History of baseball in the United States

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Part of the History of baseball series.

Early history

1886 baseball demonstration at Conner Prairie living history museum.

The earliest known mention of baseball in the United States is a 1791 Pittsfield, Massachusetts bylaw banning the playing of the game within 80 yards of the town meeting house.

The first team to play baseball under modern rules were the Knickerbockers of New York City. The club was founded on September 23, 1845, as a social club for the upper middle classes, and was strictly amateur until its disbandment. The club members, led by Alexander Cartwright, formulated the "Knickerbocker Rules", which in large part deal with organizational matters but which also lay out rules for playing the game. One of the significant rules was the prohibition of "soaking" or "plugging" the runner; under older rules, a fielder could put a runner out by hitting the runner with the thrown ball. The Knickerbocker Rules required fielders to tag or force the runner, as is done today, and avoided a lot of the arguments and fistfights that resulted from the earlier practice.

Writing the rules didn't help the Knickerbockers in the first competitive game between two clubs under the new rules, played at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey on June 19, 1846. The self-styled "New York Nine" humbled the Knickerbockers by a score of 23 to 1. Nevertheless, the Knickerbocker Rules were rapidly adopted by teams in the New York area and their version of baseball became known as the "New York Game" (as opposed to the "Massachusetts Game", played by clubs in the Boston area).

In 1857, sixteen New York area clubs, including the Knickerbockers, formed the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP). The NABBP was the first organization to govern the sport and to establish a championship. Aided by the Civil War, membership grew to almost 100 clubs by 1865 and to over 400 by 1867, including clubs from as far away as California. Beginning in 1869, the NABBP permitted professional play, addressing a growing practice that had not been permitted under its rules to that point. The first and most prominent professional club of the NABBP era was the Cincinnati Red Stockings.

Professionalism and the rise of the major leagues

In 1870, a schism formed between professional and amateur ballplayers. The NABBP split into two groups. The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players operated from 1871 through 1875, and is considered by some to have been the first major league. (Other researchers dispute this.) Its amateur counterpart disappeared after only a few years.

The professional National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, which is still existant, was established in 1875 after the National Association proved ineffective. The emphasis was now on "clubs" rather than "players". Clubs now had the ability to enforce player contracts, preventing players from jumping to higher-paying clubs. Clubs in turn were required to play their full schedule of games, rather than forfeiting games scheduled once out of the running for the league championship, as happened frequently under the National Association. A concerted effort was made to reduce the amount of gambling on games which was leaving the validity of results in doubt.

At the same time, a "gentlemen's agreement" was struck between the clubs which endeavored to bar non-white players from professional baseball, a bar which was in existence until 1947. It is a common misconception that Jackie Robinson was the first African-American major-league ballplayer; he was actually one of an unknown number. Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother Welday Walker were unceremoniously dropped from major and minor-league rosters in the 1880s, as were other African-Americans in baseball. An unknown number of African-Americans played in the major leagues as Indians, or South or Central Americans. And a still larger number played in the minor leagues and on amateur teams as well. In the majors, however, it was not until Robinson (in the National League) and Larry Doby (in the American League) emergence that baseball would begin to correct this.

The early years of the National League were nonetheless tumultuous, with threats from rival leagues and a rebellion by players against the hated "reserve clause", which restricted the free movement of players between clubs. Competitive leagues formed regularly, and also disbanded regularly. The most successful was the American Association (18811891), sometimes called the "beer and whiskey league" for its tolerance of the sale of alcoholic beverages to spectators. For several years, the National League and American Association champions met in a postseason championship series—the first attempt at a World Series.

The Union Association survived for only one season (1884), as did the Players League (1890), a fascinating attempt to return to the National Association structure of a league controlled by the players themselves. Both leagues, however, are considered major leagues by many baseball researchers because of the perceived high caliber of play (for a brief time anyway) and the number of star players featured. Some researchers have disputed the major league status of both leagues, claiming that the vast majority of their players were far below the National League's level of play at the time.

There were dozens of leagues large and small at this time. So what made the National League major? Control of the major cities, particularly New York City, the edgy, emotional nerve center of baseball with several clubs. They had both the biggest national media distribution systems of the day, and the populations that could generate big enough revenues for teams to hire the best players in the country.

Many leagues, including the venerable Eastern League, survived in parallel with the National League. One, the Western League, founded in 1893, became aggressive. Its firey leader Ban Johnson, railed against the National League, and promised that he would build a new league that would grab the best players, and field the best teams. Later renamed the American Association, it began play in April 1894.

The teams were Detroit (the only league team that has not moved since), Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Sioux City and Toledo. Prior to the 1900 season, the league changed its name to the American League, moved several franchises to larger, strategic locations, and in 1901 declared its intent to operate as a major league.

The resulting bidding war for players led to widespread contract-breaking and legal hassles. One of the most famous involved star second baseman Napoleon Lajoie, who went across town in Philadelphia from the National League Phillies to the American League Athletics in 1901. Barred by a court injunction from playing baseball in the state of Pennsylvania the next year, Lajoie saw his contract traded to the Cleveland team; he would play for and manage Cleveland for many years.

The war between the American and National also caused shock waves throughout the rest of the baseball world. The result was a meeting at the Leland Hotel in Chicago in 1901 of every other baseball league. On September 5, 1901 Patrick T. Powers, president of the Eastern League formed the second National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the NABPL or "NA" for short. The design of the association was to maintain the other leagues' independence.

To call these leagues "minor" in these days would have been a poorly received mistake. The term 'minor' league did not come into vogue until the Great Depression and St. Louis Cardinals GM Branch Rickey's coordinated developmental program, the farm system, came into being in the 1930s. Still, these leagues needed money, and selling players to the more affluent National and American leagues sent them down the road that would strip the "in" from their independent status.

For Ban Johnson had other designs for the NA. While the NA continues to this day, he saw it as a tool to end threats from smaller rivals who might some day want to expand in other territories and threaten the his league's dominance.

After 1902 both leagues and the NABPL signed a new National Agreement which achieved three things:

  • First and foremost, it governed player contracts that set up mechanisms to end the cross-league raids on rosters and reinforced the power of the hated [reserve clause] that kept players virtual slaves to their baseball masters.
  • Second, it led to the playing of a "World Series" in 1903 between the two major league champions. The first World Series was won by Boston of the American League.
  • Lastly, it established a system of control and dominance for the major leagues over the independents. There would not be another Ban Johnson-like rebellion from the ranks of leagues with smaller cities. Selling player contracts was rapidly becoming a staple business of the independent leagues. During the rough and tumble years of the American-National struggle, player contracts were violated at the independents as well: Players that the team had developed would sign deals with the National or American leagues without any form of compensation to the indy club.

