Baseball, as a game, is as American as it gets. Lovingly called ‘the national pastime’, baseball is said to be derived from its humble predecessor, Rounders, before the American Civil War in 1861. Though there is little clarity on the exact origin of the game, it is known that the game started gaining popularity in America in the early part of the nineteenth century.
In the early nineteenth century, baseball teams started to come into the picture and clubs were formed in bigger cities. However, the game was more of a leisure activity and there was no “one” set of rules governing it. This was a task that Alexander Cartwright took upon himself and in 1845, came up with a formal set of rules for the game. Many of those rules continue to be part of the modern version of the game such as fair and foul territory, three strikes for an out, nine players per team, ninety feet distance between the bases, and so on. On June 19, 1846, the first game of baseball based on the newly formulates list of rules took place. One of the major difference between this game and the games played today was that the squads played till either of the sides reached 21 runs. Also, the concepts of innings was present at the time, but it was not restricted to nine.
Cartwright moved a lot and he made the game travel with him. In 1849, he moved to California chasing the gold rush. He later moved to Hawaii, where he set up proper baseball leagues. These are said to be the precursors of the major baseball leagues of today. Since 1953, Alexander Cartwright cam to be formally recognized as the ‘Father of the modern baseball’.
By this time, baseball had found its way throughout America and by 1875, the leagues had become a major part of baseball. The clubs had begun enforcing contracts on the players, which restricted them from taking higher paying spots in other clubs. The National League and the newly established American League, who had been rivals, decided to come together in the spirit of promoting baseball. In 1903, Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League and the Boston Red Sox of the American League, found themselves competing in the first world series ever. After the Pirates turned to a series lead, the Red Sox, led by Cy Young came back and won the series in eight games. Ever since, the winner of the National League and the American League have competed in the World Series.
Baseball had become a national love. It was going great until the 1919 World Series came around with the Black Sox scandal. The fixing between Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds shocked the nation of baseball lovers. Eight players of the White Sox were accused of trying to influence the result of the series. However, all the evidence suddenly went missing from the county courthouse, including signed confessions of some players. Those who were charged earlier, got exonerated.
Though gambling was nothing new to the game of baseball, this incident made the open secret a fact in the public’s eyes. The acquittal further dwindled the reputation of the game. Therefore, to handle the situation, a position called Commissioner of Baseball was created and Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a federal judge became the first person to hold the post. He immediately suspended all the eight players from baseball for the remainder of their lives. Baseball’s popularity took a dip after the scandal. However, the lightning performance of the legendary player, Babe Ruth, on the field, brought a different level of popularity to the game altogether.
Amidst all this, 1940s also saw the game changing on a very fundamental level. This post-war period witnessed the racial integration of the game. This sport that had seen the formal or informal exclusion of the black community since the 1890s, saw a sea-change with the help of campaigners like actor and sportsperson, Paul Robenson.
George Herman Ruth, also fondly called Babe Ruth, rose to become one of the most iconic players in the whole of baseball history. His emergence also added a new word to the legacy of baseball, the Curse of the Bambino. This term was coined by a Boston journalist named Dan Shaughnessy and refers to the 86 year championship drought for the Boston Red Sox after they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Before the sale, the Red Sox was perhaps the most successful franchise in baseball and selling Babe Ruth was not a good business decision.
It was rumored that Harry Frazee, the owner of the team, made the sale to finance theatrical shows on Broadway. Rather, there was a problem brewing between the owner and the player because Ruth thought that he deserved to be paid more, which Frazee was not amenable to. Ruth became unhappy with the situation and that showed in his behavior. The owner’s stubbornness and the player’s discontent led to the purchase of Babe Ruth by the Yankees, which went on to become one of the most successful teams in the history of baseball, only to the downfall of Boston Red Sox.
It was not until 1967 that Red Sox returned to a respectable position, but they did not win the world series. This was repeated in 1975, 1986, and so on. It took them another eighteen years to make it back to the world series. These events in summation are what is referred to as the Curse of the Bambino. In 2004, however, the curse was lifted and the Boston Red Sox became the world champions defending none other than the New York Yankees. It lifted the spirits of the team, its fans and the city like little else could and it is yet to wear off.
Unfortunately, the 2000s were more in the news because of the events off the field than on it. Steroids took center stage in the media. It started with the Mitchell report by the Democratic US Senator Georg J. Mitchell in 2006. It was prepared after a 21-month investigation into the use of steroids in major league baseball. It also contained the names of as many as 89 players. Some of them confessed to the use of drugs, while the others stood their ground that they were never involved in any kind of substance abuse. There have been many such scandals like the BALCO steroids scandal that have rocked the world of baseball.
From the legendary players of yesterday to the superstars of today, there have been many that have inspired us. The game has captured the imagination of Americans since its inception, and everything about the game screams that it is here to stay for a long time. You can watch most sports with a subscription to Time Warner Cable TV.