Major League Baseball (MLB) represents the oldest and most popular of all the four major American sports. The sport is now contested by a total of 30 teams playing in the two leagues, the American League (AL) and National League (NL), with 15 teams in each league. The AL and NL operated as separate legal entities from 1901 and 1876 respectively. At one time rival organisation, the two leagues are now under the joint administration of the Commissioner of Baseball.
Baseball's first professional team was founded in Cincinnati in 1869 but the sport’s popularity rose after World War 1 in the 1920s, and survived potential downturns during the Great Depression and World War II. Shortly after the war, baseball's color barrier was broken by Jackie Robinson.
Today, MLB is composed of thirty teams: twenty-nine in the United States and one in Canada. Teams play 162 games each season and five teams in each league advance to a four-round postseason tournament that culminates in the World Series, a best-of-seven championship series between the two league champions that dates to 1903. MLB has the highest season attendance of any sports league in the world with more than 74 million spectators in 2013.
The two leagues play under the same rules with one significant exception: the designated hitter rule adopted by the American League in 1973 which allows teams to have one player, known as the designated hitter (abbreviated DH), to bat in place of the pitcher. Since 1973, most collegiate, amateur, and professional leagues have adopted the rule or some variant. By contrast the National League does not use a designated hitter.
The greatest teams in the history can be judged by the number of World Series victories they have accumulated, as well as their winner’s pennants from their respective leagues. By this calculation the top team would be the New York Yankees with 27 World Championships and 40 Pennants followed by the St Louis Cardinals (11 World Championships and 19 Pennants) and the San Francisco Giants (8 World Series titles and 23 Pennants).
Let’s now look at some of the iconic names that have made baseball a household topic of conversation, not to mention the water coolers in the office, over the past century and more. Babe Ruth played from 1914-1935; a left-handed pitcher and outfielder, he was also a great slugger who hit the first ever home run in Yankee Stadium. He led the Yankees to seven AL pennants and four World Series crowns.
Centrefielder Willie Mays was regarded as one of the best all-round players in baseball history. The two-time NL MVP hit 660 homers during his career, and is fourth on the all-time home run list.
A more recent celebrated name is leftfielder Barry Bonds who in the words of one veteran baseball commentator “the game's most electrifying player and feared hitter” who holds the record of the most home runs in a single season - 73 and the most in his career - 762. Bonds name was tarnished due to allegation of steroid usage.
Other heroes of the game were: Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, CY Young, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddox, Derek Jeter and Hank Aaron.
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