The History of baseball in the United States can be traced to the 18th century, when amateurs played a baseball-like game by their own informal rules using improvised equipment. The popularity of the sport inspired the semi and fully professional baseball clubs in the 1860s. By the following decade, American newspapers were referring to baseball as the "National Pastime" or the "National Game." The first attempt at forming a "major league" produced the National Association, which lasted from 1871 to 1875. In response to the shortcomings of the National Association, the current National League was formed in 1876. After a series of rival leagues were organized but failed, the current American League, evolving from the minor Western League of 1893, was established in 1901.
In the early part of the 20th century, known as the "dead-ball era," baseball rules and equipment favored the "inside game" and the game was played more violently and aggressively than it is today. This period ended in the 1920s with several changes that gave advantages to hitters. In the largest parks, the outfield fences were brought closer to the infield. In addition, the strict enforcement of new rules governing the size, shape and construction of the ball caused it to travel farther when hit. The first professional black baseball club, the Cuban Giants, was organized in 1885. Subsequent professional black baseball clubs played each other independently, without an official league to organize the sport. Rube Foster, a former ballplayer, founded the Negro National League in 1920. A second league, the Eastern Colored League, was established in 1923. These became known as the Negro Leagues, though these leagues never had any formal overall structure comparable to the Major Leagues. The Negro National League did well until 1930, but folded during the Great Depression.
From 1942 to 1948 the Negro League World Series was revived. This was the golden era of Negro League baseball, a time when it produced some of its greatest stars. In 1947, Jackie Robinson signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier that had prevented talented African American players from entering the white-only major leagues. Although the transformation was not instantaneous, baseball has since become fully integrated. In 1948, the Negro Leagues faced financial difficulties that effectively ended their existence.
Pitchers dominated the game in the 1960s and early 1970s. In 1973 the designated hitter (DH) rule was adopted by the American League, while in the National League pitchers still bat for themselves to this day. The DH rule now constitutes the primary difference between the two leagues. During the late 1960s, the Baseball Players Union became much stronger and conflicts between owners and the players' union led to major work stoppages in 1972, 1981, and 1994. The 1994 baseball strike led to the cancellation of the World Series, and was not settled until the spring of 1995. In the wake of the 1994 players' strike, functions that had been administered separately by the two major leagues' administrations were united under the rubric of Major League Baseball.
The earliest known mention of baseball in the United States was a 1792 Pittsfield, Massachusetts ordinance banning the playing of the game within of the town meeting house. In 2008 a diary by William Bray was discovered by local historian Tricia St John Barry in Surrey County Council. The diary describes how a teenager is playing baseball in Guilford. The entry in the diary dates back to Easter Monday 31 March 1755. This is the earliest known reference of the word "Baseball".
Went to Stoke Ch. This morning. After Dinner Went to Miss Jeale's to play at Base Ball with her, the 3 Miss Whiteheads, Miss Billinghurst, Miss Molly Flutter, Mr. Chandler, Mr. Ford & H. Parsons & Jelly. Drank Tea and stayed till 8.
The discovery means that England can claim to be the founder/inventor of the sport baseball. A shocking discovery, as it has been believed for centuries that Americans had invented the sport.
Another early reference reports that "base ball" was regularly played on Saturdays on the outskirts of New York City (in what is now Greenwich Village) in 1823.
The first team to play baseball under modern rules were the New York Knickerbockers. The club was founded on September 23, 1845, as a social club for the upper middle classes of New York City, and was strictly amateur until its disbandment. The club members, led by Alexander Cartwright, formulated the "Knickerbocker Rules", which in large part dealt with organizational matters but which also laid out rules for playing the game. One of the significant rules prohibited "soaking" or "plugging" the runner; under older rules, a fielder could put a runner out by hitting the runner with the thrown ball. The Knickerbocker Rules required fielders to tag or force the runner, as is done today, and avoided a lot of the arguments and fistfights that resulted from the earlier practice.
Writing the rules didn't help the Knickerbockers in the first known competitive game between two clubs under the new rules, played at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey on June 19, 1846. The self-styled "New York Nine" humbled the Knickerbockers by a score of 23 to 1. Nevertheless, the Knickerbocker Rules were rapidly adopted by teams in the New York area and their version of baseball became known as the "New York Game" (as opposed to the "Massachusetts Game", played by clubs in the Boston area).
In 1857, sixteen New York area clubs, including the Knickerbockers, formed the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP). The NABBP was the first organization to govern the sport and to establish a championship. Aided by the Civil War, membership grew to almost 100 clubs by 1865 and to over 400 by 1867, including clubs from as far away as California. During the Civil war, soldiers from different parts of the United States played baseball together, leading to a more unified national version of the sport. Beginning in 1869, the NABBP permitted professional play, addressing a growing practice that had not been permitted under its rules to that point. The first and most prominent professional clubs of the NABBP era were the Cincinnati Red Stockings in Ohio, which lasted only two years. Businessman Iver Whitney Adams then courted manager Harry Wright and founded the "Boston Red Stockings" and the Boston Base Ball Club January 20, 1871.
