Why 162 Games?

Major League Baseball fans understand that their team will play 162 games during the regular season but very few could tell you why. Here is the story.

From 1904 until the early 1960s, both the American League and the National League played 154-game regular seasons. Both leagues contained eight teams and each team played the other seven opponents 22 times (11 games at home and 11 on the road). The baseball leaders somehow decided that 22 games against the other opponents was the correct number to determine the league champion. In those days, the two regular-season league champions met in the World Series.

In 1961 the American League expanded to 10 teams and the National League followed suit the next year. At this time, the baseball decision makers declared that each team would play their nine opponents 18 games during the season (nine at home and nine on the road). The two regular-season league champions continued to meet in the World Series.

Today, the 15 American League teams and the 15 National League teams continue to play 162-game regular seasons. The leagues are divided into three five-team divisions. These schedules consist of 19 games against divisional opponents, home and home series against teams from the other divisions within the league, and a slate of interleague games. Five teams from each league make the playoffs—the three divisional winners and the two teams with the next best records, the Wild Cards. These two Wild Card teams from each league play a winner-take-all game, then the remaining four teams in each league square off in two best-of-five game series, followed by the winners meeting in a best-of-seven game series. The two league champions then meet in the World Series, a best-of-seven game format. So theoretically, a team could play 182 games in one baseball season. That is a lot of baseball. The season now starts at the end of March or early April and finishes near the end of October or first of November. It may be time for baseball leadership to consider reducing the number of regular season games.

For the time being, baseball fans will continue to have at least 162 chances to watch their favorite teams. Frankly, that’s okay with most of us!

Jackie Robinson Breaks Color Barrier in Atlanta

Photo by Bob Sandberg LOOK Magazine

Photo by Bob Sandberg
LOOK Magazine

Segregation and Jim Crow laws were all too familiar to the people of Atlanta, both black and white, in 1949. Racial equality would not become a reality in the city for decades to come. Yet for three days in April 1949, Atlantans put the racial tenor of the time aside for a few hours each day in old Ponce de Leon Park to watch Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and the rest of the Brooklyn Dodgers play three exhibition games against the Atlanta Crackers.  However, these games almost did not take place.

In the weeks leading up to the games the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) tried to stop the contests. KKK Grand Dragon Dr. Samuel Green stated that it was against Georgia’s segregation law for “negroes” to play baseball games open to the public. “The Ku Klux Klan is a law-abiding organization. There is no law against the game. But we have an unwritten law in the South—Jim Crow law. The Atlanta Baseball Club is breaking down traditions of the South and the club will pay for it.”

Brooklyn Dodgers’ President Branch Rickey responded, “I regret very much that anybody anywhere should object to the Dodgers playing a game with their regular team, and it certainly would not be our intention to break the law. That we would never do. If we are not allowed to use the players we want or we are told we are breaking the law, why the Dodgers simply won’t play there.”

The Atlanta city attorney and the Georgia attorney general issued statements that no law existed that would prevent Robinson and Campanella (also black) from playing baseball against the Crackers. The games were officially on for April 8-10.  Before the game, Robinson declared, “This is the most thrilling experience of my life. It’s the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me. It’s great to feel that I am playing a part in breaking down the barriers against the people of my race.”

All three games were standing room only and played without incident. The stands at Ponce de Leon Park were segregated into “White” and “Colored” sections for seating; attendance at the games was split almost evenly between blacks and whites. While Robinson encountered some boos, the overwhelming sound during the games was cheers for the star—every Robinson hit led to a standing ovation. The fact that the Dodgers won two of the three contests was overshadowed by the demonstration of racial unity during the three games. These games marked the first time in Atlanta history that blacks and whites competed against each other in a professional sporting event and gave hope that one day men and women of both races could live peacefully together as equals.


The 43rd Anniversary of Hank Aaron’s 715th Home Run

Photo by Chris Evans

Photo by Chris Evans

April 8 was the 43rd anniversary of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, which broke the record of Babe Ruth set over 50 years prior. Aaron received scores of death threats and hate mail as he neared Ruth’s record. Throughout the chase, Aaron maintained a calmness and grace that belied the worry and anxiety he was feeling. Aaron persevered and finally hit 715 on April 8, 1974, at Fulton County stadium, on a 1-0 fastball from Dodgers’ pitcher Al Downing. Attached is the audio from the three broadcasters at the game: Curt Gowdy with NBC, Milo Hamilton with the Braves, and Vin Scully with the Dodgers. Pay close attention to Hamilton’s and Scully’s calls.



History of Little League Baseball and Softball


The smell of fresh cut grass, the laughter of children, the ping of the bat, and the screaming emanating from the parents can mean only one thing: Little League baseball and softball are in full swing! The exact date that baseball became a game is unknown. According to “littleleague.org,” children began playing the game the same time that adults picked up a bat and ball. Members of the Continental Army played a version of the game at Valley Forge, according to the site. No data exists confirming that George Washington had a 100 mph fastball or could hit 600 foot home runs! I mean, after all, this is the same man who threw a silver dollar over the Potomac River. Sorry, I digress.

Many baseball historians cite the first organized baseball game as taking place on June 19, 1846 at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey between the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club and the New York Baseball Club. The Knickerbockers lost 23-1 in four innings.

Soldiers on both sides during the American Civil War played the game to pass the time between battles. The first professional franchise, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, began play in 1869. However, leagues for children were not documented until the 1880s. In New York, some children’s leagues became affiliated with adult leagues but did not thrive. More often, kids could be seen in the streets or on sandlots playing the game with broken equipment such as re-taped bats and balls. Such was the kids’ game until the 1920s when the American Legion established a league for teen-age boys that still exists today.

The organized game for younger kids can find its roots in Williamsport, Pennsylvania in the late 1930s. Carl Stotz often played baseball with his nephews and wanted an organized program for the younger kids. Along with his nephews and some of the other neighborhood children, Stotz experimented with different types of equipment and field dimensions. In 1939, Stotz and some of his adult family members formed an organized league with three teams. Stotz’s vision was to provide a means to teach the virtues of sportsmanship, fair play and teamwork to the town’s boys. The league had no official name but the players played with equipment and on a field suited more to their size.

After conversations with friends in the community, Stotz named his three-team organization: Little League. He enlisted some of the local merchants to sponsor the teams so that the kids could have the proper equipment and uniforms.

In subsequent years, Little League Baseball programs sprang up across the United States and in many countries across the world. Little League Baseball boasts the world’s largest organized youth sports program, and this program can be found in all 50 states and in more than 80 countries. Each year in August, 11-12 year old boys (sometimes girls) on teams from the United Sates and across the globe compete for about ten days in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania in the Little League World Series.  Teams from the United States compete in one division while teams from across the globe compete in an international division.  The division winners play one game for the right to be called Little League World Series champions.

Little League Softball does not have quite the history of Little League Baseball but the participants are no less competitive. According to Barbara Sorensen in an article for “livestrong.com,” the game of softball originated in the late 1880s in Chicago as mainly an indoor alternative for baseball players trying to stay in shape during the cold Chicago winters. The game moved to the outdoors in warmer weather. The first women’s team appeared in the city in 1895; however, the sport would not be widely accepted until the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, where more than 350,000 people observed individuals playing the game.

The game evolved into the more competitive fast pitch version of today. The fields are smaller than baseball fields with the bases only 60 feet apart instead of the  90 feet in baseball, and the ball is larger than a baseball so that it can be hit more easily. College women can, throwing underhand, reach 75 mph to 80 mph on their pitches.

The Softball Little League originated in 1974 and today more than 360,000 participants play on more than 24,000 teams in 24 countries across the world. Its principles are similar to those of Little League Baseball: promote teamwork and sportsmanship, strengthen player self-esteem and develop leaders.

Like its baseball brothers, the Little League Softball World Series takes place every year in August for 11-12 year old girls on teams from across the United States and the world.  Under the softball format, United States teams and international teams are divided into two divisions, no separate U.S. and international divisions exist.  After a series of games involving all the teams, the top four seeds from each division play a single elimination tournament to determine the Little League Softball World Series champion.   Portland, Oregon provides first class hospitality for the games.

