Baseball as a National Pastime

Maryland State Archives
350 Rowe Boulevard
Annapolis, MD 21401

Phone: (410) 260-6400
Internet: mdsa.net
e-mail: archives@mdsa.net

Overview

Baseball as we know it today began as a folk game in many civilizations throughout the world, but can be traced back most closely to England. Several alternate versions were played in Colonial America, including stoolball, cricket, and other "bat and ball" games. References to "baseball" can be traced back to 1791, but modern day baseball first came to light, according to many, when Abner Doubleday wrote the rules for the game in 1939 in Cooperstown, New York. Another version of the rules, this time written by Alexander Cartright in 1845, came about for the first official baseball team, the New York Knickerbockers. By 1857, adult baseball clubs came together and created the National Association of Base Ball Players, forming the first official Baseball League. The National League of American Baseball Players would evolve to the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs in 1875. Until the 1880s, African American, "Indian", Southern and Central Americans, played in these baseball clubs, including players Fleet and Welday Walker. However, these players would be demoted out of the Major Leagues in the 1880s, and Major League Baseball would remain a "White Only" sport until 1947 with the signing of Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Players were amateur players until the formation of the Cincinatti Red Stockings in 1869. By 1880, the idea of playing baseball as a career became the norm in Major League Baseball.

In addition to the National League, the minor Western League evolved into the American League, and joined with the National League to begin the World Series in 1903. The 1920s brought to light many of the Baseball legends such as Cy Young, Ty Cobb, and Baltimore's own Babe Ruth, known for their strong hitting skills in a time where hitting homeruns was not as common as it is tody. the 1920s also produced the Negro Leauges, created by Rube Foster. Scandals also ran through the sport of baseball, including accusations of throwing games. Proof that baseball had become a national pastime was clearly visible with the building of several of the great ballparks, including Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park in Boston during this time.

In the 1930s, baseball playing on all levels continued to expand. In 1938, the beginnings of Little League comes together in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. By 1960 Little League Baseball would garner over 27,000 teams from the US, Canada, Mexico, and Europe, and its World Series would be televised nationally on ABC. In Major League Baseball, the 1930s brought the beginning of the annual "All Star" game in 1933, and in 1936, the National Baseball Hall Of Fame inducted the first five players: Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner. World War II devastated baseball, as many of its stars also became immortalized as national heroes as they fought on the front lines for their country rather than in a baseball field. Such baseball stars turned war heroes include Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. In light of many of the Major League baseball players fighing for the US, women stepped up to the plate, and in 1946, the All American Girls Professional Baseball League began play. Women continued to play professional baseball until 1954 when the league was disbanded.

Throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Major League Baseball expanded from being a New England dominated game to a Coast to Coast organization, trading teams and creating expansion teams to California, Seattle, Kansas City, and Texas, just to name a few. In this time, the St. Louis Browns came to Baltimore and became the Baltimore Orioles. Washington, DC, also switched teams, sending the first Washington Senators to Minnesota in 1961 and creating a new expansion team with the same name. Washington would only keep the second Washington Senators until 1972, when they moved to become the Texas Rangers. The current move by the Montreal Expos to Washington in 2005 is the first move of a professional team since the Senators left for Texas.

Baseball players fought and struck for their rights in two devastating strikes in 1981 and 1994, both of which deterred many spectators from the game. The strike in 1981 caused 713 Major League games to be cancelled while players and owners argued over the rights of players to be free agents. in 1994, players struck most of the season, forcing the cancellation of the World Series, the only time it has been cancelled in its history. Players struck over salary caps in their contracts. However horrible the strikes, baseball and Americans' love of the game helped it to recover, and throughout the 1980s, professional baseball hit several highs, including the breaking of Ty Cobb's record by Pete Rose in 1986 who achieved a total of 4,256 hits in his career. Major League baseball took longer to recover after the 1994 strike, having lost many of its fanbase when cancelling the World Series. Baseball earned its place in Americans' hearts when Baltimore's Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's record for consecutively played games. Ripken broke the 2,130 game record in September of 1995, a memory that lives in the hearts of not only Baltimorians, but baseball fans around the country.

By 1995, Little League and children's baseball had also grown tremendously. Several of the modern Major League Baseball Players were graduates of the Little League program, including Jason Varitek, Marc Pisciotta, Dan Wilson and Derek Bell. Other notable celebrities, including Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Tom Selleck, George Will, and President George W. Bush, also graduated from Little League Baseball. Little League also expanded to include a girls league, Big, Junior, Senior, and Challenged Leagues to accommodate children who had grown out of Little League, as well as mentally and physically handicapped children. Dwight D. Eisenhower, and later John F. Kennedy, pronounced a "National Little League Week" in June and by 1964, Little League earned a Federal Charter from the US Congress. Little League International hosts teams and leagues from over 100 countries by 2000.

Baseball as a sport is more widely organized in the US than any other game, and in numbers of ticket buyers per year, baseball is also the most widely spectated sport, not including television audiences. Whether truly an American invention by Abner Doubleday, or an evolution from other stick and ball games from England and other civilizations, Baseball is truly an American sport, and our national pastime.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades K-4:

STANDARD 2: The history of students’ own local community and how communities in North America varied long ago.

Standard 2A: The student understands the history of his or her local community.

K-4: Identify historical figures in the local community and explain their contributions and significance. [Assess the importance of the individual in history]

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 7: The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)

Standard 3: How the United States changed from the end of World War I to the eve of the Great Depression

Standard 3C: The student understands how new cultural movements reflected and changed American society.

5-12: Assess how increased leisure time promoted the growth of professional sports, amusement parks, and national parks. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships].

