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  • National Association of Base Ball Players, 1869-1870

    I realize the dual categories of amateur and professional clubs that the NABBP maintained for 1869-1870 means that those dozen or so professional clubs did not form an independent professional league until the 1871 National Association, but let's face it - these are largely the same clubs and they're playing in a structured league in matches against each other that count towards a professional-only national championship. For all intents and purposes, the professional category of the 1869-70 NABBP was a de facto league.

    Furthermore, it represents the very highest quality/level of baseball in existence during those seasons. It seems to me that not only should the 1871-75 National Association be recognized as a "major" league, but MLB should consider its origins with the 1869 season, not 1871 or 1876.

    Disagreements? Obviously there were benefits of having a league that was independent and distinct from the amateur National Association, but I don't see that in practice, the 1871-75 years were all that different than 1869-70 in terms of how the game was played. Am I wrong?

    One interesting thing, to me, is that we are fast approaching the 150th anniversary of the advent of professional "organized" baseball. 2019 is the magic year, not 2026 (as we'll no doubt hear when that year comes around).
    Last edited by Chadwick; 06-21-2018, 12:22 PM.
    "It is a simple matter to erect a Hall of Fame, but difficult to select the tenants." -- Ken Smith
    "I am led to suspect that some of the electorate is very dumb." -- Henry P. Edwards
    "You have a Hall of Fame to put people in, not keep people out." -- Brian Kenny
    "There's no such thing as a perfect ballot." -- Jay Jaffe

  • #2
    It is generally a mistake to impose modern concepts anachronistically. We see this sometimes by people looking at win-loss records in the amateur era and imposing a retroactive championship based on the result. They had a concept of how a championship worked, and that wasn't it. As for 1869-1870, the body of professional clubs did not comprise a coherent competitive group, nor was it meant to. It really was just a declaration that their players were being paid. So you get those oddball Maryland and DC clubs, that were barely in the same orbit as the Atlantics and Mutuals, much less the Red Stockings. What changes in 1871 is that they established more or less the modern conception of how to organize a championship, with every club playing every other club a determined number of matches and the championship decided by the overall win-loss record. There were still some unresolved issues, but at that point what they were doing was close enough to what we are doing today as to be classified together.

    Also, we shouldn't assume that the split between amateurs and professionals was inevitable. England's Football Association manages to accommodate both groups, and does to this day. The split in baseball seems natural to us today, but this is due to later history.

    Comment


    • #3
      I think I'd lean toward the formation of the NL in 1876 as the beginning of MLB as we currently know it: a stable number of teams playing a consistent and reasonably equitable schedule under a specific set of rules with fairly standardized equipment and a reasonably finite common talent supply.

      The NA of 1869-75 is CLOSE to those standards but IMO does not quite meet them. I guess I would call it "organized" but not "major league" baseball.

      It's a semantic distinction; doesn't get me too worked up one way or another.

      Comment


      • #4
        When I think of "major league", I of course think of both "major" and "league". While the 1869-1870 NABBP was "major", I can't really think of it as a "league" as we would commonly define it. I think the 1871-1875 NA qualifies on both counts for the most part -- "major" for sure in that there was clearly no other association of professional ball clubs and players that were its peer; the "league" aspect of it was certainly weaker than it was starting with the NL in 1876, but the idea was there.

        On the other hand, something like the UA of 1884, despite its ML status, was a "league" by most reasonable definitions but I think it fails the "major" test and it never should have been recognized as a major league. The NA was much closer to the definition of a "league" than the UA was to the definition of "major".
        Last edited by ziggy29; 10-31-2017, 09:14 AM.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by StarStar00 View Post
          I think I'd lean toward the formation of the NL in 1876 as the beginning of MLB as we currently know it: a stable number of teams playing a consistent and reasonably equitable schedule under a specific set of rules with fairly standardized equipment and a reasonably finite common talent supply.

          The NA of 1869-75 is CLOSE to those standards but IMO does not quite meet them. I guess I would call it "organized" but not "major league" baseball.

