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The Origins of Baseball (Part II)

Professional Baseball's First Hundred Years

Baseball was founded on the amateur leagues that preceded it. Baseball had become a spectator sport over the previous 25 years when the first professional league began to operate. The National Association had nine teams in 1871, but grew by 4 teams by 1875.

The National Association didn?t last long. Gamblers diluted the public?s confidence in the games and their presence at the games along with alcohol sales quickly killed their fan base. After the 1875 season, the National Association was replaced with the National League. Players had always owned the teams and run the games in the past, but the National League was to be run by businessmen. There were policies created for ticket prices, player contracts and games.

The National League showed that professional baseball could be successful and a rival league soon emerged. By 1882, the American Association was formed and began competing with a lower ticket price and teams in larger cities. Instead of fighting with each other, the two leagues reached an agreement, endorsing a National Agreement. It called for teams in both major leagues and the minor leagues to honor each other?s player contracts. The agreement also allowed each team to tie a certain number of players with the Reserve Clause. This granted teams the ability to unilaterally renew a player?s contract, preventing him from engaging in other offers.

Obviously, this angered the players. In 1884, they attempted to form their own league, the Union Association. Several players left their teams for the freedom of the Union Association, but the league did not make it beyond one season. The teams were not making enough money to engage in a second season. A second attempt was made in 1890, when the Players League was formed, but like the Union Association, it failed after one season. The loss of players forced the American Association out of business as well, with its four best teams joining the National League.

At the turn of the century, yet another attempt was made to form a new league ? the American League, which began play in 1901. They stole many of the National League?s finer players. In their attempt to counter-attack, the National League owners turned on each other. A court injunction instituted a three-man commission to run the league, and they found a way for the two leagues to peacefully co-exist.

The turn of the century brought another challenger, the American League, which started play in 1901. They raid most of the National League?s best players. In their attempt to meet the challenge, the National League owners turned on each other. A court injunction impaneled a three-man commission to run the league, and they found a way for the two-leagues to co-exist peacefully.

From 1901 to 1910, baseball withheld its position as a game of strategy. The game provided few home runs. It relied on contact hitters, bunting, and base-stealing for its offense. The acceptance of a new ball with a cork center in 1911 changed the radically changed the game. Forty years of records began to be exceeded and the game exploded in popularity.


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Yet, in 1914, another rival league tried to form. The Federal League attempted to make its presence known both on the field and in the courtroom. They sued the American and National League stating they constituted a monopoly. While the case dragged out in court, the Federal League folded after two seasons. In 1922, the Supreme Court settled the matter by establishing baseball as being exempt from anti-trust legislation. The Court acknowledged and confirmed baseball?s monopoly.

Baseball became a hit during the Roaring Twenties. In 1919, a huge gambling scandal brought swift reforms, and a legend was soon born in the nation?s largest city. George ?Babe? Ruth had been a successful pitcher with the Boston Red Sox, but his contract was bought out by the New York Yankees and he was made an outfielder. The league had never seen a more tremendous hitter. Babe Ruth revolutionized the game with his home run supremacy. He ushered in an era of financial prosperity for the game, and went on to become one of the most popular athlete?s in the Nation?s history.

The forties became a difficult time for baseball, as a large number of players entered the military during World War II. However, a new era was near. Although it wasn?t a written rule, baseball had always been racially segregated. However, in 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to enter the league, joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. However, integration was a slow process. Other teams were slow to catch onto the African-American player movement. It was another ten years before all of the teams had conformed, and it wasn?t until well into the 1960s that the league as a whole could call itself integrated.

In 1960, yet another rival league appeared. Though a few teams had moved, most of the teams were focused in the northeast United States. Large cities in the south and west began wanting teams as well. The Continental League started their battle in court before they ever had the chance of losing all their money on the field. With the possibility of losing their monopoly at stake, major league owners decided to compromise. They agreed to enlarge the league by 50% by the end of the decade, from 16 teams to 24.

The players were ecstatic, since this expansion meant more jobs. Economically, baseball prospered as the fan base continued to grow and national radio and television contracts begin to bring large amounts of money. The players shortly began to find that the owners were not sharing the wealth. Salaries had remained stale for many years, and the players were still tied by the reserve clause. Although they had a union, its only real purpose was to administer the small pension retired players received. After seeing the success of organized labor in the auto and steel industries, the players decided to strengthen their union. After almost a century, the players wanted to regain some control of the game. And they would soon get it.


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More Great Baseball Articles:

Major League Baseball Rules - Rule 21: Misconduct
Baseball and Pine Tar Bats
Baseball During The War Time
The Origins of Baseball (Part I)
The Origins of Baseball (Part II)
The Origins of Baseball (Part III)
The Best Baseball Team Ever
Chicago Cubs Baseball Team
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