History of baseball in the United States
The first team to play baseball under modern rules were the New York Knickerbockers. The club was founded on September 23, 1845, as a social club for the upper middle classes of New York City, 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 known 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. During the Civil war, soldiers from different parts of the United States met, and played baseball, leading to a more unified national version of the sport. 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. Its amateur counterpart disappeared after only a few years.
The professional National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, which still exists, was established in 1876 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 only the first after a long gap. 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 remove its color bar.
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 (1881–1891), 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), an attempt to return to the National Association structure of a league controlled by the players themselves. Both leagues 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. However, some researchers have disputed the major league status of the Union Association. Franchises came and went, and the St. Louis club, which was deliberately "stacked" by the league's president (who owned that club), was the only club that was anywhere close to major league caliber.
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 fiery 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. 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 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
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, equaling approximately 65 inflation-adjusted US dollars as of 2005; club owners were therefore 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.
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 has yet to be bested.
The Merkle incident
The 1908 pennant races in both the AL and NL were among the most exciting ever witnessed. The conclusion of the National League season, in particular, involved a bizarre chain of events, often referred to as the Merkle Boner. 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, which at that time was a common, acceptable practice. The Cubs' 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 of 2006, as it turns out).
For his part, Merkle was doomed to endless criticism and vilification throughout his career for this lapse. 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. 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
Turn of the century baseball attendances were modest by later standards. The average for the 1,110 games in the 1901 season was 3,247. However 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. 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. Average major league attendances reached a pre World War I peak of 5,836 in 1909, before falling back during the war. Where there weren't professional teams, there were semi-pro teams, traveling teams barnstorming, company clubs and amateur men's leagues. In the days before television, if you wanted to see a game, you had to go to the game.
The "Black Sox"
(see Black Sox Scandal for more information) 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 the 1919 AL, and were the bookmaker's favorites to defeat the Cincinnati club in the World Series. The White Sox were defeated and throughout the Series rumors were common that the players, motivated by a mixture of greed and a dislike of club owner Charlie Comiskey, had taken money to throw the games. During the following seasons the rumors 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 organized baseball for life.
The Negro leagues
A history within a history
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 the post-Civil War era showed up in the 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.
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.
Negro league players in history
The Negro Leagues produced scores of players who were on-par with their white contemporaries. Notable players included pitcher Satchel Paige and catcher Josh Gibson. Hank Aaron played with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1952, after racial segregation of the teams ended.
Statistics for the Negro Leagues were poorly kept, and did not have the benefit of strong sports reporting. Most – with the notable exception of Aaron and a handful of other players – have been widely left out of the history of the game.
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 diminutive 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 from .262 to .284. 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 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 was largely 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 the Canadian Provincial League, Mexican League, Dominican League, Cuban Winter League 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
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. Amongst them was George Herman Ruth, known affectionately as "Babe". The story that he did so in order to fund theatrical shows on Broadway for his actress lady friend is, apparently, unfounded. No, No, Nanette was indeed first produced in 1925 by Harry Frazee, though the sale of baseball superstar Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees had occurred five years earlier. In the lore of the Curse of the Bambino, Frazee supposedly financed the production by selling Ruth, yet drawing a line five years apart from the sale's proceeds to the production costs of the musical are circumstantial at best.
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. Also, the National League's St. 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. Attendances in the 1920s were consistently better than they had been before the war. The interwar peak average attendance was 8,211 in 1930, but baseball was hit hard by the Great Depression and in 1933 the average fell below five thousand for the only time between the wars.
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 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 unequaled. 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
Baseball boomed after World War II. 1945 saw a new attendance record and the following year average crowds leapt nearly 70% to 14,914. Further records followed in 1948 and 1949, when the average reached 16,913. While average attendances slipped to somewhat lower levels through the 1950s, 1960s and the first half of the 1970s, they remained well above pre-war levels, and total seasonal attendance regularly hit new highs from 1962 onwards as the number of major league games increased. On the other hand, many minor leagues collapsed throughout the 1950s
First players in each league
Rickey was not the first executive to attempt to bring black players into Major League Baseball. In the early 1920s, New York Giants' manager John McGraw slipped a black player, Charlie Grant, into his lineup (reportedly by passing him off to the front office as an Indian), and McGraw's wife reported finding names of dozens of Negro players that McGraw fantasized about signing, after his death. Pittsburgh Pirates owner Bill Benswanger reportedly signed Josh Gibson to a contract in 1943, and the Washington Senators were also said to be interested in his services. But those efforts (and others) were opposed by Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball's powerful commissioner and a staunch segregationist. Bill Veeck claimed that Landis blocked his purchase of the Philadelphia Phillies because he planned to integrate the team. While this is disputed, Landis was opposed to integration, and his death in 1944 removed a major obstacle for black players in the major leagues.
