There are historical documents that show games that share similarities to the baseball of today from days dating back to 1344 from the French to the English and the Irish. Most would agree that the game originated from the English from a game called rounders. For baseball itself, the first documented reference was found in a British publication dated in 1744. The first game itself was played in Surrey in 1749 with the Prince of Wales among its players. On American soil, the first game wasn’t played until 1791 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts after it was introduced to the United States from the Canadians, who’d inherited it from the British. The first game played in America that helped shape the modern structure of baseball didn’t take place until 1846, which was played in Hoboken, New Jersey between the New York Nine and the Knickerbockers.
The National League was founded in 1876 though there were other groups founded prior, but many would argue they weren’t truly national ones until the National League was formed. More leagues were formed over time to help with the differentiation of players based on the color of their skin as well as their regions. Many of these would fail, however, to reach successful levels. 1901 saw the second successful league, the American League, with a bitter rivalry between the two leagues to gain players for their eight teams.
Within a couple years, there was a peace of sorts that was established between the two major leagues along with the minor leagues, known as the National Agreement of 1903. It also is noted for its creation of the World Series though the actual championship event didn’t really take off well until 1905 when more teams within the National League accepted those from the American League.
As the years progressed and the profits began to pour in, tensions between the owners of the teams and the players began to escalate. Attempted strikes were made despite the strict rules placed upon the players though they rarely got off the ground. It all culminated in a scandal in 1919 when the Chicago White Sox worked to throw the World Series that year. Due to these events, there was a National Commission that formed to draw the two leagues closer and even helped form the Negro National League from 1920 to 1931.
As the game became more popular and the rules changed to keep the game high in interest, the rise of new baseballs, which could travel further when hit correctly, and the homerun became the way to win over the crowds as additional seating was continually added for new spectators. During this time in the 1920s, there rose a popular player, most renowned for his power hitting, was none other than the legend himself, Babe Ruth. He is credited with the permanent changes to the game as he built his team, the New York Yankees, into the premier team within the majors.
Even as the major leagues took off, there were other branches formed to help create other leagues like those of Little League Baseball in 1939 for children to learn and appreciate the game. There was also the introduction of the Hall of Fame for those players worthy of the status, which held its first elections in 1936. There was even a league created for women to keep the game a popular one for the public that existed from 1943 to 1954 as the men went off to war. Other aspects of baseball also began to develop, such as the College World Series in 1947, and even the barriers breaking between the leagues that kept African Americans from Caucasian teams. Jackie Robinson was the first one successful in this pursuit as he signed onto the Brooklyn Dodgers and Larry Doby with the Cleveland Indians.
The Major League Baseball Players Association wasn’t founded until 1953 during a recession in the sport’s popularity though its effectiveness wasn’t much as a union for the players until Marvin Miller from the United Steelworkers became director in 1966. With the backing of this new director, changes for the betterment of the players’ salaries came with the first successful strike in 1972 though it wasn’t until 1975 when the reserve clause that had kept wages low for players was brought low and became a thing of the past as players could now be free agents.
While many would consider baseball to the main pastime for the United States, there are many countries that have also formed successful leagues for players to enjoy the game and provide entertainment to its spectators. The Toronto Blue Jays is the one of a few teams outside the American and National Leagues to join the United States though it’s the only one to win two World Series outside of those in the United States. Other leagues that have proven highly successful are those of the Dutch, the Italian, and the Japanese leagues.
As the many leagues play their teams against one another and even against other major leagues, the gameplay of this sport is one that piques the interest of many because of its unique structure.