The new agreement tied independent contracts to the reserve-clause national league contracts. Baseball players were a commodity, like cars. $5,000 bought your arm or your bat, and if you didn't like it, find someplace that would hire you. It set up a rough classification system for independent leagues that regulated the dollar value of contracts, the forerunner of the system refined by Rickey and used today.

It also gave the NA great power. Many independents walked away from the 1901 meeting. The deal with the NA punished those other indies who had not joined the NA and submitted to the will of the 'majors.' The NA also agreed to the deal to prevent more pilfering of players with little or no compensation for the players' development. Several leagues, seeing the writing on the wall, eventually joined the NA, which grew in size over the next several years.

The dead ball era: 1900 to 1919

File:Cy young.jpg
Cy Young, 1911 baseball card

At this time the games tended to be low scoring, dominated by such legendary pitchers as Walter "The Big Train" Johnson, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, and Grover Cleveland Alexander to the extent that the period 1900–1919 is commonly called the "dead ball era". The term also accurately describes the condition of the baseball itself. Baseballs cost three dollars apiece, a hefty sum at the time, and club owners were reluctant to spend much money on new balls if not necessary. It was not unusual for a single baseball to last an entire game. By the end of the game, the ball would be dark with grass, mud, and tobacco juice, and it would be misshapen and lumpy from contact with the bat. Balls were only replaced if they were hit into the crowd and lost, and many clubs employed security guards expressly for the purpose of retrieving balls hit into the stands—a practice unthinkable today.

As a consequence, home runs were rare, and the "inside game" dominated—singles, bunts, stolen bases, the hit-and-run play, and other tactics dominated the strategies of the time.

Despite this, there were also several superstar hitters, the most famous being Honus Wagner, held to be one of the greatest shortstops to ever play the game, and Detroit's Ty Cobb, the "Georgia Peach". Cobb was a mean-spirited man, fiercely competitive and loathed by many of his fellow professionals, but his career batting average of .366 is unlikely ever to be bested.

The Merkle incident

The 1908 pennant races in both the AL and NL were among the most exciting ever witnessed; neither was decided until the final day of play. The conclusion of the National League season, in particular, involved a bizarre chain of events. On September 23, 1908, the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs played a game in the Polo Grounds. Nineteen-year-old rookie first baseman Fred Merkle, later to become one of the best players at his position in the league, was on first base, with teammate Moose McCormick on third with two out and the game tied. Giants shortstop Al Bridwell socked a single, scoring McCormick and apparently winning the game. However, Merkle, instead of advancing to second base, ran toward the clubhouse to avoid the spectators mobbing the field. Cub second baseman, Johnny Evers, noticed this. In the confusion that followed, Evers claimed to have retrieved the ball and touched second base, forcing Merkle out and nullifying the run scored. The league ordered the game replayed at the end of the season, if necessary. It turned out that the Cubs and Giants ended the season tied for first place, so the game was indeed replayed, and the Cubs won the game, the pennant, and subsequently the World Series (the last Cub Series victory to date, as it turns out).

For his part, Merkle was doomed to endless criticism and vilification throughout his career for this lapse, which makes his later playing success even more remarkable. In his defense, some baseball historians have suggested that it was not customary for game-ending hits to be fully "run out", and it was only Evers's insistence on following the rules strictly that resulted in this unusual play[1]. In fact, earlier in the 1908 season, the identical situation had been brought to the umpires' attention by Evers. While the winning run was allowed to stand on that occasion, the dispute raised the umpires' awareness of the rule, and directly set up the Merkle controversy.

New places to play

The first 20 years of the 20th century saw an unprecedented rise in the popularity of baseball. Large stadiums dedicated to the game were built for many of the larger clubs or existing grounds enlarged, including Shibe Park, home of the Philadelphia Athletics, Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, Boston's Fenway Park along with Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois. Likewise from the Eastern League to the small developing leagues in the West, and the rising Negro Leagues professional baseball was being played all across the country. Where there weren't professional teams, there were semi-pro teams, traveling teams barnstorming, company clubs and amateur mens leagues. In the days before television, if you wanted to see a game, you had to go to the game.

The farm system

In the 1930s the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, Branch Rickey decided that a more structured method of developing players for his team was needed. The system derives its name from a joke told by major leaguers in the 1930s about players brought up from the minors where they were "growing players down on the farm like corn."

Working with one ballclub, then several, he developed a tiered system that placed players at a level of expertise where they could develop best. Rickey also devised many of the training regimens and tools, like the batting cage, batter's helmets, and other equipment considered standard issue today. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of baseball, resisted Rickey's scheme. It upset the status quo, which usually involved allowing independent "minor" clubs to develop a player, then pay the minor team next to nothing and take him. Rickey's method worked, though, to improve teams fitness and toughness through the long season.

Any resistance to it was eroded by the Great Depression, which was the black plague of independent and minor league baseball. Many clubs, whose fans dried up along with the stock market and the fields in Oklahoma, could not sustain without the revenue from selling contracts to the majors. (See a more complete history in the Minor league baseball section.)

The "Black Sox"

Shoeless Joe Jackson

Contrary to what many of baseball's administrators were willing to acknowledge, gambling was rife in the game. Hal Chase was particularly notorious for throwing games, but played for a decade after gaining this reputation; he even managed to parlay these accusations into a promotion to manager. Even baseball stars as legendary as Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker have been credibly alleged to have fixed game outcomes. The league's complacency during this Golden Age of baseball was shockingly exposed in 1919, in what rapidly became known as the Black Sox scandal.

During the season the Chicago White Sox had shown themselves to be the best team in (probably) both leagues, and were the bookmaker's favourites to defeat the Cincinnati club in the World Series. The White Sox were defeated and throughout the Series rumours were common that the players, motivated by a mixture of greed and a dislike of club owner Charles Comiskey, had taken money to throw the games. During the following seasons the rumours intensified, and spread to other clubs, until a grand jury was convened to investigate. During the investigation two players, Eddie Cicotte and "Shoeless" Joe Jackson confessed and eight players were tried, and acquitted, for their role in the fix. Much of the evidence (depositions and other testimony) disappeared mysteriously. The Leagues were not so forgiving. Under the commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, all eight players were banned from organised baseball for life.

The Negro leagues

A history within a history

The saddest fact of American baseball is that it has, until July 5, 1947, two histories. One fills libraries, while the other is just beginning to be chronicled well.

African Americans have played baseball as long as white Americans. Players of color, both African-American and Hispanic, played for white baseball clubs throughout the early days of the organizing amateur sport.

As early as 1867, the racism of America showed up in its national pastime: The National Association of Baseball Players, an amateur association, voted to exclude any club that had black players from playing with them.

