Founded in 1903, baseball pits two league champions in an annual play-off to determine the World Series winner. This contest, as well as the game’s place among holidays like the Fourth of July and Christmas, helped baseball solidify its status as “America’s pastime.” But the sport was already beginning to lose ground after World War II, with major league teams struggling to attract fans who had been lured away by other professional sports and private, at-home diversions. By the 1990s, player strikes and the steep cost of attending games added to baseball’s troubles.
A game of baseball is played between two opposing teams of nine players. The game is won by the team with the most points at the end of nine innings, though many competitions have rules governing extra innings and other lengths of time. The object of the fielding team is to prevent batters from becoming runners by catching or throwing the ball before it hits the ground. A batter who successfully bats a ball in fair territory is awarded one base. The batter then attempts to advance to each of the other bases without being tagged out before touching home plate. A run is scored when the runner safely touches all of the bases in order and returns to home plate.
The game evolved from older bat-and-ball games that were popular in England in the mid-1800s and brought by immigrants to America, where it became a national craze during difficult times such as the American Civil War. Nationalistic sentiment helped baseball gain the status of America’s national pastime; a newspaper described it as “the perfect national game, owing nothing to England and the children’s game of rounders.”
After a long period of racial segregation in organized professional baseball, the World Series was launched in 1903 and quickly took on the aura of a national rite, joining the Fourth of July and Christmas as one of the country’s most beloved annual celebrations. A magazine called Everybody’s Magazine in 1911 described the event as “the very quintessence and consummation of the most American of all games.”
While the World Series and other national events boosted attendance, changes to the game itself drew crowds away from stadiums. In addition, families were moving to suburban homes, where the large lawns required by baseball fields were not available, and public schools began offering sports programs that competed with MLB teams for students’ attention.
In the 1940s, more than 500 major leaguers — including 37 Hall of Fame members — served in the armed forces during World War II. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt lauded the game as a morale booster during this dark chapter in American history, and his encouragement was a boon to baseball.
The steroid era in baseball has drawn widespread criticism from the public and left many of its former players with an image that is less than noble. This has also cast a pall over the game itself, with some people calling it an embarrassment to the nation and even comparing it to slavery or Nazism.