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Was the NA (1871-75) a "Major" League?

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  • #16
    Many of the NL's best players came from the NA although there is some dispute as to whether their career numbers from the earlier league were officially accepted. To me, it was the best league at the time, it had the best players and managers, and deserves ML status.

    In fact, when the NL operated some of its best players jumped the league so that it may not have necessarily featured the best available talent at the time. Yet, it retained it ML status. I have read where some of the players were considered amateurs and that this jeopardizes the NA's claim to ML status. Well, we had amateurs in pro tennis and amateurs in the old NASL in the 60s. But that never diminished pro tennis or pro soccer's claim to major league status.

    Of all the 19th century players in the HOF, how many were from the NA compared with other leagues from that century?

    Yes, I realize some of the numbers from that era remain in dispute, but why not give the NA ML status? I think it deserves the designation.

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    • #17
      Well, purely for the sake of playing devil's advocate, I'll say that the argument against the NA is that the game was still in a fairly primitive state in the early 1870's.

      Underhanded pitchers who couldn't throw a breaking pitch, team game scores still frequently in double figures in the early years -- this isn't baseball as we know it. The top New York City teams clearly had the best players in the game around 1860 or 1866, yet we don't consider them major leaguers, so why should it be different for the NA?

      It seems to me the fact of the matter, though, is that today there really aren't a lot of people who have much interest in the 19th century game and don't consider the NA a major league. The decision to exclude it from major status was made in the late 1960's for reasons peculiar to the day. If you look at baseball encyclopedias and guides published before that time, the NA is accepted as a major; and those published subsequently have pretty much done the same.
      “Money, money, money; that is the article I am looking after now more than anything else. It is the only thing that will shape my course (‘religion is nowhere’).” - Ross Barnes

      Comment


      • #18
        Originally posted by Beady View Post
        Well, purely for the sake of playing devil's advocate, I'll say that the argument against the NA is that the game was still in a fairly primitive state in the early 1870's.

        Underhanded pitchers who couldn't throw a breaking pitch, team game scores still frequently in double figures in the early years -- this isn't baseball as we know it. The top New York City teams clearly had the best players in the game around 1860 or 1866, yet we don't consider them major leaguers, so why should it be different for the NA?

        It seems to me the fact of the matter, though, is that today there really aren't a lot of people who have much interest in the 19th century game and don't consider the NA a major league. The decision to exclude it from major status was made in the late 1960's for reasons peculiar to the day. If you look at baseball encyclopedias and guides published before that time, the NA is accepted as a major; and those published subsequently have pretty much done the same.
        The average runs scored per game was 10.4 in 1871 and declined to 6.1 in 1875, and to 5.9 in 1876 in the initial NL season. It wasn't until 1894 when it rose to 7.36 that we see the offense gaining. Was it the annual changes in pitching rules or was it because the NA got better?

        You are probably right that there isn't much interest in the 19th Century game. Yet if you look at the public's interest in the military and wars, the most interest seems to be with the Civil War. Some of us know who every Civil War general was and the number of casualties in every battle. People forget about the passion that baseball inspired back then. There aren't enough good books being written about that era in baseball.
        "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
        "You'se Got The Eye Of An Eagle."

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        • #19
          Baseball was baseball whatever era we're talking about. Just because one era had/has different rules and nuances doesn't make it better or worse than any other era IMO. One era may not be baseball as we know it in 2009 but that means little - very little. Baseball will be significantly different in 2029 as it is today - as today is very different from 1989.

          Using that logic, how can MLB baseball be truely deemed a major before the incorporation of African-Americans in the 1960s? In a few decades how will people view MLB prior to its mass inclusion of international players? What will then others think in say 60 years when other talent markets are opened up with the billions of people in India, China, Cuba and Africa?

          If relatively few bother with studying 19th century baseball, how then is there some great widespread, sound reasoning for declaring the NA not a major? I'm guessing that the decision to not call it a major was done during the compilation of the MacMillan Encyclopedia. Much has changed and been changed since then. That's not an endorsement one way or the other but some writers/publishers making a call in the 1960s doesn't make it omnipotent or omnicient.

          Just a quick purusal of BBF will tell you that few post in the forums:
          - pertaining to female baseball history
          - pertaining to international baseball history
          - pertaining to minor league baseball history
          - pertaining to Negro league history

          Hence, one can infer that few are actually interested in any of those areas.

          A more indepth probe will show that the History section is overwhelmingly dominated by discussions of the Hall of Famers. Do we then decide that our evaluation efforts and continued research would only be important if we stick to the masses who would rather discuss, study and evaluate and reevaluate only those selected elite?

          New York City was clearly the dominant region in 1860. But then again, that's where the rules of the game as we use and understand them today originated. By 1866, this was clearly changing. That December the NABBP included 202 clubs representing 17 states plus DC who all decided they would play by those NYC rules. If the NABBP had limited their clubs significantly (including the top cities and players) and played some sort of championship season, then there might be an argument for calling the NABBP a major. It didn't and it's not of course but the its successor the NA did those things - whether they pitched underhand, wore gloves or didn't indicate a strike on foul balls.
          Last edited by Brian McKenna; 03-25-2009, 07:53 PM.

          Comment


          • #20
            Originally posted by Brian McKenna View Post
            What will then others think in say 60 years when other talent markets are opened up with the billions of people in India, China, Cuba and Africa?

            .
            For what you're saying to happen that means baseball will become by far the most popular sport in the world. And that's also assuming that other major leagues don't open in Europe or other places. India is a cricket country, who knows if China wouldn't decide they won't let any of their top players leave the country assuming they start developing top quality major leaguers, and there are major hurdles for baseball to pass to even make a dent in Africa where soccer is king and basketball and cricket are popular in other countries.
            http://nyposts.blogspot.com/

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            • #21
              ''If you look at baseball encyclopedias and guides published before that time, the NA is accepted as a major''


              I remember reading a baseball encyclopedia back in the mid 60s (sorry, can't remember the exact title). To the best of my recollection, it did consider the NA as ML owing to the fact that so many of its players joined the NL in '76.

              When the NFL incorporated the AFL teams into its fold, it accepted the career stats of the players and coaches. NBA Hall of Famer Larry Brown's wins in the ABA were recognized when the league tallied his career wins. And, I'm sure, this has been done in other sports and leagues. Therefore, MLB should at least consider doing the same.

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              • #22
                I simply cannot accept the logic that because the NA was the best league of its day that we should consider it a major league.

                If MLB says it wasn't then it wasn't. None of its records count toward the official record books. If you want to count their records for your personal amusement have at it.

                I think the only purpose to looking at NA data is to determine if a player needs some "pioneer" credit to push them over the top for HoF consideration. And let's face if you did it would solely for the benefit of one player: Ross Barnes.
                Buck O'Neil: The Monarch of Baseball

                Comment


                • #23
                  Originally posted by KCGHOST View Post
                  I simply cannot accept the logic that because the NA was the best league of its day that we should consider it a major league.

                  If MLB says it wasn't then it wasn't. None of its records count toward the official record books. If you want to count their records for your personal amusement have at it.

                  I think the only purpose to looking at NA data is to determine if a player needs some "pioneer" credit to push them over the top for HoF consideration. And let's face if you did it would solely for the benefit of one player: Ross Barnes.
                  Several reasons have been given as to why the NA should be considered a major league. The historian who wrote the book about the NA' s history made it a point to explain why it was a a major league by our modern definition.

                  If MLB had it's act together I might agree with your second point. I find NA stats interesting for they show how the game evolved from the amatuer/early professional era into the major league era.
                  "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
                  "You'se Got The Eye Of An Eagle."

                  Comment


                  • #24
                    I don't think that being the strongest organization active at a given time would in itself be sufficient qualification for major status. There needs to be a national market , or at least a very widespread market for talent, and the organization in question has to be among the dominant purchasers in that market. Simply being marginally stronger than other leagues isn't enough -- you have to do a reasonable job of bringing the very best players together.

                    To summarize, then, a league is an organization of teams competing in a round-robin format for a championship; a major league is a league that brings together a reasonable cross-section of the best talent available, competing with and against one another.

                    In practice, compromises to this definition will be necessary for a variety of reasons, but the definition itself seems an theoretically satisfactory and elegant way of defining a major league. Other considerations, such as the matter of financial support proposed by Brian, or the hodge-podge miscellany of criteria tossed out by Bill James at the end of his UA article, seem to me to be superfluous. My definition cannot be met unless an organization meets the other criteria that might be proposed.

                    So if "major league" has any value as a category for historical analysis -- and I really don't know whether it does -- then I think my definition is a good one. But if the real point of a discussion is simply to delimit which players and seasons are included in player registers and the MLB record book, or who deserves a place in the Hall of Kitschy Plaques, then it would be better to phrase the question more precisely in those terms, rather than using "major league" as a slightly more convenient but distinctly fuzzy shorthand for what you're actually talking about.
                    “Money, money, money; that is the article I am looking after now more than anything else. It is the only thing that will shape my course (‘religion is nowhere’).” - Ross Barnes

                    Comment


                    • #25
                      This discussion is getting kinda ridiculous. Just two questions have to
                      asked: (1) Did NA have the strongest clubs in the country at that time (2) Did it have the best players? It clearly did, so it was indisputably "major league". In fact, I say it was MORE "major league" than the NL because any club that had pretentions could join and prove itself on the field. Not so with NL which kept out clubs clearly as good, if not better, than its own teams. The truth has been revealed so, verily I say unto you, no longer walk
                      in error.

                      Comment


                      • #26
                        ''There needs to be a national market , or at least a very widespread market for talent, and the organization in question has to be among the dominant purchasers in that market.''


                        The NA had a franchise as as St Louis (ditto for the AL & NL) and were the top market. On that basis, it should meet your definition of a ML.


                        That era did not provide access for players from the Caribbean, West Coast, and Asia to the Northeast markets. Sadly, because of society's racism it did not allow Black players into their teams. Had those players been allowed or if others had more mobility thereby allowing access to the markets, then it would definitely have been a ML.



                        ''If MLB says it wasn't then it wasn't.''

                        Granted. But the point of this thread is why it should be considered ML. That's why we are offering ideas.

                        Nothing wrong with that, I hope.

                        Comment


                        • #27
                          The NA, PCL, and IA all have strong cases as Major Leagues. If the UA, why not these 3?

                          Comment


                          • #28
                            Originally posted by Beady View Post
                            I regard a league as a body comprised of a fairly limited number of teams playing a set of round-robin series -- with, in its purest form, every team playing every other an equal number of times -- to determine a champion. That fits the NA.
                            It's the "fairly limited number of teams" bit that raises the question with me. The number of clubs was limited only by the number of clubs with the ten bucks and optimism to join. When the problem with this scheme because apparent, the NA went away. The counter-argument for league status is that the round robin championship is the defining characteristic, while limited membership is a secondary characteristic. A successful league will limit membership, but failure to limit membership does not disqualify the organization from being a league.

                            I'm not married to the idea that the NA ought not be counted as a league. The point of the discussion is to bring out the transitional status of the NA, which in turn is necessary to understand what was going on.

                            Originally posted by KCGHOST View Post
                            I simply cannot accept the logic that because the NA was the best league of its day that we should consider it a major league.

                            If MLB says it wasn't then it wasn't. None of its records count toward the official record books. If you want to count their records for your personal amusement have at it.
                            This is an interesting approach, in that it implicitly grants MLB the authority to separate the sheep from the goats throughout baseball and across history. William Hulbert somewhere is smiling. But why should we give MLB this power? It makes a certain amount of sense that the NL and AL, in their modern MLB incarnation, own their own statistical record. (It would make even more sense had they any sense of its being important to get things right.) But why should they have ownership of the records of league unconnected to them?

                            Originally posted by jjpm74 View Post
                            The NA, PCL, and IA all have strong cases as Major Leagues. If the UA, why not these 3?
                            Regarding the PCL, by that era major/minor league status was a defined relationship. Any league which chose to reject that status could roll the dice and declare itself major. The American League did this and pulled it off. The Federal League did this and failed. The PCL never took that step.

                            Regarding the IA (taking this to mean the International Association of 1877-1878) the argument for major status is not all that strong. The "was it a league?" question is relevant: it was a trade association, some members of which opted to play for its championship. The point of the association was much more about protecting player contracts than it was holding a pennant race.

                            Then there is the level of play question. Much is made of IA teams beating NL teams, but there is less here than meets the eye. Read contemporary accounts of these games and it comes through that the League teams treated these as meaningless exhibitions, played for a bit of extra revenue, while the non-League clubs regarded these as big deals: major attendance draws, with the potential for prestige from a victory.

                            This discussion goes back to Chadwick. He was cut out of the process when the NL formed, and it took him a few years to really reconicle himself to the League. He literally kept lists of League club losses to outside clubs, and made a point of publicizing them. (This is telling: no one publicized lists of IA club losses to outside clubs. Why not, if the NL and the IA were on the same level?) Harold Seymour picked this up from Chadwick, pretty much ensuring this as a perenniel topic. But these claims for non-League clubs being equal to League clubs look better from a distance than they do close up.

                            Comment


                            • #29
                              I think William Hulbert wanted to create a more dignified game, one without gambling and a bunch of other sins. He thought eight teams were just about right for league play, designed with four western teams and four eastern teams.

                              Chicago, St. Louis, Louisville, and Cincinnati in the west
                              Hartford, Boston, Mutual (Brooklyn), and Athletic (Philadelphia) in the east.

                              Of course it didn't last, but the founding of the NL was probably necessary to get the professional game some respectability. It is the NL that is Pro Baseball's foundation, not the NA.

                              Comment


                              • #30
                                Originally posted by SABR Steve View Post
                                It is the NL that is Pro Baseball's foundation, not the NA.
                                Change "Pro Baseball" to "Major League Baseball" and you can make a sensible argument. But professional baseball? There were openly professional teams competing since 1869. I would hate to be tasked with constructing an argument that professional baseball was founded years after professional baseball was, umm..., founded.

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