The recent years have brought triumph and frustration to baseball. Triumph has included the shattering of records that many thought would never be touched. Mark McGwire had a 70 home run season. Barry Bonds had a 73 home run season a few years later.
Cal Ripken set a new mark for coming to work, breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak.
New franchises have joined the fray including Tampa Bay, Arizona, Colorado and Florida. The leagues have been divided into three divisions and an extra round of playoffs has been added to include a fourth wildcard team in the playoffs.
In terms of tragedy, baseball has suffered through strikes and work stoppages. Each time baseball has dealt with one, the fans have responded by staying away for periods of time. As is the case in the 1919 season, certain players have stepped up to bring interest to the game. Ripken did it by breaking the Gehrig record. McGwire and Sammy Sosa did it by hitting massive amounts of home runs.
Baseball has also entered the cyber area and fans can get up-to-date stats and scores through any computer. Baseball’s new future is a continuing work in progress.
1961-1979 – Baseball’s Boom
For more than 60 years, baseball had been limited in its number of franchises. As times changed in America and the game increased in popularity, other cities saw opportunities that a baseball franchise could provide.
The Los Angeles Angels and the new Washington Senators (Second version) took the field in 1961. It was also the year that Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run mark.
In 1962, the National League expanded, bringing the Colf 45s (Astros) to Houston and the Mets to New York. In 1969, both leagues expanded their lineups to 12 teams. The NL brought teams to San Diego and Montreal. The AL brought teams to Kansas City and Seattle. The Seattle Pilots only lasted a year in the town and moved to Milwaukee to become the Brewers in 1970.
The structure of the leagues also changed during this period. Both the NL and the AL went to two divisions of six teams each. The change also brought a modification to the playoffs . Now, the two division winners squared off in a 5-game series to become the League Champ and the representative in the World Series.
New stadiums arrived on the scene, bringing the distance to the outfields in and creating more offense in the league. Older parks had some facelifts but remained crucial parts of the game.
Pitchers started to battle back against hitters by adding new pitches that took advantages of curves and off-speed to keep batters off-balance. The 1968 season was dubbed the year of the pitcher — one in which a modification to the mound gave pitchers unprecedented advantage over the batter. That however was changed the next season.
1946-1960 – The Golden Years
The landscape of baseball changed forever during this era. Black athletes were no longer kept off the field. They were allowed to become Major League players thanks to Jackie Robinson and Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey.
In 1947, Rickey’s Dodgers brought Jackie Robinson, 28, up from Montreal to join the Major League squad. What happened after that was a flood of new players into the game and an increase in the talent pool.
In terms of game play, stolen bases were on the outs and home runs were suddenly in fashion. Batters rarely choked up on the bat anymore and pitchers face aggressive hitters intent on hitting the long ball.
With the exception of the Chicago Cubs, baseball ventured into a new area — night baseball. Lights at parks allowed the games to become more accessible to those working during the day. Baseball also started to make its way into homes by the radio and later by the television. Countless fans, young and old, could now listen to the exploits of their baseball heroes through game broadcasts.
The period also brought shifts in a number of franchises as teams moved into new areas and new markets. Baseball moved west as the Dodgers and Giants found new life on the West Coast. The Braves moved from Boston to Milwaukee and then to Atlanta. The Browns moved from St. Louis to Baltimore. The Athletics moved to Kansas City and then, eventually, to Oakland.
Baseball was now set up for what would become one of its most profitable and popular times, the Baseball Boom.
1920-1945 – Baseball’s Rebirth
After the scandal of the 1919 World Series, professional baseball found itself at a crossroads of sorts. How could baseball survive with the U.S. focused on the scandal of the Black Sox?
Baseball’s first move was to hire Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis as baseball’s first commissioner. Landis had brokered the deal that brought an end to the Federal League. Landis stepped in and banned eight players from the Chicago White Sox (including Joe Jackson).
But, baseball needed something else. Nothing takes the mind off a scandal like a player of heroic proportions. That player came in the form of Babe Ruth. In 1920, the Boston Red Sox sent Ruth to the New York Yankees for $125,000. Ruth became an immediate hero.
The baseball also became more “reactive” during this time. Some say baseball made a change in the structure of the baseball. Others point to a series of factors including the fact that teams started using more balls during the game (keeping them whiter and more visible to batters).
In his first season in New York, the Babe hit an amazing 54 home runs. In the previous season, Ruth had set the all-time record with 29 home runs. In 1923, more than 74,000 were on hand to see Ruth christen the new Yankee Stadium with a home run.
This new age brought the arrival of a strong of powerful teams (The New York Yankees) and power hitters (Ruth, Hank Greenberg, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig).
For pitchers, the era brought the end of the spit ball. No longer was a single ball used in a game — new balls were introduced to increase offense. With the new advantage, batters became more aggressive in the way they approached pitches. Batters stopped choking up and starting taking harder swings at the ball. In 1926, pitchers were given a little more leeway when baseball officials granted them permission to use a resin bag during games.
By the end of this era, baseball players began to face a new issue. Many were leaving to serve in the U.S. military during World War II.
1900-1919 The Dead Ball Era The Dead Ball Era is generally considered to have lasted from the turn of the century into the beginning of the roaring ’20s. As the name suggests the game used a “dead” or almost soft ball to play its game. The same ball was usually used for the entire game.
Obviously, the state of the ball was a detriment to home runs. Factor in the large, open parks and you can see that home runs were certainly a premium. Teams were left to rely on the hit and run, singles, bunts and stolen bases to win games.
For pitchers, it was the era of the “spit ball” — completely legal at the time. Many pitchers relied on the spit ball and other trickery to keep batters on their toes. Some of the most skilled pitchers of all time developed in baseball’s Deadball Era, however. Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson and others were skilled at placing the ball anywhere they wanted on a pitch.
Batters used heavy bats, choked up on the handle and didn’t attack the pitch aggressively. This style of batting was typified in some of the best of the time — Ty Cobb, Joe Jackson and Honus Wagner.
The era also brought the American League onto the scene and onto equal footing with the National League. The Federal League appeared for two seasons and left its mark with a number of baseball parks including Wrigley Field.
The World Series also arrived during the Deadball Era. However, the 1919 World Series — and the Chicago White Sox — brought this age of baseball innocence to an end and baseball was forced to make changes in the wake of scandal.