When someone takes the initiative to do something new, the result is usually one that leaves a lasting impact.
The game of baseball is no stranger to this statement. It has been witnessing players, coaches, managers, and even fans doing “new” things within the confines of its ballparks for nearly 200 years.
But some of those once rare firsts became much, much more. They were transformed into permanent fixtures of the game, and their existence has had a hand in literally shaping the sport as we see it today.
Here, we pay tribute to the ten most important firsts in baseball history.
10. The First Batter to Hit 500 Home Runs
On August 11, 1929 the great Babe Ruth launched a towering home run into the right field stands off of Willis Hudlin of the Indians. He had already been the first player to hit 300, and then 400, homeruns. But this, the 500th jack of his career, did more than just set a record. It set the bar for all wannabe Hall of Famers in that department.
9. The First Team to Employ Scouts
The quality of play was a little hit or miss for professional baseball in its early days. That is until Aaron Champion, president of the Cincinatti Red Stockings, became determined to find the best talent in the nation for his 1869 team. He compiled a network of unpaid scouts, consisting of old friends, sporting goods salesmen, old coaches, and retired players, who combed the land for baseball gems. The result was a resounding championship victory for the Red Stockings that season and the use of scouts in baseball for the rest of its life span.
8. The First Player to Become Professional
While playing for the Amateur Eckfords, a man by the name of Albert Reach received a peculiar letter. It offered him $25 in expense money to join the Philadelphia Athletics ball club for the 1865 season. Up to this point it was unheard of to receive pay in exchange for play, but once Reach made his news public and proclaimed himself a “professional” in the game of baseball, everyone wanted to be paid to play. It was a long way off, but this paltry $25 contract paved the way for the million dollar versions we see today.
7. The First Player’s Union
Many would point to Marvin Miller, who headed the MLBPA in 1966, as the first leader of a real player’s union. But the first union, known as The Brotherhood, was actually started by John Montgomery Ward and Timothy Keefe back in 1885. The Brotherhood focused mainly on disputes arising from league suspensions and voting, but their work form the foundation and served as a model for future MLBPA successes.
6. The First Pitcher to Throw a Curveball
Some people credit Bobby Matthews, a pitcher with Cincinatti in the 1880’s with 297 career wins, with throwing the world’s first curveball. Some say it was Hall of Famer Candy Cummings who created his version of the curve while tossing clam shells into the ocean on a New England beach. Whoever it was, the introduction of breaking pitches to the game has had a major impact. To give you an idea of just how devastating the curveball and its followers have been, I can only quote an anonymous rookie from baseball lore who once said, “Mom, I’ll be home soon. They started throwing curveballs.”
5. The First Designated Hitter
The idea was first proposed by Connie Mack back in 1905, but didn’t come to fruition until Opening Day 1973, when Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees officially became the first player to ever bat in the lineup as a DH. That paved the way for guys who can’t run or catch to always have a place in the game. Congratulations, Edgar Martinez.
4. The First Cork-Centered Baseball
Before 1910, you’d have a better chance of getting struck by lightning then of seeing a hitter launch a hand-sewn, yarn-centered baseball out of the park. But that all changed with the introduction of the cushion-cork center. Now, when you walk the outfield concourse at any ballpark in the league, it feels like you’ve been caught in a hail storm.
3. The First Game Played at Night
Most people point to a game played in Cincinnati in 1935. But the first game of baseball ever played under artificial lights actually took place in Hull, Massachusetts between two rival department store teams way back in 1880. It’s hard not to recognize the dependence modern baseball has developed on the night game. Sure, day games are great, probably even preferable. But, the MLB brings in the vast majority of it revenue from the wallets of hard-working fans who can’t just skip out of the office every afternoon at 1:35 to catch a game. Simply stated, without night baseball MLB could not operate.
2. The First Modern World Series
Ending a bitter feud, the owners of the National and American leagues agreed to hold the first World Series in 1903 between the Pirates and Red Sox. Boston came back to win the nine game series by swiping the last four games. Cy Young and Bill Dineen contributed legendary pitching performances in the series. But what was more important was the introduction of a true world championship series in the sport and an event that attracted the nation’s interest like none had ever done before it.
1. The First Televised Game
Nothing beats a day at the ballpark, but it’s tough to get out there all the time. That’s the trouble baseball faced before 1939. But on August 26 of that year, WXBS in Brooklyn broadcast the first televised games in professional baseball history. The legendary Red Barber called the doubleheader between the Dodgers and Reds, and the broadcast was a resounding success. It immediately spawned The Game of the Week, which laid the ground work for the multimedia giant MLB is today. Bringing the game into everyone’s living room allowed not only Americans, but fans around the world to enjoy our nation’s pastime.