Baseball in Australia
|Governing body||Australian Baseball Federation|
Southern Thunder (Men)|
|Single match||104,400, 1 December 1956, Melbourne Cricket Ground|
Baseball was believed to have been brought to Australia with Americans gold miners in the Victorian gold rush of the 1850s, where miners would play baseball on the gold fields on their rest days. The first reports of organised teams and results appeared in Ballarat, Victoria in 1857.
In 1867, Victorian cricketers William Gaggin and Louis Goldsmith tried to set up a game of baseball at Yarra Park but were disrupted by fans arriving for a local Australian football match. The first competitive series was played between the Surry Baseball Club and members of the New South Wales Cricket Association over June/July 1878. However, it is argued competitive organised one off matches from as early as 1875 were played before this time.
The first interstate baseball games were played in 1890 when Victoria played South Australia at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground. The visitors won the best of three series 16-14, 27-18 and 22-26 in Melbourne. These two states in 1897 formed the first Australia representative baseball team which toured the United States.
The Australian team sponsored by Mr A.J. Roberts with £1,500 was selected to tour the United States. They were outclassed by the home teams, winning only eight of their first 26 matches. The Americans were surprised to note the Australian outfielders did not wear mitts. Many of the tourists relied on friends and relatives to get them home as the organisers ran out of credit to send them back home.
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Those players on the team who could afford it continued on to tour England. Games were billed as Australia vs England and were played at the Crystal Palace Sports Ground, although the tour turned sour when the team manager left London with the gate receipts, leaving many more players in financial limbo. This set the game back several years in Victoria and South Australia; however, it continued to flourish in New South Wales where the sport was established as a winter sport through the New South Wales Winter League in 1898.
The first Australian championships were in 1910 in Hobart, Tasmania between New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania and won by NSW. This was followed by a similar series in Melbourne, Victoria between Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Tasmania in August 1910. NSW also won this series.
At the end of the 19th century, Americans also tried to set up baseball leagues and competitions in Australia, with some success. A national league was initiated in 1934, and the national team entered World Championship competition in the late 1970s. Prior to winning the silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Australia had finished 7th in the Olympics twice, which is also the highest position reached in World Championships.
In the late 1980s to late 1990s the national league took off, with most capital cities having a team. The games were broadcast weekly on ABC television around the country. In the 12 months to March 1995 baseball hit its peak attendance rates with 133,000 people, equivalent to 0.9% of Australians over 15, having attended a baseball game that year. This was just under the attendance of Golf and above outdoor hockey and lawn bowls.
A national-level competition still exists, as well as lower-level club competitions, but the game attracts comparatively little or no spectator or media interest. Several Australians, however, have attracted the attention of American scouts and have gone on to play in the major leagues in the United States and Japan.
Although baseball remains a fringe sport at adult level, it has experienced explosive growth at the youth level in the 21st century. The first Little League Baseball-affiliated league in the country was established in 2007. By mid-2012, the number of Little Leagues in the country had risen to about 400, making Australia the largest country in Little League participation outside of North America. This growth led the parent organisation to announce that Australia would receive an automatic berth in the Little League World Series starting in 2013.
New Professional League
Summer vs Winter
Baseball is considered traditionally a summer sport, meaning such that it will start in spring and end in autumn, however, this has changed many times in Australia for different reasons. One of these reasons is because baseball in Australia was originally considered a sport for cricketers in the off-season, but as baseball became more popular as a standalone sport it was played more often in summer. The Claxton Shield was traditionally played in the Australian winter so Sheffield Shield players could participate.
However, the Australian Baseball League, International Baseball League of Australia and Claxton Shield in recent years have been played in the Australian summer, this is due to the MLB and other northern hemisphere baseball leagues being played in the northern summer, therefore many high-profile players from Australia were unable to play in the southern winter.
Both summer and winter baseball was played in Melbourne in the 1920s and Sydney from 1913 until the end of World War II, when baseball across Australia became mainly winter only. The exception to this was summer night baseball at Norwood Oval in Adelaide, South Australia in the 1950s and at Oriole Stadium in Sydney from 1969. During the late 1960s the trend swung back towards baseball's traditional season of summer.
When the New South Wales Major League decided to play summer only day baseball in 1973, a breakaway Sydney Winter League formed to continue playing in winter, while most NSW country centres continued in the winter. The Victorian Baseball Association in Melbourne switched to summer only in mid-1970. Since 1974 Sydney Baseball is now indeed an all year round sport.
- Harris 2009, p.14
- "Saturday June 5, 1869". The Argus. Melbourne, Victoria: National Library of Australia. 5 June 1869. p. 4. Retrieved 18 January 2011.
- Harris 2009, pp.14–5
- Harris 2009, p.15
- Baseball Backgrounder - Australian Baseball Federation Archived 18 July 2012 at Archive.is
- Burton, Rick (9 March 2014). "Australia, Baseball's Diamond in Rough". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-03-10.
- Attendance at selected sporting events - Australian Bureau of Statistics 1997
- AAP (30 August 2012). "Australia to feature in Little League". World News Australia. Archived from the original on 5 September 2012. Retrieved 19 September 2012.
- "Regions Realigned for 2013: Australia to Play in Little League Baseball World Series" (Press release). Little League Baseball. 29 August 2012. Archived from the original on 23 September 2012. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
- Flintoff and Dunn's MLB Players
- Harris, John O. (2009). Queensland Baseball 1905–1990.