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National Association of Base Ball Players

By Patrick Mondout

The National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) was an organization founded in 1858. 1857 by sixteen baseball clubs located in the New York metropolitan area. The organization's name was adopted at its second annual meeting prior to the . Among the founding members was the Knickerbocker Club, whose rules of 1845 provided a basis for defining and organizing the sport, and who continued to play a leadership role in Baseball's development. The NABBP was the first organization to govern the sport and the first to establish a championship.

At a glance...
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF
BASE BALL PLAYERS
League Facts
Established 1857
Disbanded 1871
Officials
Dan Adams (1857 President)
Well Known Teams
Baltimore Marylanders (?-1870)
Boston Tri-Mountains (?)
Brooklyn Atlantics
* (18551870)
Brooklyn Continentals* (185?-1863)
Brooklyn Putnams* (1855-1860)
Brooklyn Eckfords* (1855-1870)
Brooklyn Excelsiors* (1854-1870)
Brooklyn Harmony* (185?-?)
Brooklyn Nassaus* (185?-1868)
Brooklyn Olympics* (185?-?)
Brooklyn Stars ()
Chicago White Stockings (1870)
Cincinnati Red Stockings (1866-1870)
Cleveland Forest Cities (18681870)
Morrisania Unions* (1855-1870)
New Jersey Irvingtons (?-?)
New York Actives ()
New York Baltics* (1855-1863)
New York Eagles* (1854-1870)
New York Eclectics ()
New York Empires* (1854-1870)
New York Gothams* (1850-1870)
New York Harlems* (185?-1869)
New York Knickerbockers
* (1845-1868)
New York Mutuals (18581870)
New York Mystics ()
Newark Eurekas ()
Newburgh Hudson Rivers (1859-1868)
Philadelphia Athletics (18601870)
Philadelphia Keystones ()
Portsmouth Riversides ()
Troy Haymakers (18601870)
Washington Nationals (1861-1871)
Washington Olympics (1861-1870)
*=Founding member (1857)
(We have pages for over 80 NABBP teams!)
Champions See table below

Despite its title, the NABBP was initially an association of clubs from the state of New York. That changed in 1858 when New Brunswick, New Jersey was added. It can be thought of as the first "expansion" phase of the New York sport. 

See also: Knickerbocker Rules, 'Early Baseball' FAQs

Alexander Cartwright is widely credited with publishing the first set of baseball rules for his 1845 New York Knickerbockers and other teams eventually published their own rules as well. Those rules differed and this led to confusion and disagreements.

In 1856, Doc Adams of the Knickerbockers submitted a resolution asking that representatives from interested teams should meet at a convention to draw up common rules and to discuss other matters. This convention was held on January 22, 1857 and was attended by sixteen teams from New York state. It was agreed that they would meet each March and it was at the 1858 meeting that the NABBP was created.

 

 

Growth of the Sport

Prior to the Civil War, baseball competed for public interest with cricket and regional variants of baseball, notably town ball played in Philadelphia and the Massachusetts Game played in New England (which were quite different from the game of baseball you and I grew up playing). In the 1860's the "New York" style baseball expanded into a national game and the NABBP, as its governing body, expanded into a true national organization, although most of the strongest clubs remained those based in New York City, Brooklyn and Philadelphia. By the end of 1865, almost 100 clubs were members of the organization. By 1867, it had over 400 members, including some clubs from as far away as San Francisco and Louisiana. Because of this growth, regional and state organizations began to assume a more prominent role in the governance of the sport.

See also: National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, Other Defunct Leagues.

Champions

The 1857 Atlantic Club of Brooklyn and the 1858 Mutual Club of New York appear to have been recognized as the best clubs of these respective seasons, but scheduling was insufficient overall between New York and Brooklyn clubs to establish a definitive champion. In 1859, though, Atlantic did emerge as undisputed champions of baseball with an overall record of 11 wins and 1 loss and series victories over both Eckford of Brooklyn and Mutual. Thereafter, a formalized challenge system developed whereby the championship, symbolized by a "whip pennant", would change hands upon the defeat of the existing champion in a two out of three series. Such "series" could actually occur over several weeks or months, with games against other clubs played in between. This series format presages the modern format of the World Series in determining Baseball's champion.

Determining Champions

Since scheduling was frequently uneven, achieving the most wins or even the highest winning percentage was not necessarily an accurate gauge of the best team. Therefore, a challenge format, resembling that of modern professional boxing, made a certain amount of sense. However, this format occasionally led to situations where the strongest team in a given year did not have an opportunity to play for the championship. This appears to have occurred, for instance, in both 1868 to Athletic of Philadelphia and 1869 to the Cincinnati Red Stockings. The 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings were undefeated with victories over all of the leading clubs, including 1868 champion Mutual and ultimate 1869 champion Atlantic. However, Cincinnati never faced a reigning champion in a deciding game for the championship.

Disputes also occasionally arose. In 1860 reigning champion Atlantic of Brooklyn and challenger Excelsior of Brooklyn split their first two games. In the deciding game, Excelsior was leading 8-6 and had men on base, but were forced to withdraw by a rowdy crowd of Atlantic partisans and gamblers. The game was declared a draw, and the championship retained by Atlantic.

The following are the teams crowned champions by the NABBP in those early years. (Note that to become the champion, you simply had to knock off the previous champ in a best of three series. Thus "pennants" were not awarded based on best record. We have displayed the best record for each season anyway. Also note that the records for teams in 1869 and 1870 are shown for all games and just games against other pro teams.)

