Baseball is a field sport played between two teams. The sport is very popular in the United States, Japan, and elsewhere throughout the world. It has also been a popular theme in anime and manga for more than 50 years.
Baseball is a field sport played between two teams. One team plays defense, fielding nine players to play the various positions on the field. The second team plays offense, sending a single player to bat. The pitcher pitches the ball to the batter while the batter attempts to hit the ball with his bat. If he is successful in putting the ball in play, the batter can run to first base. The batter can advance farther, but risks committing an out. In order to score, a batter must successfully reach base and advance until reaching home plate.
A typical game lasts for 9 innings, with each inning consisting of two halves. A half of an inning is over once one side commits 3 outs. If a side commits 3 outs, the teams change roles for the next half inning. If the teams are tied after 9 innings, the game can result in a tie or continue into more innings, depending on the rules being used in the game.
Like most sports, the definitive origin of baseball is unknown. It is generally accepted that baseball is closely related to Rounders, a game popular with early British and Irish immigrants to America. The game would change and evolve after being brought to America in the 18 century, eventually becoming a distinct game. Countless variations of the sport would appear throughout the eastern United States over the next century.
While the roots of baseball extend back many centuries, the foundation of modern baseball occurred in 1845. It was then that Alexander Cartwright established the first codified rules for the sport of baseball. Known as the Knickerbocker Rules, named after New York’s Knickerbocker Club, these rules were the first to establish a consistent and comprehensive rule set for baseball. While many of these rules are no longer observed during a modern baseball game, they developed the foundation that would spawn what is currently recognized as baseball.
The first official game played under these codified rules occurred on June 19, 1846 in Hoboken, New Jersey. The New York Nine won the game after four innings. Rather than lasting nine innings, as is the rule in modern baseball, the Nine won after scoring the required 21 runs as specified in the Knickerbocker Rules.
By the middle of the 19 century the popularity of baseball had risen dramatically. In 1867 the first professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was established. While only lasting for four seasons, the Red Stockings paved the way for subsequent professional baseball teams and the creation of the first professional league.
In 1876 the National League was formed. While not the first professional baseball league, the highly structured National League would thrive and continues to exist to this day. In 1901, the National League would face competition from the newly formed American League. By 1903 the two leagues began to meet in a championship game known as the World Series, effectively creating the modern Major League Baseball institution. The partnership would be further cemented by the creation of the position of Commissioner, which would oversee both leagues. The two leagues would continue to exist as separate entities until finally merging in 2000.
Today, professional baseball exists throughout the world. The sport is widely played in North America, Japan, Central America, and the Caribbean. In addition, the sport has found a burgeoning popularity in China, Russia, South Korea, the Netherlands, and other nations across the globe. What was once just a casual game played by British and Irish immigrants has blossomed into a popular and lucrative pastime throughout the world.
Known as 野球 (yakyuu) in Japanese, baseball was first introduced to Japan in 1872. American scholar and educator Horace Wilson introduced the sport as a method to promote exercise and activity in his students. Wilson was posthumously elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame for his efforts in introducing the sport.
While the first Japanese team was established in 1878 by Hiroshi Hiraoka, baseball reached a higher level of prominence in 1886. It was in that year that Ichiko, now part of Tokyo University, established a baseball program and began playing throughout the country. Despite racism from local international teams and a few humiliating defeats, the team persevered and prospered.
In 1896 Ichiko played the Yokohama Athletic Club, a team composed largely of American sailors. Ichiko was victorious, winning 29 to 4, in the first international baseball game in Asia. This victory convinced other universities to establish their own baseball programs. Waseda and Keio soon created their own teams and established a fierce rivalry that continues to this day.
The blossoming interest in baseball in Japan was further supported by numerous American players and teams. Professional baseball players Herb Hunter and Lefty O’Doul both worked to spread baseball throughout the nation. They gathered American all-stars, such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and other prominent players, and toured Japan. The American all-stars easily defeated the inexperienced Japanese teams.
Despite the losses, the all-star tours helped to foster the popularity of the sport and interest grew. Players, such as Eiji Sawamura, would become instant celebrities due to their performances. Sawamura, a 17 year old high school player, stuck out Major League Hall of Famers Charlie Gehringer, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx in order during a 1-0 loss. So impressed by Sawamura’s performance, American manager Connie Mack offered him a contract to play in America. He turned down the offer in order to remain in Japan and would become a national hero. To this day, the award given to the best pitcher each season is named after Sawamura.
The first professional baseball league in Japan was established in 1920. During the early years, many professional leagues were created and dissolved. By 1934 the Japanese Baseball League was formed. This league would continue until 1950, when it would be renamed to Nippon Professional Baseball, the current and longest lasting league in Japan. Colloquially it is often called プロ野球 (puro yakyuu).
