Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Baseball

Baseball is a bat-and-ball sport played between two teams of nine players each. The goal is to score runs by hitting a thrown ball with a bat and touching a series of four bases arranged at the corners of a ninety-foot square, or diamond. Players on one team (the batting team) take turns hitting against the pitcher of the other team (the fielding team), which tries to stop them from scoring runs by getting hitters out in any of several ways. A player on the batting team can stop at any of the bases and later advance via a teammate's hit or other means. The teams switch between batting and fielding whenever the fielding team records three outs. One turn at bat for each team constitutes an inning; nine innings make up a professional game. The team with the most runs at the end of the game wins.
Evolving from older bat-and-ball games, an early form of baseball was being played in England by the mid-eighteenth century. This game and the related
rounders were brought by British and Irish immigrants to North America, where the modern version of baseball developed. By the late nineteenth century, baseball was widely recognized as the national sport of the United States. Baseball on the professional, amateur, and youth levels is now popular in North America, parts of Central and South America and the Caribbean, and parts of East Asia. The game is sometimes referred to as hardball, in contrast to the derivative game of softball.
In North America, professional
Major League Baseball (MLB) teams are divided into the National League (NL) and American League (AL). Each league has three divisions: East, West, and Central. Every year, the champion of Major League Baseball is determined by playoffs that culminate in the World Series. Four teams make the playoffs from each league: the three regular season division winners, plus one wild card team. Baseball is the leading team sport in both Japan and Cuba, and the top level of play is similarly split between two leagues: Japan's Central League and Pacific League; Cuba's West League and East League. In the National and Central leagues, the pitcher is required to bat, per the traditional rules. In the American, Pacific, and both Cuban leagues, there is a tenth player, a designated hitter, who bats for the pitcher. Each top-level team has a farm system of one or more minor league teams. These teams allow younger players to develop as they gain on-field experience against opponents with similar levels of skill.
Origins of baseball
The evolution of baseball from older bat-and-ball games is difficult to trace with precision. A French manuscript from 1344 contains an illustration of clerics playing a game, possibly
la soule, with similarities to baseball; other old French games such as théque, la balle au bâton, and la balle empoisonée also appear to be related. Consensus once held that today's baseball is a North American development from the older game rounders, popular in Great Britain and Ireland. Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game (2005), by David Block, suggests that the game originated in England; recently uncovered historical evidence supports this position. Block argues that rounders and early baseball were actually regional variants of each other, and that the game's most direct antecedents are the English games of stoolball and "tut-ball". It has long been believed that cricket also descended from such games, though evidence uncovered in early 2009 suggests that the sport may have been imported to England from Flanders.
The earliest known reference to baseball is in a 1744 British publication,
A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, by John Newbery. It contains a rhymed description of "base-ball" and a woodcut that shows a field set-up somewhat similar to the modern game—though in a triangular rather than diamond configuration, and with posts instead of ground-level bases. English lawyer William Bray recorded a game of baseball on Easter Monday 1755 in Guildford, Surrey; Bray's diary was verified as authentic in September 2008. This early form of the game was apparently brought to North America by English immigrants; rounders was also brought to the continent by both British and Irish immigrants. The first known American reference to baseball appears in a 1791 Pittsfield, Massachusetts, town bylaw prohibiting the playing of the game near the town's new meeting house. By 1796, a version of the game was well-known enough to earn a mention in a German scholar's book on popular pastimes. As described by Johann Gutsmuths, "englische Base-ball" involved a contest between two teams, in which "the batter has three attempts to hit the ball while at the home plate"; only one out was required to retire a side.
By the early 1830s, there were reports of a variety of uncodified bat-and-ball games recognizable as early forms of baseball being played around North America. These games were often referred to locally as "
town ball", though other names such as "round-ball" and "base-ball" were also used.Among the earliest examples to receive a detailed description—albeit five decades after the fact, in a letter from an attendee to Sporting Life magazine—took place in Beachville, Ontario, Canada, in 1838. There were many similarities to modern baseball, and some crucial differences: five bases (or byes); first bye just 6 yards (10 m) from the home bye; batter out if a hit ball was caught after the first bounce. The once widely accepted story that Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839 has been conclusively debunked by sports historians. In 1845, Alexander Cartwright, a member of New York City's Knickerbockers club, led the codification of the so-called Knickerbocker Rules.The practice, common to bat-and-ball games of the day, of "soaking" or "plugging"—effecting a putout by hitting a runner with a thrown ball—was barred. The rules thus facilitated the use of a smaller, harder ball than had been common. Several other rules also brought the Knickerbockers' game close to the modern one, though a ball caught on the first bounce was, again, an out and only underhand pitching was allowed. While there are reports that the New York Knickerbockers played games in 1845, the contest now recognized as the first officially recorded baseball game in U.S. history took place on June 19, 1846, in Hoboken, New Jersey: the "New York Nine" defeated the Knickerbockers, 23–1, in four innings. With the Knickerbocker code as the basis, the rules of modern baseball continued to evolve over the next half-century.