The National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, which still exists, was established in 1876 after the National Association proved ineffective. The emphasis was now on "clubs" rather than "players". Clubs now had the ability to enforce player contracts, preventing players from jumping to higher-paying clubs. Clubs in turn were required to play their full schedule of games, rather than forfeiting scheduled games once out of the running for the league championship, as happened frequently under the National Association. A concerted effort was made to reduce the amount of gambling on games which was leaving the validity of results in doubt.
At the same time, a "gentlemen's agreement" was struck between the clubs to exclude non-white players from professional baseball, a bar that remained until 1947. It is a common misconception that Jackie Robinson was the first African-American major-league ballplayer; he was actually only the first after a long gap. Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother Welday Walker were unceremoniously dropped from major and minor-league rosters in the 1880s, as were other African-Americans in baseball. An unknown number of African-Americans played in the major leagues by representing themselves as Indians, or South or Central Americans. And a still larger number played in the minor leagues and on amateur teams as well. In the majors, however, it was not until the signing of Robinson (in the National League) and Larry Doby (in the American League) that baseball began to remove its color bar.
The early years of the National League were tumultuous, with threats from rival leagues and a rebellion by players against the hated "reserve clause", which restricted the free movement of players between clubs. Competitive leagues formed regularly, and also disbanded regularly. The most successful was the American Association (1881–1891), sometimes called the "beer and whiskey league" for its tolerance of the sale of alcoholic beverages to spectators. For several years, the National League and American Association champions met in a postseason championship series—the first attempt at a World Series.
The Union Association survived for only one season (1884), as did the Players League (1890), an attempt to return to the National Association structure of a league controlled by the players themselves. Both leagues are considered major leagues by many baseball researchers because of the perceived high caliber of play (for a brief time anyway) and the number of star players featured. However, some researchers have disputed the major league status of the Union Association, pointing out that franchises came and went and contending that the St. Louis club, which was deliberately "stacked" by the league's president (who owned that club), was the only club that was anywhere close to major league caliber.
In fact, there were dozens of leagues, large and small, at this time. What made the National League "major" was its dominant position in the major cities, particularly New York City, the edgy, emotional nerve center of baseball. The large cities offered baseball teams national media distribution systems and fan bases that could generate revenues enabling teams to hire the best players in the country.
A number of other leagues, including the venerable Eastern League, threatened the dominance of the National League. The Western League, founded in 1893, became particularly aggressive. Its fiery leader Ban Johnson railed against the National League and promised to build a new league that would grab the best players and field the best teams. The Western League began play in April 1894 with teams in Detroit (the only league team that has not moved since), Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Sioux City and Toledo. Prior to the 1900 season, the league changed its name to the American League and moved several franchises to larger, strategic locations. In 1901 the American League declared its intent to operate as a major league.
The resulting bidding war for players led to widespread contract-breaking and legal disputes. One of the most famous involved star second baseman Napoleon Lajoie, who in 1901 went across town in Philadelphia from the National League Phillies to the American League Athletics. Barred by a court injunction from playing baseball in the state of Pennsylvania the next year, Lajoie was traded to the Cleveland team, where he played and managed for many years.
The war between the American and National caused shock waves throughout the baseball world. At a meeting at the Leland Hotel in Chicago in 1901, the other baseball leagues negotiated a plan to maintain their independence. On September 5 1901 Patrick T. Powers, president of the Eastern League announced the formation of the second National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the NABPL or "NA" for short.
These leagues did not consider themselves "minor" -- a term that did not come into vogue until St. Louis Cardinals GM Branch Rickey pioneered the farm system in the 1930s. Nevertheless, these financially troubled leagues, by beginning the practice of selling players to the more affluent National and American leagues, embarked on a path that eventually led to the loss of their independent status.
Ban Johnson had other designs for the NA. While the NA continues to this day, he saw it as a tool to end threats from smaller rivals who might some day want to expand in other territories and threaten his league's dominance.
After 1902 both leagues and the NABPL signed a new National Agreement which achieved three things:
The new agreement tied independent contracts to the reserve-clause national league contracts. Baseball players were a commodity, like cars. $5,000 bought your arm or your bat, and if you didn't like it, find someplace that would hire you. It set up a rough classification system for independent leagues that regulated the dollar value of contracts, the forerunner of the system refined by Rickey and used today.
It also gave the NA great power. Many independents walked away from the 1901 meeting. The deal with the NA punished those other indies who had not joined the NA and submitted to the will of the 'majors.' The NA also agreed to the deal to prevent more pilfering of players with little or no compensation for the players' development. Several leagues, seeing the writing on the wall, eventually joined the NA, which grew in size over the next several years.
