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National Association of Base Ball Players

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The National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) was the first organization governing American baseball. The first, 1857 convention of sixteen New York City clubs[1] practically terminated the Knickerbocker era, when that club privately deliberated on the rules of the game. The last convention, with hundreds of members represented only via state associations, provoked the establishment of separate professional and amateur associations in 1871. The succeeding National Association of Professional Base Ball Players is considered the first professional sports league; through 1875 it governed professional baseball and practically set playing rules for all. Because the amateur successor never attracted many members and it convened only a few times, the NABBP is sometimes called "the amateur Association" in contrast to its professional successor.

Beside the playing rules and its own organization, the Association governed official scoring (reporting), "match" play, a championship, amateurism, and hippodroming or the integrity of the contest.[2] It permitted professionalism only for the 1869 and 1870 seasons.

Growth Edit

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. In the 1860s, aided by the War, "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.

Professionalism Edit

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 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.

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.


Contrary to the organization name, NABBP members were clubs not players. Generally the clubs joined the association and retained membership by sending delegates to the annual convention, usually in the preceding December (the ancestor of baseball's so-called Winter Meetings). Membership mediated by state associations was introduced only after ten years; then dozens of clubs from a distant state (or even New Jersey) could join and remain in the NABBP by organizing a state association whose delegates would participate in the national meeting.

The number of clubs at the convention, and thus in the association, increased from 16 to 25 to 50 by spring 1859. Fifty makes a big list and thousands should be called something else. This list gives the sixteen who convened in 1857 followed by the three who survived to be charter members of the National League in 1876.

  • Brooklyn: Brooklyn Atlantics (to 1870, professional), Bedford (1857), Continental (to 1863), Brooklyn Eckfords (to 1870, professional), Excelsior (to 1870, amateur), Harmony (1857), Nassau (to 1859), Olympic (1857 and 1859), Putnam (to 1862)
  • Morrisania (now in the Bronx): Union (to 1870, professional)
  • New York: Baltic (to 1863 and later?), Eagle (to 1869?), Empire (to 1869), Gotham (to 1870, amateur), Harlem (to 1869?), New York Knickerbockers (to 1868?)

The five named in bold were sometime members of the 1871-1875 National Association, the first professional league. Dates refer to NABBP membership not baseball activity or legal organization but not all clubs retained membership annually; in particular, the Civil War curtailed membership for 1862 to 1865.

Newark, New Jersey is one of the cities across the Hudson River from New York. Eight Newark clubs were sometime members and two more, Empire in 1858 and Eckford in 1870, played matches with members.

The members farthest from New York in the early years were the Liberty club of New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1858, the only one of 25 members outside modern New York City; Niagara of Buffalo, New York in 1859, when the next furthest of 50 members was based in Trenton, New Jersey; and Detroit of Detroit, Michigan in 1860. Five of 59 members were then from outside New Jersey and New York states, the others being in Washington, Baltimore, New Haven, and Boston. Six Philadelphia clubs joined for 1861 but war curtailed the season, some of the 55 members never played a game of any kind, and then war curtailed membership for 1862.

For 1865 there were 30 members with none in New England and western outliers merely in Washington, Altoona in central Pennsylvania, and Utica in central New York state. But the December meeting attracted triple the membership with scattered clubs from Chatanooga, Tennessee to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In 1867 and 1868, the association "filled" with clubs from St Louis and Iowa to Boston and Maine. Membership via state associations was introduced for 1868 and, perhaps for that reason, there is no reliable enumeration for 1868-1870.

Champions Edit

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 decisive 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 "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, so the format does not closely resemble the modern World Series in determining baseball's champion. But a series was limited to a season; one win in one or two games did not carry over to next spring.

Without a regular schedule of games, neither the number of wins nor winning percentage necessarily indicates team strength, much less identifies the best team or a credible champion. A challenge format makes sense for that purpose, and it fits the convention whereby contestants meet on the field with money or a trophy at stake. A trophy base ball, provided by the home club and used in the game, was commonly at stake; the pennant provided by the Association was a second trophy at stake in some games. Unfortunately, the strongest team in a given year did not always have an opportunity to play for the championship, as the strongest box or chess player may annually have an opportunity in the challenge formats that developed in those sports.

Indeed, for more than one NABBP season it appears that the strongest team never played a series for the championship: at least, Athletic of Philadelphia in 1868 and Cincinnati in 1869. Cincinnati Red Stockings were undefeated with victories over all of the leading clubs, including ultimate 1868 and 1869 champions Mutual and Atlantic. But they never faced a reigning champion in a deciding game, partly because in scheduling tours of continental scope they practically opted out.

Decisive games were marred by disputes, too. In 1860 reigning champion Atlantic of Brooklyn and challenger Excelsior of Brooklyn split their first two games. In the third, Excelsior was leading 8-6 and had men on base, but chose to withdraw because of rowdy behavior by Atlantic partisans and gamblers. The game was declared a draw, and the championship retained by Atlantic.

In 1870, Mutual of New York was leading 13-12 in the deciding game of its series with the Chicago White Stockings when Mutual left the field in protest. Officials decided to revert the score to the end of the last completed inning and awarded the game, and thus the championship, to Chicago. The Mutual club declared itself champion.


End of Year Champions

Teams with most winsEdit

The won-lost-tied records compiled by Marshall Wright (2000) are not consistently limited to matches between NABBP members.

  • 1857 Atlantic (Brooklyn, NY) 7-1-1
  • 1858 Mutual (New York, NY) 11-1
  • 1859 Excelsior (Brooklyn, NY) 12-3
  • 1860 Excelsior (Brooklyn, NY) 18-2-1
  • 1861 Mutual (New York, NY) 8-2
  • 1862 Eckford (Brooklyn, NY) 14-2
  • 1863 Eckford (Brooklyn, NY) 10-0
  • 1864 Atlantic (Brooklyn, NY) 20-0-1
  • 1865 Atlantic (Brooklyn, NY) 18-0
  • 1866 Union (Morrisania, NY) 25-3
  • 1867 Athletic (Philadelphia, PA) 44-3
  • 1868 Athletic (Philadelphia, PA) 47-3
  • 1869 Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH) 57-0
  • 1870 Mutual (New York, NY) 68-17-3

Notes Edit

  1. "New York City clubs" means clubs based in the territory of modern New York (city), five boroughs or counties of New York state. Dozens of early base ball clubs were based in contemporary New York and Brooklyn including 15 of the 16 who convened in 1857, all but the Union club of Morrisania, now part of the Bronx.
  2. "Hippodroming" commonly means play in the interest of gamblers, maybe including team members. That may cover losing rather than winning, winning by a small rather than a large margin, and falling behind early in the game. It may cover particular events rather than the decision or the score in runs, such as putting out a particular player or hitting a foul ball. The integrity of the contest (modern terms), if not hippodroming itself, also covers theatrical play and friendly play. Roughly, the participants and spectators should all know whether everyone is playing to win. The Association did not schedule championship games (or any others) and clubs sometimes agreed to play a friendly rather than a championship game only at the ballpark just before the event.

References Edit

  • Block, David (2005). Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search For The Roots Of The Game. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-1339-5
  • Goldstein, Warren (1991). Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-9924-0
  • Seymour, Harold (1960). Baseball: The Early Years. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505912-3
  • Wright, Marshall D. (2000). The National Association of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870. McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-0779-4

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