History of baseball in the United States

The game turns professional
In the mid-1850s, a baseball craze hit the New York metropolitan area
By 1856, local journals were referring to baseball as the "national pastime" or "national game".A year later, sixteen area clubs formed the sport's first governing body, the
National Association of Base Ball Players. In 1863, the organization disallowed putouts made by catching a fair ball on the first bounce. Four years later, it barred participation by African Americans. The game's commercial potential was developing: in 1869 the first fully professional baseball club, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was formed and went undefeated against a schedule of semipro and amateur teams. The first professional league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, lasted from 1871 to 1875; scholars dispute its status as a major league.
The more formally structured
National League was founded in 1876. As the oldest surviving major league, the National League is sometimes referred to as the "senior circuit". Several other major leagues formed and failed. In 1884, African American Moses Walker (and, briefly, his brother Welday) played in one of these, the American Association. An injury ended Walker's major league career, and by the early 1890s, a gentlemen's agreement in the form of the baseball color line effectively barred black players from the white-owned professional leagues, major and minor. Professional Negro leagues formed, but quickly folded; several independent African American teams succeeded as barnstormers. Also in 1884, overhand pitching was legalized. In 1887, softball, under the name of indoor baseball or indoor-outdoor, was invented as a winter version of the parent game.[26] Virtually all of the modern baseball rules were in place by 1893; the last major change—counting foul balls as strikes—was instituted in 1901.[25] The National League's first successful counterpart, the American League, which evolved from the minor Western League, was established that year. The two leagues, each with eight teams, were rivals that fought for the best players, often disregarding each other's contracts and engaging in bitter legal disputes
The New York Giants baseball team, 1913. Fred Merkle, sixth in line, committed a baserunning gaffe in a crucial 1908 game that became famous as Merkle's Boner.
A modicum of peace was eventually established, leading to the National Agreement of 1903. The pact formalized relations both between the two major leagues and between them and the National Association of Professional Base Ball Leagues, representing most of the country's
minor professional leagues. The World Series, pitting the two major league champions against each other, was inaugurated that fall, albeit without express major league sanction: The Boston Americans of the American League defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League. The next year, the series was not held, as the National League champion New York Giants, under manager John McGraw, refused to recognize the major league status of the American League and its champion. In 1905, the Giants were National League champions again and team management relented, leading to the establishment of the World Series as the major leagues' annual championship event.
As professional baseball became increasingly profitable, players frequently raised grievances against owners over issues of control and equitable income distribution. During the major leagues' early decades, players on various teams occasionally attempted strikes, which routinely failed when their jobs were sufficiently threatened. In general, the strict rules of baseball contracts and the
reserve clause, which bound players to their teams even when their contracts had ended, tended to keep the players in check. Motivated by dislike for particularly stingy owner Charles Comiskey and gamblers' payoffs, real and promised, members of the Chicago White Sox conspired to throw the 1919 World Series. The Black Sox Scandal led to the formation of a new National Commission of baseball that drew the two major leagues closer together. The first major league baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, was elected in 1920. That year also saw the founding of the Negro National League; the first significant Negro league, it would operate until 1931. For part of the 1920s, it was joined by the Eastern Colored League

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