1867 Winter Meetings: National Association of Base Ball Players Annual Convention

This article was written by Marcus W. Dickson

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


Baseball's 19th Century Winter Meetings: 1857-1900As the annual convention of the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) approached in December 1866, the Association faced one challenge, one opportunity, and one threat. These three matters would together dominate the 10th annual meeting of the NABBP. The convention, scheduled for December 12, would extend into the wee hours of the morning of the 13th as these issues were addressed, with varying degrees of success and finality.

The challenge was the perpetual one of perfecting the game. Every year the Committee on Rules proposed modifications to game play, sometimes to correct existing problems and sometimes to find new ways to improve the game. The 1866 meeting, preparing for the 1867 season, would be no different, with the committee proposing revisions to several sections of the rules, along with proposed amendments to the association’s Constitution and Bylaws.

The opportunity related to the expansion of baseball nationally. Baseball truly becoming the national pastime had long been a goal of many of the leaders of the National Association — a goal they now saw as within reach, given the rapid growth of “New York rules base ball” well beyond its early confines in Gotham. The goal was not without challenges, the biggest of which was sectionalism, or the feelings of disinterest by Southern clubs (i.e., clubs made up of former Confederate soldiers, or at least those allegiant to the Confederate cause) in affiliating with Northern clubs. Efforts to address sectionalism would drive much of the convention’s decision-making about and by the association’s leadership. The rapid growth of the game had made managing the annual convention nearly impossible. Movement toward management of base ball’s governance solely through state associations would begin at this convention.

As is often the case, the threat related to money. Specifically, the Association felt threatened by the problems emerging from gambling and from professionalism (which were clearly inter-related threats, in the minds of the baseball press). This meeting would represent one of the last major stands against professionalism, but in an inconsistent way. Judicial rulings failed to address even clearly evident violations of the rules related to professionalism by major clubs, though the convention did adopt more stringent rules prohibiting paid ballists from playing in match games.

The Challenge: Perfecting the Game on the Field

A frequent debate topic among baseball historians is when the game began. The New York Sunday Mercury placed that date at the formation of the National Association, in 1857. The Mercury noted, “The season of 1866 closes the first ten years of the existence of the game of baseball as an American sport and now thoroughly national pastime.” The Mercury’s editorialist highlighted events of the year showcasing the game’s growth and establishment as the national game. These included the first New York rules game played in Oregon, as well as numerous games in the Indiana, and in the cities of San Francisco and Richmond, Virginia (a metropolis that will return to our attention in a subsequent section). The editorial concluded with the bold statement that “In fact, North, South, East and West, the game flourishes to an extent hitherto unprecedented, and it may now be regarded as one of the most popular ‘institutions’ of this ‘great country’ of ours.1

With such an increasingly national game, it was inevitable that there would be differing perceptions about how best to “improve” the game. It thus is not surprising that well before the convention, attention had turned to amendments to the rules. The November 11, 1866, issue of the New York Sunday Mercury included several recommendations for the Committee on Rules to consider. The first of those recommendations was simply for the committee to get to work — the convention was approaching, and the committee had yet to begin its annual task. “A careful revision of the rules should be had, and though it is advisable to make as few changes as possible, still some are necessary each season. The game is far from being perfect yet.”2

Specific recommendations also came from readers, including several from a correspondent signing as “Old Yale,” who advocated adding definitions of terms and clarifications of rules related to catching a ball after it has hit other players or spectators, as well as rules stating when precisely a striker becomes a player running the bases. The convention would end up addressing several of these issues.3

Other amendments proposed by the Mercury (by which we should infer, proposed by Henry Chadwick) related to increasing from 30 to 90 days the length of time a player must be a member of a club before he can play in match games — one of many efforts to reduce professionalism, by limiting players “revolving” from one team to another, presumably for better pay.4

