Little Leaguers watch the action from their dugout during a game in 2002. (Julie Jacobson/Associated Press)

Happy birthday to you

Happy birthday to you

Happy birthday dear Little League

Happy birthday to you

Founder Carl Stotz in 1939 with boys from one of the first Little League teams. (FromThomas “Tuck” Frazier/Via Associated Press)

There was a big birthday this month. Little League turned 75 years old.

Lots of kids play sports. More than 2 million kids in 80 countries, including plenty of kids around Washington, play Little League baseball and softball.

But Little League wasn’t always a big international organization. The idea started with one man and two boys.

In 1938, Carl Stotz worked as a clerk for a company in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He had two nephews, Jimmy and Harold Gehron, although everyone called Harold “Major.”

Stotz loved playing baseball with Jimmy and Major. In those days, however, kids did not have organized leagues or good equipment. Their baseballs often were covered with black tape, and the bats were cracked and held together with nails.

One day, after scraping his ankle against a lilac bush where he played with his nephews, Stotz asked the boys, “How would you like to play on a regular team with uniforms, a new ball for every game and bats you could really swing?”

He didn’t have to ask twice. Soon the boys had gathered their friends and were practicing in a local park. Stotz was also adjusting the rules of the game for his younger, smaller players. For example, he set the bases 60 feet apart instead of the major-league distance of 90 feet.

Stotz aimed to find local businesses to donate $30 to sponsor a team and buy the uniforms and equipment. The first 56 businesses turned him down. Finally, on his 57th try, Lycoming Dairy told Stotz it would sponsor a team.

So the first league started in Williamsport in June 1939 with three teams: Lycoming Dairy, Lundy Lumber and Jumbo Pretzel. The idea of kids playing baseball on real teams, however, caught on quickly. In 10 years, there were more than 300 leagues throughout the United States.

Among the kids who have played Little League are future baseball Hall of Famers such as Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken Jr. and Tom Seaver. Some other Little Leaguers who became famous for reasons other than baseball were George W. Bush (43rd president of the United States), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (leading scorer in NBA history) and Bruce Springsteen (rock-and-roll legend).

Regular kids played, too. I played for a team called the Pirates in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

For many years, girls were not allowed to play on Little League teams. Little League finally changed its rules to allow girls to play in 1974.

So enjoy Little League’s birthday celebration. Maybe eat some ice cream and cake. Or better yet, go out and play some baseball.

Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 19 sports books for kids, including nine baseball books.