Great things can often have very humble beginnings. Take Little League Baseball. On June 6, 1939, an oil company clerk named Carl Stotz brought two teams of kids together to play baseball. In a vacant lot. In a small town. In the middle of Pennsylvania. It was the first Little League game ever played — Lundy Lumber lambasted Lycoming Dairy, 23–8 — and the start of something big. Bigger than Stotz or the kids playing for Lundy or Lycoming could ever have expected.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Little League Baseball, and decades after that first game in Williamsport, it has become the largest organized youth sports program in the world. Today, more than two million boys and girls play on nearly 200,000 teams in more than 80 countries. There are also softball programs and the Little League Challenger Division, which allows physically and developmentally disabled kids to play ball. "The mission of the program is the same as it was 75 years ago," says Stephen D. Keener, President and CEO of Little League International. "Regardless of skill level or ability, if a child wants to play Little League there's a place for them to play."
Little League's diamond anniversary season ends with the Little League Baseball World Series. From August 14th to the 24th, teams from around the world will meet in South Williamsport for a truly global tournament. And that's the perfect opportunity to tip our caps to Little League and its 75 big years of inspiring kids through baseball.
Go deeper into Little League's history with SI Kids' 75 Years of Little League slideshow!
A TRUE WORLD SERIES
Kids from other countries have been playing Little League Baseball almost as long as the organization has existed. The first teams outside the U.S. were organized in Panama in 1950 and Canada in '51. Today, more than 90 countries participate, and six of those have won the LLBWS.
The first to do it was Industrial Little League from Monterrey, Mexico, which won the championship in 1957. That series also featured one of the all-time great performances in Little League history. Pitcher Angel Macias threw a perfect game in the championship final — something no one has done since.
Twelve years later, a dynasty was born when Taichung Little League from Chinese Taipei won the World Series. Teams from that country have won an international-record 17 World Series titles. Second on the list? Japan, which has won nine titles, including the 2013 championship.
Little League is a way of life for youngsters in Latin America and Asia Pacific countries. But kids in the mideast and Europe are wild about the game, too. There are teams in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and after baseball was introduced as an Olympic sport in the 1980s, it sparked a boom in Eastern Europe. Now, there are 50 Little League programs in Poland.
The next frontier for Little League is South America, specifically Brazil. Little League officials see a lot of growth potential for baseball in the land of futebol, and they're working closely with the Tampa Bay Rays to develop youth programs there.
Lots of kids have played Little League in its 75-year history, and some of them have become major leaguers, like current stars Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen and Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Nolan Ryan. But there are a lot of famous non-baseball players who have Little League experience, too. Actors, writers, musicians, astronauts, and even a President of the United States played Little League when they were kids. Here are just a few of the famous faces who have taken the field in Little League uniforms!
President George W. Bush
Vice President Joe Biden
MOMENTS IN TIME
1939: Carl Stotz creates a three-team league that would become the foundation for Little League Baseball
1945: The world's first remote-controlled electronic scoreboard is installed at Original Little League Field
1947: First Little League Baseball World Series is played. It's won by the Maynard Midgets of Williamsport
1950: The first Little League teams outside the U.S. are formed in Panama
1959: The modern protective batter's helmet is developed by Little League's director of research
1967: West Tokyo Little League Pacific becomes the first team from Asia to win the LLBWS
1974: Girls are allowed to play on Little League teams
1989: Little League launches its Challenger Division for kids with developmental and physical disabilities
1992: The first LLBWS night game is played
2013: Regional realignment for the Little League World Series allows Australia to play in the tournament for the first time
Have you played on a Little League team? What were some of your favorite experiences? Let us know in the comments section below!
Photos: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters, Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated, courtesy Sherman and Manning families