A Tale of Two Leagues
A hot dog at the ballpark is better than steak at the Ritz.
- Humphrey Bogart
It was all about the National and the American Associations when baseball first began making waves with the American public. The National League (NL) as the former was soon called, was founded by William Hulbert. It was the first professional baseball league. There were four western teams; Chicago, Cincinnati, Louisville, and St. Louis. There were four eastern teams as well; Hartford, New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. A specific number of franchises were allowed in a city with at least 75,000 people. Seventy regular season games were scheduled in advance with 10 to be played against each team. Hulbert remained president of the NL until his death in 1882.
An economic boom helped propel professional baseball as a profitable and popular American sport. The annual schedule of games increased and by 1883 there came the addition of a second major baseball league, the American Association (AA). As the two league format rose in popularity, a tentative post season series between the two league winners was arranged. This was the precursor to the World Series.
Note: The Union Association (UA) was formed in 1883 to try and pick up players who disputed the reserve rule of the other two leagues. The reserve rule limited a players pay by binding him to his club. Players adhered to this rule, however, and by January of 1885, the UA was no more.
In 1890 there was a players league revolt. NL and AA relations were battered, and soon the NLs New York Giants purchased the champion New York Mets from the AA. The NL persuaded the two best AA franchises, Brooklyn and Cincinnati, to join them as well. What resulted was a collapse of the American Association after the 1891 season.
The NL went to a 12 team format, but by 1900 they had returned to eight teams. At this time though, a new league came forward. The Western League was the strongest minor league in the 1890s. Ban Johnson and former major leaguer Charles Comiskey reorganized the operation and the American League (AL) was born.
The American League and Johnson started a bidding war for player's services and ignored the reserve clause of the NL contracts. They raided NL rosters, remained organized, had strong financial backings, and were determined to succeed where previous leagues had failed. In 1903, out of necessity, the two leagues began co-operating. After just one successful championship series was played, the feud between the two leagues was so heated that a series in 1904 was out of the question. Finally in 1905 the National Commission established an official World Series with the eventual champion having to win the best of seven games. This tradition has continued until present day with only a few minor cuts and bruises along the way. World War I shortened the season in 1918 and World War II gradually weakened teams from 1941 to 1945.
Note: Branch Rickey assembled the farm system which is a working agreement with minor league teams to acquire players. Rickey also signed the first Negro League player, Jackie Robinson, to the Dodgers minor league Montreal club. Ford Frick, NL president from 1934 to 1951, quelled player's protests against Robinson's move to the majors in 1947. Robinson led Brooklyn to a pennant. Rickey tried to jump start his Continental League in the 1960's, but the two established leagues expanded to void his out.
In 1969, the NL and AL both became 12 team leagues. The leagues then divided into Western and Eastern divisions. Now they both have Eastern, Western, and Central divisions. The NL remained the more traditional of the two leagues by not accepting the designated hitter rule.
Baseball as a sport remains as traditional as apple pie. Fans and players alike look forward to October for the chance to see records broken, a years worth of work on the line, and America's favorite pastime light up their lives.
Source: The Idea Logical Company, Inc., Baseball
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