At Thompson Sport Shop, we spend a lot of our time selling high-quality sports equipment and custom uniforms. Why? Because we are hardcore sports fans and we love every facet of the games. Since you may not be quite as up on the history as we are, we wanted t take a moment and talk about America’s favorite pastime: Baseball.
In the beginning…
No one really knows. Games similar to baseball have been played throughout the word as far back as ancient times. There was one popular story about the creation of baseball that focused on Abner Doubleday. He was a union soldier in the civil war that supposedly invented baseball. There was never any proof to back this up and Doubleday never claimed it as true so most sports historians now believe it to be a myth.
Many people now believe that baseball, in America, was created from a combination of two European games: Rounders and Crickett. It first started being played in the 18th century and really started to grow in popularity in the 1860’s. In fact, the first reference to baseball being “America’s Pastime” was made in 1856 by the New York Mercury newspaper. It was a trifle premature, but it turned out to be true.
How the early game was played
The first team that played the game under modern rules was the New York Knickerbockers. Their club was founded in 1845 and it quickly went from being a social club to an amateur team. Two club members Doc Adams and Alexander Cartwright developed the Knickerbocker Rules which laid the groundwork for how we play the game today. The following are just a few of the important rules they created:
- Games would consist of nine innings
- All the bases would be 90 feet apart
- The” bound” rule would be eliminated
- The prohibition on soaking or plugging a runner was put in place. (Under the old rules a runner could be tagged out with a thrown ball, similar to kickball)
The rise of major league baseball
The first baseball organization to be formed was the NABBP. It was supposedly an amateur league but there were some star players that received compensation where most did not. In time this caused a split between the professional and amateur ballplayers. So the NABBP split into two groups, the National Association of Professional Baseball Players and an amateur league that only lasted a couple of years.
The National Association was fairly ineffective and only lasted from 1871 to 1875. The National League rose to take its place and it was run by William Hulbert. The league put heavy emphasis on clubs instead of players. A club had the ability to enforce player contracts and they could even stop players from switching to higher paying clubs.
In return for the power given to clubs, they were required to play their full season of scheduled games instead of forfeiting games once they knew they were no longer in the running for a league championship. The clubs also cracked down on game related gambling because it put a lot of the game results in question.
Unfortunately, the early clubs were also famous for a shady arrangement they had between club owners. The deal was that no club would allow non-white players into professional baseball and this prohibition stayed in effect all the way up to 1947. Because of this, many people believe that Jackie Robinson was the first black man to play professional baseball but he wasn’t. Two brothers named Moses and Walker Fleetwood played first but they were dropped from the rosters in the 1880’s.
The greatest names in baseball history
There are many, many legendary baseball players both in the past and in the present. However, there are a few names that are widely held to be the best of the best. Some of the most noteworthy players of early baseball are:
- Ty Cobb – Ty is famous for many reasons and only part of them is due to his skill. He is still considered to be the most hated man in baseball history on or off the field. He had a horrible personality and a dirty playing style but his stats speak for themselves. Ty still holds the record for highest career batting average by hitting .367 lifetime. He is second in all time runs, triples and hits. He is fourth in stolen bases and doubles. Ty will always be remembered for the 1909 World Series game that pitted Pittsburg and Detroit against each other. Many believed it would finally prove whether Ty Cobb or Honus Wagner was the best ballplayer of their time but the debate continues.
- Cy Young – He was one of the star pitchers in the first World Series but at that time he was going by Denton True Young. Later, as he grew in popularity, he just went by the nickname of “Cy”. He is still the all time leader in games started, wins, losses, innings pitched and complete games. To honor him, an award is presented to the best pitcher in the league called the Cy Young award. Cy started a staggering 815 games in his career and he finished 740 of them. His achievements in baseball are widely considered to be unbeatable.
- Shoeless Joe Jackson – His nickname came from a game he played early in his career. His shoes were too tight and he didn’t want it to affect his performance so he played the entire game in his socks. Joe was an amazing hitter and one of the biggest stars of his day. His lifetime batting average is .357 and it still stands as 3rd to this day. In the World Series, Joe set a record by hitting .375, getting 12 hits and driving in 6 runs. This was around the time where game fixing was running rampant and some fans believe that Joe took money to miss catches and make bad throws.
- Babe Ruth – He was often called the Babe or the Sultan of Swat but his real name was George Herman Ruth. He started his career in 1914 as the pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and he quickly became the best in his league. The Babe won 89 games over 6 seasons and he was known for being a home run hitter. Then in 1920 the Red Sox Owner made a shocking decision. To finance an upcoming Broadway production, the owner started selling off his best players and he traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. The move practically crippled the Red Sox and gave the Yankees an enormous boost. In his first year with the Yankees, Babe Ruth hit 54 home runs which were more than every other team in the league except one.
There are many, many more heroes in baseball’s history like Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson. But that’s enough reading for one day. Go get some friends together and play a little baseball. Just don’t forget to swing by Thompson’s Sport Shop to get all of your equipment together first.