Major League Baseball season has officially kicked off! Baseball is America’s game. It is steeped in history, and baseball fans are among the most passionate sports fans. Major League Baseball (MLB) teams are based across the United States, with one team, The Toronto Blue Jays based in Canada. There is a healthy minor league system as well, where professional players who may not be skilled enough for the major leagues get a chance to play and perhaps move up to the Major Leagues.
There is some controversy about how baseball was invented. Some historians say that the game evolved from an old French stick and ball game called “La Soule” while others credit a British game called “Rounders”. In the early 1800s, games that started to resemble baseball became popular in North America. Town-Ball, Round-ball, and even the word Base-ball were used early on to describe the game. Rules likely differed depending on where and with whom you played.
In 1845, a man named Alexander Cartwright wrote down standardized rules – creating bases, standardizing the size of the ball and creating the idea of pitching the ball a certain way as opposed to throwing it in a normal way. Cartwright’s rules were named the Knickerbocker rules, and they created the basis for the game we know as Baseball today.
Many books call the time after World War I Baseball’s Golden Era. This era is often defined as between 1920 and 1964. Many of the legendary players such as Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Jackie Robinson played during this time.
Unfortunately, baseball was segregated during some of the Golden Era. Black American players had their own separate professional leagues called the Negro Leagues.
The Negro Leagues had their own stars, some of which have become famous over time, as baseball historians have written more about the Negro Leagues. Some even played in Major League Baseball after it was integrated. Stars of the Negro Leagues include Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Raymond Brown, Jud Wilson.
Aside from the morally wrong practice of separating people by race, baseball fans at the time did not get to see the best baseball players compete all together until the late 1940s. In 1947, Jackie Robinson, a black American was asked to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He is credited with breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier, ushering in the Integrated Era of Major League Baseball.
How to Play
The point of the game is to score a run each time a batter goes around all four bases.
The team that is playing defense is trying to prevent the base runners from getting to home base by getting players “out”. After three outs (catching a fly ball, tagging a runner while you have the ball in hand, throwing the ball to a base before a runner gets there, etc.) the teams switch so that defense is now up at bat and the batters take the field to play defense. It all begins with the pitcher, whose job it is to make sure that the batters don’t get any hits at all. The pitcher especially wants to prevent a home run, when the ball is hit over the outfield fences or hit in such a way that a batter is able to reach home safely in one play.
The infield is composed of players in charge of protecting each base, and the shortstop. You have a first baseman, second baseman, and a third baseman. The shortstop is in charge of protecting the area between second and third base. The catcher is in charge of protecting home base. Outfielders are in charge of tracking down the ball if it goes beyond the infield.
There is a 9-person batting order for the team playing offense. The #1 person on the batting order is called the leadoff hitter. The leadoff hitter and the #2 person on the batting order are usually the persons on the team who are best at getting on base. The #3 and #4 hitters are often power hitters who hit for a high batting average and for power (meaning they are more likely to get a home run). The goal is to have runners on base by the time your best hitters go up in order to score as many runs as possible. The #5 and #6 hitters are counted on to get runs as well but the 7– 9th hitters tend to have lower batting averages. They may be on the team more for their defensive skills. And in leagues where the pitchers bat, the pitcher is usually at the #9 spot.
When it is their turn going to bat at home plate, each player on offense will wait for the pitcher to throw the ball toward the plate and attempt to hit the ball into the field of play.
If you would like to know more about how to learn and follow baseball, consider reading a book called Watching Baseball Smarter by Zack Hample. Hample explains what each position does and is a good place to begin to understand the sport better. Baseball: A History of America’s Favorite Game by George Vecsey will explain the history of the game and give you a better context to understanding the sport. You can also read more online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baseball_rules
Though it’s called America’s Pastime, baseball has established itself and become popular in other parts of the world, particularly in Latin America and Asia. From the 1940s to the 60s, Latin American nations such as Venezuela, Dominican Republic, and Cuba began founding their own leagues. And the Japanese major league baseball teams are considered to be second in quality only to the United States teams.