At this time the games tended to be low scoring, dominated by such legendary pitchers as Walter "The Big Train" Johnson, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, and Grover Cleveland Alexander to the extent that the period 1900–1919 is commonly called the "dead ball era". The term also accurately describes the condition of the baseball itself. Baseballs cost three dollars apiece, a hefty sum at the time, equaling approximately 65 inflation adjusted US dollars as of 2005; club owners were therefore reluctant to spend much money on new balls if not necessary. It was not unusual for a single baseball to last an entire game. By the end of the game, the ball would be dark with grass, mud, and tobacco juice, and it would be misshapen and lumpy from contact with the bat. Balls were only replaced if they were hit into the crowd and lost, and many clubs employed security guards expressly for the purpose of retrieving balls hit into the stands—a practice unthinkable today.
Despite this, there were also several superstar hitters, the most famous being Honus Wagner, held to be one of the greatest shortstops to ever play the game, and Detroit's Ty Cobb, the "Georgia Peach." Cobb was a mean-spirited man, fiercely competitive and loathed by many of his fellow professionals, but his career batting average of .366 has yet to be bested.
For his part, Merkle was doomed to endless criticism and vilification throughout his career for this lapse. In his defense, some baseball historians have suggested that it was not customary for game-ending hits to be fully "run out", it was only Evers's insistence on following the rules strictly that resulted in this unusual play. In fact, earlier in the 1908 season, the identical situation had been brought to the umpires' attention by Evers; the umpire that day was the same Hank O'Day. While the winning run was allowed to stand on that occasion, the dispute raised O'Day's awareness of the rule, and directly set up the Merkle controversy.
Contrary to what many of baseball's administrators were willing to acknowledge, gambling was rife in the game. Hal Chase was particularly notorious for throwing games, but played for a decade after gaining this reputation; he even managed to parlay these accusations into a promotion to manager. Even baseball stars as legendary as Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker have been credibly alleged to have fixed game outcomes. When MLB's complacency during this "Golden Age" was eventually exposed after the 1919 World Series, it became known as the Black Sox scandal.
After an excellent regular season (88-52, .629 W%,) the Chicago White Sox were heavy favorites to win the 1919 World Series. Arguably the best team in baseball, The White Sox had it all: a deep lineup, a strong pitching staff, and a good defense. Even though the National League Champion Cincinnati Reds had a superior regular season record (96-44, .689 W%,) no one, including gamblers and bookmakers, anticipated the Reds having a chance. When the Reds triumphed 5-3, many pundits cried foul.
At the time of the scandal, the White Sox were arguably the most successful franchise in baseball, with excellent gate receipts and record attendance. At the time, most baseball players were not paid especially well and had to work other jobs during the winter to survive. Some elite players on the big-city clubs made very good salaries, but Chicago was a notable exception.
For many years, the White Sox were owned and operated by a tight-fisted tyrant named Charles Comiskey, who paid the lowest player salaries, on average, in the American League. The White Sox players all intensely disliked Comiskey and his penurious ways, but were powerless to do anything, thanks to baseball’s so-called “reserve clause,” that turned most players into decently-to-well paid slaves that had no recourse for the often rough treatment shown them by owners.
By late 1919, Comiskey’s tyrannical reign over the Sox had sown deep bitterness among the players, many of whom could not even support their families comfortably. Players rife with financial difficulties made easy targets for gamblers looking to have games thrown in order to win bets.
In late September 1919, a little man named Abe Atell, allegedly at the behest of Arnold Rothstein, came to several of the players with a plan to “fix” the games. The players were to be paid between seventy-five hundred and thirty thousand dollars each for their part in the “fix.” Needing money to feed their families, eight of the White Sox players agreed to participate in what became known as the Black Sox Scandal of 1919.
Although the throwing of the World Series had not really been obvious, rumors swirled that some of the players had conspired to purposefully lose the game(s.) As happens, the rumors begat a grand jury investigation into the allegations. Eight players (Harold "Swede" Risberg, Arnold "Chick" Gandil, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, Oscar "Happy" Felch, Eddie Cicotte, George "Buck" Weaver, Fred McMullin, and Claude "Lefty" Williams) were ultimately indicted and tried for conspiracy.
The Negro Leagues were American professional baseball leagues comprising predominantly African-American teams. The term may be used broadly to include professional black teams outside the leagues and it may be used narrowly for the seven relatively successful leagues beginning 1920 that are sometimes termed "Negro Major Leagues".
The first professional team, established in 1885, achieved great and lasting success as the Cuban Giants, while the first league, the National Colored Base Ball League, failed in 1887 after only two weeks due to low attendance. The Negro American League of 1951 is considered the last major league season and the last professional club, the Indianapolis Clowns, operated amusingly rather than competitively from the mid-1960s to 1980s.
