The first National League baseball game was played on April 22, 1876, between the Boston Red Stockings and the Philadelphia Athletics. But it would take nearly a century before baseball fans and officials recognized that day as the birthday of Major League Baseball.
As MLB historian John Thorn has explained, there were a few different dates in the running for the honor. In the middle of the 19th century, the sport—supposedly invented in 1839—began to spread, and professional leagues were established. There was a claim made by 1869, and one for 1871, when the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players‚ an MLB precursor, organized its first game. But the National Association couldn’t hold it together and eventually broke up. In its place came the National League.
In the 1960s—just in time for the MLB centennial—the league recognized that April game 140 years ago as Major League Baseball’s first.
It didn’t take much longer for the baseball card to come around, often as an advertising gimmick that would come with a pack of cigarettes. The Library of Congress holds a collection of thousands of early baseball cards, from which the gallery above is drawn.
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