The National Sport of Baseball

The earliest known American mention of the game of baseball was published in a 1791 bylaw. I Pittsfield, Massachusetts the city statute proclaimed that the playing of baseball was prohibited within 80 yards of the new meeting house.

Jane Austen made reference to children playing baseball on the village green in her novel Northanger Abbey one which was written between 1798 and 1803 and finally published in 1818 after years of dormancy.

In the 1870’s American newspapers were referring to the baseball as “The National Pastime”. It was being referred to as such because it was a sport where both young people and older people could participate. It was not a wealthy only sport because there was virtually nowhere this sport could not be played and the equipment was minimal.

Professional baseball started in America in the 1860’s and in1869 the first truly professional baseball club, the Cincinnati Red Stockings was formed and went through undefeated against semi-pro and amateur teams. The first major league was the National Association which lasted from1871 to 1875. The National League was founded in 1876 and still exists today.

Games in the early part of the 20th century were lower scoring and pitchers were more successful. The “inside game” whose nature was “scratch for runs” was played more violently than it is today. “Baseball is something like war” said Ty Cobb. In the 1920’s there were several rule changes that gave advantages to hitters and the legendary Babe Ruth showed the world what power hitting could produce.

In the early 20’s a “gentleman’s agreement” was formed to effectively bar African-Americans players from playing in the major leagues, yet Native Americans were accepted. Many Negro leagues were formed. In 1947 the Brooklyn Dodgers broke the color barrier when they signed Jackie Robinson. Although he had played in the minor leagues for Brooklyn a year earlier.

In 1958 major league made it to the west coast of the US when the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants relocated to Los Angeles and San Francisco respectively. The first American League team on the west coasts was the Los Angeles Angels who were founded as an expansion team in 1961.

Professional baseball leagues began to form in countries outside America in the 1920’s and 30’s including Netherlands, Japan, Australia, Venezuela, the whole of Europe, Italy, Korea, Taiwan and mainland China. Although countries like Italy, Australia and the United Kingdom had only niche appeal compared with the other countries and only recently has the sport of baseball began to expand in these countries notably Australia who won a silver medal in the 2004 Olympic Games.

Israel will have a professional league beginning in June 2007. Canada has a franchise Major League as well.

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