In a baseball scoreboards feature, we look at the history of baseball in the UK.
Baseball, like many popular sports of today, originated in England. The first mention of it was in 1755, when it was called “base ball.” it was a long time after that though before it became a codified sport. The traditional game of British baseball is played to this day in Wales and North-west England, but only on an amateur level and without any significant spectator participation. A small legion of viewers of Major League Baseball in America watch the British version of the sport through telecasts.
Whilst the game can be considered to have been invented in the UK, it was adopted and made into the game it is today in the US. The international version of the game was brought back from the US by Francis Ley from Derby. He had traveled around the US and on his trip had “discovered” the new version of the game. Shortly after, the Derby County Baseball Club appeared, and in 1890 it won with ease the first season of the National League of the UK. Somewhat predictably, the team managed this by recruiting a number of top American players to its ranks. However, in the subsequent season some of the other teams in the league revolted and as a consequence Derby had to quit the league.
Baseball has never had a following in the UK like it enjoys in the US, but its golden years were those proceeding World War 2. Partly this was due to the success of the national team shortly before the war: in 1938, with the baseball scoreboards showing that they beat the Americans to win the Baseball World Cup. Amazingly, in the mid 40’s, some baseball teams were nearly on par with football teams in terms of popularity. In Derby, the baseball team shared the stadium with the football team, and the professional team attracted up to 10,000 fans for each game.
Currently the BBF runs the game of baseball in the UK, and more than 40 teams with 900 players that across the whole country are members of it. Gone are the days though of large audiences and widespread interest in the game in the UK. It never quite reached the tipping point in terms of coverage and interest that was required to keep the game developing for successive generations. For one reason or another (probably more than anything due to tradition), cricket became the predominant bat and ball game in the country, whilst baseball turned into an amateur game played purely for enjoyment sakes. When it’s put like that though, perhaps it is not so bad! So many professional sports nowadays have just gone crazy in terms of commercialism and the sums of money involved.
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