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.
Shot heard round the World
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 Hollywood Stars, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Oaks, Portland Beavers, Sacramento Solons, San Francisco Seals, San Diego Padres, Seattle Rainiers.
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 continuously 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 Rowland 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, with the Classic 16 alignment having remained unchanged from 1903 to 1952. 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.
National League Baseball leaves New York
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 the same metropolitan areas that had just attracted the Dodgers and Giants. It is said that the Dodgers and Giants, rivals in New York, chose those cities because Los Angeles and San Francisco already hated each other, having economic, cultural and political rivalries dating back to the state's founding. The only California expansion team, and also the first in Major League Baseball in over 70 years, was the Los Angeles Angels. (soon the California Angels, the Anaheim Angels, and, as of 2005, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim). However, the Bay Area would eventually gain an American League team to go along with the Giants, as the Athletics would move 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.
In 1969, the American League expanded when the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots, the latter in a longtime PCL stronghold, were admitted to 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.
End of Expansion Era
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, D.C., 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.
Beginning with the 1994 season, both the AL and the NL were divided into three divisions (East, West, and Central), with the addition of a wild card team (the team with the best record among those finishing in second place) to enable four teams in each league to advance to the preliminary division series. However, due to the 1994 strike (which canceled the 1994 World Series), the new rules did not go into effect until the 1995 World Series.
As of 2006, 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.
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 mustache 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. Through this period crowds generally rose. Average attendances first broke 20,000 in 1979 and 30,000 in 1993. That year total attendance hit 70 million, but baseball was hit hard by a strike in 1994, and as of 2005 it has only marginally improved on those 1993 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.
Baseball had been watched live since the mid 20th century. Television sports' arrival in the 1950s increased attention and revenue 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 watch unknowns 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 most teams were broadcast, emphasis was always on the league leaders and the major market franchises that could draw the largest audience.
The rise of cable
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 regional sports networks (now mostly under the umbrella of Fox Sports Net) 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 (particularly direct broadcast satellite services like DirecTV) and digital cable, Major League Baseball launched baseball channels with season subscription fees, making it possible for fans to watch virtually every game played as they played.
The next round became the single-team cable networks. YES Network, 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.
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 million 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 shortstop who 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. 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. Also, 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 in the middle of the season, 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 for the first time since 1904.
Main article: 1994 Major League Baseball strike
Home run mania and the second coming of baseball
The cancellation of the 1994 World Series was a severe embarrassment for Major League Baseball. Although there were few signs of the predicted "outrage" on the part of the fans, attendance figures and broadcast ratings were lower in 1995 than before the strike.
On September 6, 1995, Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr. played his 2,131st consecutive game, breaking Lou Gehrig's 56 year old record. This was the first high-profile moment in baseball after the strike. Ripken continued his streak for another three years, voluntarily ending it at 2,632 consecutive games played on September 20, 1998.
In 1997, the Florida Marlins won the World Series in just their fifth season. This made them the youngest expansion team to win the Fall Classic (with the exception of the 1903 Boston Red Sox and later the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, who won in their fourth season.) Sadly, virtually all the key players on the 1997 Marlins team were soon traded or let go to save payroll costs (although the Marlins did win a second world championship a few years later in 2003.)
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. However, both Bonds' accomplishments in the 2000s have not been without controversy. During his run, journalists questioned McGwire about his use of the steroid-precursor androstenedione, and in 2005 was unforthcoming when questioned as part of a Congressional inquiry into steroids. Bonds has also has been dogged by allegations of steroid use and his involvement in the BALCO drugs scandal, as his personal trainer plead guilty to supplying steroids (without naming Bonds as a recipient). Neither Bonds or McGwire has failed a drug test at any time. In 2010, McGwire admitted to using steroids starting before the 1990 season and lasting over a decade.
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.
