Cuban teams in the Negro Leagues in the United States.
In 1908, during an off-season barnstorming challenge, Cuban Jose Mendez threw a one-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds; in 1909 Eustaquio Pedroso tossed an eleven-inning no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers, who were without their strongest players, Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford. In 1910 Cobb and Crawford did play against Cuban ballplayers; although Cobb batted .369, three of his opponents had a better batting average that series, and Cobb—a renowned base stealer—stole no bases; he vowed not to play against nonwhite players again. When the New York Giants challenged the Cubans in 1911, each team won a few games, but then Mendez and Pedroso outpitched the great Christy Mathewson. This challenge to United States superiority led the American League president, Ban Johnson, to ban future barnstorming matches between the United States and Cuba. Lighter skinned Cubans, such as Adolfo Luque, found their way into the major leagues; once the color ban was lifted in the United States in 1947, greater number of Cuban players began participating in major league ball.
Currently, in Cuba there are fourteen teams divided into two zones; each zone is further subdivided into two groups. At the end of a ninety-game season, there is a championship playoff. Players can only play for the team located in the area in which they live.
There is also a Caribbean World Series, with four countries or commonwealths—Puerto Rico,Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico—currently participating in this event. The series, which was founded in 1949, is usually played in February; in the past Panama and Cuba have also participated.
Competition at the Top
In the United States pennant-winning teams from the American League and the National League compete in the World Series, a best-of-seven postseason series that determines the championship. The highest honor that a retired player or manager can receive is induction to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, located in Cooperstown, New York. In Japan, the Japan Series is comparable to the World Series in the United States.
Baseball first appeared as a full-medal Olympic sport in 1992, but it served as a demonstration sport as early as 1912. That year, a Swedish team challenged competitors from the United States track and field team in Stockholm. The U.S. team won, 13-3, but needed to borrow teammates from Sweden to fill its roster. A second game was played with American decathlon star Jim Thorpe playing right field. The Americans won, 6-3.
In 1936 the United States intended to play an exhibition game against Japan in Berlin, Germany. When Japan withdrew, the United States sent two teams. In 1952 pesapallo—a Finnish version of baseball—was played in Helsinki; in 1956 United States servicemen played against the Australians in Melbourne. It is believed that 114,000 spectators observed, possibly the largest baseball audience ever. The United States won, 11-5. In 1964 the Americans challenged the Japanese team in Tokyo; the United States won, 6-2.
In 1981 the sport of baseball was officially granted the status of a demonstration sport and several teams—the Unites States, Japan, South Korea, the Dominican Republic, Canada, Taiwan, Italy, and Nicaragua—competed in Los Angeles in 1984; because of a difficult political situation in the Soviet Union, Cuba boycotted the games. Japan won the event, beating the United States in the final game, 6-3.
In 1988 baseball was played in the Olympics in Seoul, South Korea; Cuba again boycotted the games. Teams included the United States, Japan, South Korea, Puerto Rico, Canada, Taiwan, the Netherlands, and Australia. The two finalists were again the United States and Japan; this time, the American team won, 5-3.
In 1992, in Barcelona, Spain, baseball was first played as a full medal sport. Cuba did compete in these Olympics and won the gold medal. Taiwan earned silver; and Japan, bronze. The United States ended up in fourth place.
Softball was added as an Olympic sport in 1996, when games were played in Atlanta, Georgia. In baseball Cuba again earned Olympic gold; Japan won the silver, and the United States notched bronze. In Sydney, Australia in 2000, professional players were permitted to participate, but no major league players were on the United States team that won the gold. Cuba earned silver; South Korea, bronze.
In 2004, in Athens, Greece, Cuba regained its predominance in the Olympics; Australia won the silver medal and Japan earned the bronze, while the United States didn’t make the final eight teams.