Some of the increased offensive output can be explained by the 1920 rule change outlawing tampering with the ball, which pitchers had often done to produce "spitballs", "shine balls" and other trick pitches which had 'unnatural' flight through the air. Umpires were also required to put new balls into play whenever the current ball became scuffed or discolored. This rule change was enforced all the more stringently following the death of Ray Chapman, who was struck in the temple by a pitched ball from Carl Mays in a game on August 16, 1920 (he died the next day). Discolored balls, harder for batters to see and therefore harder for batters to dodge, have been rigorously removed from play ever since. There are two side effects. One, of course, is that if the batter can see the ball more easily, the batter can hit the ball more easily. The second is that without scuffs and other damage, pitchers are limited in their ability to control spin and so to cause altered trajectories.
Still, in the past, rule changes favoring the batter had led to batting average increases, but not to widespread changes in hitting styles. The "inside game" might have continued to dominate but for the activities of one remarkable player. At the end of the 1919 season Harry Frazee, then owner of the Boston Red Sox, sold a group of his star players to the New York Yankees. Amongst them was George Herman Ruth, known affectionately as "Babe". The story that he did so in order to fund theatrical shows on Broadway for his actress lady friend is unfounded. No, No, Nanette was indeed first produced in 1925 by Harry Frazee, though the sale of baseball superstar Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees had occurred five years earlier. In the lore of the Curse of the Bambino, Frazee supposedly financed the production by selling Ruth, yet drawing a line five years apart from the sale's proceeds to the production costs of the musical are circumstantial at best.
Ruth's career mirrors the shift in dominance from pitching to hitting at this time. He started his career as a pitcher in 1914, and by 1916 was considered one of the dominant left-handed pitchers in the game. When Edward Barrow, managing the Red Sox, converted him to an outfielder, ballplayers and sportswriters were shocked. It was apparent, however, that Ruth's bat in the lineup every day was far more valuable than Ruth's arm on the mound every fourth day. Ruth swatted an unprecedented 29 home runs in his last season in Boston. The next year, as a Yankee, he would hit 54 and in 1921 he hit 59. His 1927 mark of 60 home runs would last until 1961, and, because of two record books (one for 154 game season and one for 162 game season), longer still.
Ruth's power hitting ability demonstrated a new way to play the game, and one that was extremely popular with the crowds. Accordingly, the ballparks were expanded, sometimes by building outfield seating which shrunk the size of the outfield and made home run hitting more practical. In addition to Ruth, hitters such as Rogers Hornsby also took advantage, with Hornsby compiling extraordinary figures for both power and average in the early 1920s. By the late 1920s and 1930s all the good teams had their home run hitting "sluggers": the Yankees' Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx in Philadelphia, Hank Greenberg in Detroit and Chicago's Hack Wilson were the most storied. While the American League championship, and to a lesser extent the World Series, would be dominated by the Yankees, there were many other excellent teams in the inter-war years. Also, the National League's St. Louis Cardinals would win three titles themselves in nine years, the last with a group of players known as the "Gashouse Gang".
The first radio broadcast of a baseball game was on August 5, 1921 over Westinghouse station KDKA from Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Harold Arlin announced the Pirates-Phillies game. Attendances in the 1920s were consistently better than they had been before the war. The interwar peak average attendance was 8,211 in 1930, but baseball was hit hard by the Great Depression and in 1933 the average fell below five thousand for the only time between the wars.
1933 also saw the introduction of the All-Star game, a mid-season break in which the greatest players in each league play against one another in a hard fought but officially meaningless demonstration game. In 1936 the Baseball Hall of Fame was instituted and five players elected: Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner. The Hall formally opened in 1939.
Rickey was not the first executive to attempt to bring black players into Major League Baseball. In the early 1920s, New York Giants' manager John McGraw slipped a black player, Charlie Grant, into his lineup (reportedly by passing him off to the front office as an Indian), and McGraw's wife reported finding names of dozens of Negro players that McGraw fantasized about signing, after his death. Pittsburgh Pirates owner Bill Bensawanger reportedly signed Josh Gibson to a contract in 1943, and the Washington Senators were also said to be interested in his services. But those efforts (and others) were opposed by Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball's powerful commissioner and a staunch segregationist. Bill Veeck claimed that Landis blocked his purchase of the Philadelphia Phillies because he planned to integrate the team. While this is disputed, Landis was opposed to integration, and his death in 1944 removed a major obstacle for black players in the major leagues.
Rickey himself had experienced the issue of segregation. While playing and coaching for his college team at Ohio Wesleyan University, Rickey had a black teammate. On one particular road trip through southern Ohio his fellow player was refused stay in a hotel. Although Rickey was able to get the player into his room for that night, he was taken back when he reached his room to find his fellow ballplayer upset and crying about this injustice. Rickey related this incident as an example of why he wanted a full de-segregation of the nation, not only in baseball.