In 1871 the first professional white league formed. Bud Fowler became their first professional black baseball player, with a non-league pro team in 1872. Fleet Walker a catcher, appeared in 42 games with the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association in 1884.

Yet the racial tensions between white and black people that were present in society showed up on baseball fields. Cap Anson refused to play in a game with a negro pitcher, George Stovey at a game in 1887. This was a famous, but hardly isolated incident.

In that same year, the International League's Board of Directors voted against approving any further contracts with black baseball players. While black players continued to find a few jobs in other leagues, the move set into motion racist tendencies that led to the unwritten "gentleman's agreement" a bar on black players in both major league and independent baseball clubs affiliated with the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues.

Black baseball developed its own network of formal, semi-formal and informal pro and semi-pro leagues. The progress of the leagues' development was much slower, because they lacked both the economic resources and the political clout to evolve as rapidly.

The first professional black baseball club, the Cuban Giants, was organized in 1885. More teams sprang up. Sometimes they played in their own small parks. Some major league owners, smelling additional revenue, made deals with black clubs to play in the major league parks on away game days.

By the early 1890s professional black baseball was foundering, with only one ballclub in operation. Closer to the turn of the 20th century, though, that turned around and leagues began to emerge in two power centers: Chicago and the Midwest and the New York-Pennsylvania corridor.

In the dead ball era, black clubs were independent, without a real league. They played each other. They played semi-pro teams and barnstorm clubs. Some attempts at formal leagues formed and failed. Generally, each team booked its own schedule.

Rube Foster, a former ballplayer with a gift for organization, founded the Negro National League in 1920. A second league, the Eastern Colored League was established in 1923. These became known as the "Negro Leagues." The Negro Southern League formed around the same time, but because of its distance from the East-Midwest power centers, and its poor finances, it remained independent and out of the loop from the other leagues.

From 1924 to 1927, these two black 'major' leagues held four Negro World Series.

The ECL was relatively prosperous but always unstable due to almost perpetual in-fighting amongst its owners. It folded in 1928. In its wake the American Negro League formed in 1929, but disbanded after one season. The surviving Eastern teams went back to the old system of booking games.

The Negro National League did well until 1930, when Rube Foster suffered a debilitating illness and died. Without a strong leader, the league entered into the Great Depression and folded, with its surviving franchises returning back to independent team operation.

By 1932, the Depression had hit new lows. Unemployment, particularly in the African-American communities, was sky-high. Without money to buy tickets, and without the patronage of white major league baseball, whose contract purchases kept many independent league ballclubs afloat, most of the teams closed, sending players scattering anywhere to find work. Barnstorming tours kept a few employed. The East-West League folded mid-season of their first year. The Negro Southern League used to working with less, became the defacto 'major' negro league that year because it could keep major league players playing. Many more players went to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba and other Latin American nations to find work in places where their skin color would not be an issue.

Gus Greenlee and several others revived the Negro National League in 1933, piecing together teams from both the old NNL and the ECL leagues. As it was one league, the only rivalry between the two sides of it became the East-West All-Star game.

In 1937 the Negro American League formed with teams from the Eastern part of the country and survivors of the Negro Southern League as its core. The Negro National League realigned as a more Eastern league as well. The composition of the two began to mirror the white major leagues' structure. From 1942 to 1948 the Negro League World Series was revived. This was the golden era of Negro League baseball, a time when it produced some of its greatest stars, and when it did so well financially that white baseball sat up and took notice.

Usual references to Branch Rickey's breaking of the color-line make it seem like some sort of Ghandian exercise in liberation. Certainly, from Rickey's Methodist Midwestern roots, the racism of the sport could not have sat well. More importantly though, the Brooklyn Dodgers' General Manager was a fierce competitor, a shrewd businessman and an apt showman. He watched the full stadiums at Negro League games. He saw the powerful talents on the field. WWII had been a drain on baseball's coffers, as many of their star players went to fight overseas. While post-war enthusiasm for the national pastime was good, Rickey believed that it could be better. Paying customers all had one color: The green of money.

So, with the stroke of his pen Jackie Robinson signed the deal that on July 5, 1947, signaled the end of the Negro Leagues. The full effect was not felt until 1948, when stars like Satchel Paige were signed out from under the black clubs by white baseball clubs. The Negro National League folded again in 1948. Survivors moved to the Negro American League, which continued to play, in one form or another, until 1960. Effectively though, the Negro Leagues ceased to be of 'major' quality after 1948.

Heroes or ghosts? - Negro league players in history

The Negro Leagues produced scores of players as good, if not better than their white contemporaries. Most notable to the white baseball history world have been pitcher Satchel Paige, by records both official and ill-kept the greatest and most durable pitcher in the game; and catcher Josh Gibson, considered by some observers to be the most skilled hitter of all time, even better than the much-vaunted Babe Ruth.

A few of the other great names from the Negro Leagues that may be missed are Hank Aaron, Newt Allen, Walter Ball ("The Georgia Rabbit"), Sam Bankhead, Chet Brewer, Ray Brown, Williard Brown, Sam Crawford, John Donaldson,Lucious Luke Easter, Vic Harris, Monte Irvin, Chappie Johnson, Cecil Kaiser ("Minute Man"), Buck Leonard, John Henry Lloyd, Oliver Marcelle ("Ghost") and hundreds of others. These men, whose histories lay in the hands of poorly run clubs and poorly kept statistics and historical records, did not have the benefit of a powerful press machine made up of decades of adoring sports writers lavishing praise upon them. Most have become ghosts in the history of a great game which they were as instrumental in shaping as the white players of their days.

Many of the Negro League players could give the white players in the Baseball Hall of Fame a run for their money. Had the leagues and teams kept more accurate records, some of these milestones would have buried the records of many of their contemporaries in white baseball. While many Negro league players were finally admitted for their achievements, many records still receive 'separate-but-equal' treatment from Hall historians, who maintain the god-like myths of the white titans of the game of that day.

Negro league milestone - women in men's baseball

Perhaps the only class of people more discriminated against than black men in the national pastime were women. The Negro Leagues contributed one other milestone to professional baseball not seen before or since: Women playing in the men's game. [Mamie Peanut Johnson] was discovered by Bish Tyson, a former Negro League player. Dubbed 'peanut' by a batter because of her diminuitive stature, there was little else small about this right-handed pitcher for the Indianapolis Clowns from 1953 to 1955, whose career record was 33-8 as a pitcher who also possessed a batting average that ranged .262 to .284, against some of the toughest male players of the day of any color. The legendary Satchel Paige, whose Monarchs played the Clowns frequently, befriended Johnson and taught her a wicked curve ball. She was one of a handful of women ever to play with men in the men's game. She did it with great success. Were it not for Jackie Robinson breaking the color line, she would have probably continued to pitch with great success for years longer. Women of color would not cross over into the major leagues.