Whether the game involves Little League Baseball or Little League Softball, the participants offer much enthusiasm, fun and entertainment. Nothing exemplifies the pure love of the game than the boys and girls of baseball and softball. The only issue involves putting them to bed at night following the post-game sugar rush from the concession stand. Oh, to be a kid again!

Spring Training and the Braves




Spring training for baseball teams preparing for the upcoming season has existed since the 1890s when the Chicago White Stockings (now the Chicago Cubs) began the preseason ritual in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1896. Soon the Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and Brooklyn Dodgers began calling Hot Springs their spring training home.  The Boston Beaneaters (became the Boston Braves in 1912) joined the spring training  extravaganza in Norfolk, Virginia in 1901.

Since Norfolk, the franchise has trained at numerous sites:  Thomasville, Georgia (1902-1904, 1907); Charleston, South Carolina (1905); Jacksonville, Florida; (1906) Augusta, Georgia (1908-1912); Athens, Georgia (1913); Macon, Georgia (1914-1915); Miami, Florida (1916-1918); Columbus, Georgia (1919-1920); Galveston, Texas (1921); St. Petersburg, Florida (1922-1937); Bradenton, Florida (1938-1940, 1948-1962); San Antonio, Texas (1941); Sanford, Florida (1942); Wallingford, Connecticut (1943-1944); Washington, D.C. (1945); Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (1946-1947); West Palm Beach, Florida (1963-1997), and Orlando, Florida (1998-Present).

The Braves are set to move to a new home beginning in the spring of 2019 in Sarasota County, Florida.   This $75 million to $85 million complex will have a stadium seating capacity of about 9,000 and six full and two half practice fields.  Braves officials have been considering a new spring training site for the last couple of years because other major league teams have moved farther away, thereby increasing travel time for spring training games. The Houston Astros, which were located in nearby Kissimmee, and the Washington Nationals, which were located about 60 miles away in Viera, moved to a new facility in Palm Beach County that they will share beginning this spring.  The closest opponent now is the Detroit Tigers, an hour away in Lakeland. So when not playing the Tigers, the Braves have to bus at least two hours to play another team. The Braves do not want to substitute teaching and training time for travel time.  For another couple of spring training seasons, the Braves will remain in Lake Buena Vista as part of the Disney family.  The Braves and Disney partnership came together in a circuitous manner.

With the lease in West Palm Beach to expire in 1997,the Braves began negotiations with Palm Beach County officials in 1993 for a new stadium, but problems arose as to where and how to build the new stadium, according to a February 27, 1996 article in the Sun-Sentinel of Broward County, Florida.   The new $25 million stadium was to seat around 7,500 and be shared with their stadium partner at the time, the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals).

The Walt Disney Company approached the Braves in 1995 about becoming the main tenant in a new sports complex, planned for opening in 1997, after the Tampa Bay Devil Rays declined the multi-billion dollar company’s offer, according to a February 28, 1996 Orlando Sentinel article. Initially, the Braves declined the offer because of on-going negotiations with Palm Beach County officials. The Palm Beach County deal began to unravel early in 1996, largely because of a private developer’s insistence on pocketing most or all of the parking fees, according to the Orlando Sentinel article. At that point, the Braves contacted Disney officials and negotiated a deal within a week. Braves President Stan Kasten summed up the negotiations, “We got done here (at Disney) in a week what we couldn’t do in three years down there.” The Braves signed a 20-year lease to play in 9,500-seat Cracker Jack Stadium (now Champion Stadium) in the Disney Wide World of Sports complex (now the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex) and beat the Cincinnati Reds 9-7 in their first game in their new spring training home, on March 28, 1997.

The Braves and Disney signed a one year extension to the lease that will keep Atlanta in Champion Stadium through the 2018 spring training season. At the time of this writing, Mickey and Minnie Mouse remain undecided on whether to follow the Braves to Sarasota County.  However, rumor has it that Donald Duck, Pluto, and Goofy are all in.