History of baseball in Germany

From BR Bullpen

The history of baseball in Germany dates to 1936, with the playing of a game at the Olympics. However, the game's following began in earnest following the second World War due to the efforts of United States servicemen.


In a 1796 book by a German, Johann Guts Muths, rules for a game called "English base-ball" appeared. In the game, the number of bases varied with the number of players, and a single out retired the entire side.

The first contact that Germany had with the modern game was at the 1936 Olympics which featured a demonstration event of the sport between two teams from the United States in front of 90,000 spectators at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. After the end of World War II, most of the country was divided into four occupation zones, whose administrative duties where controlled by either France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In the American zone in the south, as part of the reconstruction process, German Youth Activities (GYA) were created throughout the administrative zone. The purpose of these GYAs was to expose these youths to the "American Way of Life," and one of the mediums used was sport. In addition to athletics, boxing, and gymnastics; American flavoured sports were also offered including baseball in the spring and summer, basketball in the winter, and football in the autumn.

It was through this framework that the German population was introduced to baseball for a second time. However, unlike the 1936, the Americans (and their game) had a permanent presence here. The GYAs met with a large approval by the German youth, however the sport, at first, could not arouse much interest, because the rules of the play were not understood. Often the only reason that boys and girls went to baseball games played by American service-members was, aside from the food supply, was to catch fly balls; the balls' hides would then be used for the production of clothes. However, soon the German youth took interest in the game, in part due to the enthusiasm with which the Americans played.

During this era, there was a baseball league for members of the United States armed forces which extended over the entire American administrative territory. Each company had its own club with the Frankfurter Black Knights, Mannheimer Tornados, Münchner Broncos, and Stuttgarter Hawks being the most well-known and successful clubs. By 1946, the quality of play between different units was at an all-time high as many military clubs featured numerous professional players from the United States completing there military service in Germany and were integrated. Of particular note was the club Mannheimer Tornados, which acquired many German fans by their outstanding play and general successes. The Tornadoes, which until 1949 were comprised soley of black servicemen, played games attended by up to 5,000 spectators and were know as the best American military baseball club in Europe.

In 1945, the G.I. World Series for the European Theatre of Operations was held at Frankenstadion in Nürnberg and Reims, France. In the five-game series, the Oise Base All-Stars defeated the Third Army's 71st Division three games to two. Both teams featured Major League and Negro League players. The games were played in front of tens of thousands of servicemen, along with German youths, who had become acquainted with baseball through the GYAs.

Baseball was mainly played in the areas of major United States military bases. There were numerous crews played the game in public parks, sometimes adding their own rules to the game and received equipment from American baseball players. These teams were coached by American coaches, often officers in the American army, who trained German coaches as well. Each company stationed in Germant received a fixed budget for sport, most of which was used for annual purchases of playing equipment. Therefore at the end of the baseball season, American players often gave their old equipement to the German baseball beginners. By 1948, there existed 140 German youth baseball teams, which played in tournaments organized by the Americans. In 1949, the first German baseball club was founded; Frankfurt Juniors. Also during this year the newspaper Neuen Zeitung published a brochure on baseball in German which stated:

Die amerikanische Besatzungsarmee hat es sich in einem großzügigen Programm zur Aufgabe gemacht, die deutsche Jugend- und zwar Jungen und Mädchen- im Baseballspiel zu unterrichten. Die amerikanischen Soldaten finden bei ihrer stetig wachsenden Schülerschar begeisterte Bereitwilligkeit, sich in die Geheimnisse des amerikanischen Nationalspiels einweihen zu lassen. Es ist daher kaum eine riskante Prophezeihung, dem amerikanischen Baseballspiel nunmehr auch eine große Entwicklung in Deutschland vorauszusagen.