Character and greatness in adversity

Black baseball was unique in many ways. It had a character and flavor that distinguished it from the white version of the game. The black version of the sport was populated by characters who talked trash and played to the crowd, and phenomenal players who made next-to-nothing and played with a power, passion, and intensity that was second to none. All of these fine black athletes layers would not let the dream die. They would prove that they were the best at what they did. They would survive and thrive in spite of white baseball's ban on them for the color of their skin. In the few instances of games played between major white and major black teams, the black teams usually won. One such game was worth a dozen Negro World Series to show that they could be the best at their sport.

Black teams combined the best of great baseball, church, Vaudeville and the side-show to pay the bills and keep playing. Teams scraped by on very little. A few, like the Kansas City Monarchs, the equivalent of the Yankees in the Negro National League, did very well. Some stayed afloat barely from game to game. To cover the cost of traveling great distances, some teams would have to barnstorm, picking up games with semi-pro teams, company leagues, amateurs and even prison teams to make enough food and gas money to get to the next scheduled game.

The road was hard for black baseball players. Many towns had whites-only hotels and restaurants. Players slept in the homes of fans on good days, on the bus, in a barn, or the booth of a tonk or bar on not-so-good ones, and out in open fields on bad ones. Sometimes they had to keep moving rather than stop for a meal, where none could be found. Usually though, once a team had established its "route," it also established a network of resources that would keep it running on the road that it would use in following years.

Teams from the different Negro leagues learned that they played for cash in those transit stops, and for keeps in games with other black clubs. It would not be uncommon for a great black ballclub to lose a game to much inferior semi-pro or town team to keep the peace. Black athletes had far more to consider every time they took the plate, or appeared in public, than did their white contemporaries.

With all of the hardships, though, the games in black baseball were just more fun. Satchel Paige would taunt batters by telling them to pick where on the plate they wanted him to throw it. He would drop it right where they liked it, but they still couldn't touch it. He had numerous names for his pitches, including the famed "Bee Ball," so-named because it could "...be where I want it to be." Pitchers would invoke the crowd into chants and taunts. One story without attribution recounts the tale of a batter who used to seat well-dressed, great looking women behind home plate to distract a particularly tough pitcher. Truth or myth, it is a fair representation of the colorful nature of the game.

Negro league ball has also been characterized as being much quicker in pace. This would be in part due to the excellence of the athletes, but in larger part also due to their schedules, which often had them playing over greater distances traveling by car or bus between daily games without breaks, or up to three games in a single day.

The first international leagues

While many of the players that made up the black baseball teams were African-Americans, many more were Latin Americans from nations that deliver some of the greatest talents that make up the major league rosters of today. Black players moved freely through the rest of baseball, playing in Canadian Baseball, Mexican Baseball, Caribbean Baseball, and Central America and South America where more than a few found that level of fame that they were unable to attain in the country of their birth.

The Babe and the end of the dead ball era

Ruth batting for the Yankees.

It was not the Black Sox scandal by which an end was put to the dead ball era, but by a rule change and a player.

Some of the increased offensive output can be explained by the 1920 rule change outlawing tampering with the ball, which pitchers had often done to produce "spitballs", "shine balls" and other trick pitches which had 'unnatural' flight through the air. Umpires were also required to put new balls into play whenever the current ball became scuffed or discolored. This rule change was enforced all the more stringently following the death of Ray Chapman, who was struck in the temple by a pitched ball from Carl Mays in a game on August 16, 1920 (he died the next day). Discolored balls, harder for batters to see and therefore harder for batters to dodge, have been rigorously removed from play ever since. There are two side effects. One, of course, is that if the batter can see the ball more easily, the batter can hit the ball more easily. The second is that without scuffs and other damage, pitchers are limited in their ability to control spin and so to cause altered trajectories.

Still, in the past, rule changes favoring the batter had led to batting average increases, but not to widespread changes in hitting styles. The "inside game" might have continued to dominate but for the activities of one remarkable player. At the end of the 1919 season Harry Frazee, then owner of the Boston Red Sox, sold a group of his star players to the New York Yankees. (The story that he did so in order to fund theatrical shows on Broadway for his lady friend is, apparently, unfounded.) Amongst them was George Herman Ruth, known affectionately as "Babe".

Ruth's career mirrors the shift in dominance from pitching to hitting at this time. He started his career as a pitcher in 1914, and by 1916 was considered one of the dominant left-handed pitchers in the game. When Edward Barrow, managing the Red Sox, converted him to an outfielder, ballplayers and sportswriters were shocked. It was apparent, however, that Ruth's bat in the lineup every day was far more valuable than Ruth's arm on the mound every fourth day. Ruth swatted an unprecedented 29 home runs in his last season in Boston. The next year, as a Yankee, he would hit 54 and in 1921 he hit 59. His 1927 mark of 60 home runs would last until 1961, and, because of an asterisk in the record books, longer still.

Ruth's power hitting ability demonstrated a new way to play the game, and one that was extremely popular with the crowds. By the late 1920s and 1930s all the good teams had their home-run hitting "sluggers": the Yankees' Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx in Philadelphia, Hank Greenberg in Detroit and Chicago's Hack Wilson were the most storied. Whilst the American League championship, and to a lesser extent the World Series, would be dominated by the Yankees, there were many other excellent teams in the inter-war years. The legendary Connie Mack assembled a Philadelphia Athletics side that won the 1929 and 1930 championships; many consider this team the greatest in baseball history, even surpassing the 1927 Yankees. Also, the National League's Saint Louis Cardinals would win three titles themselves in nine years, the last with a group of players known as the "Gashouse Gang".

The first radio broadcast of a baseball game was on August 5, 1921 over Westinghouse station KDKA from Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Harold Arlin announced the Pirates-Phillies game.

1933 also saw the introduction of the All-Star game, a mid-season break in which the greatest players in each league play against one another in a hard fought but officially meaningless demonstration game. In 1936 the Baseball Hall of Fame was instituted and five players elected: Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner. The Hall formally opened in 1939.

