How Baseball's American League Works

Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees walks to the dugout after an inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. See more sports pictures.
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Let's put an end to this popular myth right now: Abner Doubleday did not invent baseball. It's a nice story, but the West Point graduate, who found himself at Fort Sumter when the Civil War began and at Gettysburg two years later, had nothing to do with the game.

According to legend, Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1839. Cooperstown, which is home to Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame, is a Currier-and-Ives-sort of community on Otsego Lake. Most baseball historians dismiss the story as fantasy, and Doubleday never asserted that he invented the game. Rather, a baseball panel in 1908 made that unfounded claim.

What isn't a legend is the popularity of game itself. During the Civil War (1861-1865), soldiers played baseball in camp when they weren't fighting. Ballplayers not on the battlefield were often being paid to play in cities such as Cincinnati.

The game that we know today got its start in 1876 when eight teams formed the National League. Five years later, the rival American Association was formed. At the time, the American Association was much weaker than the National League because many of the best American Association players would eventually jump to play for National League teams.

As the American Association grew weaker, the National League grew stronger. Seven years after its formation, eight American Association teams crossed into the National League. Four of those teams are still in existence: the Cardinals, Pirates, Dodgers and Reds. Finally, after 10 years, the American Association disbanded [source: Bendix].

In its place came the eight-team American League. The Baltimore Orioles, Boston Americans, Chicago White Stockings, Cleveland Blues, Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Athletics and Washington Senators were the original members of the American League [source: Bendix].

The National League was a bit vexed at the upstart American League. The new league was honing in on the National League's monopoly. There wasn't much the NL could do. In 1903, the two leagues agreed that each would be a major league and the league champions would play each other in what we now know as the World Series.

It didn't take long for a fierce rivalry between the National and American leagues to form. The fans loved it. The players loved it. In 1903, the champions of both leagues met in the first World Series, which was won by the American League's Boston Red Sox [source: Bendix].