Origins and Birth of Major League Baseball Artemus Ward Dept. of Political Science Northern Illinois University email@example.com The 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings: baseball’s first professional team.
Introduction • We will discuss baseball’s origins and its journey from an amateur’s game to a professional business. • Along the way we will meet key figures and discuss the events that led to this transformation. • Ultimately, control over the game shifted from players to owners and by the early 1900s the owners had established a collusive monopoly which would last for the next 100 years. Salt print of the 1848–1850 New York Knickerbockers. Taken December 1862.
Baseball’s Origins • People have been pitching balls, hitting them with bats, and running for as long as there have been people. Early forms of baseball included the English folk games “stoolball” in the 11th century, forms of “cricket” in the 13th century, and perhaps “rounders” in the 18th century. • The American game evolved from amateur urban clubs in the 1840s and 1850s to the modern professional major leagues that began in the 1870s • The first published rules of baseball were written in 1845 for a New York (Manhattan) base ball club called the Knickerbockers. The author, Alexander Joy Cartwright, is often credited with inventing the modern game, though he likely wrote down rules that had been in existence for years. • In 1845, the Knickerbockers began using the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey to play baseball due to the lack of suitable grounds in increasingly crowded Manhattan. In 1846, the Knickerbockers played on these grounds in the first organized game between two clubs, losing 23-1 to a team of cricket players. A 1744 publication in England by John Newbery called A Little Pretty Pocket-Book includes a woodcut of stoolball and a rhyme entitled "Base-ball." This is the first known instance of the word baseball in print. The book was very popular in England, and was later published in Colonial America in 1762.
1865 championship match between the Mutual Club of New York and the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn, attended by an estimated 20,000 fans. Elysian Fields, Hoboken New Jersey.
Organized Baseball • With hundreds of clubs forming, in 1857, sixteen clubs from New York City sought to gain control of the game. They standardized the rules and formed the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP). By 1862 some NABBP member clubs offered games to the general public in enclosed ballparks with admission fees. But players were never to be paid. It was an amateur’s game. • During and after the American Civil War (1860-1865), the movements of soldiers and exchanges of prisoners helped spread the game. • In 1869, former Knickerbocker CF Harry Wright formed the first openly professional baseball team: The Cincinnati Red Stockings. Prior to this, players were amateurs and were not paid to play. But Cincinnati recruited nationally and effectively by offering salaries, toured the country, were undefeated until June 1870, and demonstrated that professional baseball was a viable business enterprise. Harry’s brother, the SS, was the highest paid player receiving $1,400—seven-times the average working man’s wage. • The Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs) joined the NABBP in 1870 and one year later broke away with several other clubs, including Harry Wright’s new Boston Red Stockings (the dominant team of the era as it included several of his former Cincinnati players—the team is now the Atlanta Braves) to found the first professional league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NA). • But the NA was weak. Without an overall organization or structure, schedules and competition were chaotic. Players moved from team to team depending on the salary offered.
The National League • In 1876, William Hulbert, a Chicago coal magnate and the owner of the White Stockings, initiated the establishment of the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs (NL). • The NA folded and the new National League has been in existence ever since. Indeed it is the world's oldest continuously existing professional team-sports league. • The NL had strong central authority, exclusive territories in large cities only, a regular schedule of games, set uniform ticket prices at 50 cents, and banned gambling, drinking, and games on Sunday. • But most importantly, the NL sought to reduce player salaries—a considerable expense—, increase fan interest by keeping players from switching from team to team, and impose discipline on unruly players. The solution: in 1879 the owners added a reserve clause to the contracts of the five best players on each team, later the best eleven, and by 1890 all players. It required that they play only for their present employer and “reserve” their services for the following year. At first, few complained. To be reserved was to be assured of a job for the next season. But some likened it to slavery. Those who complained were fired then blacklisted. In reality, because players under the reserve clause could not solicit competitive bids for their services, their salaries were artificially depressed. Couple that with collusion among the owners to set maximum salary limits and it is not surprising that players were dissatisfied. • For the first time in the history of the game the players would serve the interest of the owners. For the next 100 years the game was controlled by those who owned the field and supplied the ball. Players were merely employees.
