Alex Rodriguez batting in 2007
|Men's national team;
Women's national team
Baseball in the United States is one of the most popular sports for both participants and spectators. The highest level of baseball in the U.S. is Major League Baseball. The World Series of Major League Baseball is the culmination of the sport's postseason each October. It is played between the winner of each of the two leagues, the American League and the National League, and the winner is determined through a best-of-seven playoff.
As baseball developed over 150 years ago in the northeast, it has been played and followed in the region longer than in others.
An extensive minor league baseball system covers most mid-sized cities in the United States. Minor league baseball teams are organized in a six-tier hierarchy, in which the highest teams (AAA) are in major cities that do not have a major league team but often have a major team in another sport, and each level occupies progressively smaller cities. The lowest levels of professional baseball serve primarily as development systems for the sport's most inexperienced prospects, with the absolute bottom, the rookie leagues, occupying the major league squads' spring training complexes and making no effort to earn money on their own.
Some limited independent professional baseball exists, the most prominent being the Atlantic League, which occupies mostly suburban locales that are not eligible for high level minor league teams of their own. Outside the minor leagues are collegiate summer baseball leagues, which occupy towns even smaller than those at the lower end of minor league baseball and typically cannot support professional sports. Summer baseball is an amateur exercise and uses players that choose not to play for payment in order to remain eligible to play college baseball for their respective universities in the spring. At the absolute lowest end of the organized baseball system is senior amateur baseball (also known as Town Team Baseball), which typically plays its games only on weekends.
Major League Baseball (MLB) is a professional baseball organization that is the oldest of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada. A total of 30 teams now play in 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. After cooperating but remaining legally separate entities since 1903, in 2000 the leagues merged into a single organization led by the Commissioner of Baseball. The organization also oversees minor league baseball leagues, which comprise about 240 teams affiliated with the major-league clubs. With the World Baseball Softball Confederation, MLB manages the international World Baseball Classic tournament.
Baseball's first professional team was founded in Cincinnati in 1869. The first few decades of professional baseball were characterized by rivalries between leagues and by players who often jumped from one team or league to another. The period before 1920 in baseball was known as the dead-ball era; players rarely hit home runs during this time. Baseball survived a conspiracy to fix the 1919 World Series, which came to be known as the Black Sox Scandal. The sport rose in popularity 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.
New York City is for many sports fans synonymous with the New York Yankees and their logo. The team is noted as having been the team of many of the all-time greats in the history of the game, and for having won more titles than any other US major professional sports franchise. The city was also host to two other highly popular baseball teams in the National League, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants, before their transfer to California beginning with the 1958 season. The Yankees' chief rivals, the Boston Red Sox, also enjoy a huge following in Boston and throughout New England. The fierce National League rivalry between the former Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants was transferred to the West Coast when the teams became the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants, and California has always been among the US states which have supplied the most players in the major leagues. Philadelphia sports fans have rooted for the Phillies since 1883, as they are the oldest continuous, one-name, one-city franchise in all of professional American sports. Philadelphia Phillies fans are known for their rabid support of their team throughout Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, and have famously been dubbed as the "Meanest Fans in America".Chicago sports fans also avidly follow the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox despite the comparative lack of success for the teams over their histories.
The 1950s and 1960s were a time of expansion for the AL and NL, then new stadiums and artificial turf surfaces began to change the game in the 1970s and 1980s. Home runs dominated the game during the 1990s, and media reports began to discuss the use of anabolic steroids among Major League players in the mid-2000s. In 2006, an investigation produced the Mitchell Report, which implicated many players in the use of performance-enhancing substances, including at least one player from each team.
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. Baseball broadcasts are aired throughout North America and in several other countries throughout the world. Games are aired on television, radio, and the Internet. MLB has the highest season attendance of any sports league in the world with more than 74 million spectators in 2013.
Minor League Baseball is a hierarchy of professional baseball leagues in the Americas that compete at levels below Major League Baseball (MLB) and provide opportunities for player development and a way to prepare for the major leagues. All of the minor leagues are operated as independent businesses. Most are members of the umbrella organization known as Minor League Baseball (MiLB), which operates under the Commissioner of Baseball within the scope of organized baseball. Several leagues, known as independent baseball leagues, do not have any official links to Major League Baseball.
Except for the Mexican League, teams in the organized minor leagues are generally independently owned and operated but are directly affiliated with one major league team through a standardized Player Development Contract (PDC). These leagues also go by the nicknames the "farm system", "farm club", or "farm team(s)" because of a joke passed around by major league players in the 1930s when St. Louis Cardinals' general manager Branch Rickey formalized the system, and teams in small towns were "growing players down on the farm like corn."
Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball teams may enter into a PDC for a two- or four-year term. At the expiration of a PDC term, teams may renew their affiliation, or sign new PDCs with different clubs, though many relationships are renewed and endure for extended time periods. For example, the Omaha Storm Chasers (formerly the Omaha Royals) have been the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals since the Royals joined the American League in 1969, but the Columbus Clippers changed affiliations, after being associated with the New York Yankees from 1979, to the Washington Nationals in 2007 and have been affiliated with the Cleveland Indians since 2009.
A few minor league teams are directly owned by their major league parent club, such as the Springfield Cardinals, owned by the St. Louis Cardinals, and all of the Atlanta Braves' affiliates except the Carolina Mudcats. Minor League teams that are owned directly by the major league Club do not have PDCs with each other and are not part of the reaffiliation shuffles that occur every other year.
Today, 19 affiliated minor baseball leagues operate with 246 member clubs in large, medium, and small towns, as well as the suburbs of major cities, across the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela. Several more independent leagues operate in the United States and Canada.
College baseball is played on the intercollegiate level at institutions of higher education. In comparison to football and basketball, college competition in the United States plays a smaller role in developing professional players, as baseball's professional minor leagues are more extensive. Moving directly from high school to the professional level is more common in baseball than in football or basketball. However, if players enroll at a four-year college, they must complete three years to regain eligibility, unless they reach age 21 before starting their third year of attendance. Players who enroll at junior colleges (i.e., two-year institutions) regain eligibility after one year at that level, Bryce Harper being a notable example. In 2013, there are 298 NCAA Division I teams in the United States.
As with most other U.S. intercollegiate sports, competitive college baseball is played under the auspices of the NCAA or the NAIA. The NCAA writes the rules of play, while each sanctioning body supervises season-ending tournaments. The final rounds of the NCAA tournaments are known as the College World Series; one is held on each of the three levels of competition sanctioned by the NCAA. The College World Series for Division I takes place in Omaha, Nebraska in June, following the regular season. The playoff bracket for Division I consists of 64 teams, with four teams playing at each of 16 regional sites (in a double-elimination format). The 16 winners advance to the Super Regionals at eight sites, played head-to-head in a best-of-three series. The eight winners then advance to the College World Series, a double elimination tournament (actually two separate four-team brackets) to determine the two national finalists. The finalists play a best-of-three series to determine the Division I national champion.