This article was written by Dennis Pajot
This article was published in the Baseball’s 19th Century Winter Meetings: 1857-1900
The 1877 season did not turn out well financially for the National League. All six clubs lost money. St. Louis lost $8,000; Chicago $6,000; Hartford $2,500; Louisville, $2,000.1 Even the pennant-winning Boston Red Stockings, with Harry Wright at the helm, lost $2,230.85.2 The sixth NL club, the Cincinnati Reds, had been disbanded by owner Si Keck in June due to financial problems.3 A group of businessmen took over the club, agreeing to continue the Reds through the season, and then be admitted as a full member of the NL at the Winter Meeting.4
The Louisville scandal proved to be the icing on the cake for the terrible season. After some suspicious play by the Louisville Grays, the Louisville Courier began gathering evidence of wrongdoing. After an investigation, the evidence showed that James Devlin, William Craver, George Hall, and Al Nichols had taken money to lose several games. On October 30, the Louisville club expelled Nichols, Hall, and Devlin for “conspiring to sell games and tampering with players,” and Craver for “disobedience of positive orders, general misconduct and suspicious play.”5
The NL board of directors met at the Kennard House in Cleveland on December 4, 1877. William Hulbert of Chicago was elected chairman of the meeting. The first order of business was to vote Cincinnati out of the NL for failure to pay its annual dues and put forth 1877 league standings that did not include the games in which Cincinnati had played. Under this new table, Boston won the most games and was awarded the pennant. (Louisville won the second most, followed by Hartford, St. Louis, and Chicago).6
The case of two expelled players — George Bechtel, who had been expelled for selling out games in 1876 while with Louisville, and Oscar Walker, who had been expelled by the St. Paul Red Caps of the League Alliance for jumping his contract to sign with the Manchester club in New Hampshire — were taken up. Both cases went against the player.7 The expelling of the four Louisville players “for conduct in contravention of the objects of this League” was approved and affirmed by the directors.8 One player to win his case was Charles “Pop” Snyder. The Louisville club was ordered to pay the catcher-outfielder the amount remaining due him on his 1877 contract.9
The NL directors recommended that the Indianapolis Base Ball Club, the non-League club having won the most games played under League rules, be admitted to the league under Article XII, Section 1 of the League constitution.10 The next morning the directors confirmed that the new owners of the Cincinnati Baseball club had faithfully performed their part of the agreement they had signed in July, and recommended that Cincinnati be admitted to the NL.11
The National League Annual Meeting convened at the Kennard House on December 5 starting at noon. Indianapolis and the new Cincinnati club were elected unanimously as full members of the league by the NL owners.12 The Milwaukee Baseball club directors had decided to seek admission to the NL a week before13 — the club had been in the League Alliance in 1877, finishing with a 19-13 record14 — and were also voted in by the NL owners.15
The St. Louis Base Ball Club resigned from the NL at this meeting. The owners of the Brown Stockings had signed Devlin and Hall (also Devlin’s catcher, Pop Snyder) in July from the Louisville club for the 1878 season.16 The St. Louis owners were confident they would have a championship-caliber team for the next season. With the two ex-Louisville players expelled, the owners did not feel they could compete and “concluded to drop out in decency and in order.”17 The Hartford club (which played the 1877 season in Brooklyn), after losing about $5,000 in its two years of existence, vacated its membership the next day.18 The Tecumsehs of London, Ontario, applied for admission, but the National League rule forbidding membership to clubs representing cities with a population of fewer than 75,000 stood in its way.19 The Tecumsehs decided to rejoin the International Association in January.20
The National League again consisted of six clubs, which were represented at the meeting as follows:
- Chicago: William A. Hulbert and A.G. Mills.
- Boston: Arthur H. Soden and Harry Wright.
- Louisville: C.E. Chase and C.W. Johnstone.
- Cincinnati: J.M.W. Neff.
- Milwaukee: William P. Rogers.