The “Beer and Whiskey” League • In 1882, a rival league, the American Association (AA) started play. The AA offered Sunday games, alcoholic beverages, and sold cheaper tickets everywhere (25 cents versus the NL's standard 50 cents, a hefty sum for many in 1882). • The new AA—commonly known as the “beer and whiskey” league—drew huge, lively crowds of mostly lower-class and immigrant fans. It co-existed with the more sedate, established, upper-class NL for ten years and the best team in each league often played an end-of-the-season exhibition, a kind of precursor to the World Series. • But the AA folded after the 1891 season and many of its teams were absorbed by the NL. St. Louis Browns: AA Champions 1885-88.
The “Players” League • Aiding in the demise of the AA was a third league born out of the Brotherhood of Professional Base-Ball Players, the sport’s first union. • Lasting only one year—1890—the Players League was organized by star player (and Columbia Law School graduate) John Montgomery Ward who was disenchanted with the heavy-handed tactics of the owners. The Players League included a profit sharing system for the players and their investors. Each club was governed by an 8-man board of both players and investors. The league was governed by a senate of 16-members split evenly between players and investors. Most importantly, player contracts had no reserve clause. • 80% of NL players flocked to the new league including many of its stars such as Dan Brouthers, Pud Galvin, Hugh Duffy, and Ed Delahanty as well as future influential club owners: Connie Mack and Charles Comiskey! • But the NL owners undermined the Players League at every turn. First they sued Ward and other players who left the NL but in Metropolitan Exhibition Co. v. Ward (1890) the New York Supreme Court held that the reserve clause only bound players and owners to make future contracts without specifying the terms of those contracts and therefore were unenforceable. Hence NL contracts did not prevent players from signing with other leagues. • The owners turned outside the law to coercion and bribery to thwart the new league. Outdrawn by the Players League, the NL distributed free passes to fans around town, used propaganda, threats, personal intimidation, and financial offers to induce the Players League’s relatively naïve and inexperienced financial backers to desert the players. • While Ward failed in his bid against the owners, he continued playing; finishing his career as the only player in history to win over 100 games as a pitcher and collect over 2,000 hits. • Where there had been three top-level leagues in 1890, by the start of the 1892 season there was only one. The NL operated as a monopoly for the rest of the decade setting maximum salaries at $2,400 and considered setting up a trust whereby there would be one common ownership of all 12 NL teams. But when the NL contracted to 8 teams in 1900, there was an opening for new competition. Monte Ward
Albert Goodwill Spalding • He was the finest pitcher of the 1870s. Harry Wright paid him $1,500 per year to pitch for the Boston Red Stockings. • In 1876 he left Boston for Chicago, lured by William Hulbert’s offer of a raise and a percent of the gate. He was the first star to use a glove in the field to protect his hand. • But he stopped pitching entirely at age 27 finishing with a record of 253-65 for a winning percentage of .796 – the best in baseball history. • He became a full-time promoter. He opened a sporting goods business and began manufacturing all the baseballs in the league as well as bats and uniforms. Spaulding crushed or bought out his competitors and Spaulding became the largest sporting good manufacturer in the country. • After the death of William Hulbert in 1882, Spalding became the principle owner of the White Stockings. He moved the team to a new venue: West Side Park. He built a private box in the new park fitted out with a gong to summon servants and a new invention: the telephone to keep track of all his enterprises while he watched the game. • In 1888-89 he even took a team of players on a global tour to promote the game. Newspapers called him the baseball messiah. • He led other NL owners in their war against the Players League and ultimately won the battle—thereby shutting the players out of team ownership and league governance forever.
The American League • Bancroft “Ban” Johnson was a former law student and Cincinnati sportswriter who befriended Charles Comiskey, then manager of the Reds. • In 1894, with the urging and help of Comiskey, Ban Johnson became the president of the minor Western League. In 1896, he formulated the plan that would eventually see the Western League become the American League. • Comiskey left the Reds and purchased the Western League’s Sioux City team, moved it to St. Paul, and then to Chicago in 1900 where they initially took on the old nickname of the city’s longtime NL team, the White Stockings (at this time the NL team was known as the Colts, the nickname of their leader Cap Anson, and then the orphans and remnants after Anson’s departure—and of course later the Cubs). • Following the NL’s contraction, Johnson expanded his Western League, changed the name to the American League, broke his minor-league agreement with the NL, and declared the AL a “major” league in 1901, directly competing with the NL who never saw Johnson as a threat. • In 1900, NL players created their second union: the Players Protective Association. • While it was as ineffectual as Ward’s earlier union, it highlighted the players’ dissatisfaction with the owners. • Ban Johnson seized on this disaffection by persuading players to join his new American League. Of the 182 players on AL rosters in 1901, 111 were former NL players. • The 1901 and 1902 AL seasons were unqualified successes. In 1900 Johnson had started raiding NL rosters by paying higher salaries, enticing more than 100 NL players to join his league and fans packed AL ballparks to see the stars who had switched to the AL including Cy Young, Rube Waddell, and John McGraw. Ban Johnson Cy Young
Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie and the Enforcement of Contracts • Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie was a star 2B for the NL’s Philadelphia Phillies. Connie Mack, the owner of the cross-town AL team the Philadelphia Athletics, offered Lajoie $24,000 for a three-year contract. Phillies owner Colonel John I. Rogers responded with a better offer: $25,000 for two years. But Lajoie demanded Rogers pay him an additional $500 for the 1901 season and Rogers refused. Lajoie then accepted Mack’s offer and jumped to the AL’s Athletics for the 1901 season. • The Phillies sued asking the state trial court to issue an injunction that would order Lajoie to fulfill his existing contract with the Phillies, which stipulated that he would not play for another team. But the trial court decided for Lajoie. He played for the A’s in 1901 and set the league’s single-season batting record. But the Phillies appealed and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the trial court decision and enforced the provision of Lajoie’s contract that he not play for another club. In Philadelphia Ball Club, Ltd. v. Lajoie (1902), the Court reasoned that a professional baseball player—and certainly one of Lajoie’s talent—was presumptively unique and difficult if not impossible to replace, a finding that justified equitable relief through the issuance of a negative injunction. The decision concluded: “The court cannot compel the defendant to play for the plaintiff, but it can restrain him from playing for another club in violation of his agreement.” • Lajoie never again played for the Phillies. Prohibited by the courts from playing for the A’s, he was traded to the AL’s Cleveland club. Whenever Cleveland travelled to Philadelphia to play the A’s, Lajoie went on vacation to New Jersey. • Though other state courts followed the Ward precedent and denied injunctive relief to the clubs that lost players to the rival league, Lajoie marked an important turning point in the development of the baseball cartel and strengthened the reserve clause. The presumption was that player services were unique and irreplaceable and although courts could not force someone to play for a particular team, they were willing to prevent that person from selling their services elsewhere.
The National Agreement • As the bidding war between the two leagues grew fiercer and player salaries continued to escalate, the AL grew in popularity. By 1902 the AL outdrew the NL, 2.2 million to 1.7 million attendees. • By 1903, the two leagues realized it was in their economic interest to compromise. The leagues signed “The National Agreement”—the “constitution” of the sport. The leagues pledged “to perpetuate baseball as the national game of America, and to surround it with such safeguards as to warrant absolute public confidence in its integrity and methods.” The two league presidents and a third person selected by the two made up the National Commission which would govern the business of baseball. The owners gave the three-person Commission the power to control baseball “by its own decrees,” to enforce those decrees without the aid of law, and to answer to no power outside its own. In reality, however, AL President Ban Johnson ruled both the commission and the game until the 1920s. • The National Agreement ushered in an era of hegemony for organized baseball. The two leagues settled into a peaceful and collusive co-existence with eight teams in each league, an end-of-the-season World Series between each league champion, and most importantly no more bidding wars for players. Salaries once again became artificially depressed.
