A Brief History of Baseball: Origins of
by Sean Lahman
Unlike professional basketball and American football, interest
in baseball has not been sweeping the globe . Declining participation
at the amateur level and protracted labor problems at the professional
level have thrust "America's Pastime" into an era of uncertainty.
Despite this current adversity, baseball will always occupy
an important place in American culture. This column starts a
three part look at the history of baseball.
Most cultures have some sort of stick and ball game, cricket
being the most well-known. While the exact origins of baseball
are unknown, most historians agree that it is based on the English
game of rounders. It began to become quote popular in this country
in the early 19th century, and many sources report the growing
popularity of a game called "townball", "base", or "baseball".
Throughout the early part of that century, small towns formed
teams, and baseball clubs were formed in larger cities. In 1845,
Alexander Cartwright wanted to formalize a list of rules by
which all team could play. Much of that original code is still
in place today. Although popular legend says that the game was
invented by Abner Doubleday, baseball's true father was Cartwright.
The first recorded baseball contest took place a year later,
in 1846. Cartwright's Knickerbockers lost to the New York Baseball
Club in a game at the Elysian Fields, in Hoboken, New Jersey.
These amateur games became more frequent and more popular. In
1857, a convention of amateur teams was called to discuss rules
and other issues. Twenty five teams from the northeast sent
delegates. The following year, they formed the National Association
of Base Ball Players, the first organized baseball league. In
its first year of operation, the league supported itself by
occasionally charging fans for admission. The future looked
The early 1860s, however were a time of great turmoil in the
United States. In those years of the Civil War, the number of
baseball clubs dropped dramatically. But interest in baseball
was carried to other parts of the country by Union soldiers,
and when the war ended there were more people playing baseball
than ever before. The league’s annual convention in 1868
drew delegates from over 100 clubs.
As the league grew, so did the expenses of playing. Charging
admission to games started to become more common, and teams
often had to seek out donations or sponsors to make trips. In
order for teams to get the financial support they needed, winning
became very important. Although the league was supposed to be
comprised of amateurs, many players were secretly paid. Some
were given jobs by sponsors, and some were secretly paid a salary
just for playing.
In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings decided to become a completely
professional team. Brothers Harry and George Wright recruited
the best players from around the country, and beat all comers.
The Cincinnati team won sixty-five games and lost none. The
idea of paid players quickly caught on.
Some wanted baseball to remain an amateur endeavor, but there
was no way they could compete with the professional teams. The
amateur teams began to fade away as the best players became
professionals. In 1871, the National Association became the
first professional baseball league