1866 Winter Meetings: National Association of Base Ball Players Annual Convention

This article was written by Julia Hodges

This article was published in Baseball’s 19th Century Winter Meetings: 1857-1900

Baseball's 19th Century Winter Meetings: 1857-1900The Civil War left the United States of America in shambles. Despite the Union Army’s triumph, distrust and grudges were still thick throughout the country. Soldiers had found common ground in baseball, easing stress and avoiding boredom during the war. The sport was shared with people from different parts of the country, and it quickly spread to become popular across the United States.

Moving on from the war and focusing on the national game, on Wednesday night, December 13, 1865, the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) met in Room 24 of the Cooper Institute in New York City to hold its ninth annual winter convention.1

The NABBP intended to hold the convention like any other, to help stabilize the association after the calamity of the war, but little did the delegates know the significance of this convention in the history of the game. The NABBP desired to bring forth new clubs not only from New York, where the game was most popular, but also from distant points where people had learned about baseball during the war.

This meeting would potentially be the most influential to date. Matters to be settled included accepting new clubs, establishing changes to rules and regulations, and warning clubs of the consequences of breaking the rules, especially those pertaining to gambling.2 The 1866 Winter Convention would prove to be a lively one, the support of the game of baseball showing in the large number of attendees.

On the roll were a meager 29 registered clubs that remained from the Civil War years. Invitations and notices had been sent out to beckon any club that desired to become official to come to New York to pay dues and participate in the annual meeting. A social hour arranged by the NABBP treasurer, P.J. Cozans of the Eagle Club, was held at Dunham’s Saloon3 to welcome the out-of-town clubs at 6 P.M. New clubs were greeted by local clubs from New York, and drinks were provided for the visitors. Upon the arrival of the final attendees, there were clubs represented from 10 states, including far-off Kansas and Tennessee.4

So many teams were represented that there was not enough room for all the attendees. One-third of the delegates were forced to take seats either on the staircases lining the hall or to remain standing. Representatives from Philadelphia suggested that the future meetings be held in their home city, where they claimed there was plenty of space. The offer was declined because a majority of clubs were from New York, while only 14 hailed from Philadelphia.5 Because of the number of attendees, business was delayed for over an hour. Attendees were eager and exuberant but disorganized as they chatted, addressed the chair out of turn, and attempted to pay dues when not requested to yet.6 But finally, sometime after 8 P.M., the meeting was called to order by president Voorhis.7

One of the first orders of business was the induction of new clubs. More than 60 were to be added to the Association at this meeting. Such a sizable increase further raised hopes of a positive unification of the country, through a sport that brought so many people together in times of despair. The addition of new clubs at the beginning of the meeting allowed all the opportunity to have their fair say in the later balloting of elected officials. There was great cheering when clubs from far away, including the notable Lookout Club of Chattanooga, and the Nationals of Washington,8 were called. 

There was some confusion about the process of admitting new clubs as well as a number of the previously registered clubs. Some of the clubs that had been formed before the end of the war were so disorganized that they were forced to leave the association and rejoin as new clubs. One new team from Philadelphia, the Camden Club, was originally denied admission because its application never reached the officials. It was found that the club had, in fact, sent its application to D.A. Sutton, who had been dead for some time. This raised a chuckle from the attendees, and after a resubmission, the club was admitted.9 With all issues resolved, the number of official participating clubs stood at 91. This was the highest number in history to that point.10   

After the induction of new clubs, the treasurer, P.J. Cozans, came forward to present the balances for the year. He reported an amount of $213.86, including what was left in the treasury from the prior meeting.11 The expenditures added up to $124.40, leaving a balance of $89.46.12 But combined with the dues paid at this convention, the NABBP was left with a satisfying amount of between $300 and $400 in the treasury. The report was adopted and the committee voted against any auditing, but Cozans insisted the report be referred to the auditing committee due to minor discrepancies in the previous year’s report.

Perhaps the most important business was the deliberations of the Committee of Rules, including members J. B. Jones, John Wildey, C.H. Thorne, C.E. Thomas, Peter O’Brien, Henry Chadwick, and W.H. Murtha.13 The significance of the number of clubs was seen to be that baseball was truly moving forward and that despite the war, people with a common love for the sport were seen as equals and accepted as friends when it came to helping better baseball’s future. With the admission of the teams outside of New York and the nearest states, it was being shown that baseball was becoming a more national sport. But of major concern to the NABBP was that because of the confusion and disorganization of the war years, many teams had adopted “house rules,” or had modified the association’s regulations to play by their own rules. This had to be addressed immediately for the uniform betterment of the sport. Some at the meeting believed that the sport had been organized nearly 10 years and did not need to change anything, but their claim was countered by the fact that cricket had been around almost 100 years and was still making changes.14 The rebuttal caused attendees to become more open to the conversation, and to the fact that there was a need for consistency in regulations across the country. Fewer than 10 regulations were addressed, but the changes were the basis for a successfully organized sport.

The importance of making the changes was evident because of how they could minimize the risk of confusion and clarify how baseball was meant to be played. Consequences were set for breaking NABBP rules. They could be slight for the players, or immense for the clubs as a whole, ranging from suspension for a set amount of games or time, or outright expulsion.