The Committee on Rules — Dr. J.B. Jones (chairman), P. O’Brien, D.W.C. Moore, A.P. Gorman, T.G. Voorhis, C.E. Thomas, M. Rogers, W.H. Bell, and H. Chadwick — finally met for the first time on November 21, 1866.5 The meeting lasted for three hours, though without four of its members. The Sunday Mercury took the time to encourage the next NABBP president to “appoint none as members of the next committee but those who can and will spare a few hours of their time during one month each year to the interests and welfare of the National Association and game, through the medium of this committee.”6 Given that the author of the reprimand was likely Chadwick, a member of the committee, this was bold talk, especially given that one of the absent members was A.P. Gorman, who would play a significant role in the coming convention. Nonetheless, the scolding seems to have had its effect — the committee met a second time, on Friday, November 30, with a greater portion of the committee in attendance.7

Though the Committee on Rules was supposedly occupied with the important business of the laws of the game, it also had time to endorse “Sebring’s Parlor Baseball Field,” which was “neither more nor less than baseball in miniature.” The game, invented by Mr. Sebring of the Empire Club of New York, had the “meritorious feature” that “while chance sufficiently enters into the game to allow the unpracticed player an opening for success against an experienced adversary, ample opportunities are afforded for the development of strategy, both in batting and pitching, thereby rendering skillful play the most important element of success in the game. In fact, there is not a more complete parlor-game in vogue.” The following week, the paper reported on what at first glance was a match game between association clubs, but was instead an account of “a match-game of baseball on one of Sebring’s Parlor Baseball Boards.” The paper took pains to note that eight ladies participated in the game, and “these fair participants had learned the game from frequent visits to the Capitoline ground.”8

Despite the time taken to admire Sebring’s game, the Committee on Rules did manage to prepare several recommendations for revisions to the National Association’s Constitution and Bylaws, as well as a variety of amendments to the rules of play. A proposed constitutional amendment whose importance may not have been recognized at the time was the committee’s recommended change to Article VI, which covered the annual meeting of the association. The change would have removed the requirement that the annual meeting be held in New York, and would instead allow the meeting to occur “at such place as the Association at the annual meeting may direct.” The amendment was adopted and immediately implemented, as the delegates directed that the 1867 convention would be held in Philadelphia, rather than in the game’s birthplace — a seemingly minor shift that in fact foreshadowed the coming disintegration of the National Association.

The Committee on Rules made only one proposal to the bylaws, and that was to Section 8, which addressed the process for filing charges against a member club. The proposed amendment would allow 30 days (instead of 10) from the date of an alleged violation of association rules to file charges against members or clubs of the association. This was another effort to curb professionalism, spurred by the dismissal of charges against clubs allegedly employing players, with the dismissals ostensibly coming because the charges were filed too late.

Several amendments to the playing rules were proposed. The convention would adopt almost all of them as proposed. Ultimately, 13 sections of the rules — out of 41 — were either amended or added. Some were minor, and others significantly affected the game. These rules changes highlight how concepts that are not questioned today and are presumed to have been “eternal” in baseball were in fact still being worked out by the association and the players. The most noteworthy changes include:

  • Sections 6, 7, and 28 were modified to define terms, such as what constituted an unfair pitch (leading to a warning, and then called balls), what constituted a “throw” or a “jerk” (which were balks), and when an innings would end. The need to define these terms or clarify these issues at this convention suggests that commonly held understandings of terms were breaking down as the game expanded.
  • Section 15 was amended to say that a striker could not strike out if he swung at pitches called balls or on which balks were called. The amendment solidified the principle that for a ball to be put in play on a hit, it had to be a fair strike on a fair pitch, and balls and balks were not fair pitches.
  • The wording of amendments to Section 21 was quite problematic, and game accounts in the early part of 1867 revealed significant discrepancy in how the rule was interpreted. The much-maligned rule said that strikers, “when in the act of striking, shall not step forward or backward” but must stand on the striker’s line. The question arose then, as it does now with players attempting to re-create 1867 base ball, as to what it means to “step forward,” and to stand “on the line.” Though the intention was clearly to eliminate the practice of some strikers of running forward to meet the ball, or of jumping backward to give more time to see a swift pitch, some (then and now) incorrectly interpreted it to mean that strikers could not lift a foot or move it forward in the process of swinging at a pitch.9
  • It is important to remember that in 1866, a “nine” was typically exactly that — nine players in uniform. Previously, substitutions of anyone involved in the match could occur only with the consent of both captains. The amendment to Section 34 allowed players, scorers, or umpires to be replaced if they were injured during the game, even without the consent of both parties.10
  • The lengthy amendment to Section 39 required that a club that forfeited a match game must surrender a ball — the standard trophy of victory — before leaving the grounds. It also created the rule, still in effect, that a club that won by forfeit would count the win in its season record, and the score should be recorded as 9-0. An exception to the rules gave a sense of the times — no trophy ball was required if the cause of a forfeit was that a team failed to appear due to the recent death of a member without sufficient time to inform the opposing club.
  • The addition of Section 41 strictly barred professionals (those paid to play) from participating in association match games, and penalized clubs that paid players by debarring them from the National Association.

