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The Origins of Baseball (Part I)

Part I: Origins of the Game

Interest in baseball has not been sweeping the globe, like professional basketball and American football. Waning participation at the amateur level and unlike professional basketball and American football, interest in baseball has not been sweeping the globe. Declining participation at the amateur level and prolonged labor problems at the professional level have sent "America's Pastime" into an period of uncertainty. Despite this current hardship, baseball will always have an important place in American culture. This column begins a three fold look at the history of baseball.

Stick and ball games are common in most cultures, cricket being the most recognized. While the origins of baseball are unknown, most historians will not argue that it is based on the English game of rounders. Baseball became quite popular in the United States in the early 1800s, and many sources reported the growing popularity of a game known as ?townball? or ?baseball?.

Throughout the early 1800s, smaller towns formed teams and larger towns formed baseball clubs. In 1845, Alexander Cartwright formalized a list of rules by which all teams could follow. Much of his original code is still in place today. Popular belief is that the game was invented by Abner Doubleday, but baseball?s true inventor was Cartwright.

The first ever recorded baseball game was held a year later in 1846. Cartwright?s team, the Knickerbockers, lost to the New York Baseball Club at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey. These recreational games became more and more common. In 1857, a gathering of these teams was called to discuss rules and other issues. Twenty five teams from the northeast area of the United States sent representatives. The very next year, they formed the National Association of Baseball Players, the first organized league. In its first year of operation, the league sustained itself by sometimes charging fans admission. Baseball was becoming a hit.


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However, the early 1860s turned out to be a time of great disorder for the United States. During the Civil War, the number of baseball clubs was reduced significantly. Interest in baseball persevered, and by the time the war ended, there were more people than ever playing baseball. The league?s annual baseball convention grew to over 100 clubs.

The expenses of playing baseball grew as the league became larger. Charging admission to games became commonplace, and teams often relied on sponsorships to make trips. Winning became very important in order to receive the financial support they needed. Many players were secretly being paid although the league was supposed to consist of amateurs. Some were secretly paid a salary for playing while others were given jobs by the team sponsors.

In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings decided to become a completely professional team. Brothers Harry and George Wright recruited the best players from around the country. The Red Stockings won sixty-five games and lost none. At this point, the idea of paid players caught on in the rest of the country.

Although some desired baseball to remain an amateur game, there was no way they could play against the professional teams. The amateur teams began to slowly fade away as the best players became part of the professional teams. In 1871, the National Association became the first professional baseball league.


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More Great Baseball Articles:

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Baseball During The War Time
The Origins of Baseball (Part I)
The Origins of Baseball (Part II)
The Origins of Baseball (Part III)
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