Batter Up: A Brief History of Baseball's Origin

The Short Stop Version:

  • Abner Doubleday is most commonly known for inventing the game of baseball, but that is a myth; many historians credit Alexander Joy Cartwright as the man who created the game and rules of baseball as we know it today.
  • Baseball traces its roots back to ball and stick sports that were played in England and Europe.
  • For much of its beginnings, African Americans were barred from playing in the Major Leagues, and it wasn’t until people like Jackie Robinson, Moses Fleetwood Walker, and William Edward broke the color barrier which allowed black peers to be accepted into Major League Baseball.
  • The first game of modern baseball in the United States was organized back on June 19, 1846, in Hoboken, NJ

A Brief History

Baseball was once considered America’s Pastime, and while some would argue football has taken that spot, baseball is still a beloved sport for many.

So, how did baseball get started?

Well, that’s a big topic with many books, and hundreds of thousands of words have been written dedicated to the history of baseball, and some facts are still up for debate.

Most people heard the story about a gentleman named Abner Doubleday who came up with the game of baseball back in 1839 in Cooperstown, NY, however, that story is just a legend, and the real one is a bit more challenging to piece together.

Baseball’s origins can be traced back to England where people played bat and ball games, namely cricket and a game called rounders. By the 18th century, games resembling baseball were being played here in America, and these games became more and more popular up and through the American Revolution. And while these games resembled baseball, they were a far cry from the game we know today.

According to historians, a group of men from New York City created the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club back in 1839. It was at this time the game of baseball took shape thanks to the introduction of rules and specifications including the diamond-shaped field and the three-strike rule. This is also around the time that the lemon peel baseball started to come to life.

leather baseball

Today, many historians credit Alexander Joy Cartwright as the man who created these rules and the game of baseball as we know it. The first game of modern baseball in the United States was organized back on June 19, 1846, in Hoboken, NJ.

After baseball’s official organization, it didn’t take long for it to take off. In 1850 the National Association of Baseball Players was created, and the National League came about in 1876. After this time, efforts began to make baseball a worldwide sport and it was introduced to Cuba in 1870.

By the time the 20th century rolled around, baseball in the United States was in full swing, with the American League going against the National League in the World Series. By the early 1920s, organized baseball leagues started popping up all over the world.

The Negro League

While baseball continued to grow in popularity, it remained a segregated sport due to racism in the United States. If African Americans or other minorities wanted to play, the only option available to them was to form their teams; hence the Negro League was born, which some define as the many black teams operating outside the league that started operating as early as the 1880s. It wasn’t until the end of the Civil War that black baseball teams began and were mostly made up of ex-soldiers.

While all of these teams were semi-pro, the 1870s saw professional baseball teams made up of African Americans coming onto the scene.

In 1885, the first fully recognized professional African American baseball team was created when three clubs, the Keystone Athletics, the Orions, and the Manhattans came together to form the Cuban Giants. It was this team’s success that led to the creation of the Negro Leagues in 1887.

baseball history

Segregation

Up until the 1940s, baseball was segregated, but many people were starting to call for black players to be allowed into the major leagues. And while there wasn’t an official rule among MLB owners barring blacks from playing, it was considered by many to be a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ to prohibit letting in African Americans.

The manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey, decided to experiment with bringing black players into the league when he brought Jackie Robinson on in 1947. Rickey thought that since there was still so much resistance to the idea of a black player coming into the major league, he needed a strong player able to break the ‘color line’ and withstand the criticism that would come with it; he felt Robinson had the talent and wherewithal to stand up to the hostility and confrontation he would no doubt receive.

However, while Jackie Robinson gets most of the credit for being the first African American baseball player in the major leagues, that is disputed by some historians who cite both William Edward White and Moses Fleetwood Walker as being the first African Americans to play pro ball in the majors and break the color line.

The Typical Baseball Season

In 2019, Major League Baseball’s opening day was held on March 28, and the season typically begins in early spring. The regular season runs from March or early April through late September or early October. The season is made up of 162 games for each of the 30 teams in both the American League and the National League. After this, the postseason begins in which the teams battle for Division Champs, Champion Series Champs and finally, the World Series Championship.

While baseball was once billed as America’s Pastime and is still enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people all over the world, a recent Gallup poll suggests baseball is ranked third behind football and basketball as the favorite sport among Americans. However, a survey conducted by ESPN found baseball ranked only second behind the NFL.

Regardless of the numbers, baseball was and is a wonderful sport, and there are few better ways to spend a weekend afternoon than at the ballpark with the kids.

June 14, 2019 Published by Paul Cunningham

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