Monday, April 09, 2018

Early Baseball History

The first team to play baseball under modern rules was long believed to be the New York Knickerbockers. The club was founded on September 23, 1845. It was a social club for the upper middle classes of New York City. It was totally amateur until it was disbanded. The club’s by laws committee included William R. Wheaton and William H. Tucker. They created the Knickerbocker Rules. This dealt with organizational matters, but it also laid out rules for playing the game of baseball. One of its important rules was that it prohibited soaking or plugging the runner, under older rules, a fielder could put a runner out by hitting the runner with the thrown ball, similarly to the common schoolyard game of kickball. The Knickerbocker Rules required fielders to tag or force the runner, as is done today, and avoided a lot of the arguments and fistfights that resulted from the earlier practice. A recently discovered newspaper interview with Wheaton indicates that the rules he and Tucker wrote for the Knickerbockers in most respects duplicated the rules he had written for the Gotham Club in 1837. So, the Knickerbockers were founded as a breakaway group of former Gothams. Writing the rules didn’t help the Knickerbockers in the first known competitive game between two clubs under the new rules were played at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey on June 19, 1846. The "New York nine" (almost certainly the parent Gotham Club) humbled the Knickerbockers by a score of 23 to 1. Nevertheless, the Knickerbocker Rules were rapidly adopted by teams in the New York area and their version of baseball became known as the "New York Game" (as opposed to the "Massachusetts Game", played by clubs in the Boston area). As late as 1855, the New York press was still devoting more space to coverage of cricket than to baseball. In 1857, sixteen New York area clubs, including the Knickerbockers, created the NABBP. NABBP stands for the National Association of Base Ball Players. It was the first organization to govern the sport and to create a championship. The 1857 convention created 3 key parts of the game. They are the 90 feet between the bases, 9-man teams, and 9-inning games (under the Knickerbocker Rules, games were played to 21 runs). Aided by the Civil War, membership grew to almost 100 clubs by 1865. It grew to over 400 by 1867 including clubs as far as California. During the Civil War, soldiers from different parts of the United States played baseball together, leading to a more unified national version of the sport. Beginning in 1869, the NABBP permitted professional play. It addressed a growing practice that had not been permitted under its rules to that point. The first and most prominent professional club of the NABBP era was the Cincinnati Red Stockings in Ohio, which lasted for only 2 years.

The businessman Ivers Whitney Adams then courted manager Harry Wright. They founded the Boston Red Stockings and the Boston Base Ball Club on January 20, 1871. By 1858 in the Corona neighborhood of Queens (in NYC) at the Fashion Race Course, the first game of baseball to charge admission took place. The games, which took place between the stars of Brooklyn including players from the Atlantic, Excelsior, Putnam, and Eckford clubs, and the All Stars of New York (Manhattan) included players from the following teams: The New York Knickerbockers, Gothams, Eagles, and Empire. These games are believed to be the first all-star baseball games. Before the Civil War, baseball competed for public interest with cricket and regional variants of baseball (like town ball played in Philadelphia and the Massachusetts Game played in New England). New York style baseball expanded into a national game by the 1860’s. The NABBP expanded into a national organization. It is based mostly in the northeastern part of the country. In its 12 year history as an amateur league, the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn won 7 championships. This made it the first true dynasty in the sport. Although, Mutual of New York was widely considered to be one of the best teams of the era too. By the end of 1865, almost 100 clubs were members of the NABBP. By 1867, it ballooned to over 400 members, including some clubs from as far away as San Francisco and Louisiana. One of these clubs, the Chicago White Stockings, won the championship in 1870. This team is known as the Chicago Cubs today. The Chicago Cubs is the oldest team in American organized sports. The growth of baseball caused regional and state organizations to start a more prominent role in the governance of the sport. The NABBP was once amateur. Some star players like James Creighton of Excelsior received compensation either secretly or indirectly. In 1866, the NABBP investigated Athletic of Philadelphia for paying three players 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 December 1868 meeting, the NABBP established a professional category for the 1869 season.