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION:  Union Prisoners at Salisbury, NC.
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1863
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  2. DESCRIPTION: Crowds waiting in line at Ebbets Field, Brooklyn for World Series Game, October 6, 1920 (Photograph)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  [Oct. 6, 1920]
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  3. DESCRIPTION: Ty Cobb, Detroit, and Joe Jackson, Cleveland, standing alongside each other, holding bats
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  c. 1913
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  4. DESCRIPTION: Champions of America (Photograph)
    PHOTOGRAPHER: C. H. Williamson
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  c. 1865
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  5. DESCRIPTION: Washington Baseball Club
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  c. 1887
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  6. DESCRIPTION: Baltimore and All-America base ball teams, California tour
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  c. 1897
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  7. DESCRIPTION: "Hot Dogs" for fans waiting for gates to open at Ebbets Field, Brooklyn
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  October 6, 1920
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  8. DESCRIPTION: President Woodrow Wilson throwing out the first ball, opening day
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1916
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  9. DESCRIPTION: Spectators at Pittsburg[sic]-Detroit game
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  [Oct. 1909]
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  10. DESCRIPTION: Polo Grounds, New York City, during World Series Game
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1913
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  11. DESCRIPTION: [Casey Stengel, wearing sunglasses while playing outfield for the Brooklyn Dodgers]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  [ca. 1915]
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  12. DESCRIPTION: [Cy Young, Boston Red Sox pitcher, throwing a baseball at Huntington Avenue Grounds, Boston]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  July 23, 1908
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  13. DESCRIPTION: [Armando Marsans]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  [1912]
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  14. DESCRIPTION: [Roger Bresnahan, catching for the New York Giants while a Pittsburgh Pirate player is at bat]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  [Sep. 18, 1908]
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  15. DESCRIPTION: Seitz sliding, Reynolds catching 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  [1913 or 1914]
    LC SUMMARY: Play at the plate: Bill Reynolds catching for the New York Yankees while a player named Seitz slides under him at home plate
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  16. DESCRIPTION: [William J. Klem, baseball umpire]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  Oct. 5, 1914
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  17. DESCRIPTION: Amateur championship game, Telling's Strollers vs. Hanna's Cleaners, Brookside Stadium--Sept. 20, 1914, attendance 100,000. 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  Sep. 20, 1914
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Panoramic Photographs: Taking the Long View, 1851-1991
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  18. DESCRIPTION: [Honolulu ball team]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  [Sep. 2, 1910]
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  19. DESCRIPTION: [Waseda University baseball team to visit U.S., now in Honolulu]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  [1911]
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  20. DESCRIPTION: [New York Yankees baseball team, posed]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  [Oct. 19, 1926]
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  21. DESCRIPTION: Detail of New York Yankees Baseball Team, Posed (Focus on Babe Ruth) (Photograph)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1926
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Early Baseball Pictures 1860s to 1920s  
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  22. DESCRIPTION: The Cleveland baseball club, American League, season 1920 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1920
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Panoramic Photographs: Taking the Long View, 1851-1991
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

  23. DESCRIPTION: A Pretty Little Pocketbook: Woodcut
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1760
    SOURCE:  "A Pretty Little Pocket-Book, intended for the Amusement of Little Master Tommy, and Pretty Miss Polly. . . ." J. Newbery, 1760. Early Printed Collections, The British Library, Library of Congress exhibition - John Bull & Uncle Sam: Four Centuries of British-American Relations. In America's Story from America's Library: Library of Congress
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress, Washington DC

Additional Media Resources

Wikipedia: Baseball. Exensive hypertext history of Baseball, including information on the All American Girls Professional Baseball League and the Negro Leagues.

National Baseball Hall of Fame. Resources on baseball leaders.

Major League Baseball Official History Site. Includes League history.

Little League Online. Includes US and world history of youth baseball.

Maryland Baseball:

National Baseball Hall of Fame. Inductees from Maryland-Includes links and resources on Maryland ballplayers.

Orioles Baseball History. Includes history of local Major League baseball team.

"America's National Game:" The Albert G. Spalding Collection of Early Baseball Photographs

Additional Instructional Resources 

Jackie Steals Home! From the Library of Congress Learning Page.

Baseball: Fact or Fiction

Baseball: The Game and Beyond

Learning from Baseball

Negro League's History

Take them Out To the Ball Game!

Whats Important about the Negro Leagues?

Secondary Resources

Henderson, Robert. Bat, Ball, and Bishop: The Origin of Ball Games. Champaign-Urbana; University of Illinois Press, 2001.

Sullivan, Neil J. "Baseball and Race: The Limits of Competition." The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 83, No. 3. (Summer, 1998), pp. 168-177.

Tygiel, Jules. Past Time: Baseball as History. London; Oxford University Press, 2001.

Ritter, Lawrence. The Glory of Their Times : The Story of Baseball Told By the Men Who Played It. San Franscisco: Perennial Currents, 1992.

Zingg, Paul J. "Diamond in the Rough: Baseball and the Study of American Sports History." The History Teacher Vol. 19, No. 3. (May, 1986), pp. 385-403.

Password Access to Journal Articles

Some journal articles linked to this site require password access due to copyright and other restrictions. Teachers participating in the Teaching American History in Maryland program with a valid University of Maryland (UMBC) Library card can access these materials through ResearchPort.

Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

Babe Ruth Museum
216 Emory Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 727-1539

 

Oriole Park at Camden Yards
333 West Camden Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
(888) 848-BIRD

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Password Access to Materials

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Credits

Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Samantha Howe.

An Archives of Maryland Online Publication
© Copyright, Maryland State Archives, November 01, 2005