It is America’s national pastime – baseball. Major League Baseball is the oldest of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States. Currently, 30 teams make up MLB split into two divisions, the National League and the American League. It all began with the game’s first professional team founded in Cincinnati in 1869.
There were a few baseball teams that paid some of their players, but the very first team comprised entirely of paid players was the Cincinnati Red Stockings. By 1876, the National League formed with eight charter members one of which was the Chicago White Stockings (which is now the Chicago Cubs, not the White Sox).
In 1901, a second league, the American League, formed also featuring eight teams. One of those teams, the Detroit Tigers, was formed in 1894 and has remained unchanged ever since. The original Baltimore Orioles were a second AL franchise, but they went bankrupt and became defunct in 1902. The Orioles, not to be confused with the current Baltimore franchise, were replaced by a franchise named the New York Highlanders. The Highlanders would eventually become the New York Yankees.
Each league continued to carry eight teams up until the 1960s. The game itself was not as well-received nationwide until a rather unfortunate event led to an increase in baseball’s popularity in the 1920s.
The Dead Ball Era & Rise of Baseball
The era of baseball between 1900 and 1919 is commonly referred to as the Dead Ball Era. The games were often low-scoring and were dominated by pitchers such as Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson.
That all changed in 1920 when Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians was struck in the head by a pitch and died just a few hours later. Both leagues put in play a policy to replace a baseball that had become scuffed or dirty – a dead ball. Through the 1920s, the New York Yankees rose to fame by playing in numerous World Series, the end of season matchup between the National League winner and the American League champion.
In 1927, Babe Ruth set a new single-season home run record with 60. He became the game’s brightest star leading the Yankees to eight World Series titles through the 1920s and ‘30s. The game survived the Great Depression and World War II, which actually interrupted some of baseball’s stars (Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, to name a few).
In 1947, the Los Angeles Dodgers broke the color barrier when the team fielded Jackie Robinson. The following year, a number of other African-Americans – Satchel Paige and Roy Campanella, for example – entered both leagues.
The two leagues remained at eight teams up until 1960. The Dodgers and Giants both relocated to the West Coast in 1958, but no new teams joined MLB until the American League added two franchises – the Los Angeles Angels and the new Washington Senators. Minneapolis-St. Paul had been granted an expansion franchise, but the old Washington Senators were moved to Minneapolis to become the Twins. In 1961, the AL had three new teams: the expansion Angels and Senators, and the relocated Twins.
A year later, the National League followed suit and added the New York Mets and the Houston Colt .45s, which would later be renamed the Astros. Their new home, the Astrodome, was the first domed sports stadium in the world. In 1966, the Braves relocated from Milwaukee to Atlanta giving the Southeast its first professional baseball team.
The ‘60s also saw the addition of the Seattle Pilos (which became the Milwaukee Brewers) and the Kansas City Royals. Both teams were added to the American League. The National League added the Montreal Expos and the San Diego Padres.
The most recent MLB expansion occurred in 1990s when the National League added the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies in ’93. In ’98, the American League added Tampa Bay and the NL added Arizona. The Brewers also switched leagues that year finding their home in the National League.
Current MLB Makeup
Major League Baseball still consists of the American League and National League. Each league has three divisions and each division has five teams. There are 15 teams in each league and 30 total. Here is the current makeup of each division and league.
The American League consists of the following:
Chicago White Sox
Los Angeles Angels
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Toronto Blue Jays
Kansas City Royals
Tampa Bay Rays
The National League consists of the following:
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres
New York Mets
San Francisco Giants
St. Louis Cardinals
A new season routinely begins with spring training, which begins in February of each year. Teams will travel to warmer climates to prepare for the upcoming season. Teams that travel to Arizona for spring training play in the Cactus League. Teams that travel to Florida play in the Grapefruit League. Spring training typically lasts about two months.
The regular season typically begins on the first Sunday in April but has opened in late March recently. Teams play a 162-game schedule that is organized into two-, three-, and four-game series with opponents. Each team plays 19 games against its four division opponents and has one home and one away series with each of the other 10 teams in its league. All teams also play 20 interleague games per season.
The 15 teams in each league compete for one of five playoff spots. Division winners qualify automatically and the teams with the next two best records enter as wild cards. In the postseason, the two wild card teams in each league have a one-game playoff to determine who advances to the best-of-five divisional series. Each league’s championship series is a best-of-seven series.
Midway through the season in July, MLB holds its annual All-Star game. The first All-Star game was held in 1933 as part of the World’s Fair. Since 1970, the starting lineups in the All-Star game have been chosen by fan vote. Since 1997, the American League has dominated the All-Star game winning all but four times.
Each season culminates with the World Series pitting the American League champion against the National League champion. The series is played in a best-of-seven format. The Boston Red Sox defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers to win last season’s World Series.