Understanding Major League Baseball (MLB)

From the crack of the bat on a crisp spring day to the thrilling conclusion of the World Series, MLB encapsulates the spirit of America's pastime. 

MLB is the oldest major professional sports league in the United States and Canada. It consists of 30 teams divided equally between the American League (AL) and the National League (NL), each with its own distinct history and style of play.

From picking which team you think will win the World Series, to wagering on individual games, the best MLB betting sites provide plenty of options over the course of the season. And all of New York's leading sportsbooks enable baseball fans to make every pitch, swing and home run that little bit more exciting.

MLB Season Structure

The MLB season is a marathon that tests the endurance and skill of every team. Here's how it unfolds:

MLB Logo Spring Training

Before the season officially begins, teams warm up in the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues.

MLB Logo Regular Season

Starting in early April, the 162-game regular season runs through early October, with teams battling for divisional titles and wildcard spots.

MLB Logo All-Star Game

Midway through the season, the stars align as the best from the AL and NL face off in the All-Star Game.

MLB Logo Postseason

In October, the playoffs begin. Ten teams enter, but only one will be crowned World Series champion.

MLB Logo World Series

The pinnacle of the MLB season, where the AL and NL champions face off in a best-of-seven series to determine the ultimate winner.

Recent World Series Winners

🏆 2024

TBD: World Series Starts October 2024

🏆 2023

Texas Rangers defeated Arizona Diamondbacks

🏆 2022

Houston Astros defeated Philadelphia Phillies

🏆 2021

Atlanta Braves defeated Houston Astros

🏆 2020

Los Angeles Dodgers defeated Tampa Bay Rays

🏆 2019

Washington Nationals defeated Houston Astros

🏆 2018

Boston Red Sox defeated Los Angeles Dodgers

🏆 2017

Houston Astros defeated Los Angeles Dodgers

🏆 2016

Chicago Cubs defeated Cleveland Indians

🏆 2015

Kansas City Royals defeated New York Mets

🏆 2014

San Francisco Giants defeated Kansas City Royals

MLB Leagues and Divisions

Major League Baseball is structured into two separate leagues, each with its own divisions, rules, and traditions. The leagues are the American League (AL) and the National League (NL).

American League The American League (AL)

The American League was formed as a major league in 1901 when it declared its intentions to operate on a competitive level with the National League, which had been functioning as a monopoly. It was Ban Johnson, the president of the minor Western League, who decided to rename his league the American League. 

The AL started with eight teams, and by 1903, it had agreed to a truce with the NL, leading to the establishment of the first official World Series. The American League features a designated hitter (DH) role, meaning pitchers do not bat, which is a rule that has traditionally differentiated it from the NL. This rule was adopted by the AL in 1973 and has led to strategic differences in gameplay between the two leagues.

The AL's role in the MLB postseason is crucial, as it provides one of the two teams that compete in the World Series, the championship that concludes the MLB season. The path to the World Series requires an AL team to win through the Division Series and the Championship Series, with the latter awarding the American League pennant to the victor.

⚾ AL East 

Known for its powerhouse teams and storied rivalries, this division is often considered one of the most competitive divisions in baseball. The current AL East teams are:

Baltimore Orioles
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays

⚾ AL Central

The geographic heartland of the American League, this division is the place where Midwestern pride is a staple of the game. Teams currently playing in the AL Central are:

Chicago White Sox
Cleveland Guardians
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals
Minnesota Twins

⚾ AL West

Teams from the West Coast and Texas bring a competitive edge to this division and create diverse regional matchups. The AL West features the following franchises:

Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels
Oakland Athletics
Seattle Mariners
Texas Rangers

The American League has been a significant contributor to the evolution of professional baseball. It introduced significant innovations like the DH, which remain subjects of debate among fans and experts regarding their impact on the strategy and purity of the game.

Over the years, the AL has seen some of baseball's most storied franchises achieve remarkable success. The league's teams have frequently been at the forefront of integrating international talent, and the American League has hosted many of baseball's most legendary players.