Robinson was an exceptional talent, although perhaps not the greatest in the Negro leagues at the time, and he also had the inner strength to withstand the racism and abuse from both fans and players which he would be expected to face. He stood up to the pressure magnificently, and played well enough to win the first Rookie of the Year award. Later that same year, four more black players made it to the majors. The following year, the 1948 major league champion Cleveland Indians featured Hall-of-Famers Larry Doby and Satchel Paige. Paige, who had pitched more than 2400 innings in the Negro Leagues, sometimes two and three games a day, was still effective at 42, and still playing at 59. His ERA in the Major Leagues was 3.29. In 1997, Major League Baseball retired Robinson's uniform number (42) from use by all teams.
According to some baseball historians, Robinson and the other African American players helped reestablish the importance of baserunning and similar elements of play that were previously deemphasized by the predominance of power hitting.
The PCL was huge in the West. A member of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, it kept losing these great players to the National and the American leagues for less than $8,000 a player.
The PCL was far more independent than the other "minor" leagues, and rebelled continuously against their Eastern masters. Clarence Pants Rowland, the President of the PCL, took on baseball commissioners Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Happy Chandler at first to get better equity from the major leagues, then to form a third major league. His efforts were rebuffed by both commissioners. Chandler and several of the owners, who saw the value of the markets in the West, started to plot the extermination of the PCL. They had one thing that Rowland did not: The financial power of the Eastern major league baseball establishment.
No one was going to back a PCL club building a major-league size stadium if the National or the American League was going to build one too, and potentially put the investment in the PCL ballpark into jeopardy.
Up to this time, major league baseball franchises had been largely confined to the northeastern United States, with the teams and their locations having remained unchanged from 1903 to 1952. The first team to relocate in fifty years was the Boston Braves, who moved to Milwaukee in 1953. In Milwaukee the club set attendance records, and more teams moved: the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore, and the Philadelphia Athletics to Kansas City.
Beginning with the 1994 season, both the AL and the NL were divided into three divisions (East, West, and Central), with the addition of a wild card team (the team with the best record among those finishing in second place) to enable four teams in each league to advance to the preliminary division series. However, due to the 1994 Major League Baseball strike (which canceled the 1994 World Series), the new rules did not go into effect until the 1995 World Series.
As of 2008, there are 16 teams in the National League and 14 teams in the American League.
By the late 1960s, the balance between pitching and hitting had swung in favor of the pitchers. In 1968 Carl Yastrzemski won the American League batting title with an average of just .301, the lowest in history. That same year, Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain won 31 games — making him the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season. St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Bob Gibson achieved an equally remarkable feat by allowing an ERA of just 1.12.
In response to these events, major league baseball implemented certain rules changes in 1969 to benefit the batters. The pitcher's mound was lowered, and the strike zone was reduced.
In 1973 the American League, which had been suffering from much lower attendance than the National League, made a move to increase scoring even further by initiating the designated hitter rule.
The first legal challenge came in 1970. Backed by the MLBPA, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood took the leagues to court to negate a player trade, citing the 13th Amendment and antitrust legislation. In 1972 he finally lost his case in the United States Supreme Court by a vote of 5 to 3, but gained large-scale public sympathy, and the damage had been done. The reserve clause survived, but it had been irrevocably weakened. In 1975 Andy Messersmith of the Dodgers and Dave McNally of the Montreal Expos played without contracts, and then declared themselves free agents in response to an arbitrator's ruling. Handcuffed by concessions made in the Flood case, the owners had no choice but to accept the collective bargaining package offered by the MLBPA, and the reserve clause was effectively ended, to be replaced by the current system of free-agency and arbitration.
While the legal challenges were going on, the game continued. In 1969 the "Miracle Mets", just 7 years after their formation, recorded their first winning season, won the National League East and finally the World Series.
On the field, the 1970s saw some of the longest standing records fall and the rise of two powerhouse dynasties. In Oakland, the Swinging A's were overpowering, winning the Series in '72, '73 and '74, and five straight division titles. The strained relationships between teammates, who included Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue and Reggie Jackson, gave the lie to the need for "chemistry" between players. (This A's dynasty also single-handedly reintroduced the mustache into baseball). The National League, on the other hand, belonged to the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati, where Sparky Anderson's team, which included Pete Rose as well as Hall of Famers Tony Perez, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan, succeeded the A's run in 1975.
The decade also contained great individual achievements as well. On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves hit his 715th career home run, surpassing Babe Ruth's all-time record. He would retire in 1976 with 755. There was great pitching too: between 1973 and 1975, Nolan Ryan threw 4 "no-hit" games. He would add a record-breaking fifth in 1981 and two more before his retirement in 1993, by which time he had also accumulated 5,715 strikeouts, another record, in a 27-year career.
