"So you won twenty games. Why didn't you win thirty?"
--Charlie Finley, A's owner to Vida Blue during contract negotiations
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.
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.
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
Club of Brooklyn and the 1858Mutual
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.
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.)
ASSOCIATION OF BASE BALL PLAYERS CHAMPIONS
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
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.
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.
- 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
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
2. Oliver's Optics Magazine: Our Boys and Girls. February 13, 1869.
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.
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The Atlantic of Brooklyn after their 1865 NABBP championship.
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