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“The most complete compilation of information on 19th century baseball ever imagined.” --Baseball Book Survey, baseballbooks.net
Alexander Cartwright and his compatriots who helped him draft the first codified set of baseball rules and stage matches between New York social clubs originally viewed the game as a vehicle for unifying and perpetuating their clubs. By the Civil War, however, this notion of what baseball ought to be was obsolete. The men from Cartwright's Knickerbocker club who carried on the game in his stead after he moved west and eventually to Hawaii got into baseball to enhance their social stature and recognition, but professional players were now receiving almost all the recognition, and the clubs that would not deign to hire professionals could no longer hold their own. The game had become stratified-professional players at the top and far below them those who were holding on to the archaic conviction that baseball should remain a leisure activity for gentlemen.
Pioneer baseball writer and rulesmaker Henry Chadwick decried what he saw happening to the game and campaigned vigorously for several years in his New York Clipper columns for a separation betweenprofessional and amateur interests. Chadwick's efforts finally bore fruit on a rainy St. Patrick's Day in 1871 when representatives of ten baseball clubs met at Collier's Rooms, a drinking establishment at the corner of Broadway and 13th Street in New York. As recounted in Turkin and Thompson's The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball: "There, in a smoky gaslit hallroom adjoining the Cafe (saloon), pro baseball suffered its first real birth pangs, for that meeting established the National Association of Professional Base-Ball Players."
The ten delegates elected James W. Kerns of Philadelphia president of the NAPBBP (soon shortened to NA), named J. S. Evans of Cleveland vice president, Nick Young of Washington Olympics secretary, J. W. Schofield of Troy treasurer, and then set to work drawing up a set of championship rules. Although no fixed schedule was adopted, it was agreed that every club would play each of its fellow clubs a best three-out-of-five series, making for a potential 45 championship games per club, and the team with the most victories at the end of the season would be entitled to parade the championship banner, called the "whip pennant," at its ball-ground the following year.
The association's entry fee was a mere $10, but the delegate from Brooklyn's Eckford club decided that even this meager sum was too steep to risk and declined to enroll his team in the fledgling organization. The nine remaining clubs were the Athletics* of Philadelphia, the Mutuals of New York, the White Stockings of Chicago, the Haymakers of Troy, the Olympics of Washington, the Forest Citys of Cleveland, the Kekiongas of Fort Wayne, the Red Stockings of Boston and the Forest Citys of Rockford, Illinois. Apart from a hope to make a financial profit, all the clubs had one other thing in common. Local politicians occupied most of the positions of power on their boards of directors. Their economic structures otherwise varied widely, owing to the vast differences in the class composition of each club's backers. The clubs ranged in financial stability from the Chicago club that was owned by a stock company headed by Windy City treasurer David Gage, who had at his disposal some $250,000 that he'd embezzled from his office, to the clerks and salesmen who ran the Kekionga club on a shoestring and lured players to Fort Wayne by promising them a share of the gate receipts rather than a fixed salary.
From its inception the National Association was an enterprise run largely by its playing personnel. The loop president selected in 1872 was third baseman Bob Ferguson of the Brooklyn Atlantics. During the two seasons Ferguson served in the office, NA business was conducted in irregular meetings arranged by him for the club managers, most of whom, like himself, were players as well.
The first professional league was a financial disaster. Very few teams made any money for their backers, and much of the reason so many clubs sank in a sea of red ink was because the NA was an even bigger artistic failure. Only in its first season did the NA stage anything approaching an exciting pennant race. Every other year the Boston entry was a runaway victor, making for a very uneven desire to win among the other teams and a strong temptation to look elsewhere for motivation. Chadwick's baseball columns in the Clipper became increasingly peppered with stern warnings against the growing dangers of "fraudulent play" or "hippodroming," as throwing games was then called. By 1875 Boston's seemingly endless monopoly on the pennant and the infestation of gamblers had all but destroyed the NA and made the professional game ripe for a cabal that would take control of it away from the players.
1871 FORFEITS AND FIRE
In his history of the National Association, William Ryczek writes, "If America was different in 1871, the game of baseball was also a far cry from that which is played on the Astroturf saucers of the 1990s ... Even the name was different. The words 'base' and 'ball' were not merged until the twentieth century. During the nineteenth it was known as 'Base Ball.'"
