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Baseball: Then and Now Essay

“The game of baseball has now become beyond question the leading feature of the outdoor sports of the United States…It is a game which is peculiarly suited to the American temperament and disposition:… in short, the pastime suits the people, and the people suit the pastime”(Charles Peverelly, 1866). Although baseball is still America’s favorite pastime, the way it is played has changed greatly since it’s founding in the 1800’s. Baseball was originally created so there would be something the boys could do to keep busy during the summer months. Now, baseball has changed greatly because of technological and technique advancements, rule alterations, and the commercialization of the game.

Since its origination in the mid 1800’s, baseball has undergone many changes and advancements in technology and technique. When it was first played, there was no such thing as a glove used to help catch the ball. The fielders would play bare-handed, making line drives automatic hits and ground balls even harder to handle. The bat has undergone many changes as well. Batters used to hit the ball with a bat that had a flat side. This was comparable to a cricket paddle except slightly longer and slimmer. Now, players of any age or level use bats that are cylinder shaped with a slightly wider section on the end.

In the 1800’s, the general public was not as safety oriented as is today’s society. This is shown by the complete lack of helmets worn by players in the mid 1800’s. Now, helmets are required by rule to be worn by the batter when he is hitting. Helmets are made of a highly durable, shock absorbent outer shell with soft interior padding for comfort. Other advances were demonstrated by the change in pitching style and technique. The first pitchers threw two kinds of pitches: a high pitch and a low pitch. Then, they added outside and inside pitches. After that, change ups and fastballs were developed. Now, sliders, sinkers, curveballs, forkballs, screwballs, and knuckleballs are routine pitches.

As a result of today’s pitchers like Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux – who throw less hittable pitches – hitting techniques have been worked on, and players have become better hitters. For example, the first great hitters such as Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle would not be able to compete with Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds – the best batters of today. The advancements in technology and style have completely changed the way baseball is played, as have the many changes that were made to the rulebook.

Since its early beginning in the mid 1800’s through 1975, baseball has developed and modified many old rules into new rules that keep the game flowing. In 1889, a rule was introduced that if four balls were thrown during the span of one player’s at-bat, the player was allowed to “walk” to first base. This was an immense change from the old rule, which stated that if nine pitches total were thrown during the at-bat, the hitter would “walk” to first base. Also that year, the batter could be thrown only three strikes before he was called out. In 1969, a standard strike zone was added that included the area from the batter’s armpits to the top of his knees.

These three rules eliminated the lengthy at bats that slowed down the game, standardized play, and made less room for controversial called strikes or balls. Not only were changes made in the playing rules, there were also many changes in the equipment rules. In 1889, the catcher was allowed to wear a padded leather mitt and a chest protector. This rule made being the catcher more bearable. By 1893, bat size and shape was enforced, and in 1975, the last change was made; the baseball could be covered with cowhide because of the shortage of horses. Because of the plethora of changes that were made to the rulebook, baseball today contrasts baseball in the 1800’s.

The most explicit cause of the changes in baseball is the amount of commercialization that occurs today. The professional baseball players of today are shown on TV and in newspapers; their replica jerseys are sold at around $70 per item; and the players make an average of $600,000 per year. Compared to the absence of salary until the 1920’s, this is a major difference. In 1922, Babe Ruth made $50,000 in 1989, Kirby Puckett made $3,000,000 and in 2000, Alex Rodriguez made $27,000,000. Many players of today play for money, not for their love of the game like they used to. This shows that baseball is no longer a game, but a job. Another change is the publicity baseball receives. Stadiums today can hold as many as 62,409
people (Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia).

The first ball parks did not even have a place for spectators to watch. Not only do professional stadiums attract viewers, but they attract salesmen and the media. For example, Hormel® does not provide 7th inning stretch entertainment to show their support for baseball; they do it simply to advertise to a very large crowd for a very small price. Baseball today has grown rapidly into a target for cheap advertising and money-making. With the emphasis and importance of baseball on Americans’ lives today, it has rapidly grown into America’s favorite pastime.

Through technological and technique advancements, rule alterations, and the commercialization of the game, baseball has changed greatly from the unorganized backyard game into America’s favorite pastime. “I think Little League Baseball is wonderful. It keeps the kids out of the house.” (Yogi Berra, 1954)

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