Take Me Out to the Ball Game

by Aileen Marshall

In just one month, the World Series starts. Have you ever wondered why there were so many people gathered around television sets in the Faculty Club in October? What your co-workers were talking about around the coffee pot those mornings? How you won in the lab’s World Series pool?

Baseball is known as “The Great American Game,” illustrated by a commercial from about thirty years ago, which ran with the tagline “baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.” For many years it was 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. 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 the base called “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. If he does this, 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 the home plate, that is a “home run.” Once any player reaches the home plate 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 for nine innings, or if the score is tied in the bottom of the ninth inning, 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 game series. 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 following year, the two leagues had resolved their differences, and the tradition of the World Series was born.

The series is now a best-of-seven, 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, 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, also known as the Bambino, was a very prolific home run hitter for his time. When the Red Sox traded him to the Yankees in 1920, the resulting Red Sox losing streak was said to be the team’s punishment.

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 enforce the standards of the game.

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.

So, come the end of October, when you see your colleagues cheering around the television in the Faculty Club, stop and watch a while. We can all enjoy the Fall Classic.

October 2012