Origins of Little League Baseball And Its Worldwide Popularity
Little League Baseball was founded in 1939 by Carl Stotz. A resident of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Stotz started out with a dream of forming a baseball league for boys to teach them about fair play and teamwork. It has evolved to become the largest organized youth sports association in the world.
What started out as an experiment with field dimensions and informal games between Stotz's nephews and their neighborhood friends became the first league in Williamsport consisting of three teams. Each team was sponsored by a different business and their first League game was played on June 6, 1939. By 1946 Little League expanded to 12 leagues all in Pennsylvania until Hammonton, New Jersey added its own league in 1947. Little League got a lot of attention from the press during 1949 when the Saturday Evening Post did a feature story on them and requests to form leagues at the local level throughout the United States began to escalate.
Little League started out being for boys only and remained that way from 1951 through 1974. In 1950 Kathryn Johnston disguised her gender by concealing her hair under her hat so she could play baseball. She was nicknamed "Tubby" and posed as a boy when she joined the Kings Dairy Little League. Although her coach eventually found out she was a girl, he let her play because she was a good player. When she turned 13 she was forced to stop playing in Little League. Afterwards the Tubby Rule was established prohibiting girls from playing in Little League. In 1974 the National Organization for Women filed a lawsuit challenging the ruling and won. It resulted in allowing girls to participate in the baseball program.
By 1951 leagues formed outside the U.S. in British Columbia, Canada and near the Panama Canal. The Little League World Series was televised for the first time in 1953 as Jim McKay provided play by play coverage for CBS and Howard Cosell did the same for ABC Radio. By the mid-1950s Little League had grown to more than 3,300 leagues and had an organization in each of the 48 states in the U.S. In 1955 George W. Bush began playing Little League in Midland, Texas as a catcher and became the first Little League graduate to be elected President of the United States.
The Little League Baseball World Series is held every August in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania and is the most recognized event in Little League Baseball. First held in 1947, it is a baseball tournament for children aged 11 to 12 years old. The competition started out with only teams from the U.S. but has become a worldwide tournament. Tournaments are played from Little Leagues around the world made up of All-Star teams that compete in hopes of advancing to the Little League World Series.
The Series consists of 16 teams, 8 from the U.S. and 8 from other countries. The eight regional tournament winners competing within the United States Bracket are divided according to location throughout the country such as the Mid-Atlantic States, Midwest, Northwest, Southwest, Southeast, West, Great Lakes, and New England. The eight divisions from the International Bracket include Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, Latin America, Japan, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and MEA (Middle East- Africa).
In 1957 Mexico became the first team outside the U.S. to win the Little League World Series. In 1960 West Germany became the first European country to have a team play in the Series. Although a team from Tokyo, Japan became the first team from Asia to win the Little League World Series in 1967, starting in 1969 Taiwan began their dominant era that would lead them to 17 Little League World Series titles.
Little League Baseball has several baseball divisions for boys and girls based on their ages. Tee Ball is for boys and girls aged 5-6 who want to learn the fundamentals of hitting and fielding. The Minor League was created for boys and girls between 7-12 years old with less experience. The 9-10 Year Old Baseball Division gives children an opportunity to experience tournament competition. The Little League Baseball Division (or the Major Division) is for boys and girls aged 9-12, the "Pilot" division for ages 12-13, the Junior League for ages 13-14, the Senior League for ages 14-16, and the Big League for ages 16-18.
The playing rules for the baseball divisions basically follow the "Official Baseball Rules" that are defined by and used by Major League Baseball and published at MLB.com. A regulation game is six innings and bats (from all levels) may be made from material other than wood, such as aluminum, and must be approved for use in Little League Baseball. The aluminum baseball bat was first used in 1971. The protective baseball helmet was developed by Dr. Creighton J. Hale in 1959 after the death of a 12-year-old hit in the head by a pitch in 1956. Many Little League players have gone on to play in MLB.