The Steroid Era
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 without inducing injury. The wearying travel schedule and 162-game season meant that amphetamines, usually in the form of pep pills known as "greenies", had been widespread in baseball since at least the 1960s. Baseball's drug scene was no particular secret, having been discussed in Sports Illustrated and in Jim Bouton's groundbreaking book Ball Four, but there was virtually no public backlash. But now, two decades later, some Major League players turned to newer performance enhancing drugs, including ephedra and improved steroids.
A memo circulated in 1991 by baseball commissioner Fay Vincent said, "The possession, sale or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by Major League players and personnel is strictly prohibited ... [and those players involved] are subject to discipline by the Commissioner and risk permanent expulsion from the game.... This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs and controlled substances, including steroids…" Some general managers of the time do not remember this memo, and it was not emphasized or enforced.
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 shortcut. He collapsed while pitching, and was soon pronounced dead. Bechler's death raised concerns over the use of performance enhancing drugs in baseball. Ephedra was banned, and soon the furor died down.
The 1998 home run race had generated nearly unbroken positive publicity, but Barry Bonds run for the all-time home run record provoked a backlash over 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.
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. Some called Selig's move a public relations stunt, or window dressing.
In a Sports Illustrated cover story in 2002, a year after his retirement, Ken Caminiti admitted that he had used steroids during his National League MVP-winning 1996 season, and for several seasons afterwards. Caminiti died unexpectedly of an apparent heart attack in The Bronx at the age of 41; he was pronounced dead on October 10, 2004 at New York's Lincoln Memorial Hospital. On November 1, the New York City Medical Examiners Office announced that Caminiti died from "acute intoxication due to the combined effects of cocaine and opiates," but coronary artery disease and cardiac hypertrophy (an enlarged heart) were also contributing factors.
In 2005, José Canseco published a book admitting steroid usage and claiming 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. These include Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Mark McGwire. Other players, such as José Canseco and Gary Sheffield have admitted to have either knowingly (in Canseco's case) or not (Sheffield's) using steroids. In confidential testimony to the BALCO Grand Jury (that was later leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle), Giambi also admitted steroid use. He later held a press conference in which he appeared to affirm this admission, without actually saying the words. And after an appearance before Congress where he (unlike McGwire) emphatically denied using steroids, "period," slugger Rafael Palmeiro became the first major star to be suspended for violating Major League Baseball's newly strengthened ban on controlled substances. Many lesser players (mostly from the minor leagues) have tested positive for use, as well.
Baseball was taken to task for turning a blind eye to its drug problems. It benefited from these drugs in the ever-increasingly 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.
The BALCO steroids 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. During grand jury testimony in December 2003 – which was illegally leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle and published in December 2004 – Giambi allegedly admitted to using many different steroids, including fertility drugs (which could account for his declining health in the past few years). Bonds said that Anderson gave him a rubbing balm and a liquid substance which others speculated as being "the cream" and "the clear." The paper reported that these substances were probably designer steroids. Bonds said that at the time he did not believe them to be steroids.
Various baseball pundits, fans, and even players have taken this as confirmation that Bonds uses illegal steroids. However, Bonds has never failed a drug test, despite being tested by Major League Baseball in 2003, 2004 and 2005, which may be attributable to cessation of using the chemical enhancements by that time, or successful obfuscation of continued use as documented in the 2006 book Game of Shadows.
The Power Age
While the introduction of steroids certainly increased the power production of greats such as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds, there were other factors that drastically increased the power surge after 1994. The factors cited are: smaller sized ballparks than in the past, "juiced baseballs" implying that the balls are wound tighter thus travel further following contact with the bat, "watered down pitching" implying that lesser quality pitchers are up in the Major Leagues due to too many teams. Albeit that these factors did play a large role in increasing homerun thus scoring totals during this time, others that directly impact ballplayers have an equally important role. As noted earlier one of those factors is anabolic steroids which have the capability of increasing muscle mass and coordination which enables hitters to not only hit "mistake" pitches farther, it also enables hitters to adjust to "good" pitches such as a well-placed fastball, slider, changeup, or curveball, and hit them for homeruns. Another such factor is better training and training facilities/equipment which can work with steroids to produce a more potent ballplayer and further enhance his skills.
