1871 | NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK – “Major league baseball” didn’t just happen, it evolved in fits and starts. One of those starts took place on this date in 1871. Representatives of ten clubs; some professional, some amateur, some amateur only in name, met at Collier’s Café on Broadway in New York City to form The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players.
Up until this time, baseball had been considered an amateur sport, but the Cincinnati Red Stockings led by former cricket player Harry Wright were an exception. They showed people would pay to see good baseball.
According to Leonard Koppett, author of Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, the Red Stockings drew an estimated 200,000 fans playing about 60 games around the country in 1869. In 1870 the Red Stockings played a memorable extra inning game before 20,000 paying customers in New York. The commercial viability of professional baseball was no longer in question.
The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players only lasted 5 years – and is not considered a “major league” by MLB – but several of its teams became the foundation of the National League, established in 1876 and going strong to this day.
Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, by Leonard Koppett, 2004
National Association of Professional Base-Ball Players
The National League
FEBRUARY 2, 1876 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Major league baseball came about not only because the game and the players were exciting enough to get people to pay to watch, but also because it created a market for sporting goods. I know that sounds cynical but it’s true.
The National League of Baseball Clubs was formed on this date in 1876. One of the chief architects of the National League, as it soon became known, was Albert G. Spalding of Rockford, Illinois. He was thinking of the sale of baseball equipment as much balls and strikes.
As Leonard Koppett wrote in Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, Spalding thought he had a better way to run a professional baseball organization than the loosely held National Association founded in 1871. He didn’t have much faith that the east coast dominated Association would survive, and he wanted desperately for professional baseball to survive so teams and their fans would buy baseball equipment from him.
He and William Hulbert of Chicago began to put together a plan. The problem was Spalding and Hulbert were part of the National Association; Spalding played for Boston, and Hulbert was in the front office of the Chicago White Stockings.
The two needed a solid plan before the start of the next season to attract select east coast National Association teams. They got commitments from Midwest teams in Cincinnati, Louisville and St. Louis to join Chicago. That’s where the February 2, 1876 meeting came in. The gathering was held at the Central Hotel in New York with representatives from Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Hartford. They all agreed, and the National League was born. Play began that spring with those eight teams. As Koppett wrote, “It established a pattern that became the model for all commercialized spectator team sports from then on.”
Leonard Koppett, Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, 1998