National League The National League (NL)

Established in 1876, the NL is the older and originally more established of the two major leagues, which gives it a storied place in the history of baseball. It was formed to replace the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NAPBBP), which was perceived as lacking in organization and professionalism.

For much of its history, the NL did not use the designated hitter rule, which meant pitchers had to bat. This rule was a significant point of differentiation from the American League. However, this rule has been subject to change with evolving game regulations.

The absence of the DH traditionally led to a style of play in the NL that emphasized strategy, pitching, and small ball, although the differences have become less pronounced over time. Like the AL, the NL is divided into three divisions based on geographical location.

⚾ NL East

The NL East is known for its competitive nature and the presence of some of the most passionate fan bases in baseball. This division currently includes the following teams:

Atlanta Braves
Miami Marlins
New York Mets
Philadelphia Phillies
Washington Nationals

⚾ NL Central

The NL Central houses some of the oldest and most storied franchises in MLB history. It's marked by a deep sense of tradition, and the rivalries here are rich with history. NL Central teams are:

Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds
Milwaukee Brewers
Pittsburgh Pirates
St. Louis Cardinals

⚾ NL West

The NL West is geographically diverse, with teams spread out across the Western United States. This division often features a battle of contrasting styles due to the varied climates and ballpark configurations. The NL West Division currently includes:

Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres
San Francisco Giants

NL teams have been home to some of baseball's most legendary players and moments. It has seen numerous perfect games, historic comebacks, and has been the league of innovative managers who have shaped the strategic framework of the game.

Over the years, the NL has evolved, with teams changing cities, division realignments occurring, and rules being updated. Despite these changes, the National League has remained true to its roots, prioritizing traditional aspects of baseball while continuing to contribute to the sport's evolution.

History of Major League Baseball

The history of Major League Baseball (MLB) is long and storied. It has survived world wars, the Great Depression, and numerous changes to the game itself, and is filled with iconic moments, legendary figures, and significant events that have helped to shape the sport.

1870s - The Beginnings
The National League was founded in 1876. Its counterpart, the American League, was established in 1901.

1880s - Early Growth and Rival Leagues
The American Association (1882–1891) operated as a rival to the NL, leading to increased competition and player salary. The first version of the World Series was played between the NL and the American Association champions.

1890s - Consolidation
The NL absorbed the American Association, becoming the sole major league, and the modern pitching distance of 60 feet, 6 inches was established.

1900s - The American League Emerges
The American League (AL) was established as a major league and the first modern World Series was played between the champions of the NL and the new AL, beginning an annual tradition.

1910s - The Dead-Ball Era
The period is known for low-scoring games and a focus on small ball strategies, and saw the infamous Black Sox Scandal take place, where members of the Chicago White Sox conspired to fix the World Series.

1920s - The Live-Ball Era Begins
The introduction of a new, livelier ball resulted in an offensive explosion, while Babe Ruth became a cultural icon, popularizing the home run and changing the nature of the game.

1930s - The Great Depression and Night Baseball
MLB struggles but survives through the Great Depression, with the first MLB night game being played in 1935.

1940s - World War II and Integration
Many MLB players served during World War II, leading to talent shortages. In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, integrating MLB with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

1950s - The Move West
MLB expanded beyond the Northeast and Midwest as teams moved westward, which included the Giants and Dodgers relocating to California.

1960s - Expansion and Pitching Dominance
MLB expanded, adding new teams and splitting each league into two divisions. Meanwhile, pitching dominated the decade, leading to the lowering of the pitcher's mound in 1969.

1970s - Free Agency and More Expansion
The era of free agency began, dramatically changing the business of baseball. The designated hitter (DH) rule was adopted by the AL in 1973.

1980s - Parity and International Influence
MLB started to see an increase in parity as different teams won the World Series, opening up the game. International players also began to have a significant impact on the league as baseball became more popular around the world.

