When was baseball most popular in America?

The History of Baseball from 1845 to Today: A Sport Symbolizing America

The new season of Major League Baseball started on July 24th - and you can watch it live on DAZN. Reason enough for SPOXto review the history of America's most traditional sport: From the simple beginnings on New York Meadows to the Roaring Twenties and the boom under Babe Ruth to the creeping decline and the ever-present question: How well is the MLB really doing today?

One fact stands out: baseball and the United States are inextricably linked.

This article was first published on March 28, 2017.

A normal spring afternoon in Boston: Major League Baseball is all the rage. The Boston Red Sox, reigning titleholders, host the New York Yankees who haven't had much to do with the title in years. The game is accordingly one-sided, Boston wins 3-0 and takes a step towards defending its title.

Starting pitcher George Herman Ruth from the Red Sox delivers a strong game, only allowing three singles and one double against the Green Monster, the high wall plastered with advertising messages in the left outfield. On the right in the stands, it was mainly the gamblers who, fortunately, mostly bet on a home win. A couple of boys swap baseball cards in the cheap courts and stuff candy into their mouths. Otherwise there are still some places available in Fenway Park, which can hold 35,000 spectators.

So - or at least something like that - it should have happened.

1917. Over 100 years ago.

From Fenway Park to Yankee Stadium: The stadiums of all 30 MLB teams

American football may be more popular now, basketball more present in the media and pop culture. But no sport is so inextricably woven into the soul of the USA as "America's favorite pastime" - America's favorite pastime. From the great times like the Roaring Twenties to the black spots of the past: If you look at the history of the USA, baseball snapshots inevitably come into focus. The history and tradition of sport are so present at all times that they sometimes seem to swallow up its presence.

MLB: Baseball stadiums - the combination of tradition and modernity

History of MLB: Beginnings in the 19th Century

The origins of baseball go back a lot further than "just" a century. It all started with the European settlers who brought games like cricket and rounders across the Atlantic. Various forms of the universally popular "one throws, the other hits and runs" concept are developing, especially in the northeastern United States.

The first regulations similar to today's sport are ultimately attributed to the New Yorker Alexander Cartwright, who founded the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club in 1842 (104 years before the basketball players of the same name) and three years later chiseled the "Knickerbocker Rules" in stone tablets.

Among other things, he solves the problem of the playing field delimited by an adhesive factory and several streets with the classic infield diamond with subsequent outfield and the "foul territory" (= off) on both sides. Also included: three strikes per out, three outs per inning and the 90 feet (almost 27.5 meters) distance between the individual bases. Very important: From now on, the baserunners have to be touched with the ball and not just thrown - which should have prevented some fights.

Whether Cartwright copied a large part of these rules from other teams is now again controversial - and in the first official game under those same rules on June 19, 1846 between the Knicks and another New York team, the former lose without a sound with 1 : 23 (Incidentally, Cartwright himself, as a referee, fined a Knicks player for cursing with a six cents fine). Still, Cartwright's rules quickly spread across the New York area and eventually across the United States due to the Civil War that brought soldiers together from across the nation.

Baseball in the 19th Century: From Recreational to Public Sports

So it's no wonder that hardly any sport can keep up in terms of tradition. Which NBA fan knows that the famous Spalding only became an official game device in 1894 because Pitcher A.G. Spalding from Chicago invented the first universally adopted baseball in 1876, thus laying the foundation for what would become a company? Or which football fan that the first professional club, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was launched in 1869, 16 years before the FA allowed professional teams?

America's favorite pastime slowly began to take shape: from several associations founded, it is the National League, established in 1876, which takes on the strongest teams from the big cities and decides on contracts, player salaries and adherence to the game plan. It remains turbulent: Franchises pop and collapse, plus bitter disputes between the team owners and fights between the players. In 1894 a fire even broke out in a Boston stadium and destroyed parts of the city.

By the way, the "stadium" is still relative at first: Initially, games are played on spacious meadows on the outskirts of the city, then wooden stands are gradually added around the infield - in the outfield, the spectators may only be separated from the players by a fence or a taut rope. And this outfield can take on enormous proportions: If the greatest distance between home plate and the wall in center field is no more than 420 feet (128 meters) today, it could easily be 500 feet or more back then. Accordingly, home runs are rare.

The first World Series: The MLB has arrived

But even before the turn of the century, the ball parks were moving closer to the city centers and could accommodate several thousand spectators. The final breakthrough was supposed to take a while: only when the American League established itself as the second major league alongside the flagging National League and in 1903 the first World Series between the two champions was agreed, did some calm return.

This first World Series between the Pittsburg (until 1911 without the "h" at the end) and the Boston Americans - today's Red Sox - attracts over 18,000 spectators to game 3 in the Boston Ballpark. Boston wins the series by 5-3, a game lasts less than two hours on average. And in the outfield of the former circus area there was still a tool shed ...

But the nation is in the mood for baseball: At the opening of Shibe Park in Philadelphia, the first steel-and-concrete ball park ever with a total of 23,000 seats, over 45,000 fans jostle in front of the entrances - another 6,000 are watching from neighboring rooftops. Other teams are following suit: Fenway Park and Braves Field (40,000) in Boston or the Polo Grounds in New York (34,000), where the Yankees, among others, serve, follow.

Baseball boom in the 1920s - thanks to Babe Ruth

The final boom finally comes in the 1920s, and there are several reasons for that. The US is suddenly the greatest superpower in the world. The inhabitants of the prosperous cities suddenly have money in their pockets - and free time to spend that money. So why not spend a cozy afternoon in the sunny stadium? National newspapers provide fans with information and printed box scores, and from 1921 onwards, the appearances of stars like Ty Cobb and Lou Gehrig also went on national radio on the airwaves.

Even more important, however, is the end of the "Deadball Era": At the beginning of the 20th century, game balls cost a small fortune by the standards of the time and are therefore used indefinitely. A broken, dirty ball - which the pitcher also likes to use one or the other substance to prepare into a "spit ball" - is hardly to be hit, and certainly not to be beaten out of the spacious stadiums.

That changed with the year 1920. A combination of smaller stadiums, new and more frequently exchanged balls and forbidden pitches led to an offensive explosion and a baseball boom. And about the greatest superstar the sport has ever had: Babe Ruth. That Ruth, who shone as a pitcher at the Red Sox, was handed over to the Yankees in 1919 and became the best power hitter of his time. In 1920 he increased the home run record from 29 to 54, and the following year to 59 - a decade earlier, hardly anyone had even hit ten home runs.

This not only leads to countless imitators, but also to audience records in the Big Apple: led by "The Great Bambino", the Yankees can afford to open their own stadium in 1923. With a whopping 58,000 seats. In the same year the Bronx Bombers win the first of meanwhile 27 titles - the "Evil Empire" is born. In the "house that was built by Ruth", as the Yankees fans call their stadium.