While Japanese baseball was far behind American baseball during the early part of the 20 century, the gap has narrowed considerably. Today, there are numerous Japanese players throughout Major League Baseball, including many that have won prestigious awards such as the rookie of the year, golden glove, and silver slugger. In addition, Japan was the winner of the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic, beating all-star teams from the United States, Cuba, South Korea, and other nations around the world.
Appreciation for Japanese baseball grew considerably as Japanese players began to appear in the MLB. While the first Japanese player, Masanori Murakami, debuted in 1964, the feat would not be repeated until 1995. It was in that year that Hideo Nomo would become the second Japanese player to appear in a major league game. Nomo surprised all of baseball with his performance, earning the National League Rookie of the Year honors and an all-star nod in his first season. Before his career was over, he would lead the league in strikeouts twice and throw two no-hitters. This would open to the doors to subsequent Japanese players.
Japanese baseball players overcame another hurdle in 2001. It was in that year that Ichiro Suzuki became the first Japanese position player to play in the major leagues. Before that, many doubted that Japanese players could handle the more physical American game. Ichiro proved that he was more than capable. Since 2001, he has earned an American League Rookie of the Year, AL MVP, and has earned a Golden Glove and all-star nod in each season he has played. In addition to these accolades, he has led the league in hitting seven times; including setting the all-time single season hits record with 262 hits in 2004.
The Koshien tournament is the name of two different baseball tournaments held in Japan every year. The original Koshien tournament was established in 1915, almost 20 years before the formation of the first professional league in Japan. Known as the Summer Koshien or Summer Tournament, this long-running event features the best high school baseball teams from around the nation.
The Summer Koshien tournament is a single elimination tournament consisting of 49 teams. This includes one team from each prefecture and two from Tokyo and Hokkaido. The teams are initially chosen in regional tournaments in the months before the Koshien Tournament begins.
For two weeks the teams play in Hanshin Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya City in Hyogo Prefecture. The matchups and byes are determined by a lottery system before the start of the tournament. Depending on whether the team earns a bye or not, the winner of the tournament will have to win either five or six straight games to secure the championship.
In 1924 a second Koshien Tournament was established. This tournament is known as the Spring Koshien or Invitational Tournament. Much like the Summer Koshien, this tournament is held in Hanshin Koshien Stadium in Hyogo Prefecture.
Unlike the Summer Koshien, the Spring Koshien is an invitational tournament, meaning that schools that did not win their region can still be invited to attend. This 32 team tournament is conducted in much the same manner as the Summer Koshien tournament.
It is possible for a team to win both the spring and summer tournaments in one season. Known as 春夏連続優 勝 (haru natsu renzoku yuusho), or Spring and Summer consecutive victories, the feat has only occurred 6 times since 1924. The most recent school to accomplish this was Konan high school from Okinawa in 2010.
Despite being only a high school event, the Koshien tournaments are quite popular throughout Japan. The games are broadcast on national television and many young players, such as current Major League pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, have made a name for themselves long before reaching the professional level.
For most third-year players, the Koshien Tournament is the last time they will play baseball. Because of this, the final game a team plays in the tournament is highly emotional. Many players will take a small amount of dirt from the field as a reminder of their experiences at the tournament.
Baseball has a long history of representation through the mediums of manga and anime. The popularity of the sport in Japan, the action of the game, the intense rivalries that form, and the close bonds that can form between teammates has made baseball manga and anime very popular throughout the years.
The first baseball themed anime series, 巨人の星 (kyojin no hoshi), or Star of the Giants, debuted in 1968. Based on the similarly titled manga by Ikki Kajiwara, Star of the Giants focuses on the journey of Hyuumi Hoshi. The son for a former professional baseball player, Hoshi sets his sights on becoming the star player for the Giants, Japan’s premiere baseball team. The manga lasted for 19 volumes and the anime consists of almost 200 episodes.
The most prolific baseball mangaka is certainly Mitsuru Adachi from Gunma Prefecture. He has created more than 10 long running manga series, including many that feature baseball in a prominent role. His most famous series, Touch, includes a 26 volume manga, and multiple anime series, movies and OAVs. Touch tells the story of Tatsuya Uesugi as he struggles to help his high school baseball team reach Koshien after his brother’s untimely death.
Baseball themed anime and manga continue to be popular today. Franchises such as Big Windup (Ookiku Furikabutte), which details the trials and tribulations of a newly formed high school team as they try to reach Koshien, and Taisho Baseball Girls (Taishou Yakyuu Musume), which follows an all-girl team during Taisho era Japan, have become quite popular in Japan and around the world.
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