One of the four major professional sports in the USA, similar to AFL and NRL in Australia, Major League Baseball (MLB) lies at the heart of the American sporting psyche, deeply embedded in American culture on many levels.
Known as “America’s national pastime”, the first known reference to baseball comes out of Pittsfield Massachusetts at the turn of the eighteenth century where a town law was brought down prohibiting the playing of said game near the town’s meeting house. Over fifty years later towards the middle of the century a national competition coalesced, and in 1876 the very early beginnings of a national league formed in the shape of the National Association (NA), the National League (NL) and other rival leagues that came and went such as the American Association. This period was characterised by intense rivalries between the leagues (with players switching regularly between them), a major game-throwing incident (the Black Sox Scandal of 1919), the Great Depression and several wars.
From the other end of this emerged a game of ever-growing popularity among Americans, with the NA and NL thriving and expanding through the 50s, 60s and beyond such that MLB has become the sporting league internationally with the highest spectator attendance rates.
Today, MLB is composed of thirty teams: twenty-nine in the United States and one in Canada. Similar to the other three major professional sports in America, each League is broken down into divisions.
The American League consists of:
- East – Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankee, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays
- Central – Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers Park, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins
- West – Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers.
The National League comprises:
- East- Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals
- Central – Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Louis Cardinals
- West – Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants.
The MLB regular season begins on the first Sunday in April and consists of 162 games per team, ending on the first Sunday in October. Each team’s schedule is organised typically into three-game series, with occasional two- or four-game series played both at the team’s home-stand and on the road. Unlike many other sports, the MLB workload is huge, with teams generally playing games five to seven days per week, most often scheduled at night or on Sunday afternoons. Over the course of a season, teams compete for one of five play-off berths in their league. They can attain one of these berths by either winning their division or by taking a wild card spot. These five teams then advance to a four-round post-season tournament culminating in a best-of-seven championship series between the two League champions.
And that championship is the jewel of the MLB crown – the famous ‘World Series’.
Early on, organisers hoped the game would become international, spreading to countries like Australia and the UK, hence the title ‘World Series’. Despite such not occurring, the name stuck and it is now synonymous with greatness in both baseball and sport more generally. Played since 1903 between the AL and NL League champions, over one hundred World Series have been contested, with the AL ahead of the NL by nearly 20 Series. The winner of the World Series championship is determined through a best-of-seven playoff and the winning team is awarded the Commissioner’s Trophy.
To date, the world-renowned New York Yankees hold the record for most World Series played (40) and won (27), with the nearest team being the St Louis Cardinals, which have 19 appearances and 11 wins to their credit. Sadly for Seattle and Washington, the Mariners and Nationals wallow at the bottom with neither wins nor appearances as yet, although both sides were late additions to the MLB, joining the Leagues after 1960. Of interesting historical note is that of the 14 sides that joined the MLB after 1960, only six sides have won World Series (nine times), with the New York Mets the most successful at four appearances and two wins.
As with most other professional sports, MLB betting occurs throughout the entire season, with a particular focus on money-lines, five-Inning lines and overs/unders. Plus, of course, there is massive interest in World Series betting with a plethora of different Baseball betting markets available on every game.
MLB is a mandatory slice of American sporting culture for any sports fan and is about American as a chilli dog with fries! No doubt both it and the World Series will continue to wow both baseball fans and sporting fans the world over.