Dr. J.B. Jones presented the Rules Committee’s proposed changes to the Constitution, By-Laws, and Rules. The NABBP added a new section to the Constitution stating that if a team member had ever been associated with gambling, bargaining, cheating, or anything of that nature pertaining to the game, he would be barred from playing as a member of his team. His club would be required to expel him or not be allowed to compete in any games.15

No doubt the impetus of this change was the action of William Wansley of the Mutuals club. On September 28, 1865, the Eckfords and the Mutuals met for an official game. The Eckfords won, 23-11, a shocking result, as the betting odds favored the Mutuals by nearly 100-60. The blame was placed on the catcher, Wansley, especially because he had made five outs and not scored a run during the game. The catcher was charged with “selling the game” and allowing the Eckfords to defeat the Mutuals by his poor play. Wansley was exposed in a “confession” turned in by 18-year-old shortstop Tommy Devyr.

Kane McLaughlin, a gambler, had offered Wansley money to “heave” the game to the Eckfords, this being sufficient bait since players were not paid for playing. The deal between McLaughlin and Wansley depended on Wansley’s enlisting some teammates into the scheme. On the morning of the game, Devyr, who was on his way to the playing grounds, was intercepted by Wansley and the team’s third baseman, Ed Duffy. Being penniless, Devyr was the ideal member to target. Wansley and Duffy tempted him with the promising sum of $300. Devyr accepted, but in the end, he would only see $30 for himself. The investigating committee had a soft spot for Devyr because of his youth, his poverty, and the fact that he had been talked into the scheme and his part in the actions were meager. Nevertheless, he was expelled along with the other culprits.16

Many accusations of gambling and foul play had been reported, but this was the first case to have ever been proven, and was the reason for adding the antigambling clause to the Constitution. Frank Pidgeon of the Eckford Club, perhaps the most respected man in the baseball community at the time, declared that such acts degraded the integrity of the game. He said that clubs would be punished for paying any players, making it clear the players were to make no money from the sport.

Section Three of the rules, pertaining to the bases, was changed from “… securely fastened upon the four corners of a square …” to “… securely fastened upon each corner of a square …” and from “… filled with sawdust …” to “… filled with some soft material …” The alteration was necessary because without clarification, bases might be placed incorrectly, causing confusion, or might be harder to manufacture because of the requirement that it be filled with sawdust.17 The explanation left little room for modification, so there would be less chance of clubs altering the rule.

Section Seven’s phrasing “… draw back his hand or …,” which pertained to the pitcher’s stance and delivery of the pitch while staying inside the designated boundaries of the pitcher’s box, was changed to clarify the pitcher’s allowable movement so the pitcher could not be falsely charged with a balk.18

A new rule, Section 38, clarified that no team was permitted to play by any “house rules,” even by consent of both competing clubs.19 The original sections 38, 39, and 40 were therefore changed to 39, 40, and 41. The new rule said that any game played under nonstandard rules would not be counted as an official match.

Section 41, regarding tournaments, was rephrased to make its purpose clearer. It stated that by agreement between opposing clubs, the winner of a match could be decided by either the best two out of three games, or by a single game.20 If the teams did not agree upon a winner, they could continue playing games until a winner was decided by best two out of three.

The appendix of the official rules was also amended. One that said there were to be no fences or obstructions within 100 feet behind home plate, had not been officially adopted because it would rob most clubs of any playing grounds at all. So the regulation was downgraded to a preference. Also, it was required that the game ball be provided by the challenging team. The ball would be kept by the victorious club as a trophy of its success.21 Adoption of the rules was close to unanimous.

The meeting became livelier during the final actions and drew to a close with the election of the officers. John Wildey of the Mutuals Club was elected president after several rounds of voting. Elected first vice president was Mortimer Rogers of the Lowell Club from Boston, the second vice president would be Mr. Sexton of the Empire Club from St. Louis. Re-elected recording secretary and corresponding secretary were respectively J.S. Page of the Active Club and A.H. Rogers of the Resolute Club. P.J. Cozans was re-elected treasurer.22 Re-election of the latter three was unanimous, perhaps due to the exhaustion of the attendees as it was after midnight at the close of elections.23

The convention was significant: The admission of new clubs, the discussion and improvements of rules, and the deliberations on the issue of gambling helped solidify the budding expansion of the sport.  It was decided that the next year’s meeting would take place on the second Wednesday of December in 1866 at 3 P.M. instead of 8 P.M. in order to provide sufficient time to conduct the meeting. The 1866 season was bound to be a prosperous one, thanks to the hardy delegates and the organization’s determination.



1 “The Annual Convention of Base Ball Players,” New York Clipper, December 23, 1865.

2 Patrick Mondout, “1866 Baseball Convention,” baseballchronology.com/baseball/Years/1866/Convention.asp (Hereafter Mondout).

3 William J. Ryczek, When Johnny Came Sliding Home (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc., 1998), 78; “The Annual Convention of Base Ball Players, New York Clipper, December 23, 1865 (Hereafter Clipper).

4 New York Times, December 15, 1865.

5 Clipper.

6 Ibid.

7 Clipper; Mondout.

8 Mondout; Clipper; New York Times, December 15, 1865; Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 15, 1865.

9 Clipper.

10 Clipper; Mondout.

11 Clipper.

12 Ibid.

13 New York Times, December 15, 1865; Clipper; Mondout.

14 Mondout; Clipper.

15 Clipper.

16 Ryczek, 76.

17 Clipper; Mondout.

18 Clipper.

19 Clipper.

20 Mondout.

21 Mondout; Clipper.

22 New York Times, December 15, 1865; Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 15, 1865.

23 Clipper.