Clubs desiring to pay players were now free to declare themselves professional. The Cincinnati Red Stockings were the first to declare themselves as openly professional. They were the most aggressive in recruiting the best available players. There were 12 clubs including of the most of the strongest clubs in the NABBP, ultimately declared themselves professional for the 1869 season. There was the first attempt to create a major league and it produced the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. It lasted from 1871 to 1875. The league had a charter member of the professional Chicago White Stockings. It was financed by businessman William Hulbert. The Red Stockings moved into Boston. The White Stockings were close contenders all season despite the Great Chicago Fire that had destroyed the team’s home field and most of their equipment. The White Stockings finished the season in second place, but ultimately were forced to drop out of the league during the city's recovery period, finally returning to National Association play in 1874. Over the next couple seasons, The Boston Red Stockings dominated the league and hoarded many of the game's best players, even those who were under contract with other teams. After Davy Force signed with Chicago, and then breached his contract to play in Boston, Hulbert became discouraged by the "contract jumping" as well as the overall disorganization of the N.A., and thus spearheaded the movement to form a stronger organization. The end result of his efforts was the formation a much more "ethical" league, which became known as the National Base Ball League. After a series of rival leagues were organized but failed (most notably the American Base Ball Association, which spawned the clubs which would ultimately become the St. Louis Cardinals and Brooklyn Dodgers), the current American League, evolving from the minor Western League of 1893, was established in 1901.

By 1870, there was a division between professional and amateur ballplayers. The NABPP split into 2 groups. They were the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players operated from 1871 through 1875. It is considered by some to be the first major league. Its amateur counterpart disappeared after only a few years. William Hulbert’s National League was formed after the National Association proved ineffective. It made an emphasis on clubs not players. Clubs now could enforce player contracts, prevent players from jumping to higher paying clubs, etc. Clubs were required to play their full schedule of games rather than forfeiting scheduled games once out of the running for the league championship (this happened on many times under the National Association). People fought against gambling on games too. Some terrible news back then was that clubs excluded non-white players from professional baseball. This was maintained until 1947. Jackie Robinson was a great hero, but he wasn’t the first African American major league ballplayer. He was the first one after a long gap (and the first one in the modern era). Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother Weldy Walker were unceremoniously dropped from major and minor league rosters in the 1880’s like other African Americans in baseball. An unknown number of African-Americans played in the major leagues by representing themselves as Indians, or South or Central Americans, and a still larger number played in the minor leagues and on amateur teams as well. In the majors, however, it was not until the signing of Robinson (in the National League) and Larry Doby (in the American League) that baseball began to remove its color bar. The early years of the National League was filled with conflict. There were threats from rival leagues. Many players wanted more benefits. Many competitive leagues existed. The American Association (1881-1891) was successful. It allowed the sale of alcoholic beverages to spectators. The National League and American Association champions met in a postseason championship series. This was the first attempt at a World Series.

The Union Association only lasted for one season in 1884 like the Players’ League in 1890. There was an attempt to return to the National Association structure of a league controlled by the players themselves. Both leagues were considered major leagues. They had a high caliber of play and the numbers of star players in the major leagues were many. Some disagree with this view as the St. Louis club was deliberated created by the league’s president (who owned the club). There were dozens of small and large leagues. The National League was dominant in major cities like New York City. NYC was one large center of baseball. Media distribution increased. Revenue increased nationwide in dealing with baseball. The Eastern League was competing against the dominance of the National League. The Western League was created in 1893 and it aggressively promoted baseball. Its leader was Ban Johnson and he railed against the National League. He promised to build a new league that would get great players and get new teams.   The Western League began play in April 1894 with teams in Detroit (the only league team that has not moved since), Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Sioux City and Toledo. Prior to the 1900 season, the league changed its name to the American League and moved several franchises to larger, strategic locations. In 1901, the American League declared its intent to operate as a major league. Contract breaking and legal disputes existed. The second baseman Napoleon Lajoie went from Philadelphia from the National League Phillies to the American League Athletics. He joined the Cleveland team where he played and managed for years. The American and National Leagues were in a battle.  At a meeting in 1901, the other baseball leagues negotiated a plan to maintain their independence. On September 5, 1901 Patrick T. Powers, president of the Eastern League announced the formation of the second National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the NABPL or "NA" for short.

By Timothy

No comments: