Did You Know? – History of Baseball & Opening Day

Joann Wolwowicz

The origins of baseball have been the subject of debate for more than a century. The sport, as well as the modern bat, ball and running games, and cricket and rounders were developed from earlier folk games. The roots of baseball are English, but similar games have also been played in other parts of the world. Americans played a version of the English game rounders in the early 1800’s which they called “Town Ball.” Early forms of baseball had a variety of names, including “Base Ball,” “Goal Ball,” “Round Ball,” and “Base.” One version of the game involved teams pitching to themselves and runners went around the bases in the opposite direction of today’s game play. A batter was called out after three strikes as it is today.

Evolution of the game that became modern baseball is unknown before 1845. The Knickerbocker Rules describe a game that they had been playing for some time. In 1845, the Knickerbocker Club of New York City began using Elysian Fields in Hoboken to play baseball due to the lack of soft grounds on Manhattan. In 1846, the Knickerbockers played the New York Nine on these grounds in the first organized game between two clubs. A plaque and baseball diamond street paving’s at 11th and Washington Streets commemorate the event. By the 1850s, several Manhattan-based members of the National Association of Base Ball Players were using the grounds as their home field. In 1865 the grounds hosted a championship match between the Mutual Club of New York and the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn that was attended by an estimated 20,000 fans and captured in the Currier & Ives lithograph “The American National Game of Base Ball.”

In 1857, sixteen clubs from modern New York City sent delegates to a convention that standardized the rules, essentially by agreeing to revise the Knickerbocker rules. In 1858, twenty-five including one from New Jersey founded the first official association, but the National Association of Base Ball Players is conventionally dated to have formed in 1857. It governed through 1870 but it scheduled and sanctioned no games. In 1869 the first openly professional baseball team formed. Earlier players were nominally amateurs. The Cincinnati Red Stockings recruited nationally and effectively, toured nationally, and no one beat them until June 1870.

Opening Day is the beginning of a new Major League Baseball season. It falls around the beginning of April. Prior to Opening Day, the teams’ managers have to decide the starting pitchers for the Opening Day game. This spot is usually given to the teams’ ace pitchers, and is usually considered an honor for a pitcher to start on Opening Day. In turn, the pitchers who start on Opening Day are usually recognized throughout the baseball world as their teams’ best starting pitchers. Here are some baseball opening day fun facts.

On Opening Day in 1907, the New York Giants faced off against the Phillies at New York City’s Polo Grounds after a heavy snowstorm. When the Giants fell behind, disgruntled fans began flinging snowballs onto the field, forcing the umpire to call a forfeit in the Phillies’ favor.

On the first day of the 1910 season, William Howard Taft became the first president to throw the ceremonial first pitch. Since then, every president besides Jimmy Carter has thrown at least one ceremonial first ball for Opening Day, the All-Star Game, or the World Series.

There has only been one no-hitter in Opening Day history. Cleveland pitcher Bob Feller, then just 21 years old, threw it against the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park on April 16, 1940.

Boston Braves fans sat down to an unpleasant surprise on Opening Day in 1946. The outfield stands had recently received a fresh coat of red paint, but cold, damp weather had prevented it from drying. Hundreds of angry, paint-stained spectators marched to the Braves’ offices. The team agreed to pay their cleaning bills and made a public apology in a newspaper advertisement.

Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier on Opening Day in 1947, becoming the first African American to play for a Major League team. The 28-year-old made his debut at Ebbets Field, playing first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Hall of Famer Tom Seaver has started the most Opening Day games in history—11 for the Mets, three for the Reds and two for the White Sox.

I hope that everyone enjoys this year’s baseball season and now that you all know a little bit about the history of this American pastime, you can fully enjoy each and every game these coming weeks.