Take Me Out to the Ball Game

By Aileen Marshall

It’s springtime in New York, and that means the start of baseball season. There is still hope in the air for the Mets, and great expectations for the Yankees, the two New York teams.

Baseball is known as the “Great American Game,” illustrated by a commercial from about 30 years ago, which ran with the tagline “baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.” It is unclear exactly how American the game is. For many years it was a common belief that Abner Doubleday invented baseball in 1839 in Cooperstown, NY. The belief comes from the Mills commission, a 1905 report by the National League. This was the basis for the location of the Baseball Hall of Fame. In recent years it has become known that this origin is a myth. Abner Doubleday was a Civil War general, but he was a cadet at West Point in 1839, and his family had moved from Cooperstown the year before. When he died, he left many papers and letters, none of which even mentioned baseball.

It is not clear where the modern game of baseball actually started. There are references to a “base ball” and a “bat and ball” game in both British and American writings as early as the 1700s. There is a picture and a description of “base ball” in a children’s book published in England in 1744. It probably evolved from the British game, rounders. Baseball is also somewhat similar to cricket.  Now, the Great American Game has become popular in the Caribbean, South America, Japan, and Taiwan.

Baseball is played on a field made up of four bases arranged in a diamond pattern. A player on the offensive (batting) team comes up to bat at home plate.  A pitcher on the mound in the middle of the diamond throws the ball to the batter. The batter attempts to hit the ball far enough so that he can get to the first base without a player on the defensive (fielding) team catching the ball before it hits the ground, or tagging him with the ball before he reaches the base. Then he is safe. If he hits the ball far enough, or if the fielding team fails to catch the ball or tag him, he can run to as many bases as possible. If he manages to go around to all three bases and back to home plate on one hit, that is a home run. Once any player reaches home base safely, a point is scored. If the batter swings at a ball that was hittable and misses, that is a strike. When a batter gets three strikes, he is out. The next players keep coming up to bat until there are three outs, then the teams switch sides. When the other team gets three outs, that is the end of the inning. When the first team, the visitors, is up at bat, it is called the top of the inning. When the home team is up at bat, it’s known as the bottom. The game is played until nine innings, or if the score is tied in the bottom of the ninth, until the tie is broken.

The World Series officially started in 1903, although there were other championships before then. The owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the champion that year of the well-established National League, agreed to play the Boston Pilgrims, of the newly formed American League, in a best of nine series. A pitcher named Cy Young helped Boston win that first championship. The next year the owner of the New York Giants refused to play Boston, seeing the American League as inferior and citing a lack of consistency in the rules between the two leagues. By the next year the two leagues had resolved their differences, and the tradition of the World Series was born.

The World Series is now a best-of-seven game event, with a 2-3-2 schedule, established by Charles Ebbets in 1924. Two games at one team’s stadium, three games at the other team’s location, and then back to the first team’s ballpark if necessary. The locations of the first games of the World Series are determined by the All Star Game, in the middle of the regular season. Whichever league wins that game gets to start the World Series in their home ballpark.

The history of the World Series can be divided into two eras: the pre-Yankee era, 1903-1920, and the Yankee era, starting in 1921.The New York Yankees have played in 40 of 103 World Series played, and won 27. While the Boston Red Sox, the Chicago White Sox, and the Chicago Cubs dominated until 1920, the Red Sox did not win again until 2004. Some say it was the “Curse of the Bambino” that caused this shift in dominance. Babe Ruth, aka the Bambino, was a very prolific home run hitter for his time, and when he was traded to the Yankees in 1920, the resulting Red Sox losing streak was said to be the team’s punishment for trading him.

In 1915, Woodrow Wilson was the first president to appear at a World Series game. In 1919, the famous “Black Sox” scandal occurred. Some players on the Chicago White Sox plotted to throw the Series for money, including Shoeless Joe Jackson. After an investigation, those players were suspended, and the White Sox would not win a Series again until 2005. The position of baseball commissioner was established after that to help look after the standards of the game. The two leagues, the National and the American, reorganized in 1969. Since then, Major League Baseball (MLB) has been in charge of the rules and regulations for both leagues.

The World Series has been played every year since 1905 except for 1994, during the players’ strike. The commissioner at the time, Bud Selig, was also a team owner and thus an interested party. That season began with an expired collective bargaining agreement, and in August the players went on strike. By September, with no agreement in place, Selig canceled the rest of that season.

Of course, New Yorkers have bragging rights. Over the history of the series, teams from New York (Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, and Mets) have had 65 World Series appearances, and won 34. A New York team won every series from 1949 to 1956. The Chicago Cubs, on the other hand, have not won the championship since 1908.

New this year are the expanded replay rules. Major league baseball traditionally went with the umpires’ call, and didn’t use reviews of instant video replays. However, in recent years, with the media coverage of controversial calls and the new technology available, the league has begun implementing this practice. Instant replay in the majors actually started in 2008. It was used seven times during that season. The rules at the time allowed instant replay to be used to review boundary home run calls to determine: fair (home run) or foul, whether the ball actually left the playing field, or whether the ball was subject to spectator interference. Reviews are done by MLB headquarters in New York City, which makes the final ruling.

Instant replay will increase this year to include fair and foul calls and balls that are caught, or trapped by the player catching the ball. It will also expand interference reviews beyond the home run boundary to all walls. It also includes ground rule doubles (when the ball hits the ground before leaving the field), force plays at all bases (because another runner is advancing), tag plays on the base paths, time plays (whether or not a run scored prior to the third out), scorekeeping issues, including the count, number of outs, scores or substitutions.  The MLB is also expanding its video review process for the 2014 season, granting managers one challenge over the first six innings of games. They are awarded a second challenge if they win the first one. The chief umpires are allowed to review a call at any time in the game.

So, now armed with these baseball “CliffsNotes,” the conversations around the coffee pot in the mornings should seem less foreign. When you see your colleagues cheering around the television in the Faculty Club, stop and watch a while.

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