In considering the amendments and their wordings, it is important to remember that the December 1866 convention was by far the largest to date, and that it was often unruly. The debate over the proposed revisions to Section 10 was a prime example of what could happen when there were many inexperienced delegates and a president who did not effectively maintain order. In short, the amendment to Section 10 that was published (in multiple newspapers, as well as in both Beadle’s and Haney’s guides) as having been adopted was simply incorrect. The text published stated that pitches on which balls or balks had been called were dead, and that — in line with the rules of the day — the ball would thus have to go to the pitcher to be made live again before it could be used to put a runner out. This created the situation in which it was essentially impossible to put out a runner attempting to steal a base on a called ball, because the catcher would have to throw to the pitcher who would then throw to the base, rather than the catcher being able to throw directly to the base.

In fact, in June of 1867 it became clear that this was an error, and that the wrong text had been marked as being adopted. This created one of the very few situations in baseball history in which a rule was changed in the middle of a season, with the official publication in mid-June of the corrected rule. The rule actually adopted stated simply that if a striker hit a ball on which a ball or balk had been called, that hit was not valid, and no player running the bases could be put out on that hit when in the act of returning to his base. (Some umpires were in the habit of calling a pitch a ball before it had reached the striker.) The incorrect rule had created confusion since the season began. For example, an early-season request for clarification of this rule sent to the Clipper asked, “Can a player run or make a base on a called ball? For example, a player has reached his 2d base, he starts for his 3d, at the same time the pitcher delivers the ball to the batsman. The umpire calls one or two balls. Can the player run to his third, or is he compelled to return to his second?” The Clipper replied, “He can run his base and is not compelled to return.”11 Similarly, the Sunday Mercury responded to a query from the secretary of a club in New Britain, Connecticut, saying, “There is no rule in the game, except section 19, which expressly prohibits base running on a dead ball, and then only in case of a foul ball.”12 The publication of the correct rule in June 1867 clarified the issue of whether catchers had to throw to the pitcher on a called ball on which a base was being stolen, but controversy remained about the question of running bases on dead balls.13

Anyone looking carefully at the rules adopted for 1867 would easily see that the convention’s efforts to “perfect the game” had not been particularly successful, and the next convention (in December 1867) would see significant efforts to reorganize the rules. In December of 1866, however, the opportunity for expansion and the threat of professionalism consumed much of the delegates’ attention.

The Opportunity: Expansion

Base ball was growing rapidly, and the number of clubs seemed to be growing at an exponential pace. The National Association was, naturally, desirous of maintaining influence over the growth and spread of the game, and of ensuring consistency of play across the country. A December 15 article in the Clipper suggests that the Committee on Rules:

“never before had duties to perform having a more important bearing on the future welfare of the game than they had had this year. … The rapid extension of the game to all portions of the country, the extraordinary increase of clubs, and the now plainly apparent fact that base ball has really become the national outdoor sport of America necessitate such legislative actions at the hands of the Committee of Rule and regulations — whose duty it is to make and revise not only the playing rules of the game, but Constitution and Bylaws of the National Association — as will keep pace with the rapid extension of the boundary lines of the game.”

The Clipper advocated that the goal should be to “make it a national association in reality, and not simply in name, and one commanding the respect and having control of every club from the forests of Maine to the golden sands of California.”14 Though unstated, the desire for “commanding the respect and having control of every club” included clubs in the South.

Of course, club representation at the convention was not evenly distributed geographically. “The States were represented as follows: New York seventy-three [clubs], Pennsylvania forty-eight, New Jersey twenty-six, Connecticut twenty, District of Columbia ten, Maryland five, Ohio four, Massachusetts, Iowa, Tennessee, Missouri and Kansas two each, and Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon and Maine one each.”15 Stated differently, attendance at the convention included 199 clubs from states that had remained loyal to the United States, and three clubs from states that had seceded from the United States during the Civil War. Of the former Confederate states represented (Tennessee and Virginia), both were along the northern border of the Confederacy. In other words, the National Association had little, if any, respect or control over clubs in the South, though base ball was growing rapidly there, as well.16

There was significant interest in expanding the association’s influence and membership into the Southern states, though there was not necessarily clarity about how to do so. The fact that animosity between the regions remained, and that it manifested itself in base ball, was evident to all at the convention. A key moment in bringing this issue to the fore occurred just a few months earlier, when on September 16 the Union BBC of Richmond challenged the Richmond Base Ball Club to a match game using the NABBP rules. (The Union Club’s name gave away its politics — though based in Richmond, the club was primarily made up of clerks from the federal government posted to Richmond as part of the postwar occupation.) The challenge to the Richmond Club was in standard form, with the exception of the inclusion of the concluding sentence — “Should the club think proper to decline the challenge, you will oblige me by stating plainly the reasons therefor.” The inclusion of this sentence has led some to conclude that the Union BBC fully understood what the response to their challenge would be, and wanted to make public the reasons given for the expected refusal.17

The response was sent on September 22, and as seemingly expected, the Richmond Club declined the challenge. The response read, “I am instructed to state that the Richmond Baseball Club does not desire, and will not play the Union Baseball Club a single game. We are not or do we expect to be members of the National Baseball Convention. Our reason: We are Southerners. Hoping this may be satisfactory, I am, J.V. Bidgood, Secretary, Richmond Baseball Club.”

The Sunday Mercury referred to this as “an insult to the whole baseball-fraternity” and “a pitiful display of sectional ill will,” calling it “out of place in baseball matters, for hitherto politics or sectionalism have been kept out of our national game.” The Mercury went on to say, “The Richmond club may rest assured that the National Association can get along without their aid; but we hope to see the other clubs represented at the next Convention; and certainly, if they are, they will be met with a very cordial reception.”18

With this reply by the Richmond BBC, “the gauntlet had been thrown down,” and the goal of the NABBP’s leaders for the game’s nationalism would face competition from others’ priorities in the South.19 Racial politics would play a major role in baseball’s expansion, coming to a head in the following year’s convention.

One strategy the convention delegates considered to address sectionalism related to the election of association leadership. There were several contenders for the presidency, including one “Southern” candidate. There was controversy and maneuvering as factions worked to have their man elected. The bylaws specified that only convention delegates could be considered for election, and Mr. Davis of Brooklyn’s Mohawk Base Ball Club — one candidate favored by several clubs — had been ill and thus unable to serve as a delegate, so his nomination was rendered null and void.20 This was quite distressing to the members of the Mohawk Club, who, along with supporters, had made a significant effort prior to the convention to gather support for his candidacy. The Clipper had even printed a letter in November that had circulated to the delegates, signed by members of the Eclectic, Excelsior, Powhatan, and Enterprise BBCs, endorsing Davis for his “great experience as a presiding officer, and his great interests in base ball matters.”21

Following the exclusion of Mr. Davis, three candidates remained — Judge Rose of Altoona, Pennsylvania; A.P. Gorman of Washington, D.C.; and Judge Scott of Newburgh, New York. After one ballot, no candidate had a majority, and Rose withdrew in favor of Gorman. “After quite a busy electioneering time of it,”22 Gorman was elected on the next ballot, by a ratio of about 3:1. Three cheers followed his election, likely because of the recognition of Gorman’s “Southern” connection, in that he came from Maryland23 (though Southern clubs would see Gorman’s “Southernness” quite differently than did the convention delegates).