1990s - The Long Ball and Labor Strife
Home runs saw new heights with players like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa hitting records. However, a players' strike meant that the 1994 World Series was canceled.

2000s - The Steroid Era and New Ballparks
MLB grappled with a number of scandals involving banned performance-enhancing substances. A wave of new, retro-designed ballparks opened across the league.

2010s - Advanced Analytics and Player Development
The use of advanced analytics revolutionized player evaluation and in-game strategies, while in 2016 the Chicago Cubs finally broke their 108-year championship drought.

2020s - A Modern Era Shaped by Global Challenges
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the 2020 season, leading to a shortened schedule and fan-less games. MLB continues to evolve with changes to rules and playoff structures to maintain the excitement of the game.

Most Successful MLB Teams

The success of Major League Baseball (MLB) teams can be measured in various ways, including the number of World Series titles, league pennants, playoff appearances, and overall win-loss records. 

However, it’s perhaps the number of World Series wins that most fans would ultimately use to measure the success of a team.

1. New York Yankees: 27 World Series Championships

Known for their iconic pinstripes and a roster of legendary players like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Derek Jeter, the Yankees have won significantly more World Series championships than any other team in the history of Major League Baseball, with 2009 being their most recent winning year.

One of the most famous teams in US sports, and arguably the biggest team in New York, the Yankees have also won the American League pennant over 40 times.

2. St. Louis Cardinals: 11 World Series Championships

Second only to the Yankees in total World Series wins, the Cardinals have won the championship more than any other National League team. They’ve also won the NL pennant 19 times.

The success of St. Louis spans multiple decades, with Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, and Ozzie Smith among their most storied players. The Cardinals last went all the way in 2011.

3. Boston Red Sox: 9 World Series Championships

Of their 9  World Series championships, a significant number of Boston’s wins have been in the 21st century, which some fans would argue makes them more relevant in the modern era. The team famously broke the "Curse of the Bambino" in 2004, winning their first championship since 1918.

With their most recent World Series win coming in 2018, the franchise has a history of iconic players such as Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Pedro Martinez.

4. Oakland Athletics: 9 World Series Championships

The Athletics have won several World Series titles, with their success spanning different cities - Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Oakland. The team completed a three year sweep in the 70s, however they haven’t clinched the World Series since 1989.

The franchise has been known for influential players and executives over the years who’ve contributed to the story of baseball in the US, including Reggie Jackson and Billy Beane (famous for "Moneyball").

5. San Francisco Giants: 8 World Series Championships

With 8 World Series titles to their name, the most recent coming in 2014, the Giants have also claimed the National League pennant over 20 times in their history.

The Giants franchise started in New York before moving to San Francisco in 1957 and the team has featured legendary players like Willie Mays and Barry Bonds over the years.

New York’s MLB Teams

New York has a rich baseball history, represented by two Major League Baseball teams: the New York Yankees in the American League and the New York Mets in the National League.

New York Yankees

The Yankees are one of the most storied franchises in all of sports. They rose to prominence in the 1920s with the acquisition of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox, which began a dynasty. 

The team has had numerous eras of dominance, including the Ruth and Lou Gehrig era in the 1920s and 1930s, the Joe DiMaggio era in the 1930s and 1940s, the Mickey Mantle era in the 1950s and 1960s, and the Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera era in the late 1990s and 2000s.

The Yankees have won 27 World Series titles, the most in MLB history. Their championships span from 1923 to their most recent win in 2009. They have appeared in the World Series 40 times, also an MLB record.

New York Mets

The Mets were introduced to MLB as part of the league's expansion to replace the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, who both moved to California. They had an underwhelming start in their early years but stunned the world with a World Series win in 1969, known as the "Miracle Mets."

The 1980s saw another peak in success, highlighted by their 1986 World Series win. Including their two wins, the Mets have appeared in the World Series a total of five times, with their most recent appearance in 2015.

Who Is The Most Successful MLB Player?