The war years

The beginning of US involvement in World War II necessitated depriving the game of many players who joined the armed forces, but the major leagues continued play throughout the duration. In 1941, a year which saw the premature death of Lou Gehrig, Boston's great left fielder Ted Williams had a batting average over .400 — the last time anyone has achieved that feat. During the same season Joe DiMaggio hit successfully in 56 consecutive games, an accomplishment both unprecedented and unequalled. Both Williams and DiMaggio would miss playing time in the services, with Williams also flying later in the Korean War. During this period Stan Musial led the St. Louis Cardinals to the 1942, 1944 and 1946 World Series titles. The war years also saw the founding of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Blacks return to the major leagues

Jackie Robinson

In 1947, Branch Rickeygeneral manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers — signed Jackie Robinson and broke the color barrier which had been tacitly recognized for 50 years. Robinson was an exceptional talent, although perhaps not the greatest in the Negro leagues at the time, and he also had the inner strength to withstand the racism and abuse from both fans and players which he would be expected to face. He stood up to the pressure magnificently, and played well enough to win the first Rookie of the Year award. Later that same year, four more black players made it to the majors. The following year, the 1948 major league champion Cleveland Indians featured Hall-of-Famers Larry Doby and Satchel Paige . Paige, who had pitched more than 2400 innings in the Negro Leagues, sometimes two and three games a day, was still effective at 42, and still playing at 59. His ERA in white baseball, after thousands of balls pitched, was still just 2.48, making him without question the most commanding pitcher ever to play the game. In 1997, Major League Baseball retired Robinson's uniform number (42) from use by all teams.

According to some baseball historians, Robinson and the other African American players helped reestablish the importance of baserunning and similar elements of play that were previously deemphasized by the predominance of power hitting.

In 1951 Willie Mays joined the New York Giants. Mays, the "Say Hey Kid", was fantastically talented: an athletic center-fielder with a splendid throwing arm who could hit for power and average as well as steal bases. 50 years after the start of his career, he is widely considered amongst the greatest to have ever played the game. In his rookie season he helped the Giants to win the pennant, a feat only accomplished by Bobby Thomson's homer against the Dodgers on the last day of the season — its fame as "The Shot Heard 'Round The World" is due in no small part to Russ Hodges' commentary:

"Brooklyn leads 4-2 ... Branca throws, there's a long fly, its gonna be, I believe ... The Giants win the pennant!! The Giants win the pennant!! Bobby Thomson hit that ball into the lower deck of the left field stands! The Giants win the pennant, and they're going crazy ... they're going crazy! I don't believe it! I will not believe it"

The major leagues move west

Baseball had been in the West for almost as long as the National League and the American League had been around. It evolved into the Pacific Coast League, which included the San Francisco Seals, San Diego Padres, Hollywood Stars, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Oaks and teams in Portland, Salt Lake City and Denver at various times.

The PCL was huge in the West. It developed players like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. A member of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues it kept losing these great players to the National and the American leagues for less than $8,000 a player.

The PCL was far more independent than the other "minor" leagues, and rebelled continously against their Eastern masters. Clarence Pants Rowland, the President of the PCL, took on baseball commissioners Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Happy Chandler at first to get better equity from the major leagues, then to form a third major league. His efforts were rebuffed by both commissioners. Chandler and several of the owners, who saw the value of the markets in the West started to plot the extermination of the PCL. They had one thing that Chandler did not: The financial power of the Eastern major league baseball establishment.

No one was going to back a PCL club building a major-league size stadium if the National or the American League was going to build one too, and potentially put the investment in the PCL ballpark into jeopardy.

Up to this time, major league baseball franchises had been largely confined to the northeastern United States. The first team to relocate in fifty years was the Boston Braves who moved to Milwaukee in 1953. In Milwaukee the club set attendance records, and more teams moved: the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore, and the Philadelphia Athletics to Kansas City.

In 1958 the New York market ripped apart. The Yankees were becoming the dominant draw, and the cities of the West offered generations of new fans in much more sheltered markets for the other venerable New York clubs, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants. Placing these storied, powerhouse clubs in the two biggest cities in the West had the specific design of crushing any attempt by the PCL to form a third major league. Eager to bring these big names to the West, Los Angeles gave Walter O'Malley, owner of the Dodgers, a helicopter tour of the city and asked him to pick his spot. The Giants were given the lease to the PCL San Francisco Seals digs while Candlestick Park was built for them.

The logical first candidates for major league "expansion" were those PCL teams that already had major league money in them. The Los Angeles Angels, who were one of the first expansion teams in over 70 years in major league baseball, left the PCL in 1961 (soon the California Angels, the Anaheim Angels, and, as of 2005, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim); and the Athletics, who moved again, settling in Oakland in 1968.

The other 1961 expansion team was the Washington Senators, who took over the nation's capital when the previous Senators moved to Minnesota and became the Twins. 1961 is also noted as being the year in which Roger Maris surpassed Babe Ruth's single season home run record, hitting 61 for the New York Yankees, albeit in a slightly longer season than Ruth's. Expansion continued in 1962 with the addition of the Houston Colt.45s and New York Mets to the National League.

The Oakland Coliseum, opened in 1966, was built in part to lure the Athletics from Kansas City.

In 1969, the American League expanded when the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots defected from the PCL and joined the league. The Pilots stayed just one season in Seattle before moving to Milwaukee and becoming today's Milwaukee Brewers. The National League also added two teams that year, the Montreal Expos and San Diego Padres. The Padres were the last of the core PCL teams to be absorbed. The Coast League did not die, though. It reformed, and moved into other markets, and endures to this day as a Class AAA league.

The last team move of this time period was in 1972, when the second Washington Senators moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and became the Texas Rangers. Baseball would not see another team move until Major League Baseball announced near the end of the 2004 season that the Montreal Expos would begin play in Washington, DC in 2005 as the Washington Nationals. In 1977, another expansion occurred as the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays joined the American League, the last expansion until four teams were added in the 1990s. The Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins joined the National League in the 1993 expansion, and in 1998, in a second expansion, the Arizona Diamondbacks joined the National League and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays joined the American League. In order to keep the number of teams in each league even, Milwaukee changed leagues, and is a now a member of the National League.

As of 2005, there are 16 teams in the National League, and 14 teams in the American League.

Pitching dominance and rules changes

By the late 1960s, the balance between pitching and hitting had swung in favor of the pitchers. In 1968 Carl Yastrzemski won the American League batting title with an average of just .301, the lowest in history. That same year, Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain won 31 games — making him the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season. St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Bob Gibson achieved an equally remarkable feat by allowing an ERA of just 1.12.

In response to these events, major league baseball implemented certain rules changes in 1969 to benefit the batters. The pitcher's mound was lowered, and the strike zone was reduced.

In 1973 the American League, which had been suffering from much lower attendance than the National League, made a move to increase scoring even further by initiating the designated hitter rule.