- Indianapolis: William B. Pettit.21
On the second day of the meeting the owners decided no NL club should be allowed to play on Sunday. No games at all could be played on a NL club’s grounds on Sunday; nor could any NL player be allowed to play with other teams on that day. Violation of this rule was to result in expulsion of the club or player.22 To make certain schedules could be arranged on time, it was decided no club could be admitted to the league after March 1. The season was fixed at six months, beginning May 1 and ending November 1.23
A new playing rule provided for a larger space to be kept clear in the rear of home plate. This space was made by extending the straight lines of the basepaths to the backstop to form a triangle behind the catcher. Only the catcher, umpire, and batsman were permitted to occupy this triangular space. This would prevent players and coaches from hindering a catcher attempting to catch foul balls. No player could cross through this triangle during the inning. Thus, if a player was put out at third base, he immediately took up his position to the left and back of the 50-foot line — even though all other players would be from the opposition team — and remain there until the side was out.24
Another rule gave the team captain authority to direct which player was to bat the first time around, then this order had to be maintained for the rest of the game. In other words, the set batting order was not established until the first nine batters had appeared at the plate.25 The rule giving the home team the privilege of batting first was dropped, reverting back to the captains deciding by a coin flip which team would bat first.26
Other new rules would take effect in 1878. Time could not be called, except due to an injury to a player or umpire, or on account of rain. A batsman would have one minute to come to the plate after being called; if he did not he was to be declared out.27 No substitute could run unless the player for whom he was running had been injured in that particular game, and even then the batsman had to reach first base himself before the substitute could take his place. The opposing captain selected the substitute runner. To tag out a runner, the fielder now would have to keep his hold on to the ball.28 Beginning in the 1878 season, a batted ball that hit first or third base was considered a fair ball.29
Regarding pitching rules, the rule designating the point of the body where the ball had to pass in the act of pitching was changed from the below the hip to below the waist.30
New rules were written on how umpires would be chosen. Before April 1 each club had to recommend any number of “persons of good repute … considered competent to act as umpires,” and send the names to the league secretary. The secretary was then to send the list to each club with instruction to vote for its preferences among the lot. The 18 men receiving the most approvals would be the staff of umpires. Five days before a series the visiting club would suggest one of these names to the home club. If no satisfactory umpire could be agreed upon, the visiting club had to send a list of five names — none of whom resided in the visiting club’s home city — from which the home club had to choose one. The visiting club always had to pay all expenses of travel for umpires.31 The powers of the umpire were to be supreme on the field. If a player refused to respect his ruling, the umpire was empowered to fine him not less than $10, but no more than $20.32
Another new rule forbade NL clubs to play any outside clubs on their home grounds before or during the season. This was set in motion to prevent any NL teams from getting “waxed” by outside clubs, and thereby causing the public to lose interest in league teams. However, this rule did not prevent NL clubs from playing nonleague clubs on nonleague grounds. When these games took place the nonleague club was to pay the NL club either one-half of the gross receipts or $100, whichever total the NL club desired. In the event the scheduled game was prevented by rain, or any other cause, the NL club was to be paid $50. To be fair, if the NL club failed to present its nine at the nonleague grounds, the nonleague club was to be paid $50.33
The National League, however, was not the only place to play for strong baseball clubs. There were more than 50 regularly organized professional clubs in the United States, and no fewer than 2,500 amateur clubs.34 Teams, in addition to remaining independent, could join the International Base Ball Association. The International was looking for new members and sent this circular to the baseball fraternity of the United States and Canada:
All know its objects and aims are to preserve, foster and purify the game, and to throw out bad features and bad men from the profession: to establish uniform rules and usage, and preserve harmony. It assures the stronger and protects the weaker clubs, and compels clubs and players alike to deal honestly with each other. These are its prime features. It is unnecessary to enumerate the many other, but by no means unimportant advantages enjoyed by its members.