By the start of the 1950s, American involvement in the German Youth Activities was severely diminished, due to the Wirtschaftswunder and the influence of other sports in the country, in particular football. However, the game did not completly succumb in the country despite the lessened presence of the GYAs. In 1950 the Allgemeine Baseball-Föderation Deutschland (ABFD), a national baseball federation, was created with its headquaters in Marburg, Hesse on the Lahn River. The clubs of Keltersbach, Marburg/Lahn, Münchner B.C., and B.C. Stuttgart were the association's most popular clubs. In that same year, the Confederation Europenne de Baseball Amateur was founded with its seat in Antwerp, Belgium.

In 1951, the first season of Baseball-Bundesliga was played, the first German championship - albeit still unofficial. The league champion was Baseball Club Stuttgart Phillies, who placed first over five-time champion, Berlin Babe Ruth Flyers. The first official championship was held, with the Frankfurt Juniors defeating the München Panthers by a score of 8 to 1 in the finals. The ABFD became a member of the Confederation Europenne de Baseball Amateur in 1954, and began to participate in the European Baseball Championship as well as at the European Cup. The national team played in the first European Baseball Championship, placing last in the four team field. A year later, the team placed third. The 1957 tournament was held in Mannheim, and saw the team place second, the team's best finish. The 1969 tournament was held in Wiesbaden.

The Allgemeine Baseball-Föderation Deutschland was disbaneded in 1970, ending the first twenty-year history of the Baseball-Bundesliga after 1970 season. The ABFD was disbanded due to organizational neglect, in many places there was no structure and clubs acted as independent clubs and the federation was not part of the Deutscher Sportbund (German Sports Federation). Youth work, how it was operated in other kinds of sport, was rare or not at all available. From 1971 to 1981, there was no national competition held, and baseball disappeared from the national sports scene. Few youths played the game as there was no support structure for them as well. The national team did play in its first world-wide tournaments, making apperances at the XX Baseball World Cup in 1972 and the XXII Baseball World Cup in 1973. In both tournaments, the team failed to win a game going 0 - 15 in 1972 with only 12 runs scored to 200 by their opponents, and in 1973 went 0 - 10 and were outscored 8 to 50.

Hoever at the beginning of the eighties, there was a break-through in the number of players in Germany. Between 1985 and 1995, the number of baseball players in the country grew from around 700 to over 20,000; with over half under the age of 18 years. The formation of a new federation supported this development. In 1980, the national baseball federation was reorganized as the Deutscher Baseball & Softball Verband e.V. (DBV), as a national association with representatives of the baseball and softball regional organizations and their attached associations. The Bundesliga was reformed in 1982 and continues to play today. The Mannheim Tornados, taking their name from the American service club of the 1940s, were the most dominating team during the first decade of DBV play winning eight of ten championships. Since 1999, the league's top team has been the Paderborn Untouchables, who have won six titles.

Presently there are ten regional organizations and approximately 30,000 active players, which makes the DBV is one of the youngest, but largest members of the German olympic sports federation, the Deutscher Olympischer Sportbund (DOSB); on which it has a board seat.

Germans in the Major Leagues[edit]

The first Major League players from Germany were David Lenz and Marty Swandell who both debuted from May 7, 1872 for Brooklyn Eckfords. Swandell had played for the club since 1863, while Lenz was a 21-year old catcher who played the opening four games of the season with the club before being replaced by William Bestick. Over the next twenty years another eight players played in the majors, but only two played more than forty in their career - the most successful of which was pitcher Charlie Getzein who won 145 games. From 1893 through 1897, there were no Germans in the majors, but then until the American entry into World War I another twelve players played in the majors.

Only three Germans played in the Majors between the two World Wars, a single player (Heinz Becker) played in the World War II-era, and during the 1950s and 1960s no Germans played in the majors. Thirteen players have debuted from 1972 onward, most of whom were the children of American service members stationed in the country. When Ron Gardenhire became the manager of the Minnesota Twins in 2002, he was the first German skipper since Chris von der Ahe in 1897.

Germany in international baseball[edit]

Germany first played in international competition at the 1954 European Baseball Championship. The country has played in four Baseball World Cups - in 1972, the 1973 FEMBA competition, 2007 and 2009.