Routinely in today's baseball age we see players reach 40 and 50 homeruns in a season, a feat that even in the 1980s was considered rare. And given the increase in ballplayer size, smaller ballparks, decreased pitching effectiveness, and the ever-present steroids, homerun records are considered no longer safe, and in fact, leaves Barry Bonds' current record of 73 homeruns in jeopardy.
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- Peter Morris et al.: Base Ball Pioneers, 1850-1870: The Clubs and Players Who Spread the Sport Nationwide, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2011. ISBN 978-0-7864-6843-0
- Peter Morris et al.: Base Ball Founders: The Clubs, Players and Cities of the Northeast That Established the Game, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2013. ISBN 978-0-7864-7430-1
- Mitchell Nathanson: A People's History of Baseball, University of Illinois Press, Champaign, IL, 2012.
- Christopher J. Phillips: Scouting and Scoring: How We Know What We Know About Baseball, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2019. ISBN 9780691180212
- Benjamin G. Rader: Baseball: A History of America's Game, University of Illinois Press, Chicago, IL, 208. ISBN 978-0252075506
- Lawrence Ritter: The Glory of Their Times: The Story of Baseball Told By the Men Who Played It William Morrow, New York, NY, 1992 ISBN 0688112730 (originally published in 1966).
- Ray Robinson and Christopher Jennison: Greats of the Game: The Players, Games, Teams, and Managers That Made Baseball History, Harry N. Abrams Books, New York, NY, 2005. ISBN 9780810958821
- John P. Rossi: Baseball and American Culture: A History, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD, 2018. ISBN 978-1-5381-0288-6
- Harold Seymour: Baseball: the Early Years, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1960. ISBN 0195059123
- Harold Seymour: Baseball: The Golden Age, 1971.
- Harold Seymour: Baseball: The People's Game, 1990.
- Jeff Silverman, ed.: Great American Baseball Stories, Lyons Press Classics, Guilford, CT, 2019. ISBN 978-1-4930-3901-2 Originally published in 2003
- Bryan Soderholm-Difatte: America's Game: A History of Major League Baseball through World War II, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD, 2018. ISBN 978-1-5381-1062-1
- Bryan Soderholm-Difatte: Tumultuous Times in America's Game: From Jackie Robinson's Breakthrough to the War over Free Agency, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD, 2019. ISBN 978-1-5381-2735-3
- Albert Spalding: America's National Game, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 1992 (originally published in 1911). ISBN 978-0803292079
- Lyle Spatz: Historical Dictionary of Baseball, Scarecrow Press, Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Lanham, MD, 2012. ISBN 978-0-8108-7812-
- Trey Strecker, Steven P. Gietschier, Mitchell Nathanson, John A. Fortunato and David George Surdam: Understanding Baseball: A Textbook, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2015. ISBN 978-0-7864-7631-2
- Dean A. Sullivan: Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 1995.
- Dean A. Sullivan: Middle Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1900-1948, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 1998.
- Dean A. Sullivan: Late Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1945-1972, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2002.
- Dean A. Sullivan: Final Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1972-2008, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2010.
- Krister Swanson: Baseball's Power Shift: How the Players Union, the Fans, and the Media Changed American Sports Culture, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2016. ISBN 978-0-8032-5523-4
- John Thorn: Baseball in the Garden of Eden: the Secret History of the Early Game, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY, 2011.
- Jules Tygiel: Past Time: Baseball as History, 2000. ISBN 0-19-514604-2
- David Vaught: The Farmer's Game: Baseball in Rural America, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4214-0755-5
- George Vecsey: Baseball: A History of America's Favorite Game, Modern Library, Random House Publishing, New York, NY, 2006. ISBN 978-0812978704
- David Quentin Voigt: American Baseball. Vol. 1: From Gentleman's Sport to the Commissioner System, American Baseball Series, The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, PA, 1983 (originally published in 1966). ISBN 978-0271003344
- David Quentin Voigt: American Baseball. Vol. 2: From the Commissioners to Continental Expansion, American Baseball Series, The University of Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, PA, 1983 (originally published in 1970). ISBN 978-0271003306
- David Quentin Voigt: American Baseball. Vol. 3: From Postwar Expansion to the Electronic Age, American Baseball Series, The University of Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, PA, 1983. ISBN 978-0271003320
- Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns: Baseball: An Illustrated History, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, 1994.
- Archive of Baseball Pictures from 1900 to 1940
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