          It's a semantic distinction; doesn't get me too worked up one way or another.
          Stable? After 1876, New York and Philadelphia were banned from the league. Then it was a six team league for a couple years, and then some other teams joined, and the teams that were in the league on any given year varied over the the next two decades. That's not really stable, even if if in any given season the teams in the league at the time played a roughly similar number of games. You didn't really get a regular stable line up in the NL until 1900, and not in the AL until 1903.
          "Here's a crazy thought I've always had: if they cut three fingers off each hand, I'd really be a great hitter because then I could level off better." Paul Waner (lifetime .333 hitter, 3,152 lifetime hits.

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          • #6
            My understanding is that the primary difference between the 1871-75 NA and the early years of the NL was mostly that non-players (i.e. owners) asserted control over the franchises and league.

            I understand organized baseball to have begun with the 1857 formation of the (amateur) National Association. I look at professional baseball to have begun with the NA's separate categorization of openly professional teams beginning in the 1869 season. Sure it resembled English soccer (two categories of leagues/team) or boxing (in how the champ was determined) in terms of its structure more than it resembles the modern concept of a league but I don't doubt that 90% of the best teams and players were among those dozen openly professional teams in 1869-70, just as they were in 1871-75 and again in 1876-81. The structure of the organization, how a champion was determined. etc. was still evolving during this period, but it was effectively "major league" in the sense that it was a collection - the collection - of the nation's top teams and that they played each other to determine a champion from amongst themselves.

            It may have been disorganized, but the essential elements of what make it a "major" league (for me) are there - the top teams competing against each other for a championship. I would suggest that in 1869 and 1870, while the pro teams didn't exclusively have the best talent available, they had the lion's share of it. And hasn't that been a driving factor in recognizing the AA or FL, for example, as "major" leagues? The fact they were attracting top talent to their league?
            Last edited by Chadwick; 11-10-2017, 05:54 AM.
            "It is a simple matter to erect a Hall of Fame, but difficult to select the tenants." -- Ken Smith
            "I am led to suspect that some of the electorate is very dumb." -- Henry P. Edwards
            "You have a Hall of Fame to put people in, not keep people out." -- Brian Kenny
            "There's no such thing as a perfect ballot." -- Jay Jaffe

            Comment


            • #7
              I think you are spot on, Chadwick.

              Comment


              • #8
                The National Association of 1871-1875 was created to determine a nominal national champion. Various clubs whether professional, semi-professional, or amateur declared themselves as national champs before the NAPBBP was organized. The champ was determined by who had the most victories in the league which continued for several years after the NL was created.
                By the way, the NL was really reduced to five clubs in 1877 and allowed Cincinnati back into the NL officially in 1878. Most reference books ignore the facts of the day.

                A good book on the origins discussed is Harold Seymour's "Baseball, The Early Years" published back in 1960.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by SABR Steve View Post
                  The National Association of 1871-1875 was created to determine a nominal national champion.
                  Really? I was always under the impression that it was created to separate the professional clubs from the amateur ones due to the sense that the amateur NA was not serving the interests of the pro clubs (which was, obviously, to stage a financially profitable entertainment). Was it really difficulty in establishing a champion that led to the separation?

                  A good book on the origins discussed is Harold Seymour's "Baseball, The Early Years" published back in 1960.
                  It's been a long time since I read Seymour's three-volume history. Thanks for the plug, I'll have to pick it up again soon.
                  "It is a simple matter to erect a Hall of Fame, but difficult to select the tenants." -- Ken Smith
                  "I am led to suspect that some of the electorate is very dumb." -- Henry P. Edwards
                  "You have a Hall of Fame to put people in, not keep people out." -- Brian Kenny
                  "There's no such thing as a perfect ballot." -- Jay Jaffe

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Chadwick View Post
                    My understanding is that the primary difference between the 1871-75 NA and the early years of the NL was mostly that non-players (i.e. owners) asserted control over the franchises and league.
                    This was a talking point of the NL that many modern writers credulously accept. It is propaganda. To be blunt, it is BS. To put the lie to it, look at who were the club officers and delegates to NA conventions. They were, with two exceptions, ownership. The two exceptions are Bob Ferguson and Harry Wright. Now look at who were the club officers and delegates to the NL meetings. They for the most part were the same people. I don't mean the same class of people. I mean the same individuals. These include Ferguson and Wright. Why were they sent by ownership as delegates? Because they were responsible adults who would do a good job representing their club's interests.

                    The talking point is justified by two facts. The first is that the full name of the NA was the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. See? It's right there in the name This is to vastly overinterpret the name. The NA was founded on the fly. It was improvised in March of 1871 on short notice. They copied from the predecessor National Association of Base Ball Players wholesale. The only major change was to add championship rules. The form of the name was in keeping with this, with merely the smallest possible change of adding "professional." The second fact is that a player, Bob Ferguson, was elected president of the NA for two years, 1872-1873. As previously noted, he would later turn up as a delegate at NL meetings. But more to the point, the NA president had little power. People imagine him as an 1870s Ban Johnson, but that is not how the NA worked. The NA president's main job was to run the meeting. That is a skill set: let everyone have their say while at the same time keeping the meeting moving. Not everyone is good at it. Ferguson seems to have been. Yes, there is some soft power inherent in running the meeting, but he didn't have dictatorial power to impose the will of the players on the owners. That is plain silly.

                    The reason for the talking point was that the NL wanted to distance itself from the NA. It did a great job of this. Hardly anyone notices that it was mostly the same clubs and the same individuals on either side of the 1875/1876 divide. Why did they want this? The NA had a bad reputation (only partially justified, but that is a different discussion) for tolerating corruption. The NL therefore presented the NA as the inmates running the asylum, while now with the NL the grown-ups were in charge. The claim that the NL was organized to crack down on corruption is largely hooey. It allowed even the most notorious players in, while setting up no procedures whatsoever either to investigate past corruption or to prevent future. Yes, there would be the Louisville Four after the 1877 season, but that was under a very different regime. The NL massively reorganized its governing structure early on, so you can't look at something that happened in late 1877 and project it backwards to the founding of the League. And even the Louisville situation merits a grain of salt. The NL's hand was forced by exposes in the local Louisville press. There also was precedent for banning players for throwing games. What was new was that Hulbert--by now firmly in control of the NL--refused to let them back in a few years later. This is far from nothing, but it isn't the total break from the past it is often represented to be.


                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Regarding the formation of the NAPBBP, the predecessor NABBP had as of 1869 formally permitted clubs to declare themselves professional. At that point there were two groups in the NABBP: a dozen or so professional clubs, and several hundred of everyone else. This was very controversial and there were a lot of hard feelings. The professional clubs managed to pretty much take control via various manipulations of the system. Remember that the Mutuals were a leading club, and were run by Tammany Hall. Working the NABBP was child's play for that crowd. This exacerbated the hard feelings, and a group of amateur clubs withdrew and formed the National Association of Amateur Base Ball Players. In the meantime, Nick Young, secretary of the professional Olympic Club of Washington, put out a call for a meeting of professional clubs to coordinate schedules. They had no schedule in the modern sense, and did not envision one, but it made no sense for the Chicago Club, say, to be in New York when the Mutuals of New York were in Chicago. Then with all the talk of the amateurs pulling out, the meeting was upgraded to setting up a championship system. In the event, it made more sense to make a clean break rather than deal with a rump NABBP: hence the NAPBBP, formed exactly one day apart from the NAABBP.

                      When you look at how the professional and the amateur clubs' interests diverged, the professionals' desire for a formal championship was certainly one factor. The NABBP had always refused to set up a championship, out of an entirely justified fear that non-championship games would be deemed irrelevant. The two groups legitimately had different interests here, and setting up the championship was the reason for the NAPBBP's existence. But it was the withdrawal of (some of) the amateurs that brought this on. It is entirely possible to imagine the two groups working it out and remaining under the aegis of the same organization. This is exactly what happened in England with the professional Football League remaining in the Football Association.

                      In other words, it's complicated...

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        It sounds as though you agree with my premise that the professional clubs of 1869-70 should be considered "professional baseball" along with the 1871-75 NA and the '76+ NL. It's more fluid (with many of the same clubs) than it is segregrated into distinct periods.
                        "It is a simple matter to erect a Hall of Fame, but difficult to select the tenants." -- Ken Smith
                        "I am led to suspect that some of the electorate is very dumb." -- Henry P. Edwards
                        "You have a Hall of Fame to put people in, not keep people out." -- Brian Kenny
                        "There's no such thing as a perfect ballot." -- Jay Jaffe

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Yes, the 1869-1870 professional clubs were, well, professional, and if we are to take "professional baseball" as a discrete category, then they are in it. They were not, however, in any useful sense a professional "league." The most basic function of a league is to establish a championship, and this was absent.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            This is mostly inferences made from years of accumulating this useless knowledge. Hershberger takes more of a scientific approach because he's smarter than me. Anyways here it is...

                            I'd consider 1857 to 1870 to be proto-major league baseball. The concepts we associate with a major pro league were all in place but people in the game were unsure of public (to a point), political and religious support for professionalism. By now the fans have been showing an obvious willingness to pay to watch high quality baseball. We're well past Elysian Fields by 1858-1860. There was the fashion race course all-star game in 1858. Creighton came up from Excelsior's junior club. I know there's no proof but common sense tells me Creighton was being paid even on the junior Star Club. The concept of an all-star game and farm team were not only ideas but were executed, successfully, by people involved in the sport in New York City. On the other end some serious names in the NABBP were against open professionalism to the bitter end. Especially the old guard and highly influential Knickerbockers with the possible exception of Will Wadsworth among the Knicks. This is just my theory but behind the scenes I think the 1857 formation of the NABBP was to curb the influence of the anti-pro Knickerbockers and begin pushing towards open professionalism. Probably due to the desire of the players to make a good living doing easy work playing ball and throwing games, run-shaving i.e. hippodroming.

                            Guys were getting paid by at least the late 1850's in New York. I wouldn't be surprised if guys were getting paid in the 1840's. Just for a couple examples I can't imagine Dickey Pearce wasn't getting paid in 1857. What was Joe Start doing for a living at 18 in 1860? Neither went to college. If guys back then went to college it was noted. So what were these uneducated guys doing at age 18 & 21 that they can afford to leave work and play ball? If you played for Eckford Frank Pigeon might let you off work or if you played for Mutual then Tammany Hall could get you off work. But more often the gig they were being paid to do was a no-show clerical job to sign the player to the ball team. I don't know if Atlantic was associated with any trades (career). I personally think Atlantic was founded with the intent of becoming purely professional to compete with some other clubs that were at least mostly pro in New York.

                            Originally posted by rrhersh View Post
                            Yes, the 1869-1870 professional clubs were, well, professional, and if we are to take "professional baseball" as a discrete category, then they are in it. They were not, however, in any useful sense a professional "league." The most basic function of a league is to establish a championship, and this was absent.
                            Weren't they trying to name a champion by 1857-8? Obviously if there was any ambiguity involved the teams would make competing claims and kick, punch, cheat and screw each other to claim the title. There just wasn't enough cohesion between the clubs to enforce the title. Partly because often before the mid-late 1860's the guys in proto-front office positions were also players and directly emotionally invested in personal alliances and rivalries on and off the field. And thus more likely to do right by their team, friends, selves rather than the association as a whole.

                            Originally posted by rrhersh View Post
                            It is generally a mistake to impose modern concepts anachronistically. We see this sometimes by people looking at win-loss records in the amateur era and imposing a retroactive championship based on the result. They had a concept of how a championship worked, and that wasn't it. As for 1869-1870, the body of professional clubs did not comprise a coherent competitive group, nor was it meant to. It really was just a declaration that their players were being paid. So you get those oddball Maryland and DC clubs, that were barely in the same orbit as the Atlantics and Mutuals, much less the Red Stockings.
                            I thought Nick Young was giving no-show government jobs to compete by like 1866-7 and that even before then Athletic from Philadelphia was about the only club outside the greater New York area that could compete with New York clubs. After the civil war Philadelphia had a lot of really good players.

                            Originally posted by Chadwick View Post
                            It sounds as though you agree with my premise that the professional clubs of 1869-70 should be considered "professional baseball" along with the 1871-75 NA and the '76+ NL. It's more fluid (with many of the same clubs) than it is segregrated into distinct periods.
                            It's easier to follow the players with long careers backwards. Joe Start, Dickey Pearce, the Wright brothers, Lip Pike, Joe Leggett, Nate Berkenstock, Asa Brainard. You'll find the money and figure out who the best teams were. Because keep in mind the money was on the down low.
                            Last edited by bluesky5; 05-21-2018, 10:40 AM.
                            "No matter how great you were once upon a time — the years go by, and men forget,” - W. A. Phelon in Baseball Magazine in 1915. “Ross Barnes, forty years ago, was as great as Cobb or Wagner ever dared to be. Had scores been kept then as now, he would have seemed incomparably marvelous.”

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              This game of baseball started out as a method of exercise and entertainment for men at a social club. Into he early 1850's, the Knickerbockers were paying $65 a year for use of the ball grounds at the Elysian fields. They used it for exercise, entertainment and the practice thereof. After matches with the Washington's and Gotham's, they noticed a fair amount of spectators were being entertained by their play. The newspapers when writing about the games would describe some of the attendees as "Members of other clubs" and the number of "ladies" amongst the crowds. The games from 1851 through 1854 probably averaged spectators ranging from 500 to 750 per match. They were amateurs who were not looking for championship trophies but to have a good time while excercising.

                              But they were doctor's who used the opportunity to spread baseball as an exercise, lawyers, businessmen. I cannot imagine amongst the business men not recognizing an opportunity with the crowds that were showing up to watch teams play the game of baseball.

                              In 1854, the Eagle club had a 3- 1 record after defeating the Knickerbocker club twice and splitting with the Gothams. 1855 was not so pleasant to the Eagles as they finished with a record of 1- 5. After the season, they convinced 3 players of the Jersey City Excelsiors ( 7- 0) and 3 players of the Jersey City Pioneers ( 2- 4) to join the Eagles for the 1856 season. Seems like a sign of competitiveness for the Eagles. The newspaper coverage from 1855 and after and the fans of the teams with their heroes such as Dickey Pearce of the Atlantic club were wanting for championships even if the clubs were not looking at play in that way.

                              1858 the Fashion Race Games charged 10 cent admission to the games and thousands of people paid to watch those games. Winning and money was starting to enter the ball game as business men were starting to see beyond the game. By the early 1860's teams were ready to compensate players in some form for drawing paying crowds to the games and to have the privilege to declare themselves as a champion club. As the clubs began to make some money, the players were going to want their share as well. The players were the draw for casual fans but how well the teams performed would bring crowds from other cities.

                              I believe some of the better players were being compensated for 8 to 10 years prior to the Cincinnati Red Stockings declaring their team as a professional team. I believe they were the first open team to declare. The National Association of Base Ball Players never wanted professional teams and players in their organization but their formation was for only one reason and never expanded from that initial reason. The NABBP was organized to set rules for everyone to play by. Nothing more. They had no power to enforce anything more and the game grew beyond their authority. The people wanted to see the best athletes and the best athletes wanted compensation for their play. The professional clubs saw the game as a business for the purpose of revenue. In the end, it didn't work the way Cincinnati had hoped as a 57- 0 record netted them $1.12 of revenue.

                              In 1869, 12 teams declared themselves as professionals and they did not play each other. There was no schedule.... Yes, they each played some of the other professional teams but not all of them. There were 15 professional teams in 1870. Many of those from 1869, 1870 and even teams in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players from 1871 through 1875 were paying players based on gate receipts. I believe they called these co-op teams.

                              When I started researching early baseball I did because I needed to know how and why the NAPBBP chose the players they populated their rosters with. Those players had a historic legacy, one I did not know until I began researching the early days and coming forward.

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