History of Major League Baseball: 1869 to Today

Jan 07, 2024

a Major League Baseball player sliding

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Every sports fan should know a few highlights of the history of major league baseball. The MLB is one of the most important professional sports leagues in the world (and one of the oldest). Its history dates back to the mid-1800s as a gentlemen’s game, but it has changed a lot since then. 

1869: First Professional Baseball Game

The history of Major League Baseball began in 1869 when the Cincinnati Red Stockings announced the first-ever fully professional baseball team. They played their first game on May 4, 1869, beginning the era of pro baseball. Before this, baseball was mainly an amateur sport that young men played for fun. 

Most players were from wealthier families who could afford to spend time on recreational sports rather than work. However, there were some professional players before 1869. However, signing pro players was usually kept discrete. That is, until the Cincinnati Red Stockings announced their 1869 team. 

1876: The National League

Founded in 1876, the National League is the world’s oldest ongoing professional sports league. There were other associations and attempts at forming a league prior to this, but the National League was the first to build a club or team-based system. It went on to become one of the two leagues that formed Major League Baseball and still exists today. 

The first National League game was on April 22, 1876 at Jefferson Park in Philadelphia, where Boston beat Philadelphia 6 to 5. Many people consider this game the official birth of Major League Baseball. 

1901: The American League

Another pivotal moment in the history of Major League Baseball occurred in 1901 when the American League was formed. This league also still exists today and forms the MLB along with the National League. 

The AL grew out of a minor league in the midwest. Both leagues include teams from across the country. For example, New York at one point had a team in each league with the Yankees playing in the American League and the Giants in the National League (not to be confused with the modern New York Giants football team). 

Only two years after the formation of the American League, pro baseball hit another milestone with the first ever World Series in 1903. The champion of each of the two major leagues faced off against one another. In 1903, it was the Pittsburgh Pirates for the National League against the Boston Red Sox for the American League (Boston won). 

1933: First MLB All-Star Game

Over the next thirty years, the National League and American League both thrived. Only one World Series was called off, in 1904 when the New York Giants refused to play the Boston Red Sox. With the exception of the 1994 players’ strike, this was the only year the World Series was not held since 1903. 

In 1933, the first-ever major league All-Star game was played. The top players from the American League and National League faced off against each other on July 6 at Comiskey Park in Chicago. The game was held as part of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair but continued each year afterward. 

In fact, there are only two years when there was no MLB All-Star game: 1945 and 2020. In 1945, the game was canceled due to WWII and in 2020 it was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which halted virtually all professional sports. 

1943: The All-American Girls Professional League

The 1940s were a turbulent era in the history of Major League Baseball due to WWII, which called away many young men to fight. Professional athletes were no exception. President Roosevelt did allow major league baseball to continue operating during the war, but there was some concern the sport would suffer with so many potential players serving in the military. 

So, a women’s professional baseball was formed. Known as the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League or AAGPBL, this league ran from 1943 to 1954 and included players from the U.S., Cuba and Canada. Despite initial criticism, the league ended up being a huge success, drawing millions of fans. It eventually did decline with the rise of televised men’s professional baseball games, though. 

The story of the AAGPBL has gotten multiple screen adaptations including a 1992 film starring Tom Hanks, A League of Their Own. Amazon also revived the story as a streaming series under the same name in 2022. 

Jackie Robinson in the 1950 biographical film The Jackie Robinson Story

1947: Jackie Robinson Breaks the Color Barrier

One of the most important moments in the history of major league baseball was in 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson was the first Black man to play on a major league team. He faced overwhelming opposition from baseball fans, league leaders, other players and even his own teammates. 

Robinson persevered, though, and showed everyone that he deserved his place in the top tier of baseball. He opened the door for other talented players of color to join major league teams, as well. Just a few months after Robinson played his first game, another Black player, Larry Doby, broke the color barrier on the Cleveland Indians. 

Ever since 1947, major league baseball has been an integrated sport that no longer bars players based on their race. 

1958: MLB Expansion Era

The second half of the 20th century is known as the “expansion era.” This period in the history of major league baseball saw consistent and significant growth in the sport with new teams joining from all over the country. Televised baseball helped the sport’s fan base grow exponentially, as well, and created new revenue streams for the teams. 

This era also saw the rise of more scientific analyses of baseball. For example, physicists and doctors began studying the mechanics of pitching. New algorithms were developed for measuring and analyzing players’ statistics, as well. The role of statistics in baseball is famously displayed in the film Moneyball, now a sports classic. The film stars Brad Pitt as the now-legendary manager of the Oakland As, Billy Beane. 

Modern Professional Baseball

Baseball has come a long way since its origins as an amateur gentlemen’s sport. Today the MLB includes 30 teams across two leagues. Each team draws millions of fans to stadiums every year. Some of America’s professional baseball teams are among the oldest existent professional sports teams in the entire world. Modern medicine and new technologies for analyzing sports performance are sure to bring exciting new innovations to “America’s national pastime.”

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Jack Shaw is a senior writer at Modded. Jack is an avid enthusiast for keeping up with personal health and enjoying nature. He has over five years of experience writing in the men's lifestyle niche, and has written extensively on topics of fitness, exploring the outdoors and men's interests. His writings have been featured in SportsEd TV, Love Inc., and Offroad Xtreme among many more publications.