Another major change that had been occurring during this time was the adoption of the pitch count. Starting pitchers playing complete games had not been an unusual thing in baseball's history. Now pitching coaches watched to see how many pitches a player had thrown over the game. At anywhere from 125 to 175, pitchers increasingly would be pulled out to preserve their arms. Bullpens began to specialize more, with more pitchers being trained as middle relievers, and a few hurlers, usually possessing high velocity but not much durability, as closers.
Along with the expansion of teams, the addition of more pitchers needed to play a complete game stressed the total number of quality players available in a system that restricted its talent searches at that time to America, Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
The national networks began televising national games of the week, opening the door for a national audience to see particular clubs. While most teams were broadcast, emphasis was always on the league leaders and the major market franchises that could draw the largest audience.
It brought with it increased attention for individual players, who reached super-star status nationwide on careers that often were not as compelling as those who had come before them in a less media intense time.
As player contract values soared, and the number of broadcasters, commentators, columnists, and sports writers also soared. The competition for a fresh angle on any story became fierce. Media pundits began questioning the high salaries that the players received. Coverage began to become intensely negative. Players personal lives, which had always been off-limits unless something extreme happened, became the fodder of editorials, insider stories on television, and features in magazines. When the use of performance-enhancing drugs became an issue, the gap between the sports media and the players whom they covered widened further.
With the development of satellite television (particularly direct broadcast satellite services like DirecTV) and digital cable, Major League Baseball launched baseball channels with season subscription fees, making it possible for fans to watch virtually every game played as they played.
Baseball memorabilia and souvenirs, including baseball cards, exploded in price as networks of adults became more sophisticated in their trading. This would explode yet again in the late 1990s, as the Internet, and the website eBay provided venues for collectors of all things baseball to trade with each other. Regionalized pricing was wiped away, and many objects, baseballs, bats, and the like began selling for high dollar values. This in turn brought in new businessmen whose sole means of making a living was acquiring autographs and memorabilia from the athletes. Memorabilia hounds fought with fans to get signatures worth $20, $60, or even $100 or more in their stores.
Beyond the staple billboards, large corporations like NIKE and Champion fought to make sure that their logos were seen on the clothing and shoes worn by athletes on the field. This kind of association branding became a new revenue stream. In the late 1990s and into the dawn of the 21st century, the dugout, the backstops behind home plate, and anywhere else that might be seen by a camera all became fair game for inserting advertising.
By the 1970s a new generation of sports agents were hawking the talents of players who knew baseball but didn't know how the business end of the game was played. The agents broke down what the teams were generating in revenue off of the players' performances. They calculated what their player might be worth to energize a television contract, or provide more merchandise revenue, or put more fans into seats.
The athletes signed shoe deals, baseball card sponsorships, and commercial endorsements for products of every size and shape.
Salaries began to climb to such astronomical levels that the relationship between the average fan and the players began to change. Mike Piazza, in a famous negotiation with the Dodgers went public with his complaint that he was only going to get $81 million from the Dodgers not the $88 million he sought. For the legions of people who made less than $30,000 a year who came out to watch the home team, it was too much. Piazza was booed every time he came to bat. In a short while he was traded to Florida, then was acquired by the New York Mets.
Sky high salaries also changed many of the strategies of the game. Players rarely were "sent" down to the minors if they failed to perform. Who could justify paying a slumping player millions to sit in Toledo where the major league fans couldn't pay their way? Other players in the Triple-A level of the minor leagues, who used to rise on merit, became trapped under these overpaid "stars." Also, in order to make the media happy, trades, rather than call-ups, became the order of the day. It was much better to buy someone else's shortstop who was a known quantity to the national sports media than to take a chance on a player with no name value and no visibility if you were in a major market ballclub.
Tactics on the field changed too. Risky moves that could get players hurt, and sideline millions of dollars in payroll on the disabled list, became less common. Stealing home, a popular tactic of great stars of the day like Ty Cobb or Pete Rose, became infrequent occurrences.
The perception of players by the general public changed from larger-than-life heroes to a more cynical view of many of them as spoiled and overpaid. This was fed by the growing legions of television reporters, commentators, and print sports writers who also started asking questions about what justified the kind of money being paid to these players.
Free agency added gasoline to that fire as well. With players seeking greener pastures when their contracts came up, fewer players became career members of one ballclub. In the modern era, it is almost unusual to see a player stay with any one club for more than a few years if they are good enough to command a better salary.
Players with any ability increasingly gravitated towards the money. Large market clubs like the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, and the Chicago Cubs given big revenues from their cable television operations signed more and more of the big name players away from mid-sized and smaller market baseball clubs that could not afford to compete with them for salaries.
The crux of the 1981 dispute was about compensation for the loss of players to free agency. After losing a top-rank player in such a way the owners wanted a mid-rank player in return, the so-called sixteenth player (each club was allowed to protect 15 players from this rule). Losing lower rated free agents would have correspondingly smaller compensation. The players, only recently freed from the bondage of the reserve clause, found this unacceptable, and withdrew their labor striking on June 12. Immediately, the U.S. Government National Labor Relations Board ruled that the owners had not been negotiating in good faith, and installed a federal mediator to reach a solution. Seven weeks and 713 games were lost in the middle of the season, before the owners backed down on July 31, settling for much lower ranked players as compensation. By then much of the season had been lost, and the season was continued as distinct halves starting August 9, with the playoffs reorganized to reflect this.
