The sport that evokes more nostalgia among Americans than any other is baseball. So many people play the game as children (or play its close relative, softball) that it has become known as “the national pastime.” It is also a democratic game. Unlike football and basketball, baseball can be played well by people of average height and weight.
Baseball originated before the American Civil War (1861-1865) as rounders, a humble game played on sandlots. Early champions of the game fine-tuned it to include the kind of skills and mental judgment that made cricket respectable in England. In particular, scoring and record-keeping gave baseball gravity. “Today,” notes John Thorn in The Baseball Encyclopedia, “baseball without records is inconceivable.” More Americans undoubtedly know that Roger Maris’s 61 home runs in 1961 broke Babe Ruth’s record of 60 in 1927 than that President Ronald Reagan’s 525 electoral-college votes in 1984 broke President Franklin Roosevelt’s record of 523 in 1936.
In 1871 the first professional baseball league was born. By the beginning of the 20th century, most large cities in the eastern United States had a professional baseball team. The teams were divided into two leagues, the National and American; during the regular season, a team played only against other teams within its league. The most victorious team in each league was said to have won the “pennant;” the two pennant winners met after the end of the regular season in the World Series. The winner of at least four games (out of a possible seven) was the champion for that year. This arrangement still holds today, although the leagues are now subdivided and pennants are decided in post-season playoff series between the winners of each division.
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