"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game," wrote American author and historian Jacques Barzun. Baseball has been called America's national pastime, and for more than 150 years people of all ages have enjoyed playing or watching the game all over the world.
Every year more than 70 million spectators attend games played by the major league teams in North America and by professional teams around the world, especially in Japan. In addition, millions more watch games played in the minor leagues and by organized teams of semiprofessional and amateur men and women. Radio and television stations carry play-by-play accounts of games. Newspapers and sports magazines report results and records in great detail.
This great popularity makes baseball a big business as well as a sport. The two North American major leagues receive billions of dollars a year from admissions, the sales of food and drink and other concessions, and television and radio broadcast rights. The television rights alone bring in more than a billion dollars a year. Expenses, however, are also high. Outstanding player prospects receive enormous bonuses to sign with a team. The player payrolls of major league teams average millions of dollars a year. Baseball players on the average receive the highest salaries in professional sports, and some are rewarded with eight-figure multiyear contracts.


The two major professional leagues in North America are the National League and the American League. When each league had eight teams, every team played a 154-game schedule to determine the league champions. In the 1990s the American League had 14 teams, and the National League expanded from 12 to 14 teams. Each league has Eastern, Central, and Western divisions, and each team in each division plays 162 games.
A team's standing depends upon its percentage, which is determined by dividing the number of games the team has won by the number it has played. The team with the best percentage in each division at the end of the season is the division champion. In October the division champions and a wild-card team (the non-division winner with the best record) of each league meet in a best-of-five-games series and a second-round best-of-seven-games series to determine the league pennant winners. These teams then play a best-of-seven-games World Series to determine the world champion.
The annual midseason All-Star game, contested between the most popular American League and National League players, began in 1933. Fans vote to select the starting lineups, and the team managers select pitchers and substitute players.
In addition to the major leagues, there are minor leagues with teams in many American cities. The minor leagues are classified as AAA, AA, and A, according to the relative length of professional experience of the players, which is regulated by class rules.
The two major leagues are governed by an executive council the commissioner, the two league presidents, and one other member from each league (usually club presidents). The minor leagues are ruled by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. These two groups make up what is usually called organized baseball.

Major League Managers and Players

In charge of each team, and responsible for playing strategy, is the manager. Two of the greatest, John J. McGraw of the New York Giants and Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics, managed from the players' bench (the dugout). McGraw's successor, Bill Terry, and Detroit's Mickey Cochrane were among several successful player-managers. Another great manager was Casey Stengel. He led the New York Yankees to ten American League and seven world championships from 1949 to 1960. Stengel retired from his 55-year baseball career in 1966.
Each major league team is limited to 25 players. A player has a contract with his team, but clubs often trade or sell players to try to improve their teams. In the era of free agency, the average salary rose beyond 500,000 dollars in the early 1990s. Players became increasingly able to negotiate contracts for millions of dollars per year, including bonuses. The major leagues have a pension fund for retired players.
Beginning in the late 1960s, baseball players became more strongly organized. In 1972, players held the first general strike in baseball to force club owners