(CUT ONE: "Take Me Out to the Ball Game")Millions of people are happy about the start of the North American baseball season. For the next seven months, many newspapers will be filled with stories about the games and players.
This season's Opening Day game was played April first in San Juan, Puerto Rico. This was the first time the Major League Baseball season opened in the United States territory. Large crowds will attend baseball games in many cities in the United States and Canada. This year, the American cities of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Milwaukee, Wisconsin have opened new sports stadiums for their baseball teams.Perhaps no other sport has become as deeply rooted in American life as baseball. And none has created so many popular traditions. There are many poems, songs, books and films about baseball. Famous players of the past and present are as well-known to Americans as the country's great scientists, writers and political leaders.
People of all ages play baseball in the United States. There are thousands of baseball teams across the country. There are school teams, company teams and teams supported by religious groups.
People who work at the headquarters of the Republican Party play baseball against workers from the Democratic Party. People who work at the White House for President Bush play against reporters for the media. Baseball has even become part of the English language. For example, Americans may admit to "striking out" when we fail to do something we want to do.
(MUSIC BRIDGE)Americans love baseball. Part of the reason is that they have been playing it for more than one-hundred-fifty years. No one knows for sure when the modern game of baseball began. Many people believe baseball developed from a game called "rounders." People in America played it in the Eighteen-Hundreds. Over time, the rules changed and the game began to be called baseball.
Some historians say Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Eighteen-Thirty-Nine. Others say Alexander Cartwright invented it. Cartwright developed a list of baseball rules in Eighteen-Forty-Five. He also formed the first baseball team, the New York Knickerbockers, that same year.The early baseball players were not paid. In Eighteen-Sixty-Nine, a team from Cincinnati, Ohio, became the first baseball team to pay its players. Other teams soon began paying their players. Baseball had become a business.
The first group of professional baseball teams was formed in Eighteen-Seventy-Six. This new National League had eight teams. Four were from the eastern part of the United States. Four were from the central part. The National League is still active today. The other professional major league, the American League, was formed in Nineteen-Oh-One.American radio stations started broadcasting baseball games in the Nineteen-Twenties. Later, money from radio broadcasts helped baseball teams survive during the great economic depression in the Nineteen-Thirties.
In Nineteen-Thirty five, teams began adding electric lights around baseball fields. This made it possible for people to attend games at night.In Nineteen-Forty-Seven, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American player in modern Major League Baseball history. He played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Before that, blacks played in a separate league. They did not receive the money or fame that white players enjoyed.
As time passed, more African-Americans played on Major League Baseball teams. And many baseball players from Latin America and Asia joined teams. Over the years, baseball changed in other ways. Television began showing Major League games. Some teams changed cities. New teams were added.Today, thirty baseball teams play in the American and National leagues. Each league has three groups of teams, or divisions. One team in each league is from a city in Canada. Each team plays one-hundred-sixty-two games before the season ends.
Then, in October, the teams that won the most games compete in playoff games. The winner of those games is the league champion. Finally, the two league champions play each other in the World Series. The first team to win four games in the World Series becomes the champion of North American baseball.
(MUSIC BRIDGE)In Nineteen-Ninety-Four, many people were angry with Major League Baseball. Players who were paid high wages went on strike. The players and team owners refused to compromise. Part of the baseball season and all of the championship games were cancelled.
The next year, the start of the season was delayed. When play finally began, many people stayed away from the games. People who had always loved the sport said they no longer cared much about it. Now, however, Americans have forgotten about the strike. And large numbers of young people are interested in the sport.However, money remains an important issue for Major League Baseball. Many people believe the players are paid too much money. The lowest-paid players earn two-hundred-thousand dollars a year. The average salary for baseball players is almost two-million dollars a year.
A few months ago, a player named Alex Rodriguez made news by signing an agreement with the Texas Rangers baseball team. The agreement made Rodriguez the richest player in baseball history. The team will pay him more than twenty-five-million dollars a year during the next ten years. Several other players on other teams will earn almost twenty-million dollars a year.At the same time, some teams say they need help to compete with teams in larger cities that earn more money. The Minnesota Twins team, for example, paid its players the lowest average wages. The team paid a total of about fifteen-million dollars to all its players.
But the New York Yankees team paid its players more than any other team - a total of one-hundred-thirteen-million dollars. Last year the Yankees won their third World Series championship in three years. The Twins finished last in their division.Last summer, an independent committee completed an eighteen-month study of the economic issues facing Major League Baseball. The study confirmed the large and growing economic differences among the teams. It said this is causing a lack of competitive balance in baseball.
Five years ago, team owners and a union representing the players signed a labor agreement. The study said the agreement is failing to correct the economic differences and improve the balance of competition.
Former United States Senator George Mitchell served on the committee. He says Major League Baseball has created a system in which the only teams with a chance of winning must earn a lot of money and spend a lot on wages. Mr. Mitchell says that is not in the best interests of baseball teams, players or fans.Committee members proposed reforms to reduce the economic differences among rich and poor teams. They proposed that each team share at least forty percent of all the money it earns. They also proposed a competitive balance tax. The tax would target teams that spend more than eighty-four-million dollars a year on player wages.
Under the proposal, half the money spent over that amount would be given to the poorer teams. In exchange, those teams would be required to spend at least forty-million dollars on player wages. No official action has been taken on the proposals.Major League Baseball will face an important test at the end of the season. That is when the labor agreement between players and team owners will end. Will there be another strike? Or can the two sides reach an agreement?
For now, the sound of "play ball" is being heard at baseball stadiums and fields across North America. And millions of Americans are enjoying the return of baseball.
(CUT TWO: "Take Me Out to the Ballgame")This program was written by George Grow. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. I'm Sarah Long.And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.