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The evolution of baseball from older bat-and-ball games is difficult to trace with precision.
Consensus once held that today's baseball is a North American development from the older game rounders, popular in Great Britain and Ireland.
Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game (2005), by David Block, suggests that the game originated in England;
recently uncovered historical evidence supports this position. Block argues that rounders and early baseball were actually regional
variants of each other, and that the game's most direct antecedents are the English games of stoolball and "tut-ball".
It has long been believed that cricket also descended from such games, though evidence uncovered in early 2009 suggests that the
sport may have been imported to England from Flanders.
In the mid-1850s, a baseball craze hit the New York metropolitan area. By 1856, local journals were referring to baseball as
the "national pastime" or "national game". A year later, sixteen area clubs formed the sport's first governing body, the
National Association of Base Ball Players. In 1863, the organization disallowed putouts made by catching a fair ball on the first bounce.
Four years later, it barred participation by African Americans. The game's commercial potential was developing: in 1869 the first
fully professional baseball club, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was formed and went undefeated against a schedule of
semipro and amateur teams. The first professional league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players,
lasted from 1871 to 1875; scholars dispute its status as a major league.
The more formally structured National League was founded in 1876. As the oldest surviving major league, the National League is sometimes referred
to as the "senior circuit". The National League's first successful counterpart, the American League, which evolved from the
minor Western League, was established that year. The two leagues, each with eight teams, were rivals that fought for the best players,
often disregarding each other's contracts and engaging in bitter legal disputes.