Throughout the 1980s then, baseball seemed to prosper. The competitive balance between franchises saw fifteen different teams make the World Series, and nine different champions during the decade. Also, every season from 1978 through 1987 saw a different World Series winner, a streak unprecedented in baseball history. Turmoil was, however, just around the corner. In 1986 Pete Rose retired from playing for the Cincinnati Reds, having broken Ty Cobb's record by accumulating 4,256 hits during his career. He continued as Reds manager until, in 1989 it was revealed that he was being investigated for sports gambling, including the possibility that he had bet on teams with which he was involved. While Rose admitted a gambling problem, he denied having bet on baseball. Federal prosecutor John Dowd investigated and, on his recommendation, Rose was banned from organised baseball, a move which precluded his possible inclusion in the Hall of Fame. In a meeting with Commissioner Giamatti, Rose, having failed in a legal action to prevent it, accepted his punishment. It was, essentially, the same fate that had befallen the Black Sox seventy years previously. (Rose, however, would continue to deny that he bet on baseball until he finally confessed to it in his 2004 autobiography.)
The players officially went on strike on August 12, 1994. In September 1994 Major League Baseball announced the cancellation of the World Series for the first time since 1904.
The cancellation of the 1994 World Series was a severe embarrassment for Major League Baseball. Although there were few signs of the predicted "outrage" on the part of the fans, attendance figures and broadcast ratings were lower in 1995 than before the strike.
On September 6, 1995, Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr. played his 2,131st consecutive game, breaking Lou Gehrig's 56-year-old record. This was the first high-profile moment in baseball after the strike. Ripken continued his streak for another three years, voluntarily ending it at 2,632 consecutive games played on September 20, 1998.
In 1997, the Florida Marlins won the World Series in just their fifth season. This made them the youngest expansion team to win the Fall Classic (with the exception of the 1903 Boston Red Sox and later the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, who won in their fourth season.) Virtually all the key players on the 1997 Marlins team were soon traded or let go to save payroll costs (although the 2003 Marlins did win a second world championship.)
1998 was what many consider to be one of the game's greatest seasons. St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire and Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa that year engaged in a home run race for the ages. With both rapidly approaching Roger Maris's record of 61 home runs (set in 1961), seemingly the entire nation watched as the two power hitters raced to be the first to break the record. McGwire reached 62 first on September 8, 1998, with Sosa also eclipsing it later. Sosa finished with 66 home runs, just behind McGwire's unheard-of 70. However, recent steroid allegations have marred the season in the minds of many fans.
That same year, the New York Yankees won a record 125 games, including going 11-1 in the postseason, to win the World Series as what many consider to be one of the greatest teams of all time.
McGwire's record of 70 would last a mere three years following the meteoric rise of veteran San Francisco Giants left fielder Barry Bonds in 2001. In 2001 Bonds knocked out 73 home runs, breaking the record set by McGwire by hitting his 71st on October 5, 2001. In addition to the home run record, Bonds also set single-season marks for base on balls with 177 (breaking the previous record of 170, set by Babe Ruth in 1923) and slugging percentage with .863 (breaking the mark of .847 set by Ruth in 1920). Bonds continued his torrid home run hitting in the next few seasons, hitting his 660th career home run on April 12, 2004, tying him with his godfather Willie Mays for third place on the all-time career home run list. He hit his 661st home run the next day, April 13, to take sole possession of third place. Only three years later Bonds surpassed the great Hank Aaron to become baseball's most prolific home run hitter.
However, both Bonds' accomplishments in the 2000s have not been without controversy. During his run, journalists questioned McGwire about his use of the steroid-precursor androstenedione, and in March 2005 was unforthcoming when questioned as part of a Congressional inquiry into steroids. Bonds has also has been dogged by allegations of steroid use and his involvement in the BALCO drugs scandal, as his personal trainer Greg Anderson pled guilty to supplying steroids (without naming Bonds as a recipient). Neither Bonds nor McGwire has failed a drug test at any time since there was no steroid-testing until 2003 after the new August 7, 2002 agreement between owners and players was reached. McGwire retired after the 2001 season.
The 1990s also saw Major League Baseball expand into new markets as four new teams joined the league. In 1993, the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins began play, and in just their fifth year of existence, the Marlins became the first wild card team to win the championship.
A memo circulated in 1991 by baseball commissioner Fay Vincent said, "The possession, sale or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by Major League players and personnel is strictly prohibited ... [and those players involved] are subject to discipline by the Commissioner and risk permanent expulsion from the game.... This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs and controlled substances, including steroids… Some general managers of the time do not remember this memo, and it was not emphasized or enforced.
