Often referred to as “America’s favorite pastime,” baseball has been a popular activity throughout most of the country’s history.
A common myth claims that baseball was invented by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York, during the summer of 1839. However, this has since been disproved, as Doubleday was attending West Point at the time and there’s no record of him claiming to have invented the sport himself.
The Doubleday origin story was developed in 1907 by a special commission created by sporting goods magnate and former major league player A.J. Spalding. The commission used flimsy evidence — namely the claims of one man, mining engineer Abner Graves — to concoct the story.
In reality, references to games resembling baseball in the United States date back to the 18th century. Early forms of baseball appear to have developed from a combination of two English games: rounders and cricket.
The first official baseball game was played on June 19, 1846, at New Jersey’s Elysian Fields. The New York Mutuals defeated the Knickerbockers 23-1 in 4 innings.
The game was largely made possible by Alexander Joy Cartwright, who codified a new set of rules that called for a diamond-shaped infield, foul lines, and the three-strike rule. He also ended the dangerous practice of tagging runners by throwing balls at them. These new rules made the sport more fast-paced and challenging, and also differentiated it from other games like cricket.
The first professional baseball game was played 23 years after the sport officially made its debut. The Cincinnati Base Ball Club, also known as the Cincinnati Red Stockings, fielded the first professional team in 1869 and played its first game against an opposing club on May 4th.
Despite baseball’s nickname of “America’s favorite pastime,” it appears the star players don’t receive the same level of recognition as athletes from other sports. According to YouGov’s ratings of active sports personalities, 91% of Americans have heard of LeBron James (NBA) and 88% have heard of Tom Brady (NFL), but only 43% have heard of Mike Trout (MLB).
An analysis by The New York Times of television broadcasts by county suggests this disconnect likely comes down to exposure. In the 2018 season, 100% of U.S. counties aired at least a quarter of Brady’s games and 98% of counties aired at least a quarter of James’s games. But only 1% of counties aired at least a quarter of Trout’s games. Since even baseball’s best players rarely get airtime outside their own market, it struggles to promote its national stars on the same level as other sports do.
While baseball’s fandom tends to be more localized than other sports, it still draws a large audience. About 68.5 million fans attended major league games during the 2019 regular season.
Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, and Oakland Athletics
Rogers Centre (Toronto Blue Jays)