While there are a range of criteria that could be used to define how successful a player is, let's look at those who have won the highest achievement in the game, a World Series winner's ring.

1. Yogi Berra: 10 World Series Rings

Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra was not only a cornerstone of the New York Yankees' dynasty but also one of baseball's most beloved figures. As a player, coach, and manager, Berra appeared in 21 World Series, winning more than any other individual in MLB history. He was an 18-time All-Star and won the American League MVP award three times during his career.

2. Joe DiMaggio: 9 World Series Rings

Known as "The Yankee Clipper," DiMaggio is an American baseball icon. A three-time MVP winner and an All-Star in each of his 13 seasons, his 56-game hitting streak in 1941 is considered one of the most unbreakable records in sports history.

3. Bill Dickey: 8 World Series Rings

Bill Dickey is a name that stands out in the annals of baseball, particularly for his time with the New York Yankees during the 1920s through the early 1940s. As an 11-time All-Star, Dickey was known for his exceptional skill as a catcher and was one of the best offensive catchers of his era, ending his career with a .313 batting average, 202 home runs, and over 1,200 RBIs.

4. Lou Gehrig: 8 World Series Rings

Another legend from Yankees history, the "Iron Horse," was known for his record-setting streak of 2,130 consecutive games played, and was a two-time MVP.

5. Phil Rizzuto: 8 World Series Rings

Named the American League MVP in 1950, Rizzuto was instrumental in leading the Yankees to dominate baseball in the 1940s.

6. Frank Crosetti: 7 World Series Rings

Part of the legendary Yankees team of the 1930s, Crosetti was also a two-time All-Star. He continued as a coach after playing, and amassed a career total of 17 rings combined, one of the highest of all time.

7. Babe Ruth: 7 World Series Rings

Recognized as one of the greatest sports heroes in American culture, Ruth transformed the game with his home run hitting prowess and won titles with both the Yankees and the Red Sox. He set numerous records that stood for decades. Including most home runs in a season and most career home runs.

8. Hank Bauer: 7 World Series Rings

Three-time All-Star, Bauer was integral to one of the most dominant teams in baseball history. He held the record for the longest hitting streak in World Series history at 17 games—a record that stood for 53 years until it was broken in 2014.

9. Mickey Mantle: 7 World Series Rings

Three-time MVP, Mantle played his entire career with the Yankees. regarded as one of the greatest switch hitters in baseball history, he won the Triple Crown in 1956, leading the American League in batting average, home runs, and RBIs.

10. Herb Pennock: 7 World Series Rings

Known for his control and crafty pitching rather than overpowering speed, Pennock was one of the top pitchers of his era. His regular-season career statistics included 241 wins, a 3.60 ERA, and over 1,200 strikeouts.

Notable Mentions

Most Career Home Runs: Barry Bonds (762)

Highest Career Batting Average: Ty Cobb (.366)

Most Career Wins: Cy Young (511)

MLB Teams FAQs

There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball, divided equally between the American League (AL) and National League (NL).

The New York Yankees have won the most World Series titles, with 27 championships.

The Atlanta Braves are the oldest continuously operating team in MLB, having been founded in 1871 as the Boston Red Stockings.

The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Rays are the newest teams, both having begun play in 1998.

The MLB regular season typically starts in late March or early April and runs until the end of September or early October.

The MLB regular season typically lasts about six months, with each team scheduled to play 162 games. This does not include the postseason, which can extend into late October or early November.

Max Scherzer of the Texas Rangers earned the highest salary in MLB in 2023 with $58 million. However, when including sponsorships and endorsements, Shohei Ohtani was the highest paid player overall with $70 million.

The Most Valuable Player (MVP) in each league (AL and NL) is decided by a vote of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA). Individuals consider factors like player performance, value to the team, and overall contribution to the game before voting for the winner.

Winning an MLB division secures a team a spot in the postseason playoffs. It also often results in home-field advantage in at least the early rounds of the playoffs, which can be a significant benefit in the postseason.

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