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BASE BALL PLAYERS CHAMPIONS 
Champion Best Record
1857   Brooklyn Atlantics (7-1-1)
1858   New York Mutuals (11-1)
Brooklyn Atlantics (7-0)
1859 Brooklyn Atlantics (11-1) Brooklyn Atlantics (11-1)
1860 Brooklyn Atlantics (12-2-2) Brooklyn Excelsiors (18-2-1)
1861 Brooklyn Atlantics (5-2) New York Mutuals (8-2)
1862 Brooklyn Eckfords (14-2) Brooklyn Eckfords (14-2)
1863 Brooklyn Eckfords (10-0) Brooklyn Eckfords (10-0)
1864 Brooklyn Atlantics (20-0-1) Brooklyn Atlantics (20-0-1)
1865 Brooklyn Atlantics (18-0) Brooklyn Atlantics (18-0)
1866 Brooklyn Atlantics (17-3) Philadelphia Athletics (23-2, .920)
Unions of Morrisania (25-3, .893)
1867 Unions of Morrisania (21-8) Philadelphia Athletics (44-3)
1868 New York Mutuals (31-10) Philadelphia Athletics (47-3)
1869 Brooklyn Atlantics (40-6-2 / 15-6-1) Cincinnati Red Stockings (57-0-1 / 19-0)
1870 Chicago White Stockings (65-8 / 22-7) Cincinnati Red Stockings (67-6-1 / 27-6-1)
NABBP CHAMPIONS 1857-1870

Professionalism

The NABBP was initially established upon principles of amateurism. However, even early in its history some star players, such as James Creighton of Excelsior, received compensation, either secretly or indirectly. In 1866, the NABBP investigated Athletic of Philadelphia for paying three players in violation of its rules, including Lip Pike, but ultimately took no action against either the club or the players. To address this growing practice, and to restore integrity to the game, at its meeting in December of 1868, the NABBP first recognized the distinction within its ranks of professional clubs. This brought an end to the first era of organized baseball.1

This allowed teams starting in 1869 to "openly hire players to play for them" and "play for gate-money." Both activities were against the rules in 1868. The Cincinnati club may have been the first openly "regular salaried" club, but it was by no means the only professional club playing ball in 1869.2

There was a feeling that with professionalism, baseball would improve. On April 3, 1869, the New York Tribune wrote:

There is reason to believe that (baseball) will flourish this year as never before. The system that has long prevailed among cricketers in England - that of procuring the best professors of the game, and paying them wages for their services, whether in instructing a club or playing in its matches, has now been attained here. Professional players have for several years been know in this country, but for while "nines" to be exclusively made up of them is something of recent date.

The same paper mentioned that the Mutuals had decided to give each player a "yearly stipend" in lieu of a portion of the gate receipts. The Mutuals were a professional team in every meaningful sense the the Cincinnati club was that year. The Mutuals might have been a better team if they had been able to keep the five on the Cincinnati roster that had left New York to play for Harry Wright on Cincy.

Cincinnati was the first to so declare and among the most aggressive in recruiting the best available players. Twelve, including most of the strongest clubs in the NABBP, ultimately declared themselves professional for the 1869 season.

Conflict arose, however, between amateur and professional interests. Important issues included how the championship was to be decided and regulating players jumping from one team to another. As a result, in 1871 most of the leading professional clubs broke away to found the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. The NABBP continued for approximately two years thereafter in a diminished status before disbanding into state and regional organizations. 

Timeline

  • 1857 - Association formed.
  • 1858 - first team outside of New York joins (New Brunswick).
  • 1861-1865 Civil War.
  • December 1868 - The previously amateur National Association of Base Ball Players establishes a professional category.
  • 18691870 - Cincinnati Red Stockings, New York Mutuals, and several other teams generate considerable revenue - though not necessarily profits - showing that professional baseball might be a viable business enterprise.
  • 1871 - Several teams from the National Association of Base Ball Players breakaway to found the first professional league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NA).
  • 1876 - Boston, Chicago, Hartford, Mutual, Athletic, and St. Louis Brown Stockings all join the newly founded National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, along with new teams in Louisville and Cincinnati. The NA soon disbands.

NOTES:
1. The end of this first era can also be marked by the passing of the New York Knickerbockers after the 1868 season. Their rules defined the game as it was played and they conveniently disbanded at the first sign of the pros taking over; perhaps the 1845-1868 era should be called the Knickbocker era.
2
. Oliver's Optics Magazine: Our Boys and Girls. February 13, 1869. page 109.

National Association sources/bibliography:
Baseball: The Early Years by Harold Seymour.
Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search For The Roots Of The Game by David Block.
Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime during the Civil War by George B. Kirsch.
Blackguards and Red Stockings by William J. Ryczek
The National Association of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870 by Marshall D. Wright.
Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball by Warren Goldstein.
When Johnny Came Sliding Home: The Post-Civil War Baseball Boom, 1865-1870 by William J. Ryczek

David Nemec, the tireless 19th Century Baseball researcher, has also written a novel called Early Dreams, which takes place during this era and features real-life characters such as Cap Anson, George Wright, and Henry Lucas.

General Baseball History sources/bibliography:
Baseball: A History of America's Game
by Benjamin G. Rader.
Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns (PBS DVD)
The Formation, Sometimes Absorption and Mostly Inevitable Demise of 18 Professional Baseball Organizations, 1871 to Present by David Pietrusza.
The Great 19th Century Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball, 2nd Edition by David Nemec.
Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908 by Dean A. Sullivan.
Middle Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1900-1948 by Dean A. Sullivan.
Late Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball 1945-1972 by Dean A. Sullivan
Past Time: Baseball as History by Jules Tygiel
America's National Game: Historic Facts Concerning the Beginning, Evolution, Development and Popularity of Baseball by Albert Spalding
Total Baseball: The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia by John Thorn, et al.

 



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ATLANTIC

The Atlantic of Brooklyn after their 1865 NABBP championship.


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