The Mercury noted that from the moment Gorman assumed the chair, “everything went on like clockwork.”24 Prior to that point, the convention had been somewhat chaotic, partly due to President Wildey’s lack of expertise in parliamentary rulings, meaning that even with his “stentorian lungs,” he was often unable to maintain order. Upon Gorman’s election, Wildey “was thanked by a vote of the committee for his earnest endeavors to discharge the duties of his position satisfactorily, and he resigned his position very readily, glad to get relieved from its onerous duties.”25

The election of an ostensibly Southern delegate as president was approved of by the Mercury,26 because of its hoped-for implications in growing the association’s role in the South. The Clipper similarly noted, “We should have liked to have seen the members of clubs from distant States present at the convention when the roll was called, if only to be witnesses of the hearty reception accorded them; and had our friends from the University of Va. and from the Richmond clubs have been cognizant of the cheers which greeted the name of the club hailing from the old commonwealth of Virginia, it would doubtless have led them to throw aside many of the sectional prejudices which now exist South, and which are such a great obstacle to social reconstruction.”27

The quest for growth in the Association — Southern or otherwise — was accompanied by the recognition that its operation was growing cumbersome. A convention with delegates from over 200 clubs was readily seen to be unmanageable, especially when many — or most — of those representatives were not experienced in how the convention worked. A full three hours of the convention were spent in the roll call and receipt of dues,28 and in later months the confusion in the hall that led to the error regarding Section 10 of the rules was blamed on “talkative youths and partisan delegates” and “the noise and confusion of the convention.”29

As mentioned above, the solution, already in the works for this convention, was to have state associations participate in the convention. Several constitutional amendments were proposed by the Committee on Rules to address this issue. The Sunday Mercury described these discussions by the Rules Committee in advance of the convention, including their efforts to address the issue of state and regional associations, and how member clubs of those associations should relate to the National Association. The commentary opened by noting that when the NABBP was founded, the word “National” was a misnomer, given that all active clubs were in New York, and that the need for this change had occurred in only 10 years.30

The gist of the proposals was that clubs that were members of state (e.g., Pennsylvania) and regional (e.g., New England, Northwestern) associations should be members of the National Association through the other associations. Each state or regional association would vote at the national convention based on its number of member clubs (with two votes per member club, the same as if the clubs affiliated directly with the National Association). The Mercury supported proposals for change, though noting that the changes would have to take effect at the next convention.31

The Clipper also recognized that the issue of state associations would be a significant one, and in fact advocated for the creation of a “new National Association,” made up of delegates from the various state associations. The Clipper, however, wanted to maintain New York’s pre-eminence in all matters related to the rules of the game: “The committee on rules and regulations of the New York National Association — that is to be — should, however, be the governing power as far as the playing rules of the game are concerned, and the rules they adopt should be fully endorsed by the same committee of the Supreme Association, and by them given forth as the base ball laws of the land. At least this should be the course adopted for some years to come. Afterwards the making of the rules could (be) safely left in the hands of a general committee.”32

These proposals from the Rules Committee, designed to manage the impact of growth that had already occurred and that that was hoped for in the future, were adopted by the convention, fundamentally changing the nature of clubs’ affiliation with the national governing body. The Clipper’s advocacy for New York’s retention of rules governance was never considered.

Showing the rapidity with which decisions of the National Association were disseminated nationwide, within two weeks of the convention, “the following States have now either already organized or are in process of organizing State Association: viz., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Vermont, New York, New Jersey, and most of the Western States will have them in operation before the close of next season, and the Northwestern and New England Associations will resolve themselves into State Associations next year.”33 Further, the Northwestern Convention, meeting in Chicago less than a week after the conclusion of the National Convention, adopted the rules of the NABBP, including all the recently adopted amendments.34

Clearly, the National Association was embracing the opportunity for growth, and addressing the challenges of managing that growth. Efforts to make inroads into the South had begun. Those efforts would come to the fore in the next year’s convention, when efforts to secure association membership for Southern clubs would lead to the drawing of base ball’s first color line.35 The outcome of the association’s efforts for growth, begun in earnest at this convention, reverberated in the sport for decades to come.

