Major League Baseball is a sport widely associated with the United States of America. There is no questioning the fact that it is thought of as an American sport first and foremost, in spite of the fact that it reaches its conclusion with the World Series match at the end of the season. It is popular in other countries, most notably Japan, but typically speaking baseball is a sports consigned to North America. This is why there is often excitement when the sport goes on a tour and ends up being played in another country, with London due to host it in 2023.
It will actually be the second time that the MLB has been played in London, having previous seen games enjoyed there in 2019. It is similar in nature to how some National Football League games have been played in the United Kingdom in the past. That is to say, these aren’t random games being played for laughs, but are instead regular season games that are played outside of the States in order to give others a chance to experience the thrills and excitement of a top-tier baseball game on their own patch. The London 2023 game will be between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs.
The Thrill of Major League Baseball
Major League Baseball is the oldest professional sports league the world, having been founded as the National League in 1876. It is composed of 30 teams that are split equally between the National League and the American League. The 30 teams that take part in the MLB are predominantly American, with 29 of them coming from the United States and one from Canada. The National League and American League, the latter of which was formed in 1901, remained separate legal entities until 2000, when they were merged to create a single organisation.
Each team involved in the MLB plays 162 games per season, with six teams from each league advancing to take part in a post-season tournament, which is played over four rounds and ends in the World Series. That is a best-of-seven championship series that pits the two league champions up against one another. The first one was played in 1903 and tens of millions of people tune in all around the world to watch the end of season match. The MLB is an organisation that is also responsible for the Minor League Baseball series, which is for lower-tier teams that are affiliated with major league sides.
Why Is It Coming to London?
The fact that the MLB is coming to London will be extremely exciting for some, but there will be plenty of people wondering why. The answer is that the sport has sent teams to other countries for some years. At the conclusion of the 2011 series, for example, it was confirmed that the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland Athletics would play their opening games of the season in Japan. That was the start of something, with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers starting their 2014 season with matches at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Australia.
For the United Kingdom, the first taste of Major League Baseball came in 2019 when the Boston Red Sox played a two-game series against the New York Yankees in London. The regular season games were the first to be held in Europe, let alone the UK, and took place on the 29th and 30th of June at the London Stadium. The Yankees won both games on their way to winning the American League East Division, though they failed to make it to the World Series. At the time of writing, the Yankees haven’t won a World Series title since 2009, but their 27 titles is a record.
When it comes to why they’re returning to London, the honest answer is probably a financial one. The MLB is, as with most sports, money-driven. It is the second-richest in the world behind the NFL, so the World Tour is an extremely lucrative one for the various teams that are associated with it. The fact that the 2019 London Series was such a success won’t have put the organisation off from returning to the capital, whilst Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park’s London Stadium was obviously designed to host the Olympics and is therefore able to welcome large numbers of people.
What Happened Last Time
When the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox turned up in London in June of 2019, they did so on the back of a two-year agreement being signed between Major League Baseball and the London Stadium to host games in the 2019 and 2020 seasons. The global health crisis that hit in 2020 put paid to the second of the two planned London Series’, but the first one saw two long-time divisional rivals go head-to-head at the London Stadium for both the points and the bragging rights. The fact that the two teams are amongst the most iconic in baseball helped sell it to the English crowd.
‘Key Growth Market’
When the agreement to bring the MLB back to London for 2023 was signed, it was part of a multi-year agreement that will also see games played in 2024 and 2026. The MLB’s Director of Growth and Strategy, Kelhem Salter, noted that Europe was a prime location in the Europe, Middle East and Africa area, being a ‘key growth market’ for the league, with London in particular important due to the fact that Londoners were ‘big event-goers’. The big difference between London and other countries where international games take place is that baseball isn’t already popular in the UK.
