When the game of baseball was played as an exhibition sport in the 1904 Summer Olympics, nobody had imagined that it would become far bigger than that. Today, more commonly known by the Americans as the ‘national pastime’, it has a fanbase of over 500 million around the globe. This brings it in the list of the top ten sports in the world. In terms of popularity, it is just behind basketball and table tennis which have a fanbase of over 800 million each.
The origins of the game of baseball are still debated. But one thing is clear that there were several types of traditional bat-and-ball games played around the 17th century. According to records, such a game which closely resembles today’s baseball was first played in England in the 18th century. It required the batter to hit the ball and run through the bases to secure runs.
It is said that the British colonists took this game to America and the game became popular there. There were different versions of the game played then. It underwent changes on a regular basis. These were about the way of pitching, the shape of the bat, rights of the batters, making of the ball, position of the umpires and many other aspects of the game. Modern baseball is a greatly altered version of the old game.
In the initial days, baseball was more for socializing and pastime. The local clubs allowed only members to play the game. However, entrepreneurs noticed that the game was a crowd puller when teams from different clubs played against each other. This probably led to the development of the professional game of baseball. And later when the game was exhibited a few times in the Summer Olympics, it became clear that it held a lot more promise.
The bat, the ball and the field
In the current format of the game, the bat can be up to 2.75 inches in diameter at the thickest part and up to 42 inches in length. It is a single piece of wood and doesn’t have a separate handle. Other than these, there are several other rules about the weight, material and other aspects of the bat.
Since the bats are made of wood, they do require proper protection from weather and other elements. They also require proper care in handling and maintenance from time to time. Bats are generally lightweight and weigh under 1 kg (36 ounces).
The diameter of the leather ball is between 7.3 cm and 7.5 cm. Two pieces of peanut shaped leather material are hand-stitched around a cork wrapped yarn. The stitching interacts with the air when the ball is pitched.
The field looks diamond shaped though it is actually a square. It has four bases – one at each of the corners. The batter stands at the home plate which is 18.30 meter away from the pitcher’s plate. The field looks diamond shaped because the batter faces the pitcher on one of the diagonals of the square.
Formed in 2013, the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) is the international governing body of baseball and softball. Riccardo Fraccari is its current president. Earlier, the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) was the governing body for baseball.
IBAF was formed in 1938 when the sport became popular and had been held as an exhibition in the Summer Olympics. Because of the second world war, it was not until 1950 that the first international competition contested by 12 countries could be organized by the federation. Leslie Mann, an American sportsman, was its first president. Before its merger with the WBSC, the federation organized several tournaments and world level events. IBAF is currently the international baseball division of the WBSC. Today, 124 baseball playing nations are part of the IBAF division.
Summer Olympics Exhibition Match
The first ever international baseball game was played in the 1904 Summer Olympics in the US. It was an exhibition series but it soon became a hit. Later in the 1936 Summer Olympics, a crowd of over 90,000 turned up in Berlin to witness a game between two teams from the US.
How is it played?
Baseball is a bat and ball game between two teams of 9 members each. The team that scores more runs wins. There is an infield and an outfield. Three players are in the outfield, four in the infield, and the remaining two are the pitcher and the catcher.
The pitcher throws the ball at the batsman. The latter tries to hit the ball and take runs by rushing through the bases. The fielders try to collect the ball at the earliest and throw it back to the first base or whichever base the batsman is running to.
There are many ways a batter can get out. Like if he misses the pitched ball thrice, or if the ball goes past a certain point behind him, or if he is attempting a run and is tagged by a fielder between the bases. Each time the pitching (defensive) team gets three outs, they get to bat.
There are 9 innings for each team to bat. The team scoring more runs by the end of the game wins.
The speed of the pitched balls. The pitched balls travel so fast, sometimes close to 100 mph, that the batter hardly gets the fraction of a second to respond. At times, it travels so fast that the viewers can hardly spot the ball reaching the catcher.
The umpire standing right behind the catcher is a bizarre sight for the first time viewers. Some even mistake them for a player. The position allows the umpire to observe the ball closely. Considering that the pitched balls travel pretty fast, the umpires do a great job in taking ‘on the spot’ decisions.
Top baseball players earn tens of millions of dollars (annually) and are among the top paid sportsmen in the world.
Pitchers threw the ball underhand until the late nineteenth century. The overhand delivery was introduced later only.
Baseball was dropped from the 2012 Olympics by the International Olympics committee (IOC).
The crouching of the catcher close behind the batter became a standard in the 20th century. Before that, the catcher used to stand a few feet away from the batter.
Top countries by ranking
On the basis of the points scored in world cups, eighty-six national teams were ranked in March 2020. In the men’s rankings, Japan was leading the tally with the US and South Korea at second and third positions.
In the women’s category, again Japan was leading. Canada and Chinese Taipei followed at second and third positions. The points for men’s rankings were calculated according to the last two world cups while for the women’s rankings, the points were calculated according to the last three world cups.