In the eighteenth century, many people from Great Britain and Europe travelled to the new colonies in North America to settle and build new lives. These settlers took along traditional games that their families had been playing for generations, including several bat and ball games such as Ireland's "rounders" and Germany's "schlagball". During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, new variations like "town ball", "goal ball" and "round ball" appeared. Each form of the game had its followers, but none really dominated until the 1840's when New York fireman Alexander Joy Cartwright helped develop a new variation of "town ball" called "baseball". In 1845, he formed the Knickerbocker Baseball Club with his friends at the Knickerbocker Fire Engine Company, and they then wrote out a set of rules which became the basis of modern baseball. Cartwright umpired the first officially recorded game on June 19, 1846 in New Jersey, between the Knickerbockers and the New York Nine, and today he is seen as one of the most important pioneers of the game.
In 1857 the National Association of Baseball Players was established, and in 1871 the first attempt at forming a "major league" was made when the short-lived National Association was set up. Several other attempts were made to set up professional baseball leagues, but most of them failed. The two leagues that did survive were the National League, founded in 1876, and the American League, founded in 1901. These two leagues competed for top players, commercial sponsorship and popular support. Both leagues claimed to have the best players and teams, so in 1903 the "World Series" competition was established in which the top teams from each league competed for the honor of being known as "world champions".
The World Series is still baseball's biggest prize, and the U.S.A. and Canada still have the strongest teams in the world, with top managers and players earning millions of dollars a year. Professional leagues have also been established in many other countries as well, including Cuba, the Netherlands, Australia, Japan, Puerto Rico, Italy, Venezuela, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Korea, Taiwan and China, and the game seems sure to become even more popular around the world in the future.
Baseball has traditionally been played by men and boys far more than by women and girls. However, leagues for women and girls now exist in several countries, and international competitions have been held since 2001.
How The Game Works
Baseball is played between two teams of nine players on a specially-built baseball field, with up to four umpires in charge of a game. The teams take turns throwing the ball, or pitching, and batting. The pitcher throws the ball from the pitcher's mound (see diagram at right), aiming to throw it over a pentagonal rubber slab known as the home plate. The batter stands to one side of this plate, and tries to hit the ball when it is pitched. If the batter doesn't hit a pitch that is in the strike zone, meaning it's over the plate and not too high or too low, the umpire calls a strike. If three strikes are called, the batter is out. If the batter hits a pitch and the ball is caught by one of the fielders, the batter is also out. But if the batter hits a pitch into fair territory and it isn't caught, he drops his bat and runs towards first base (see diagram). If a fielder gets the ball and touches the batter with it, or tags him, before he gets to first base, he is out. But if he gets there without being tagged, he is safe. He can either stop at first base, or if he thinks he can get to second base safely, or even further, he can keep going. Once he stops at a base, the next batter comes in. If the next batter hits a pitch, the first batter can run to the next base, and so on. If he can run all the bases and get back to the home plate without being tagged, he scores a run for the team. His team will keep sending out new players to bat until three of them have been given out by the umpires and the team's turn at batting is over. The opposing team then has a chance to bat and score some runs. When both teams have had a turn to bat, an inning is over. In professional baseball, the team with the most runs after nine innings have been played is the winner.
The main contest in a game of baseball is between a pitcher and a batter. The pitcher tries to win the contest by striking the batter out, or by making him hit the ball into the air so a fielder can catch him out. The batter tries to win the contest by hitting the ball and helping his team to score runs. The pitcher works closely with his catcher, who is the player standing behind home plate who catches the ball whenever it isn't hit by the batter. The catcher often decides which type of pitch the pitcher should throw, and uses secret hand signals to communicate with him. Pitchers use a range of pitches, including fast balls, curve balls, sliders and change ups, with one of the arts of pitching being to disguise the type of ball one is pitching in order to confuse the batter. But if the batter hits a pitch, he could hit a fly ball high into the air, a pop fly almost straight up and down, a line drive fast and low to the outfield, or he could hit a gentle bunt into the infield. If the batter hits a pitch high and far and "out of the park", he scores a home run. If he does this when the bases are loaded, meaning there are base runners already waiting on all three bases, all of the runners will score a run on the same play. This is called a grand slam, and it's the highest-scoring play in baseball. The dream of every major league player, and the fantasy of every young baseball fan, is to come out to bat in the final inning of a World Series, on a grand slam play with the bases loaded, and to win the series by hitting a home run. Nothing in baseball could be finer than this.
Most Famous Player
Babe Ruth"Babe Ruth" is without doubt baseball's most famous player. He changed the game forever in the 1920's from a low-scoring, defensive contest into an exciting spectacle of huge home-run hits, and the game became far more popular as a result. George Herman Ruth, Jr. was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1895, into a poor family of German immigrants. They could barely afford to raise young George, so he was sent to a Roman Catholic missionary school where he lived for twelve years, rarely seeing his family. He learned to play baseball while there, and before long it was clear to everyone that he was a very talented player. In 1914, one of his teachers introduced Ruth to Jack Dunn, owner and manager of the Baltimore Orioles, who signed him on as a pitcher and dubbed him "Babe". Dunn then sold him to the Boston Red Sox, where he played for the next five years. In 1920, he was sold to the New York Yankees, for whom many believe he played his best baseball over the next fourteen years. By this time, Babe Ruth was far more famous for his power hitting than for his pitching, and he was setting many batting records, some of which stood for decades after he retired from the game in 1935. Ruth died in 1948 after a long battle with cancer, but the legend of the great Babe Ruth will live on forever.
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Researched and written by Matt Errey for EnglishClub.