To ease the reader's task, in this book baseball is one word and much of its nineteenth century terminology has similarly been modernized, but there is no way to soften the fact that the game in 1871 truly was a far cry from baseball today. Home plate was a 12-inch square made of marble or stone and set in the ground so that one corner pointed toward the pitcher and the other toward the catcher; these two positions were therefore called "the points." The bases were located half in fair and half in foul territory, unlike today when the entire base is in fair ground, and it was the umpire's task to judge whether a hot shot down the line crossed the fair or foul part of the bag.
The pitcher delivered the ball from a flat six-foot square-shaped box situated 45 feet from the plate. His delivery had to be executed with a straight arm swinging perpendicular to the ground, meaning that essentially he threw underhand. Facing him was a batter who stood astride a three-foot line drawn through the center of the plate. The batter was authorized to request either "high" pitches (between his waist and shoulders) or "low" pitches (between his waist and knees). Like today, a batter was given just three strikes, but in 1871 an umpire could not call the first pitch a strike, regardless of its location, unless it was swung at and missed. Missed, we need emphasize, for in 1871, as was true throughout the nineteenth century, a foul ball, even with fewer than two strikes, was not counted as a strike.
A batter in the first National Association season was awarded first base after only three called balls as opposed to the four needed today. However, before deeming a pitch a ball an umpire was obliged to warn a pitcher an unspecified number of times for not delivering "fair" pitches or for delaying the game. Hence a batter had to receive many more than three pitches outside his chosen strike zone before he was given his base. And if an errant pitch should happen to smack him in the ribs, it was simply his hard luck. A hit batsman was not given his base until the mid-1880s. He might not even be awarded a ball if the pitcher had not as yet been warned for failing to deliver fair pitches.
The duel between batter and fielder was also quite different in 1871. Since a hit was deemed fair or foul depending on where it first struck earth, many batters thrived on accumulating fair-foul hits by chopping sharply down on the ball to give it "English" and cause it to hit the front half of the marble plate, which was in fair territory, and then instantly spin off into foul ground. To guard against hitters who had mastered this contrivance, either the first or third baseman-and sometimes both-would hug the line and might even station himself in foul territory.
The visiting team was required to furnish one new game ball, although in the event the clubs played a series of games at the same grounds, the visitors and the home team took turns providing the contest's centerpiece. The ball was expected to last the entire game, but the home club kept replacement balls on hand in case the original ball was lost or damaged so severely that it could no longer be kept in play. In 1871 the teams tossed a coin to see which would bat first or last, and the winning captain customarily chose the former if only so that his batsmen would get first crack at the new game ball.
Substitutions were rare, generally occurring only when a player was injured or ill. An injured player could request for a substitute to run the bases for him and still remain in the game, however, provided the opposing captain agreed to it. The substitute would start from behind home plate and begin running as soon as the batter for whom he was a surrogate struck the ball.
Barring injury, a pitcher was expected to hurl the full nine innings no matter how brutally he was being hammered. When a pitcher was replaced, it was almost always by a player already in the game with whom he would simply swap positions.
In 1871 catchers did not yet wear masks, chest protectors or shin guards, let alone gloves, and consequently stayed well back of the batter to prevent being struck by foul tips. Actually, no fielders in 1871-not even first basemen-wore gloves. Nor did base runners wear sliding pads.
For the sake of economy and simplicity, a single umpire worked each game. He was stationed behind the catcher and seldom ventured into the playing field. It was even made a rule in 1875 that an umpire could not set foot in fair territory while the ball was in play. In time that rule would be rescinded, and many of the other regulations that seem odd beyond belief today would also vanish, but they were all an integral part of the fabric of the game when the first major league season commenced on May 4, 1871. The unlikely site of the historic inaugural was Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the Cleveland Forest Citys opposed the local Kekiongas, largely because Boston and the Olympics, the two blue ribbon clubs that had been slated to break the ice for the new league, were rained out in their opener in Washington.
The Fort Wayners won 2-0 in an extraordinarily well-played game, especially for so early in the season, and seized first place. They were swiftly deposed, though, by Chicago, which won its first seven games. Still unbeaten, Chicago met the New York Mutuals in Brooklyn on June 5. Mutuals owner William Cammeyer's stiff 50o admission fee kept many away, but around 6,000 paid their way into the Union Grounds, and another 4,000 or so watched for free from rooftops or by standing on pushcarts outside the fences. New York won 8-5 and took over first place but then started losing at an alarming rate, perhaps deliberately. Charges of dumping games were constantly leveled at the Mutuals all during the NA's tenure. Upon hearing that Boss Tweed had invested $7,500 in the club, one wag said, "He probably got it all back again." The inference was that Tweed clandestinely bet against his own team.