Charles Comiskey • Soon Ban Johnson battled AL owners including his old ally Charles Comiskey. When Comiskey warned Johnson that his players may have been bribed to fix games for gamblers, Johnson ignored him. Johnson continually clashed with the new Commissioner Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis and was ultimately forced out of baseball by the owners. • Comiskey, on the other hand, prospered. He was a star player and manager in the 1880s and 1890s. He is sometimes credited with being the first 1B to play behind the bag and inside the foul line, which is common now. • He became the owner of the Chicago White Sox from 1900 until his death in 1931 and oversaw the building of Comiskey Park in 1910. • Notoriously frugal with his players, he made them pay to launder their own uniforms, hence the “Black Sox” nickname for their often dirty uniforms. • The substandard wages tempted many of his players to talk to gamblers about throwing games for money. After eight of his players were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series he provided them with expensive legal counsel. But ultimately supported the decision to ban them for life, despite the fact that it decimated his team by depriving them of its stars including “shoeless” Joe Jackson.
The Commissioner • Hoping to restore public confidence in the sport following the 1919 Black Sox Scandal in which Chicago White Sox players accepted bribes from gamblers in order to throw the World Series, the owners named federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis commissioner of baseball, to replace the three-person National Commission that have formerly governed the sport. • Landis accepted but on the condition that he have absolute power to take any action he deemed “in the best interest of baseball.” The owners agreed and Landis’ first decision was to ban the eight White Sox players involved in the scandal. • Throughout 1921 Landis came under intense criticism for his moonlighting, and congressional members called for his impeachment. In February 1922, Landis resigned his position as a federal judge saying that, "There aren't enough hours in the day for me to handle the courtroom and the various other jobs I have taken on." • The owners hoped that after the Black Sox scandal passed, Landis would “retire” to a quiet life as the titular head of baseball. But instead, Landis ruled baseball with an iron fist for 25 years. At times he antagonized the owners and the players but historians generally agree that his actions were consistent with his “best interest of baseball” mandate and the independence of the office.
Conclusion • Baseball was initially a game played by amateurs for amusement. • As it grew in popularity, private entrepreneurs built enclosed parks and charged admission to see games. • To gain control of the game, rules were standardized and leagues were formed. • In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings began paying players to play baseball. • Born from the ashes of the first professional league—the National Association—the National League was formed by the owners and the reserve clause was invented, binding players to their teams for life and shifting power from the players to the owners, a situation that lasted for the next 100 years. • Although able to quash competition from the upstart “beer and whiskey” and Players leagues, the American League was able to become a successful competitor the NL. But they soon settled their differences and entered into a collusive agreement of peaceful coexistence that lasts to this day. • Major League Baseball’s monopoly over the game was in place.
Bibliography • Abrams, Roger I. 1998. Legal Bases: Baseball and the Law. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. • Goldman, Robert M. 2008. One Man Out: Curt Flood versus Baseball. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. • Metropolitan Exhibition Co. v. Ward, 9 NYS 779 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1890). • Philadelphia Ball Club, Ltd. v. Lajoie, 202 Pa 210, 51 A 973 (1902). • Ward, Geoffrey C. and Ken Burns. 1994. Baseball: An Illustrated History. New York, NY: Knopf. • Zimbalist, Andrew. 2003. May the Best Team Win: Baseball Economics and Public Policy. Washington, DC: Brookings Press.