Players assert themselves

From the time of the formation of the Major Leagues to the 1960s, when it came to the control of the game of baseball the team owners held the whip hand. After the so-called "Brotherhood Strike" of 1890 and the failure of the National Brotherhood of Ball Players and its Players League, the owners control of the game seemed absolute and lasted over 70 years, despite the formation of a number of short-lived players organizations over that time. In 1966, however, the players enlisted the help of labor union activist Marvin Miller to form the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). The same year, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale – both Cy Young Award winners for the Los Angeles Dodgers – refused to re-sign their contracts, and the era of the reserve clause, which held players to one team, was coming toward an end.

The first legal challenge came in 1970. Backed by the MLBPA, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood took the leagues to court to negate a player trade, citing the 13th Amendment and antitrust legislation. In 1972 he finally lost his case in the United States Supreme Court by a vote of 5 to 3, but gained large-scale public sympathy, and the damage had been done. The reserve clause survived, but it had been irrevocably weakened. In 1975 Andy Messersmith of the Dodgers and Dave McNally of the Montreal Expos played without contracts, and then declared themselves free agents in response to an arbitrator's ruling. Handcuffed by concessions made in the Flood case, the owners had no choice but to accept the collective bargaining package offered by the MLBPA, and the reserve clause was effectively ended, to be replaced by the current system of free-agency and arbitration.

While the legal challenges were going on, the game continued. In 1969 the "Miracle Mets", just 7 years after their formation, recorded their first winning season, won the National League East and finally the World Series.

On the field, the 1970s saw some of the longest standing records fall and the rise of two powerhouse dynasties. In Oakland, the Swinging A's were overpowering, winning the Series in '72, '73 and '74, and five straight division titles. The strained relationships between teammates, who included Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue and Reggie Jackson, gave the lie to the need for "chemistry" between players. (This A's dynasty also single-handedly reintroduced the moustache into baseball). The National League, on the other hand, belonged to the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati, where Sparky Anderson's team, which included Pete Rose as well as Hall of Famers Tony Perez, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan, succeeded the A's run in 1975.

The decade also contained great individual achievements as well. On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves hit his 715th career home run, surpassing Babe Ruth's all-time record. He would retire in 1976 with 755. There was great pitching too: between 1973 and 1975, Nolan Ryan threw 4 "no-hit" games. He would add a record-breaking fifth in 1981 and two more before his retirement in 1993, by which time he had also accumulated 5,714 strikeouts, another record, in a 27-year career.

The marketing and hype era

From the 1980s onward, the major league game has changed dramatically from a combination of effects brought about by free agency, improvements in the science of sports conditioning, changes in the marketing and television broadcasting of sporting events, and the push by brand-name products for greater visibility. These events lead to greater labor difficulties, fan disaffection, skyrocketing prices, changes in the way that the game is played, and problems with the use of performance enhancing substances like steroids tainting the race for records.

The science of the sport changes the game

During the 1980s, the science of conditioning and workouts greatly improved. Weight rooms and training equipment were improved. Trainers and doctors developed better diets and regimens to make athletes bigger, healthier, and stronger than they had ever been.

Another major change that had been occurring during this time was the adoption of the pitch count. Starting pitchers playing complete games had not been an unusual thing in baseball's history. Now pitching coaches watched to see how many pitches a player had thrown over the game. At anywhere from 125 to 175, pitchers increasingly would be pulled out to preserve their arms. Bullpens began to specialize more, with more pitchers being trained as middle relievers, and a few hurlers, usually possessing high velocity but not much durability, as closers.

Along with the expansion of teams, the addition of more pitchers needed to play a complete game stressed the total number of quality players available in a system that restricted its talent searches at that time to America, Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

The rise of cable television

Baseball had been watched live since the mid 19th century. Television sports' arrival in the 1950s increased attention and reveneue for all major league clubs at first. The television programming was extremely regional. It hurt the minor and independent leagues most. People stayed home to watch Maury Wills rather than catch Joe Nobody at their local baseball park. Major League Baseball, as it always did, made sure that it controlled rights and fees charged for the broadcasts of all games, just as it did on radio. It brought additional revenues and attention both from the broadcast itself, and from the increases in attendance and merchandise sales that expanded audiences allowed.

The national networks began televising national games of the week, opening the door for a national audience to see particular clubs. While the games hit most teams, emphasis was always on the league leaders and the major market franchises that could draw the largest audience.

In the 1970s the cable revolution began. The Atlanta Braves became a power contender with greater revenues generated by WTBS, Ted Turner's Atlanta-based Super-Station, that broadcast "America's Team" to cable households nationwide. The roll out of ESPN, then Fox Sports changed sports news and particularly impacted baseball. Potboiled down to the thirty-second game highlight, and now under the microscope of news organizations that needed to fill 24 hours of time, the amount of attention paid to major league players magnified to staggering levels from where it had been just 20 years prior.

It brought with it increased attention for individual players, who reached super-star status nationwide on careers that often were not as compelling as those who had come before them in a less media intense time.

As player contract values soared, and the number of broadcasters, commentators, columnists, and sports writers also soared. The competition for a fresh angle on any story became fierce. Media pundits began questioning the high salaries that the players received. Coverage began to become intensely negative. Players personal lives, which had always been off-limits unless something extreme happened, became the fodder of editorials, insider stories on television, and features in magazines. When the use of performance-enhancing drugs became an issue, the gap between the sports media and the players whom they covered widened further.

With the development of satellite television, Major League Baseball launched baseball channels with season subscription fees.

The next round became the single-team cable networks. YES, the New York Yankees cable television network, took in millions to broadcast games to the Yankee faithful not only in New York but around the country. These networks generated as much revenue or more annually for large market teams like the Yankees and Boston Red Sox as their entire baseball operations did. By making these separate companies, these owners were able to exclude the money from consideration of deals to try and keep the level of play equal at all clubs in the major leagues. The rule of the day became he who has the most money can spend it at will on players.

Sponsorships, endorsements, & merchandise

Television and greater media coverage in magazines and newspapers trying to attract a new generation of non-readers also brought in the sponsors, and even more money, that would attract players to new financial opportunities and bring in other elements to the business of baseball that would impact the game.

Baseball memorabilia and souvenirs, including baseball cards, exploded in price as networks of adults became more sophisticated in their trading. This would explode yet again in the late 1990s, as the Internet, and the website eBay provided venues for collectors of all things baseball to trade with each other. Regionalized pricing was wiped away, and many objects, baseballs, bats, and the like began selling for high dollar values. This in turn brought in new businessmen whose sole means of making a living was acquiring autographs and memorabilia from the athletes. Memorabilia hounds fought with fans to get signatures worth $20, $60, or even $100 or more in their stores.

Beyond the staple billboards, large corporations like NIKE and Champion fought to make sure that their logos were seen on the clothing and shoes worn by athletes on the field. This kind of association branding became a new revenue stream. In the late 1990s and into the dawn of the 21st century, the dugout, the backstops behind home plate, and anywhere else that might be seen by a camera all became fair game for inserting advertising.

