Major League Baseball, MLB for short, has a storied tradition that dates all the way back to 2000. That’s when the National League and American League officially merged into one entity. Of course, professional baseball has been around for much longer than that; the first pro team on record was the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. And betting on baseball is even older still.

“Modern” baseball in the United States began, unofficially, with the New York Knickerbockers in 1845. This team included Alexander Cartwright, one of several people credited as the father of baseball. The first game on record was the Knickerbockers beating the “New York Nine” 23-1. Baseball historians now believe there were more New York-based clubs before that. As for betting on America’s Game, there are newspaper reports dating back to 1865 – again, focussing on the New York scene, which was the backbone of the original National Association of Base Ball Players.

We’re Talkin’ Base Ball

The Civil War helped spread baseball across the nation, with over 400 teams joining the NABBP by 1867. This was an amateur league, at least in principle; the Red Stockings were the first to openly pay their players, and in 1871, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was born – with the Red Stockings becoming a charter member after moving to Boston.

The NAPBBP lasted only four years, one of several pro leagues that came and went during pro baseball’s infancy. The most successful of these was the National Base Ball League, established in 1876 and again featuring the Boston Red Stockings, although their nickname was changed to the Red Caps, and then the Beaneaters. This was the dominant team in baseball, at least until 1901, when the new American League was formed with a team called the Boston Americans. You know them now as the Boston Red Sox.

Boston Strong

According to historians, it was also in Boston where the first proposition bets were made. Gambling was officially banned at the time, but spectators at Fenway Park, which opened in 1912, would place bets with each other on whether the next batter would get a hit, and whether the next pitch would be a ball or strike. “Props” remain an integral part of the betting culture, although the moneyline would become the standard way of betting on MLB baseball.

Eventually, the National League and American League were the last two major leagues standing, thanks in large part to their participation in the World Series, which officially began in 1903 with the Boston Americans winning the championship. These games looked like the ones played today – but with fewer home runs. Babe Ruth took care of that in the early ‘20s, becoming the most famous athlete of his time in the process. Major League Baseball has never looked back.