A Brief History of Baseball in the United States

Baseball is nicknamed “America’s past time,” and for good reason! Major League Baseball is the oldest professional sports league in existence in the United States, and every year, more than 74 million people attend baseball games, making it the professional sport with the highest overall attendance. But despite how much Americans love baseball, most people don’t know exactly how the game got its start. Read on to discover the true story of the history of baseball in the United States.

The Myth of Abner Doubleday

Ask some average people on the street who invented baseball, and you’re liable to hear one name again and again–Abner Doubleday. Legend has it that the native of Cooperstown, New York, invented the game. The story was first published in a 1905 edition of the Akron Beacon Journal newspaper and would go on to be widely circulated; however, Abner Doubleday had nothing to do with the invention of baseball. The myth grew out of the story of an ordinary man named Abner Graves and has never been proven as fact.

A Sport with Unknown Origins

So who did invent baseball if it wasn’t Abner Doubleday? The truth is that we really don’t know. Baseball developed sometime during the late 18th century as a recreational game that was inspired by two English games: rounders and cricket. Both games were played during the Colonial period and seem to have been modified by Americans slowly over time. The first written mention of a sport called baseball has been traced back to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, circa 1792. Sports historians have uncovered that regular organized baseball games were taking place in Manhattan by 1823, and gradually, interest in the sport grew during the early 19th century.

The First Baseball Team

If you want to credit any one person for inventing baseball as we know it, a man named Alexander Joy Cartwright should likely be given the honor. A volunteer firefighter and New York resident, Cartwright played for the New York Knickenbockers, who are now considered by most to be the first official baseball team in America. In order to organize game play, Cartwright wrote down a set of rules, a number of which are still in use today, including the three-strike rule and the diamond shape of the infield. The rules were completed in 1845, and the Knickenbockers played their first game with them in 1846, competing against a cricket team in New York.


Cartwright’s rules brought structure to the game of baseball and allowed new teams to spring up throughout the New York area. By 1857, 16 of these teams banded together to create the National Association of Base Ball Players or NABBP, an amateur baseball league. The Civil War brought men from New York together with gentlemen from throughout the North, and word of baseball quickly spread. As a result, there were more than 400 baseball teams in the U.S. by 1867. Professional play was first permitted 2 years later, and by 1871, the NAPBBP had split in two to form the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players or NAPBBP.

Founding of the National and American Leagues

In 1875, the NAPBBP disbanded, but professional baseball continued with the National League, which was founded in 1876 and remains in existence today as a part of Major League Baseball. The American League was founded in 1900 after the reorganization of a baseball minor league called the Western League. At first the American and National Leagues were rivals, striving to attract the best players in major cities, but by 1904, the leagues had worked out an agreement to coexist. The establishment of the World Series, the match-up between the top American and National League teams was part of the agreement. The first one was actually held in 1903 and has been held annually ever since 1905.

The Negro Leagues

Many people credit Jackie Robinson with being the first Black professional baseball player in the major leagues, but in actuality, there were a few African-Americans who played in the majors during the early days of the National League. In 1876, non-white players were barred from the league, leading to the establishment of what would come to be called the Negro Leagues, professional teams comprised of mostly African-American players with some Hispanic stars. The leagues remained in existence until 1947 when Jackie Robinson was signed by the Dodgers.

The Babe Ruth Era

While professional baseball drew crowds during the early 20th century, the 1920s really made the sport the sensation it is today. Most baseball historians credit Babe Ruth with increasing interest in the sport. “The Babe,” as he was nicknamed, played for the New York Yankees, and fans were amazed by his ability to hit home runs. Suddenly, fans were interested in seeing “sluggers” who were able to take up the bat and knock one out of the park. As the first true star baseball player, Babe Ruth paved the way for many other greats to follow. The 1920s also brought baseball games to the radio with the first broadcasted game occurring in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1921.

Commercialization of Baseball

During the 1950s, baseball became televised for the first time making it possible for people all over the country to watch the sport. Being able to tune into all of the games and watch them live as they unfolded greatly increased interest in the sport and opened up the doors for selling advertising and merchandise. After the 1950s, professional baseball grew more and more profitable, making top teams like the Yankees now worth more than $1 billion.

The 2000 Merger & Today

The arrangement between the National and American Leagues lasted from 1904 to 2000 when the separate entities agreed to become one league overseen by the Commissioner of Baseball. Today, there are 30 teams in the MLB with 29 in the U.S. and one located in Canada. The oldest of the MLB teams is the Atlanta Braves, which was founded in 1871 as the Boston Red Stockings. Just click here to find out how to keep up to date with all the current baseball games via the Internet or on TV.