Merchandise with the logos of teams began being sold at ballparks. Then, in larger markets, select stores would carry it. In the late 1980s there was an explosion of merchandise, where shopping malls, department stores, and retailers great and small all carried MLB merchandise.

All of this brought increased wealth to the owners of baseball. It also made the players, who were becoming increasingly aware of their cash value, desirous of cashing in themselves at the horn of plenty.

Player wealth and influence

Players who had been dramatically underpaid for generations were now replaced by players who were paid extremely well, and, in many cases, dramatically overpaid for their services.

  • Sports agents

By the 1970s a new generation of sports agents were hawking the talents of players who knew baseball but didn't know how the business end of the game was played. The agents broke down what the teams were generating in revenue off of the players' performances. They calculated what their player might be worth to energize a television contract, or provide more merchandise revenue, or put more fans into seats.

  • Side deals

The athletes signed shoe deals, baseball card sponsorships, and commercial endorsements for products of every size and shape. At first this boon seemed only fitting. The players were finally getting what so many had not. Then the other side of the coin flipped.

  • Disconnects with the average Joe

Salaries began to climb to such astronomical levels that the relationship between the average fan and the players began to change. Mike Piazza, in a famous negotiation with the Dodgers went public with his complaint that he was only going to get $81 million from the Dodgers not the $88 he sought. For the legions of people who made less than $30,000 a year who came out to watch the home team, it was too much. Piazza was booed every time he came to bat. In a short while he was traded to Florida, then was acquired by the New York Mets.

Players balked at many of the traditions of baseball: Playing in old timers games, making appearances not tied to their endorsements, and even autographing kids' baseballs. San Francisco Giants Slugger Barry Bonds became infamous for blowing off fans' autograph requests.

  • Business and strategy changes

Sky high salaries also changed many of the strategies of the game. Players rarely were "sent" down to the minors if they failed to perform. Who could justify paying a slumping player millions to sit in Toledo where the major league fans couldn't pay their way? Other players in the Triple-A level of the minor leagues, who used to rise on merit, became trapped under these overpaid "stars." Worse still, in order to make the media happy, trades, rather than call-ups, became the order of the day. It was much better to buy someone else's short-stop that was a known quantity to the national sports media than to take a chance on a player with no name value and no visibility if you were in a major market ballclub.

Tactics on the field changed too. Risky moves that could get players hurt, and sideline millions of dollars in payroll on the disabled list, became less common. Stealing home, a popular tactic of great stars of the day like Ty Cobb or Pete Rose, became infrequent occurrences.

The perception of players by the general public changed from larger-than-life heroes to a more cynical view of many of them as spoiled and overpaid. This was fed by the growing legions of television reporters, commentators, and print sports writers who also started asking questions about what justified the kind of money being paid to these players.

Free agency added gasoline to that fire as well. With players seeking greener pastures when their contracts came up, fewer players became career members of one ballclub. In the modern era, it is almost unusual to see a player stay with any one club for more than a few years if they are good enough to command a better salary.

Players with any ability increasingly gravitated towards the money. Large market clubs like the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, and the Chicago Cubs given big revenues from their cable television operations signed more and more of the big name players away from mid-sized and smaller market baseball clubs that could not afford to compete with them for salaries.

Owners and players feud in the 1980s

All was not well with the game. The many contractual disputes between players and owners came to a head in 1981. On June 12, the Major League Baseball Players Association called their first in-season work stoppage. Previous players' strikes (in 1972, '73 and 80) had been held in preseason, with only the '72 stoppage — over benefits — causing disruption to the regular season. Furthermore, in 1976 the owners had locked the players out of spring training in a dispute over free agency.

The crux of the 1981 dispute was about compensation for the loss of players to free agency. After losing a top-rank player in such a way the owners wanted a mid-rank player in return, the so-called sixteenth player (each club was allowed to protect 15 players from this rule). Losing lower rated free agents would have correspondingly smaller compensation. The players, only recently freed from the bondage of the reserve clause, found this unacceptable, and withdrew their labor. Immediately, the U.S. Government National Labor Relations Board ruled that the owners had not been negotiating in good faith, and installed a federal mediator to reach a solution. Seven weeks and 713 games were lost, before the owners backed down, settling for much lower ranked players as compensation. By then much of the season had been lost, and the season was continued as distinct half, with the playoffs reorganised to reflect this.

Throughout the 1980s then, baseball seemed to prosper. The competitive balance between franchises saw fifteen different teams make the World Series, and nine different champions during the decade. Also, every season from 1978 through 1987 saw a different World Series winner, a streak unprecedented in baseball history. Turmoil was, however, just around the corner. In 1986 Pete Rose retired from playing for the Cincinnati Reds, having broken Ty Cobb's record by accumulating 4,256 hits during his career. He continued as Reds manager until, in 1989 it was revealed that he was being investigated for sports gambling, including the possibility that he had bet on teams with which he was involved. While Rose admitted a gambling problem, he denied having bet on baseball. Federal prosecutor John Dowd investigated and, on his recommendation, Rose was banned from organised baseball, a move which precluded his possible inclusion in the Hall of Fame. In a meeting with Commissioner Giamatti, Rose, having failed in a legal action to prevent it, accepted his punishment. It was, essentially, the same fate that had befallen the Black Sox seventy years previously. (Rose, however, would continue to deny that he bet on baseball until he finally confessed to it in his 2004 autobiography.)

Strike two (1994)

Labor relations were still strained. There had been a two day strike in 1985 (over the division of television revenue money), and a 32-day spring training lockout in 1990 (again over salary structure and benefits). By far the worst action would come in 1994. The seeds were sown earlier: in 1992 the owners sought to renegotiate on salary and free-agency terms, but little progress was made. The standoff continued until the beginning of 1994 when the existing agreement expired, with no agreement on what was to replace it. Adding to the problems was the perception that "small market" teams, such as the struggling Seattle Mariners could not compete with high spending teams such as those in New York or Los Angeles. Their plan was to institute TV revenue sharing to increase equity amongst the teams and impose a salary cap to keep expenditure down. Players, naturally, felt that such a cap would reduce their potential earnings.

The players officially went on strike in August 1994. In September 1994 Major League Baseball announced the cancellation of the World Series.

Main article: 1994 baseball strike

Baseball fans became increasingly disaffected. Both the NFL and the NBA cashed in on the self-inflicted wounds that baseball had dealt itself.

