Founded in 1903, Major League Baseball (MLB) is an organization that operates baseball leagues in the United States and Canada. There are a total of 30 teams that come under the league, of which 29 are from the States, while one is from Canada. Fifteen of these teams play for the National League and fifteen for the American League. These two leagues operated separately until 2000, which was when they were merged to bring everything under one umbrella. These league teams play a whopping 162 games every season. This is followed by a tournament to which only five teams from each league advance, eventually going to the World Series. This is a traditional clash of the leagues that has been part of the baseball tradition since 1903. MLB is also responsible for overseeing minor league baseball, World Baseball Softball Confederation, and also the World Baseball Classic Tournament.
The MLB Constitution is the mother document followed by the league. The document is not absolute and is amended as times change to suit the requirements of the game. The Commissioner of Baseball is the supreme authority of the league. He is the one that steers the organization and has the final word on selecting umpires, negotiating television deals, formulating marketing strategies, drawing terms for the labor contracts, and so on. The organizational chart for MLB has of course the Commissioner at the top, followed by six VPs taking care of different verticals like finance, human resources, baseball development, labor relations, and so on. MLB comes from a long history of iterations over the years in order to make an organization that can oversee a game such as baseball.
Baseball is an iconic game that is closely interwoven into the cultural thread of America. Though the game had been around for quite a while, the first team to professionally play the sport was formed in 1869 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Despite the game being played professionally, there was still a certain degree of instability in the structure of leagues and teams. The team compositions were volatile, with players making frequent jumps to the other teams or leagues for better and more lucrative options. 1920 really marked the beginning of a Golden era in baseball. The game just shot up in popularity and maintained it even through the Great Depression and the Second World War. The 1950s and the following decade saw an expansion in the then two separate leagues, the American League and the National League. New stadiums were built and artificial turfs were created, among other things, that made the audiences swoon over their favorite players. There has been much done and said about the game and its players in the matters of drug abuse and fixing. However, that has not deterred the masses from loving it.
Such developments happen in every field and there are supervising bodies that make sure that such events are discouraged. The need for such a body had been felt way back in the 1860s, when baseball had started gaining mass popularity. The National Association of Baseball Players was created in 1869 and was in existence for 12 years. However, in 1871, this amateur league gave way to a National Association of Professional Baseball Players and another amateur counterpart. The former came to be known as the National Association while the latter disappeared. Though it did remain in existence for another five years, it did not prove to be as effective as everyone had anticipated.
The National League of Professional Baseball Cubs or National League, was then formed in 1876 as the governing body for the game. The league was hugely biased towards clubs and put a lot of restrictions on the players in terms of moving to other clubs, popularly known as the ‘reserve clause’ that created a lot of angst in the players. The National League was also known for its coordinated efforts to avoid betting on games, which was taking away from the credibility of the games under the league. Given the history of leagues in baseball, the National League was faced with a very real danger of rival leagues that were frequently formed. Although most of the new leagues were a flash in the pan, the American League rose up to prominence in 1882 as a worthy contender to the National League.
For years to come, winners of the league matches came face to face, in what can be said as the beginning of the format of the World Series. However, heavy bidding wars would ensue after such matches that also led to many legal complications due to breach of contracts. This war between the two major leagues led to concerns among other leagues and they met in 1901 to negotiate a plan to co-exist.
The National Commission that had been appointed to manage the leagues was replaced by a much more effective Commissioner of Baseball. It was a result of the establishment of this authoritative regulator in the form of MLB that for the next six decades both the leagues had eight teams each. The expansion in the 1960s saw MLB adding eight teams to the mix. This was also the time when the first non-US team, the Montreal Expos was added to the team. Starting from 1969, each of the leagues had two divisions – East and West. A third Central Division was added only in 1994. The World Series and All-Star Play, were the only two occasions at which the two major leagues met in 1996.
In 1995, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks were brought onboard to clock in the total number of teams in MLB at 30. The Devil Rays joined the American League while the Diamondbacks went to the National League in 1997 and were to begin play in 1998. During this time, MLB was faced with an uneasy problem. The inter-league matches were a new concept and were yet to be approved by the players’ union. MLB ideally wanted 15 teams per league (and 5 teams per division), but had to maintain an even number of players in the individual league so as to not cause any intra-league disruption just in case the concept did not get approved by the union. At this point, both the leagues had 15 teams and one team would have to make the switch to allow games to be scheduled for that season. So, in November of 1997, Milwaukee Brewers agreed to move from the American League to the National League. This made the latter a 16-team league, and both leagues now had an even number of teams under them.
Though the regular interplay between the leagues was agreed to in 1997 itself, it was not until 2013 that the MBL achieved the magic figure of 15 teams each in both the leagues. This happened with Houston Astros making the switch from National to American, as a result of a change in ownership of the team.
Finally, at the turn of the millennium, the MLB became one of the four professional sports leagues with the legal merger of the National and American Leagues. From then on, it has been counted among the likes of National Hockey League, National Football League and the National Basketball Association. Following the other leagues, MBL has the same set of rules for all the teams under both the leagues, except for one. American League has to follow the rule of the designated hitter while there is no such rule for National. When you subscribe to AT&T Internet and DIRECTV you can watch the games online or on your TV or other devices.