The Threat: Professionalism

The threat that the association faced was professionalism, and it was a frequently raised topic. Just prior to the convention, the Mercury encouraged the Committee on Rules again to take on this issue, saying, “Some effort should be made to make the rules more stringent in reference to hiring or paying men for playing in matches.”36

It is hard for many people today to understand the nuances of the professionalism debate in the United States that at this time was affecting base ball, and would in coming decades become most evident related to the Olympic Games. Much of the origin of the disdain for professionalism arose from British conceptions of amateurism. This British sentiment was playing out in the U.S. especially in the still popular sport of cricket, where the term “gentleman” was the opposite of “professional”37 — this conceptualization undoubtedly carried over to base ball.38

This idea of amateurism was not simply opposition to earning one’s living through sport, but was at a deeper level about the nature of the contest itself. Almost exactly a century after the events of the 1867 convention, Avery Brundage, president of the International Olympic Commission in the 1960s, described amateurism’s importance, saying, “For ‘sport to be sport [it] must be amateur,’ and to be amateur it must be ‘nothing more than recreation. … The moment that financial, commercial, or political considerations intrude,’ an athlete ceased to be an amateur.”39 By Brundage’s time, this strict mindset was already largely out of favor, and was certainly more honored in the breach. Indeed, a description of Olympic athletes’ reasons and strategies for getting around the rules sounds stunningly similar to the reasons and efforts of ballists a century before:

High-performance sport required many hours of specialized training; participation in elite competitions required lengthy absences from work. As demands increased, financial temptations multiplied. … Olympic athletes found ways to circumvent the strict rules, accepting under the table payments. … Covert payments for the time lost from work due to competition … were common. …40

It is important to emphasize, though, that the mid-nineteenth-century understanding of professionalism among ballplayers did not necessarily mean that no one should earn his living on the ballfield. Just as Avery Brundage did not object to Olympic athletes having coaches — experts in the particular sport who were paid to enhance the abilities of the athletes — followers and writers on base ball similarly saw benefit to having paid “teachers” of the game. The Clipper, for example, opposed an outright ban of professionals in the game. It argued that professionals served an excellent purpose related to training other players. Clipper editorials suggested that the model of professional players in cricket be considered — that they were, in fact, some of the most honest players because they openly made their living through their sport (rather than hiding their earnings), and that having a legitimate opportunity for these skilled players to make a living without playing in match games would take the problematic elements of professionalism out of the game.

The time has arrived when professional ball players, like professional cricketers, have become necessary to the growth and establishment of the game. Students in colleges, clubs of young men in country towns, and collections of amateurs, desirous of becoming “posted” in the points of the game find it desirable and advantageous to engage some experienced player to become connected with the club for a season of a few weeks or months for the purpose of teaching them the game, and these services they are willing to pay for. … This demand for teachers will increase each year, and we see no reason why the teaching of base ball cannot be as honorably followed as an occupation as that of any other exercise or recreation. … Far better is it that this making a business of base ball playing be guided into a legitimate channel, than that it should be allowed to be carried on in the underhanded style it sic which it has been of late years, and especially this past season. …41

Other strategies for addressing the issue were also advanced, including the sharing of “gate money” from admissions at match games. This, too, was controversial. In November of 1866, in the lead-in to the December convention, the Sunday Mercury published an extract of a letter from the National BBC of Washington that stated opposition to the practice of playing baseball for money. “[W]e are totally averse to the principle you advance — that of playing ball for money. The Nationals are opposed en masse to any prostitution of the game for the pecuniary benefit of any club or the personal aggrandizement of any individual member, and will ever discourge sic any attempts to accomplish such objects. … [W]hile we are jealous of our reputation as ball-players, we are more jealous of our reputation as gentlemen; while we are ambitious to excel in all our friendly contests with other clubs, yet we would sooner lose every game than to sacrifice the principle of our personal honor, which we estimate above and beyond everything else.”42

Such a strong statement by leading representatives of the amateur game took on greater importance in light of the grand tour by the Nationals that would occur in the summer of 1867, when the club displayed the high quality of play that a “nonprofessional” club could have. However, as Morse noted in 1888, “The Nationals were composed of government clerks,” who would have had to take significant time off work for such an extensive tour, and yet somehow were able to do so.43 Their protests against professionalism notwithstanding, it was widely understood that many of the National BBC’s first nine were given jobs at the Treasury Department for which they rarely needed to attend work.44 They were an example of the forces at play going in to the 1867 convention that Morse described, saying, “Up to 1868 the laws of the game forbade the employment of paid players in clubs, but so great had become the rivalry between clubs that professionalism worked its way into base ball, and the rule became a dead letter.”45 In short, there were nuances to the debates about professionalism.

