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The History of Baseball

May 1st, 2012 Games

There are few things more synonymous with the summer season than spending an idle afternoon enjoying a baseball game with some friends. Baseball writer Bartlett Giamatti famously remarked that the game is designed to fill the summer hours with activity - a constant reminder of sunshine and good times. Baseball is truly America's pastime. Although football may be more popular, its games are not played nearly on the same scale. No matter what the time of day, during the summer it's likely that somebody is playing baseball. But have you ever wondered where the game actually comes from? What are its origins?

It's difficult to trace the roots of baseball back to a singular source - a number of folk games throughout Europe involved bats, bases and balls. However, we do know that by the 1830s, a popular early variation of the game known as "town ball" was being played on the streets (contrary to popular belief, Abner Doubleday did not invent baseball in Cooperstown, New York). Over the next few decades, the rules evolved and changed until they took on the form of what baseball is today.

By the 1850s, baseball had become a professional sport followed by fans across the country. The game's first professional league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, lasted from 1871 to 1875. The next year, the more formally-structured National League was formed and persists to this very day. By 1901, the American League had been introduced, allowing for the two to compete in the World Series.

A number of significant events took place in the ensuing decades, not the least of which was the breaking down of the color line, which allowed African-American players to compete in professional baseball. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these players was Jackie Robinson, who was the first black player to do so.

As World War I came and went, the game underwent many rule changes, becoming much closer to what it is today. League officials introduced strict regulations on the size and material of balls, which wound up being much more advantageous toward hitters. Additional seats were added to stadiums as well, which had the effect of bringing the outfields of a number of parks closer in. This naturally made it easier for home runs to be hit, which continued to shift baseball toward a more offensive game (whereas before, the advantage may have been more in the pitcher's favor).

Today, baseball has pervaded through a number of different countries. It is particularly popular in nations like Japan and the Dominican Republic. In fact, the best players from these countries will frequently end up signing contracts with Major League teams in North America. Ballparks have continued to expand in size and scope, offering luxury box seats, a wide array of food and drinks and, in one instance, a fully-fledged 200-person nightclub, complete with an in-house DJ.

The fundamental rules remain the same, though officials have been tweaking them for years. Perhaps the game's most unique appeal lies in the fact that there is no clock to run out. The only way for a team to win is to strike out the very last batter. This means the opportunity for a comeback is always present, which ends up rewarding aggressive play on the part of either or both teams. The games are long and slow-paced, but that may be perfect for the hot days of summer, when you're simply looking for some background noise and a conversation starter.