Home run mania and the second coming of baseball

File:Mark mcgwire.jpg
Mark McGwire hits a home run during his last Major League season in 2001

After the 1994 strike, baseball lost much of its popularity. Fans of the Montreal Expos, the team who had uncharacteristically been in first place when the strike hit and were likely to advance well into the playoffs that year, were particularly irate, and the team never regained its fan base. Major League Baseball, well aware of its public relations problems, tried to find a hook to bring fans back to a positive viewpoint of the game.

Cal Ripken, Jr. symbol of old-school baseball, who hadn't been absent a day, and who had loyally played for the same team even with the opportunity for free agency, became the first public attempt at baseball healing its relationship with America's fans.

On September 6, 1995, Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr. played his 2,131st consecutive game, breaking Lou Gehrig's 56 year old record, which had seemed untouchable. That evening is generally considered to be the beginning of baseball's "rebirth." Ripken's streak was the first high-profile moment in baseball after the strike, and his record-setting evening was the first time baseball re-gained the nation's attention. Cal continued his streak for another five years, voluntarily ending it at 2,632 consecutive games played, on September 20, 1998.

1998 was what many consider to be one of the game's greatest seasons. St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire and Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa that year engaged in a home run race for the ages. With both rapidly approaching Roger Maris's record of 61 home runs (set in 1961), seemingly the entire nation watched as the two power hitters raced to be the first to break the record. McGwire reached 62 first on September 8, 1998, with Sosa also eclipsing it later. Sosa finished with 66 home runs, just behind McGwire's unheard-of 70. However, recent steroid allegations have marred the season in the minds of many fans.

Incredibly, McGwire's astronomical record of 70 would last a mere three years following the meteoric rise of veteran San Francisco Giants left fielder Barry Bonds in 2001. Some analysts consider Bonds's 2001 season to be among the greatest hitting seasons in baseball history. That year Bonds knocked out an extraordinary 73 home runs, breaking the record set by McGwire by hitting his 71st on October 5, 2001. In addition to the home run record, Bonds also set single-season marks for bases on balls with 177 (breaking the previous record of 170, set by Babe Ruth in 1923) and slugging percentage with .863 (breaking the mark of .847 set by Ruth in 1920). Bonds continued his torrid home run hitting in the next few seasons, hitting his 660th career home run on April 12, 2004, tying him with his godfather Willie Mays for third on the all-time career home run list. He hit his 661st home run the next day, April 13, to take sole possession of third place.

The 1990s also saw Major League Baseball expand into new markets as four new teams joined the league. In 1993, the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins began play, and in just their fifth year of existence, the Marlins became the first wild card team to win the championship (see 1997 World Series). The year 1998 brought two more teams into the mix, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks, the latter of which become the youngest expansion franchise to win the championship (see 2001 World Series). For the most part, the late 1990s were dominated by the New York Yankees, who won four out of five World Series championships from 1996–2000.

Drugs, baseball, and records

The lure of big money pushed players harder and harder to perform at their peaks. There is only so much conditioning that one can do to obtain an edge over their competitors. Major League players turned to performance enhancing drugs, including ephedra and steroids.

Ephedra, a Chinese herb used to cure cold symptoms, and also used in some allergy medications, sped up the heart and was considered by some to be a weight-loss short-cut. Overweight pitcher [Steve Bechler], who wanted to stay on the Baltimore Orioles roster, took just such a short-cut. In the middle of an outing pitching, he collapsed, and was soon pronounced dead. The death rocked the baseball world, and started a number of investigations into the use of performance enhancing drugs in baseball. Ephedra was banned, and soon the furor died down.

The home run race that had generated so much positive publicity, and Barry Bonds run for the all-time home run record began more whispers about drugs. This time it was steroids, which increase a person's testosterone level and subsequently enable that person to bodybuild with much more ease. Some athletes have said that the main advantage to steroids is not so much the additional power or endurance that they can provide, but that they can drastically shorten rehab time from injury.

Steroids were also linked to challenges of the record setting feats of modern athletes. If a home run record was broken by a player using performance enhancers, was it valid to give it to him?

Major League Baseball was considered lax on their anti-drug policies, particularly on steroids. Baseball had done well with the renewed interest in records. It didn't want the drug issue to drag the sport down yet again. Commissioner Selig was unable to convince PA union boss Donald Fehr of any solution to the problem though. The players would not go along with tougher testing that was common in other major league sports as well as in the international sports communities.

Commissioner Bud Selig imposed a very strict anti-drug policy upon its minor league players, who are not part of the Major League Baseball Players Association (the PA). Random drug testing, education and treatment, and strict penalties for those caught were the rule of law. Anyone on the forty man roster, including 15 minor leaguers that are on that list, were exempt from that program. It was called window dressing.

Jose Canseco published a book admitting steroid usage and saything that it was prevalent throughout major league baseball. When the United States Congress decided to investigate the use of steroids in the sport, some of the games most prominent players have come under scrutiny for possibly using steroids. Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Jason Giambi, and Mark McGwire have been suspected of using steroids. Other players, such as Jose Canseco and Gary Sheffield have admitted to have either knowingly (in Canseco's case) or not (Sheffield's) using steroids. Many lesser players (mostly from the minor leagues) have tested positive for use.

Baseball was taken to task for turning a blind eye to its drug problems. It benefitted from these drugs in the ever-inreasingly competitive fight for airtime and media attention. MLB and its Players Association finally announced tougher measures, but many felt that they did not go far enough. (See: List of Major League Baseball players suspended for steroids)

  • The BALCO Labs scandal

In 2002, a major scandal arose when it was discovered that a company called BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative), owned by Victor Conte, had been producing so called "designer steroids," (specifically the "clear" and the "cream") which are steroids that cannot be detected by current drug testing policies. In addition, the company had connections to several San Francisco Bay Area sports trainers and athletes, including the trainers of Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds. This revelation lead to a vast criminal investigation into BALCO's connections with athletes from baseball and many other sports. In the fall of 2004, the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper reported that it had secretly received the testimony transcripts of Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi from the case. In the transcripts, Giambi allegedly admitted to using many different steroids, including fertility drugs (which could account for his declining health in the past few years), and Bonds admitted to using two steroids that he claims he was told were arthritis drugs.

See also

Reading list

  • Seymour, Harold. Baseball: The Early Years ISBN 0-19-500100-1
  • Bouton, Jim. Ball Four: My Life and Hard Times Throwing The Knuckleball in the Major Leagues. One player's diary of the 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots ISBN 0020306652
  • James, Bill. The Historical Baseball Abstract (1985, 1987, and new 2001 edition)
  • Ritter, Lawrence. The Glory of their Times (1966; first-person accounts of life in baseball, in the early 20th century)
  • Ross, Brian Band of Brothers Minor League News History of the second National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues
  • Tygiel, Jules. Past Time: Baseball as History ISBN 0195146042