The Rules Committee, and then the convention, discussed and debated all of these issues. As mentioned previously, the discussion culminated in a new section, Section 41, added to the rules.

All players who play base-ball for money, place or emolument, shall be regarded as Professional Players, and no professional player shall take part in any match game; and any club giving compensation to a player, or having to their knowledge a player in their nine playing in a match for compensation, shall be debarred from membership in the National Association, and they shall not be considered by any club belonging to this Association as a proper club to engage in a match with; and should any club so engage with them they shall forfeit membership.

In advance of the 1867 season, there was optimism about the new rule and its impact on professionalism. Other strategies were also being employed to limit the scourge of money on match games. For example, in February the Mercury discussed the problem of what constituted a “championship match” — a topic not addressed by the convention, and which was becoming less popular. Chadwick had noted, “The title of ‘Champion Club’ is one not recognized by the National Association, and it is one that is not advisable for the interest of the game at large that it should be.”46 In February of 1867 the Mercury noted that several clubs had chosen to no longer play “championship games,” and suggested that this was a good thing, because these games were seen as promoting gambling and professionalism.47

Both the Mercury and the Clipper noted that there was great support for Section 41’s defining and barring professional players from match games.48 Though adopted with great fanfare and self-congratulations, this section “was not enforced and, in fact, never seriously regarded by such clubs as the Atlantics, Mutuals, and Athletics.”49 At the time, though, Chadwick believed that “This was one of the most important amendments made to the rules in 1866. By it all players, who make ball playing a business, are excluded from taking part in match games between Association clubs. Players who desire to speculate in base ball matches must form professional nines, or otherwise they will not be able to get up a match.”50

A significant irony here is that the desire to pursue the opportunity for expansion was a major factor in the NABBP electing Gorman as president at the 1866 convention. Gorman’s election, however, undermined the NABBP’s response to the threat of professionalism. He assumed the presidency in the year that the prohibitions against professionalism were made as strong as they would ever be, though his role as president of the National BBC — with its façade of objecting to professionalism while accepting jobs that didn’t require attendance — undermined that commitment.

With Gorman of the National BBC in the president’s chair, the next year’s convention would see the first real holes in the regulatory wall against professionalism, and in just two years’ time, the ban would be a thing of the past.

Conclusions

The December 1866 convention was significant in many ways, primarily for what the convention and its decisions would lead to in later years. The convoluted state of the rules at the conclusion of the convention would lead to a thorough reorganization of the rules for the 1868 season, as the NABBP continued to address the challenge of perfecting the game. The relationship of clubs to the national governing body was changed from direct membership to membership through state associations, placing distance between the clubs and the National Association — a pattern that would continue into the professional era. Decisions designed to pursue the opportunity for expansion of the association would soon lead to officially segregated base ball. The last-ditch efforts to combat the threat of professionalism by inserting rules banning professionals, and banning clubs from employing professionals, would prove unsustainable, and by 1869 would be fully abandoned. In short, the “amateur era” and all that accompanied it would soon come to an end. Full of optimism for the game’s future as the convention adjourned in the early hours of the morning on December 13, 1866, the NABBP Convention delegates did not yet see that end coming.

 

Notes

1 “The Popularity of Baseball,” Sunday Mercury, November 25, 1866.

2 “The Committee on Rules,” Sunday Mercury, November 11, 1866.

3 “The Meeting of the Committee of Rules,” Sunday Mercury, November 25, 1866.

4 Ibid.

5 “Meeting of the Committee on Rules,” Sunday Mercury, November 18, 1866.

6 “The Committee on Rules,” Sunday Mercury, November 11, 1866.

7 “The Meeting of the Committee of Rules,” Sunday Mercury, November 25, 1866.