Tweed was at the zenith of his power in 1871, but a year later he would be in jail. The Troy team also was under dubious auspices. Its founder was Jim Morrissey, an ex-Congressman who ran a national election-betting cartel in 1876 but canceled all bets when he heard a rumor that the Democrats aimed to sell the Tilden presidency to the Republicans in return for a promise to end Reconstruction in the South. The Philadelphia Athletics had among their directors several billiard parlor operators and liquor store owners, all of them staunch Republicans eager to take advantage of the "open Sunday" period in the nation's second largest city in the early 1870s. The Athletics' business manager, Hicks Hayhurst, was a city councilman and had close ties to the lucrative business of tax collecting.
But if New York and Troy and Philadelphia had the strongest political and financial clout, Boston, on paper at least, had the best team. Manager-centerfielder Harry Wright had corralled the cream of the unbeaten 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, including himself, his brother George, first baseman Charlie Gould and all-purpose star Cal McVey. To complement them he snagged pitcher Al Spalding, second sacker Ross Barnes and outfielder Fred Cone, the heart of the Rockford, Illinois, team in 1870. Injuries to George Wright and other key regulars cost Boston a number of games, but no club was more beset by ill luck in the early going than the Kekiongas. By mid-August the co-op club, whose players entrusted their economic security to a share of the gate receipts in lieu of regular salaries, was forced to fold after Bobby Mathews and Tom Carey defected and more team members soon followed when the club treasury grew so depleted that compensation was no longer even a dream. The Eckford club of Brooklyn, after declining to join the NA, replaced the Kekiongas on August 29 with the agreement that their games would not count in the standings and that all unplayed games by the Kekiongas that were needed to complete a season series with each team were declared forfeit.
Nine such games were at stake, and fortunately the top three contenders, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia, profited equally. Each received one bonus forfeit win due to the Kekiongas' precipitous departure, but it was the lone issue in the 1871 pennant race upon which the three would agree.
All of the brouhaha might have been averted but for the infamous mishap in Mrs. O'Leary's barn. Whether that kerosene lamp was kicked over by a clumsy cow or by a certain Louis Cohn who got overexcited in the midst of a craps game, the Rockford team, arriving in Chicago on the morning of October 8 for a game that afternoon, was repelled by a gargantuan blaze. The great Chicago fire destroyed not only the Chicago team's ballpark but also decimated the homes of many of its players as well as the banks holding their money. Broke and bereft of equipment and uniforms, the demoralized White Stockings finished the season on the road with three straight losses.
The final defeat came on October 30 at Brooklyn's Union Grounds with Chicago acting as "home team" against the Athletics in a game that was billed as being for the pennant. But even after Philadelphia won 4-1, the race was far from settled. Still unresolved were four early-season games that Rockford had won with an allegedly ineligible player, Scott Hastings, behind the bat. Worse yet, the Championship Committee had never definitely decided whether the pennant belonged to the team with the most total wins or the team that won the most season series. Nor was the committee clear on whether games should count after a team had already clinched a best-of-five series. Thoroughly befuddled, different newspapers printed different standings on any given day, and even the same paper would print standings one week that were at odds with the standings it had run the previous week.
On November 3, in Philadelphia, loop president James W. Kerns called a meeting to sort out the confusion and find a way to name a champion by November 15. Harry Wright could not have felt easy in his mind when he realized that Kerns and the Athletics, in their role as hosts of the meeting, meant to provide refreshments, namely champagne. In the convivial atmosphere it was perhaps inevitable that the committee, after waffling all season, resolved enough of the contested issues in the Athletics' favor to crown them the first major league champions. The most crucial decision was the committee's vote to revoke the Rockford club's four wins prior to June 16 in which Hastings had taken part. Once two of the wins, which had come at the Athletics' expense, were changed to Philadelphia victories, the Athletics had one more win than Boston in games actually played and a better winning percentage even after unplayed forfeits were added to the mix.
Excerpted from THE GREAT ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NINETEENTH CENTURY MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL by DAVID NEMEC Copyright © 2006 by The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission.
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|The annual record|
|The national association era (1871-75)||9|
|The Hulbert era (1876-81)||107|
|The rebel leagues era (1882-91)||217|
|The league-association era (1892-1900)||607|
|Pitchers as hitters||946|
|Major league manager register||999|
|Nineteenth century single season and career leaders||1013|
Posted December 2, 2009
No text was provided for this review.