This article is about the game of baseball. For other uses, see Baseball (disambiguation)
Baseball is an outdoor sport played between two teams of nine players each, with the object of the game for the offensive player to hit the ball with a wooden bat in such a manner as to allow that player to successfully touch each base on a running circuit and scoring a point at the run's completion at home plate. Extremely popular within the United States, Japan, and Latin America, baseball is played everywhere from neighborhood sandlots and city streets to its culmination in a best-of-seven championship World Series between two professional teams of the American and National Leagues of Major League Baseball.
Baseball has been intertwined within American life and culture like no other sport has. It has given us record-setting heroes, many of which are still talked about over a century later. It has given rise to movies, songs, books, magazines, and a lexicon of words and phrases which are part of everyday life.
Baseball is played on a field which is roughly diamond-shaped, with the wide end serving as the outfield. The infield consists of a square, each side of the square 90 feet long. The narrow end of the square is the point furthest from the outfield fence at center field, which can be anywhere from 250 to 400 feet away; this point on the square serves as home plate. The remaining corners serves as first, second, and third bases, running counterclockwise from home plate. Within the center of the square - 60 feet, 6 inches away - is the pitcher's mound.
Baseball is one of the very few sports in which the defense controls the ball. All nine defensive players are on the field during play: three in the outfield (left, center, and right fields); four in the infield (first, second, and third basemen, and shortstop); the catcher behind home plate, and the pitcher on the mound. The single offensive player takes his place within a batter's box on either side of home plate, and with a bat attempts to hit the ball thrown to him by the pitcher into "fair" territory such that it is not caught in the air and gives the batter time to run to a base. The offense strives to advance these baserunners until they circle the three infield bases in order and get back to home plate, resulting in the scoring of a run. The only offensive players on the field at any other time besides the batter are those who successfully made it onto one of the three bases.
A baseball game is divided into nine innings; each inning consists of both teams having their turns at bat. A "strike" is called when the batter swings and misses a fairly-thrown ball; three strikes results in an "out", which in its basic description means the failure of the batter to reach base. Three outs ends that team's attempt during the inning, and they must go to the field for defense. The game is over when one team has a greater score than the other at the end of the ninth inning; if the game is tied after nine innings, additional innings are played until there is a winner.
The baseball itself is 9-9.25 inches in circumference, and weighs between 5-5.25 oz. The core is made of rubber and cork, wound tightly with woolen yarn, and sealed with a two-piece leather casing closed off with 108 double-stitches in waxed red thread.
The bat is made of wood - primarily ash - and is up to 2.75 inches thick at the striking end, and up to 42 inches long. At one time in professional games aluminum bats were used; they have since been removed, and are sometimes used during amateur games. In a version of baseball known as "stickball" played by kids in some inner cities, the bat consists of little more than a broom handle.
Defensive players wear a baseball glove, or mitt. Made of leather, seven players wear a version with looks like an oversized hand with the fingers sewn together, and a basket of leather between the first finger and thumb. Fingerless, rounded versions are worn by the first baseman and catcher; the catcher's mitt having the addition of heavy padding within the glove. That, plus the chest and knee protectors, and steel face mask, ensures the catcher has protection against the pitcher's fastball, which can be in excess of 90 miles per hour.
In 1905 a commission was created to determine baseball's origins. Named for a former colonel in the Civil War, the Mill's Commission ultimately centered on the testimony of a mining engineer from Denver, Colorado named Abner Graves, who claimed he was with Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York in 1839, when Doubleday wrote the rules to the game; his testimony, plus the discovery of several artifacts nearby, helped to establish in the committee's - and public's - mind that the game had originated in Cooperstown.
This particular story of baseball's origins is completely false, despite the romance of the Doubleday tradition. He was never involved with baseball at all, and probably never observed a game being played. In 1839, Doubleday - rather than being at a school in Cooperstown - was a cadet at West Point, and would graduate in 1842; he would see distinguished service during the Civil War. And even though the report was flawed, the Mill's Commission would discover that baseball had its roots in other bat-and-ball games earlier than in the nineteenth century.
Two games stand out as being the forebears of baseball, and both British in origins. In the game of rounders, a ball is tossed to a batter wielding a 12-inch bat, who must round and touch several bases in order to score. As in baseball, rounders is played with nine players on a field, and the game is divided into innings. Originating in Tudor times and played principally by school-age boys, rounders has the distinction of bearing the first direct reference to the title of "base-ball" in 1744, from the pages of publisher John Newbery's Little Pretty Pocket-Book.
The other, somewhat older game is cricket, a game played on a short field in which the pitcher (called a "bowler" in this game) attempts to dismiss a batter ("batsman"); unlike baseball the game involves the bowler attempting to knock over a set of wooden pegs ("wicket") behind the batsman. Like baseball, cricket play involves runs and outs.
By the early 19th century variations of what would become baseball were being played on the fields, back lots, schoolyards and college campuses of the cities and towns of the United States. In 1845 the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club was founded, joining, as well as playing against, several other amateur teams in the area. It was in the Elysian Fields near Hoboken, New Jersey on June 19, 1846 that the Knickerbocker club played against the New York Baseball Club, losing in four innings by a score of 23-1. The game itself was noteworthy in that it was played after Alexander Joy Cartwright - whose ordinary job was bank clerk and volunteer fireman - wrote down the first formalized rules for baseball, setting the concept of innings and tagged outs, and limiting each team to nine players. An 1857 convention of baseball clubs would add nine innings to the play of the game, changing the ending of the game from 21 runs.
First professional leagues
A year later the National Association of Base Ball Players was created as the first organized league, comprised of amateur teams; despite this several players were paid on occasion. One team not a member, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, became in 1869 the first professional team, and their success in their first season (91 of 92 games won) helped to spread professionalism, leading to the creation of the National Association of Professional Base-Ball Players (1871-75). In 1876, owners of several strong independent teams came together at the behest of William Hulbert. The National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs was his creation, in part because the previous association was rather loosely held together, and more important they had recognized baseball as a business. These first teams of the new National League were the New York Mutuals, Boston Red Stockings (the previous Cincinnati Red Stockings), Philadelphia Athletics, Hartford Dark Blues, St. Louis Brown Stockings, Louisville Grays and Cincinnati Reds. Hulbert's own team, the Chicago White Stockings, would several years later change names to the Chicago Cubs, the oldest currently-active team in baseball.
Several other leagues had also formed during this period. The American Association operated for nine years (1882-91), a serious rival to the National League when it allowed Sunday games and the sale of beer within the stands. A Players League was created by athletes, pressing the National League in finances but ending up driving the American Association out of business. One league, the International Association of Professional Base Ball Players, operated twice: 1877-1880, and 1888-1890, fielding teams in both the United States and Canada. The International Association was also the last league to include black Americans within their teams, something that would not be corrected for nearly sixty years.
In 1901 the American League was established from the minor Western League, and their president (Ban Johnson) ensured that teams would play in rival National League cities as well as raid the other league for talented ball players, offering better pay. A key difference between the two was also established: the designated hitter rule, in which a player not on the field would be in the batting lineup to replace the pitcher. The popularity of the American League was serious enough for a truce to be called, culminating in a championship "World Series" between the two leagues since 1903.
The simplicity of baseball caused the game to be spread far and wide. Four bags placed on an otherwise empty field allowed it to be played almost immediately; adults played it as readily as children, and even a period as horrendous as the American Civil War had the game played often on both sides when battles were not being waged. The creation of the professional leagues afterwards also led to statistical record keeping; fans wanted to know who was the best ball player on any given team, whether it was pitching, fielding, or batting. Newspapers kept up with the teams from their cities, familiarizing the players to the fans, and baseball cards were created, added to packs of cigarettes before they became a staple of bubble gum wraps.
Among the first stars of baseball in the late 19th century were Paul Hines (1852-1935) was recognized for being the first player to win Major League's Triple Crown, as well as being a two-time batting champion. Charles “Old Hoss’ Radbourn (1854–1897) was among the first "endurance" men; as pitcher for four teams during his career he compiled a 309-195 career record, winning in 1884 the National League's pitching Triple Crown with a 1.38 ERA, 441 strikeouts, and a 60-win season which still has not been broken. Cy Young (1867-1955) would amass five hundred wins as a pitcher during his career as well as pitching the first perfect game in American League history.
But this was also an era in which games were played with the intention of getting on base, advancing on base, and batting runs in; swinging for the fences in a home run was extremely rare. It was the pitcher who dominated the field, throwing emery balls (a baseball dented first by hitting it on concrete) and spitballs (a baseball coated with saliva or other liquid substance) as readily as curve and fast balls. The ball itself was the only one used throughout the entire game, becoming dark and misshapen before the game was over. The batter had to use strategy to get on base; records for triples (batter getting safely to third base) between 1900-1920 were high, while batting averages (.239 to .283 in both leagues) in the same time period were low. The exceptions were from those who took a more careful approach to hitting the ball; Ty Cobb (1886-1961) batted .420 with 248 hits in 1911, and he would have a lifetime average of .367. "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (1888-1951) hit .408 in the same year, never going below that number during the remainder of his shortened career.
This "dead-ball" era would end rather abruptly. The Black Sox Scandal - an episode in which players of the Chicago White Sox took money to alter the outcome of the 1919 World Series - threatened to end baseball itself, and owners realized changes had to be made; the replacement of the baseball during play as soon as it was so much as scuffed in 1920 is cited as the chief reason for the end of this era. The additional elimination of emery and spitballs caused the star of the game to be in the batter's box rather than on the mound, allowing the game to see an increase in the hitting of home runs.
The game of baseball is now played the world over. In North America, the primary governing body at the professional level is Major League Baseball, which consists of thirty clubs. Major League Baseball is divided into two groups; The American League and The National League. Every year, all of the MLB clubs from each league battle to earn a place in the World Series, the pinnacle of the sport. To date the New York Yankees of the American League have won the most World Series titles with 26 followed by the St. Louis Cardinals of the National League with 10 wins. College baseball in the United States is governed primarily by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
In Japan, professional baseball is primarily governed by Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). There are a total of 12 teams. The association is divided into two leagues of six teams each, the Central League and the Pacific League. With 21 overall titles since the league's inception, the Yomiuri Giants have been the most successful Japanese club since the NPB's beginnings in 1958.
The baseball as we know it—or at least the familiar "figure-eight" stitched cover—was invented in the 1840s by Ellis Drake of Stoughton, Massachusetts.
The umpire's hand signals for "strike" and "out" were invented by deaf baseball player William "Dummy" Hoy (1861-1961)
References and notes
- The Origins of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
- Japanball.com Team and League Information
- Nineteenth-century baseballs
- Deaf Place Names
- The Official Site of Major League Baseball
- Minor League Baseball
- BASEBALL HISTORY Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association.
- Hall of Fame National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc.