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

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  • #46
    Originally posted by SABR Matt View Post
    I don't think there is any legitimate case to be made for the NA as a major league.
    What would convince you that it was a major league?



    Barnstorming was still a bigger part of the schedule than the league games.

    At first glance this seemed like a good point. I checked the Encyclopedia of 19th Century ML Baseball and found something interesting. In 1875, there were at least five NA teams that played between 70 to 82 league games. In 1876, that figure dropped down to only one team in the NL that played 70 games.

    So barnstorming was not the exclusive property of the NA during the 1870's. Barnstorming from spring training through October was done by many ML teams well into the 20th Century.

    Here's an example from today's sports world of a league that barnstorms perhaps more than it plays league games. The English Premier League is considered by many to be the best soccer league in the world. Yet it's clubs play countless exhibition matches, Championship League games, and other games throughout the season. Players are yanked off the teams to go and play in World Cup qualifying games year after year. This doesn't seem to effect how the public views the league at all.

    This leads me to the point that the NA players were the highest paid pro baseball players from 1871-1875. They were paid the most because they were the best players.
    Last edited by TonyK; 05-19-2009, 07:05 PM.
    "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
    "You'se Got The Eye Of An Eagle."

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    • #47
      TonyK, on page 125 of the 19th Century Encyclopedia, the picture of the two teams should reflect that Providence is on the right and Boston is on the left. Boston was never known as the Red Caps, at least as far as I was able to discover. I have a framed picture of it on my basement wall.

      The book uses modern numbers derived from reconstructed box scores from various newspapers, and rejects certain rules that were in place at the time. The original score sheets are lost before 1902, I believe.

      However, It's still a fine source.

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      • #48
        Originally posted by SABR Steve View Post
        TonyK, on page 125 of the 19th Century Encyclopedia, the picture of the two teams should reflect that Providence is on the right and Boston is on the left. Boston was never known as the Red Caps, at least as far as I was able to discover. I have a framed picture of it on my basement wall.

        The book uses modern numbers derived from reconstructed box scores from various newspapers, and rejects certain rules that were in place at the time. The original score sheets are lost before 1902, I believe.

        However, It's still a fine source.
        It is hard to tell if the players on the left have BOSTON on their jerseys. I recall the debate over the standings used in this encyclopedia. A book of this length is bound to contain some errors and not please everyone.
        "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
        "You'se Got The Eye Of An Eagle."

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        • #49
          As I said, I have a picture on my wall, and I've been able to identify several players.

          Boston is definitely on the left. B-O-S-T-O-N is written on an arc on their chests. Providence doesn't have any identifying marks.

          Standing left to right is: unidentified, Ezra Sutton, Tommy Bond, John O'Rourke, Jack Burdock, Charley Jones, and John Morrill.
          On the ground left to right: Pop Snyder (99% sure), unidentified, and unidentified.

          Harry Wright is seated in the middle of the suits in the dark suit with heavy beard. The other 2 suits are unidentified.

          For Providence on the right:
          Standing second from the left is Paul Hines, fifth from left is John M. Ward holding the ball. On the far right is Jim O'Rourke.

          I think the guy lying on the ground with the sweater is Bobby Mathews, in the middle on the ground is George Wright.

          By several modern sources Boston is referred as the "Red Caps" in 1879 when the photo was taken. However, their caps are whitish. According to old publications, they were known throughout the 19th Century as the Reds or Beaneaters or both.

          BTW, errors in standings contained in various recent encyclopedias are due to an ignorance of rules. However, there has been an effort to rectify the errors.

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          • #50
            Originally posted by SABR Steve View Post
            As I said, I have a picture on my wall, and I've been able to identify several players.

            Boston is definitely on the left. B-O-S-T-O-N is written on an arc on their chests. Providence doesn't have any identifying marks.

            Standing left to right is: unidentified, Ezra Sutton, Tommy Bond, John O'Rourke, Jack Burdock, Charley Jones, and John Morrill.
            On the ground left to right: Pop Snyder (99% sure), unidentified, and unidentified.

            Harry Wright is seated in the middle of the suits in the dark suit with heavy beard. The other 2 suits are unidentified.

            For Providence on the right:
            Standing second from the left is Paul Hines, fifth from left is John M. Ward holding the ball. On the far right is Jim O'Rourke.

            I think the guy lying on the ground with the sweater is Bobby Mathews, in the middle on the ground is George Wright.

            By several modern sources Boston is referred as the "Red Caps" in 1879 when the photo was taken. However, their caps are whitish. According to old publications, they were known throughout the 19th Century as the Reds or Beaneaters or both.

            BTW, errors in standings contained in various recent encyclopedias are due to an ignorance of rules. However, there has been an effort to rectify the errors.
            Either the author made the mistake or the editor did. Have you contacted David Nemec and pointed out this error?

            A book over 800 pages in length likely contains several errors no matter how good the factchecker or proofreaders are. The last ten books I have read had between two to twenty two errors in them.

            I don't know of many true 19th Century baseball scholars. Most knowledgable researchers of that era recognize they know very little about those times. Quotes from a small handful of books available provide most of our knowledge. There is a lot left to research.
            "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
            "You'se Got The Eye Of An Eagle."

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            • #51
              Originally posted by SABR Steve View Post
              TonyK, on page 125 of the 19th Century Encyclopedia, the picture of the two teams should reflect that Providence is on the right and Boston is on the left. Boston was never known as the Red Caps, at least as far as I was able to discover. I have a framed picture of it on my basement wall.
              I take it this must refer to the first edition of the 19th C. Encyclopedia. I have the newer one, which came out a year or so ago, and it doesn't have any photographs on page 125. Thumbing quickly through that section of the book, I don't see a photo corresponding to this, so it has probably been omitted altogether.
              “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

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              • #52
                Originally posted by TonyK View Post
                1. More than 100 NL players came from the NA.
                2. The NA consisted of most of the best players in the nation.
                3. Contemporaries and researchers consider it a major league based on definitions of a major league.

                MLB also tends to ignore the records and achievements of 19th Century players but that doesn't make it right.
                I've always heard that 1876 was considered the start of major league baseball. However a baseball encyclopedia I own lists the year by year totals of the National Association and the American Association of the early 1870s as well. They don't include the totals of those leagues into a player's career totals however, but still they list the year-by-years.
                Seems like they are hedging their bets: While not exactly considering those leagues major leagues they still present their yearly totals. If sentiment grows to count those leagues as major leagues then at least you have the yearly stats and the reader can add them into the career totals.

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                • #53
                  Originally posted by SABR Steve View Post
                  There has been talk that different parties or organizations representing baseball history may get together and iron out differences on statistics as well as other matters, perhaps including the NA's status. So rrhersh may get his wish.
                  It may be worth expanding on my take on this, as it isn't precisely my wish that the NA be included among the major leagues. My wish, inasmuch as I have one in this matter, is that the issues be better understood.

                  By my understanding of the NA, the question of major league status is meaningless. The system of major and minor leagues had not yet developed. To even ask the question is to impose an anachronistic interpretation on the facts. The major/minor system isn't unambiguously present until 1883. There are earlier organizations which can plausibly be considered proto-minor leagues, but not before 1877. The development of the major/minor system is a hugely interesting aspect of baseball history of this period. Worrying about which neat category to stick any given organization is at best irrelevant, and at worst distracting and obfuscatory: I don't care whether we pound this square peg into the round hole or the triangular one.

                  But that is approaching the question from the standpoint of organizational history. My sense is that much of the impetus for this discussion comes from the stats people. The not-so-hidden subtext is that the real question is whether we pay attention to the NA or ignore it. This is in the same way that any book with the words "encyclopedia" and "baseball" can be assumed to include only major league baseball unless explicitly stated otherwise: as if the minors and semi-pros and amateurs and schools and little leagues aren't playing baseball.

                  To the extent that I care about how the NA is classified, I prefer it be counted as major because that forces people to consider it at all. Some will notice that the NA differred from 20th century leagues, might wonder why this is, and learn something interesting about the development of early organized baseball.

                  As for the people interested in historical stats, I honestly don't understand why you care whether the NA is classed as major or minor or not classified at all. If you are interested in looking at the best batter of any given year, what does major/minor matter? For that matter, what does the NA matter? The best batter of any year from 1871 to 1875 will play in the NA, but obviously not the best batter or 1869 or 1870. I find bewildering the idea that we are interested in the best batter of each year, but only beginning with some externally imposed starting year, whether it is 1876 or 1871.

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                  • #54
                    Originally posted by SABR Steve View Post
                    By several modern sources Boston is referred as the "Red Caps" in 1879 when the photo was taken. However, their caps are whitish. According to old publications, they were known throughout the 19th Century as the Reds or Beaneaters or both.
                    The vast majority of the time, from 1876 on, they were called the "Bostons". This banal fact of life gets overlooked in the quest for colorful nicknames. (In a similar vein, Robert Ferguson may or may not have been called "Death To Flying Things" but in actual practice his nickname was "Bob".) From 1871 to 1875 they were often quasi-formally called the "Red Stockings" but with the advent of the National League this practice was largely abandoned.

                    I have a hypothesis about the "Red Caps" fantasy. There in fact was as "Red Caps" club at that time, in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Red Caps of St. Paul won the League Alliance pennant in 1877. The Bostons won the National League pennant that year. I have a sneeking suspicion that some modern researcher (perhaps in connection with the creation of the Big Mac) stumbled across a reference to the pennant-winning Red Caps, didn't understand what he saw, and misinterpreted this as referring to the Bostons.

                    In any case, the underlying premise of the standard list of team nicknames is flawed, projecting late-20th century practice to the earlier era. The idea that the Brooklyn club was cycling through from one year to the next a list of three or four nicknames is patently ridiculous. Additional mistakes in detail such as the "Red Caps" debacle are almost beside the point.

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                    • #55
                      Originally posted by rrhersh View Post
                      My sense is that much of the impetus for this discussion comes from the stats people. The not-so-hidden subtext is that the real question is whether we pay attention to the NA or ignore it.

                      As for the people interested in historical stats, I honestly don't understand why you care whether the NA is classed as major or minor or not classified at all. If you are interested in looking at the best batter of any given year, what does major/minor matter? For that matter, what does the NA matter? The best batter of any year from 1871 to 1875 will play in the NA, but obviously not the best batter or 1869 or 1870. I find bewildering the idea that we are interested in the best batter of each year, but only beginning with some externally imposed starting year, whether it is 1876 or 1871.
                      If the top pitchers and top hitters are from the 1871-1895 time period then something must be wrong with the formula you are using. Those guys can't possibly be that good. This leads to lengthy discussions over the quality of play back in the 19th Century. It is impossible for us to determine just how good ML baseball was from 1871 to 1900 for several reasons.
                      "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
                      "You'se Got The Eye Of An Eagle."

                      Comment


                      • #56
                        Originally posted by rrhersh View Post
                        ...If you are interested in looking at the best batter of any given year, what does major/minor matter... The best batter of any year from 1871 to 1875...
                        The point here has nothing to do with how players of the 19th century would compare with those of the 20th or 21st centuries, as a group -- in fact, precisely the opposite. He's simply saying that the best players of the early 1870's were, let's say, Deacon White and Ross Barnes, or whatever names you'd prefer to substitute, and whether the NA is counted as a major or not will not make any difference to that. The NA is what it is.
                        “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


                        • #57
                          Originally posted by Brad Harris View Post
                          So we all know how much academic weight MLB's decisions carry on such things, but regardless of the "official" position, should the first professional baseball league, the National Association of 1871-1875, be considered a "major" league.

                          Yes, it should.

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                          • #58
                            Originally posted by ItsOnlyGil View Post
                            Yes, it should.
                            I just finished reading the whole thread, found it fascinating... If the NA wasnt baseball's "major league" of 1871-1875... then what was? It HAD to be, even if only by default. Besides, the whole notion of "major league" had to start somewhere... it seems the NA and the NL of 1876 were pretty similar. I'd vote with those opting for 1871 and the NA.


                            Regardless of how limited the talent pool was, or the fact that todays notion of "major league" bears no resemblance to what they (the NA) were doing... the bulk of the best, & best known players were playing in the NA. It was the very top competitive situation that existed in & for the sport of baseball at that time. It HAD to be "major league" even if the caliber of play was probably pathetic compared to today, with players being drawn to MLB from all over the world vs the relatively few people even aware of the sport, let alone interested in playing the game, back then.

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                            • #59
                              The National Association is some pretty old stuff. Heck, the National League did not occur until just before the Battle of Little Big Horn ("Custer's Last Stand"). So, the NA is not too far removed from the Civil War.

                              Thinking about transportation options at that time ..... I just don't know. I guess railroads were somewhat reliable in the more built up areas, but subject to attack, and other problems, elsewhere. So "is it a Major League" ?
                              Well, certainly. But did it include all worthwhile players? Not always practical.
                              Attached Files
                              Last edited by ItsOnlyGil; 06-12-2009, 04:06 PM.

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                              • #60
                                The 1968 Baseball Records Committee was made up of David Grote, NL Public Relations Director; Joe Reichler, MLB Public Relations Director; Bob Holbrook, AL Office; Jack Lane, BBWAA; and Lee Allen, of the National Baseball HOF.

                                While they researched ancient baseball records and made revisions to them, the committee recommended that the NA not be considered a major league due to it's erratic schedule and procedures. Researchers Bob Tiemann and Bob Richardson began the task of compiling Official NA records from old boxscores.

                                Marc Onigman, a writer for Sports Illustrated, on May 24, 1982 wrote a piece calling the committee's decision ridiculous. According to the ESPN Encyclopedia, 2006 Edition, the National Association was indisputably the major league of it's day. Numerous baseball websites incorporate NA records into their ML records sections. At one time it was common to have two sets of ML records...NA records followed by records from 1876 on. A modern trend is to focus on records from 1901 on and skip everything before that year.

                                I looked at writeups from the NY Clipper of 1879-80 and read over John Ward's book from 1889 to try and find out what they said about the NA back then. Ward devoted a chapter on the history of pro baseball yet wrote only one sentence about the change from the NA to the NL in 1876 as if it hardly mattered. I do know that the NL in the 19th Century was known by many people as simply "the League". If every ML from 1876 until now used the name Association (ex. Federal Association, American Association, Union Association) rather than League, would we be calling them Major Associations instead of Major Leagues?
                                "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
                                "You'se Got The Eye Of An Eagle."

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