The interesting thing at the time was that sending such high-profile teams flew in the face of what the National Football League tended to do. The NFL felt as though it would be too disruptive to play a game in the UK, often sending lesser-known teams rather than the big ones. It also helped baseball that there are 162 games in a regular season, as opposed to the 16 games played by NFL teams. Part of the appeal for the Red Sox came in the fact that the team was owned by Fenway Sports Group, who already had an interest in English sport thanks to their ownership of Liverpool Football Club.
Using London Stadium ended up being a relatively easy choice for MLB, largely because finding a venue with the right dimensions to install a baseball field wasn’t easy. Most stadiums in London are designed for football, but the fact that the London Stadium was originally designed to host the 2012 London Olympics before being converted to a football stadium for West Ham United’s home games. A baseball field was installed over the existing football pitch and running track, whilst the seating configuration was changed to be more intimate, as with real baseball stadia.
Broadcast on ESPN, Fox & BBC
The series was broadcast by ESPN and Fox in the United States, with the games being shown on the BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport website in the UK. There was entertainment similar to what tends to happen in the US during the game too. The ground crew performed Y.M.C.A., as happened as Yankee Stadium, as well as Sweet Caroline, which is what happens at Fenway Park. When the Yankees won the two games, the tradition of playing Theme From New York New York, as happens at Yankee Stadium, was confined. Mascot races also took place, with Freddie Mercury winning.
Yankees Won It
In terms of the actual games, the first lasted for four hours and 42 minutes, making it only three minutes shorter than the longest nine-innings game in the history of the MLB. It was won 17-13 by the Yankees, whilst the 30 runs scored in total was the second-largest scored between the two teams. Game Two had the Red Sox scoring three home runs in the first-innings, which was only the second time a team had done that since 1979. It didn’t matter though, with the Yankees coming from behind to win 12-8. The 50 runs in total was the most ever scored in consecutive games between the teams.
What Baseball Fans Can Expect This Time
The fact that the London Stadium is once again being used as the venue for the MLB’s foray into the United Kingdom means that much of what baseball fans experienced last time will be there to enjoy this time around, too. There will be a new layout in the stadium, allowing fans to be even closer to the action. There will be traditional ball park food, in-game entertainment and some live music, in addition to pyrotechnics helping to create an atmosphere that many will remember for years to come. It will, they hope, create a ‘festival of baseball’ and the biggest crowd of the 2023 season.
If you’re looking to get tickets close to the dugouts then the St. Louis Cardinals will be at the first base line to the right of the home plate. The Chicago Cubs, meanwhile, will have their dugout along the third base line and to the left of the home plate. Those that are in attendance will be able to witness yet another chapter in the rivalry between the Cardinals and the clubs that dates back more than 130 years. It is one of baseball’s oldest rivalries, emerging from the geographical location of the two clubs, developing over the years that have followed thanks to countless fiery bust ups and fiery fans on both sides of the divide.
Other Trips Abroad
It is worth having a look at other times that Major League Baseball has ended up being played outside of the United States of America. It first happened in 1986 when an All-Star team from Major League Baseball was sent to take part in an end-of-season tour of Japan. Dubbed the MLB Japan All-Star Series, it involved exhibition games that were played in a best-of format between the All-Stars from the MLB and an All-Star team from the Nippon Professional Baseball league. The series is a biennial event, with the national team Samurai Japan taking part in the game since 2014.
In 2008, MLB sent two teams to the People’s Republic of China in order to play spring-training games. They were the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers, with the hope being that playing there would help to popularise the sport of baseball in China. Three years later and a similar move was made in Taiwan, with a series of five exhibition games played between a team made up of Major League Baseball players, called the MLB All-Stars, and the Chinese Taipei national baseball team. The All-Stars won all five games, but the sport’s popularity grew regardless.
At the end of the 2011 season, the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics were confirmed to play their season openers for the following season in Japan, becoming the first time that regular games were played in the country. This was followed up a few years later when Sydney Cricket Ground hosted the season openers between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers. It wasn’t the first time that baseball had been played in Australia. That occurred in 1888 when Albert Spalding took his Chicago White Stockings side Down Under, playing at the same venue.