8 “A Parlor-Game,” Sunday Mercury, December 9, 1866.

9 “Union vs. Athletic,” Base Ball Players Chronicle, August 22, 1867.

10 The only prior exception to this was that previously, players, umpires, and scorers could be substituted even without the consent of both captains only if they were found not to have been members of the club for 30 days.

11 “To Correspondents: Reader of Clipper, San Francisco, Cal.,” New York Clipper, May 4, 1867.

12 “To Correspondents: Secretary, New Britain, Conn.,” New York Clipper, May 18, 1867.

13 “The New Reading of Section 10 of the Rules,” Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, June 29, 1867.

14 “The Sessions of the Committee on Rules,” New York Clipper, December 15, 1866.

15 Henry Chadwick, Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player  (New York: Beadle and Company, 1867).

16 Ryan A. Swanson, When Baseball Went White: Reconstruction, Reconciliation, and Dreams of a National Pastime (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014).

17 Ibid.

18 “Baseball in the South,” Sunday Mercury, September 30, 1866.

19 Swanson.

20 “The Annual Convention of Base Ball Players,” New York Clipper, December 15, 1866.

21 “Base Ball Player’s Convention,” New York Clipper, December 22, 1866.

22 Charles Peverelly, American Pastimes: Containing a History of the Principal Base Ball, Cricket, Rowing, and Yachting Clubs of the United States (New York: Self-published, 1866).

23 Though Gorman was from Maryland, his residence was in Washington, D.C., related to his civil-service work. Many in the ball-playing fraternity associated him more with Washington due to his leadership of the National BBC of Washington.

24 “The Annual Convention of Base Ball Players,” New York Clipper, December 15, 1866.

25 “Base Ball Player’s Convention,” New York Clipper, December 22, 1866.

26 “The Tenth Annual Meeting of the National Association of Baseball Players,” Sunday Mercury, December 16, 1866.

27 “Base Ball Player’s Convention,” New York Clipper, December 22, 1866.

28 Henry Chadwick, Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player (New York: Beadle and Company, 1867).

29 “The New Reading of Section 10 of the Rules,” Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, June 29, 1867.

30 “The Meeting of the Committee of Rules — Important Amendment,” Sunday Mercury, December 9, 1866.

31 Ibid.

32 “The Annual Convention of Base Ball Players,” New York Clipper, December 15, 1866.

33 “State National Associations,” Sunday Mercury, December 23, 1866.

34 “The Northwestern Convention,” Sunday Mercury, December 23, 1866.

35 Swanson.

36 “The Committee on Rules,” Sunday Mercury, November 11, 1866.

37 Charles Williams, Gentlemen & Players: The Death of Amateurism in Cricket  (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2012).

38 The idea that nineteenth-century base ball was “gentlemanly” in the sense of genteel is thus likely to some extent a modern misinterpretation of “gentleman” meaning “not professional.” The mid-nineteenth-century game was ostensibly amateur, but certainly not always genteel.

39 Stephen Wagg, Myths and Milestones in the History of Sport  (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

40 Ibid.

41 “The Annual Convention of Base Ball Players,” New York Clipper, December 15, 1866.

42 “The National Club on the ‘Gate-Money’ System,” Sunday Mercury, November 18, 1866.

43 Jacob Morse, Sphere and Ash: History of Base Ball  (1888).

44 Peter Morris, “Nationals of Washington,” in Morris, Ryczek, Finkel, Levin, and Malatzky, eds., Base Ball Pioneers, 1850-1870: The Clubs and Players Who Spread the Sport Nationwide (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co. Inc., 2012).

45 Morse.

46 Henry Chadwick, The Base Ball Player’s Book of Reference (New York: Haney & Co., 1867).

47 “Matches for the Championship,” Sunday Mercury, February 10, 1867.

48 “The Annual Convention of Base Ball Players,” New York Clipper, December 15, 1866; “Base Ball Player’s Convention,” New York Clipper, December 22, 1866.

49 Preston D. Orem, Baseball 1845-1881 (Altadena, California: Self-published, 1961).

50 Henry Chadwick, The Base Ball Player’s Book of Reference.

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