Little League World Series Begins, Continuing Baseball Traditions

competition ends saturday in williamsport, pa

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

The 73rd Little League World Series began last week and ends Saturday, according to ESPN. Eight U.S. teams and eight international teams are competing. America’s pastime has a multitude of traditions and rituals.

Close up of baseball glove, bat and baseball on wood
During each baseball season, fans hold fast to baseball stadium traditions during the game. Photo by Pam Walker / Shutterstock

When the finalists take to the field for the championship game in the Little League World Series on Saturday, both teams of young athletes will close out the event after besting 14 other teams. Not only have they come a long way since their first games of the season, but a number of rituals and traditions that baseball has held for over a century are sure to play out as well.

Scorecards and Stretches

Many traditions associated with baseball, such as seeking players’ autographs and the teams shaking hands after a game, came from an element of status that ballplayers have earned since the game’s inception. But other baseball norms come from more practical places.

“The customs of purchasing a scorecard and keeping score, for instance, received a major boost by the absence of numbers from player uniforms until well into the 20th century,” said Bruce Markusen, Manager of Digital and Outreach Learning in the Education Department at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “The old ballpark cry that ‘you can’t tell the players without a scorecard’ was almost literally true. Left unsaid, of course, was that even with a scorecard, it was still mighty difficult to do so; but as long as the scorecard correctly listed the names and positions of the starters for both teams, it was a valuable aid in that regard.”

Markusen also cited the seventh-inning stretch as owing to necessity more than anything. “When the pioneering Red Stocking Club of Cincinnati visited California in 1869, one of the promoters arranged for a 10-minute intermission following the sixth inning in hopes of increasing concession revenue,” he said. “There was a mild backlash against the ploy, which one reporter denounced as ‘a dodge to advertise and have the crowd patronize the bar.’ Yet spectators were grateful for the opportunity to stretch their legs and perhaps walk about and use the restrooms; so before long, the seventh-inning stretch became a custom.”

The Wave

Bruce Markusen said that one of the volunteers at the National Baseball Hall of Fame found a newspaper article from 1866 that seemed to indicate the origins of the all-too familiar “wave” that circles the crowd at baseball games today. According to Markusen, the article claimed that one spectator had become so cramped from sitting in the stands for several hours that he stood and stretched his torso, arms, and neck as high as possible. A patron next to him imitated the act, and soon enough, almost every seat in the house did the same.

“A number of other contemporary sources clearly establish that something closely resembling that custom was in use in the 19th century,” Markusen said. “An account of an 1889 game, for instance, described how the excitement in the bleachers became so intense that ‘everybody was forced to throw up their hands and […] sway about like a wave on the ocean.’ Yet the wave went into an extended hibernation before unexpectedly returning and becoming more popular than ever in the 1980s.”

Baseball has been around for nearly 200 years, and its traditions come and go. Teams may not walk to the stadium in uniform anymore, but fans keeping score and doing the seventh-inning stretch seem like they’ll still be here when members of the Little League World Series make their way to the Majors.

Bruce Markusen contributed to this article. Mr. Markusen is the Manager of Digital and Outreach Learning in the education department at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, in Cooperstown, New York. He has also worked in the Hall of Fame’s research and programming departments, and he was formerly a teacher at The Farmers’ Museum and the Fenimore Art Museum.