Ephedra, a Chinese herb used to cure cold symptoms, and also used in some allergy medications, sped up the heart and was considered by some to be a weight-loss short-cut. Overweight pitcher Steve Bechler, who wanted to stay on the Baltimore Orioles roster, took just such a shortcut. He collapsed on February 17, 2003 while pitching, and was soon pronounced dead. Bechler's death raised concerns over the use of performance enhancing drugs in baseball. Ephedra was banned, and soon the furor died down.
The 1998 home run race had generated nearly unbroken positive publicity, but Barry Bonds run for the all-time home run record provoked a backlash over steroids, which increase a person's testosterone level and subsequently enable that person to bodybuild with much more ease. Some athletes have said that the main advantage to steroids is not so much the additional power or endurance that they can provide, but that they can drastically shorten rehab time from injury.
Commissioner Bud Selig imposed a very strict anti-drug policy upon its minor league players, who are not part of the Major League Baseball Players Association (the PA). Random drug testing, education and treatment, and strict penalties for those caught were the rule of law. Anyone on a Major League team's forty man roster, including 15 minor leaguers that are on that list, were exempt from that program. Some called Selig's move a public relations stunt, or window dressing.
In a Sports Illustrated cover story in 2002, a year after his retirement, Ken Caminiti admitted that he had used steroids during his National League MVP-winning 1996 season, and for several seasons afterwards. Caminiti died unexpectedly of an apparent heart attack in The Bronx at the age of 41; he was pronounced dead on October 10, 2004 at New York's Lincoln Memorial Hospital. On November 1, the New York City Medical Examiners Office announced that Caminiti died from "acute intoxication due to the combined effects of cocaine and opiates," but coronary artery disease and cardiac hypertrophy (an enlarged heart) were also contributing factors.
In 2005, José Canseco published Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big admitting steroid usage and claiming that it was prevalent throughout major league baseball. When the United States Congress decided to investigate the use of steroids in the sport, some of the games most prominent players have come under scrutiny for possibly using steroids. These include Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Mark McGwire. Other players, such as Canseco and Gary Sheffield, have admitted to have either knowingly (in Canseco's case) or not (Sheffield's) using steroids. In confidential testimony to the BALCO Grand Jury (that was later leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle), Giambi also admitted steroid use. He later held a press conference in which he appeared to affirm this admission, without actually saying the words. And after an appearance before Congress where he (unlike McGwire) emphatically denied using steroids, "period," slugger Rafael Palmeiro became the first major star to be suspended (10 days) on August 1, 2005 for violating Major League Baseball's newly strengthened ban on controlled substances, including steroids, adopted on August 7, 2002, starting in the 2003 season. Many lesser players (mostly from the minor leagues) have tested positive for use, as well.
In 2006, the Commissioner of Baseball tasked former United States Senator George J. Mitchell to lead an investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball (MLB) and on December 13, 2007, the 409-page Mitchell Report was released ('Report to the Commissioner of Baseball of an Independent Investigation into the Illegal Use of Steroids and Other Performance Enhancing Substances by Players in Major League Baseball'). The report described the use of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) in MLB and assessed the effectiveness of the MLB Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Mitchell also advanced certain recommendations regarding the handling of past illegal drug use and future prevention practices. The report names 89 MLB players who are alleged to have used steroids or drugs.
Baseball has been taken to task for turning a blind eye to its drug problems. It benefited from these drugs in the ever-increasingly competitive fight for airtime and media attention. MLB and its Players Association finally announced tougher measures, but many felt that they did not go far enough. (See: List of Major League Baseball players suspended for steroids)
Various baseball pundits, fans, and even players have taken this as confirmation that Bonds uses illegal steroids. Bonds never tested positive in tests performed in 2003, 2004, and 2005, which may be attributable to successful obfuscation of continued use as documented in the 2006 book Game of Shadows.
Routinely in today's baseball age we see players reach 40 and 50 home runs in a season, a feat that even in the 1980s was considered rare. The need of pitchers to combat the rise in power will likely lead to a pitching revolution at some point in the future. Many modern baseball theorists believe that a new pitch, such as the infamous gyroball, will swing the balance of power back to the pitcher. However, the gyroball is still something of a phantom pitch--the only pitchers allegedly able to throw it are Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Boston Red Sox and a college pitcher named Joey Niezer. However, during the 2006 World Baseball Classic, Matsuzaka admitted that though he has tried to throw the gyroball, he cannot do so on a consistent basis. A pitching revolution would not be unprecedented--several pitches have changed the game of baseball in the past, including the slider in the 50's and 60's and the split-fingered fastball in the 70's to 90's. Since the 1990s, the changeup has made a resurgence, being thrown masterfully by pitchers such as Trevor Hoffman, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Johan Santana.
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