W.A. Cummings — President 35
The International Association held its meeting in Buffalo on February 20, 1878, with 26 clubs attending.36 There was a move to deny International teams from playing any NL or League Alliance team until the NL’s rules of guarantee were rescinded. This move failed, but many International clubs were reluctant to play NL clubs with the guarantee in place.37 In March, 11 clubs were officially enrolled in the IA.38
To cut down on any outside competition, the NL gave the above-mentioned League Alliance clubs advantages. Established by the NL in February 1877, all independent clubs that were eligible could become members of the League Alliance for a fee of $10. This entitled the clubs to use the machinery of the NL for the enforcement of contracts, the disciplining of players, etc. At the December 1877 meeting in Cleveland, the League Alliance was recognized and defined in the NL Constitution (under Article XIII). The Alliance teams would be allowed delegates to the NL meetings in the future, although they could not vote. A means to have League Alliance scores properly certified and published was also created.39
The Louisville scandal had placed a dark cloud over the future of the NL. Rules were installed “which would make it inconvenient, to put it as mildly as possible,” for players to continue to sell out games. Section 1 of Article Five of the constitution was rewritten to give management power to discipline, punish, or expel players for dishonest play or open insubordination, including “all question of carelessness, indifference, or other conduct of the player that may be regarded by the club as prejudicial to its interest.”40 In a section on Special Club Rules for 1878, all clubs agreed not to engage any player who had been released by any club “on account of disagreement between such player and his club growing out of any stipulation this agreement.”41
The visiting club would collect 15 cents from the home club for every person attending a championship game — excluding players, uniformed police officers, and 10 other people. This attendance figure was to be counted by self-registering turnstiles.42 The Special Club Rules section also stipulated that all players had to play $30 for the uniform furnished them, and had to keep the uniform clean and in good repair. In addition, 50 cents per day would be deducted from the player’s pay for expenses while on the road.43
There was a change in the scoring system. The column in the batter’s section providing for total bases made was stricken, and replaced by a column crediting the batter with the total number of times he reached first base, “whether upon hits, errors, called balls or in any other way. …”44
The St. Louis Globe-Democrat thought this addition, the brainchild of Harry Wright, to box scores to be “idiotic.” The newspaper wrote: “In place of the total base column, a column indicating total times reached first base is inserted, thus, as it were, offering a premium for weak batting. One illustration will suffice to show the folly of this rule. A first-class batsman earns his base by a clean hit, and is followed by a man who plays for his individual record instead of his side. The latter hits to short, forces out his predecessor, but reaches first base himself and is given credit therefor. To show the reading public how often this brilliant feat is accomplished, newspapers will be compelled to publish a double instead of a single table, and thus waste much valuable space. It won’t work.” 45
On Friday, December 7, the owners unanimously re-elected William Hulbert as president of the league, and Nicholas E. Young to the secretary’s post. J.M.W. Neff of Cincinnati, W.P. Rogers of Milwaukee, W.B. Pettit of Indianapolis, and A.H. Soden of Boston were selected to the board of directors. Also on this last day the owners of the NL agreed that neither they nor any club officer, member, or agent would contract with, employ, engage, or negotiate for any player for the 1879 season prior to September 1, 1878, unless the player had already been released from his contract.46
Although not an official member of the NL, the Providence baseball club was represented at these sessions by its recording secretary, Henry B. Winship.47 The “Rhode Islands” had been a successful semipro team since 1875,48 and reorganized in January 1878, as an all-out professional team. The stockholders wanted to join the International Association, but feared the NL was trying to shut out Eastern clubs from games, and that Providence would have a better opportunity by joining the NL.49 On January 21 the Providence club applied for admission to the NL, and on February 6 the Grays were officially accepted.50 The National League now officially consisted of seven clubs. On March 7, 1878, the directors and stockholders of the Louisville club decided to resign from the National League, recommending that the baseball grounds be used by a good amateur club.51
The NL met again at the Mansion House in Buffalo, New York, on April 1 and 2, representatives from all clubs present. The resignation of the Louisville club was made official. The NL for the 1878 season would have six clubs — Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Providence. A staff of umpires was appointed and a 60-game schedule for the six-team league was adopted. Further, any game between League clubs would count toward the championship, even if played in a neutral city.52 The scheduling of games on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturdays allowed free days for NL teams to play nonleague teams on the open dates.53
The most important decision to come out of these spring meetings was an agreement between the National League and certain clubs of the International Association. They agreed that NL teams would play the top six IA teams on IA grounds only, and the NL club would receive half of the 25 cents admission. The other teams in the IA would still have to pay the $100 guarantee to play NL clubs. It was felt by some that this treaty would eventually destroy the International Association, by bringing into the NL those IA teams who had “any right there by virtue of a standing,” and put off those “who had no particularly brilliant reputation.”54 The International Association never became the threat to the NL it was thought it might be, mainly due to clubs disbanding and other clubs entering its ranks.55
1 Harold Seymour, Baseball (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), 87.
2 David Quentin Voigt, American Baseball, From Gentleman’s Sport to the Commissioner System (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, September 1968), 76.
3 New York Clipper, June 23, 1877: 99.
4 Ibid.; 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs (Chicago: A.G. Spalding & Bro., 1878), 46.
6 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 43-44.
7 New York Clipper, February 24, 1877: 378; 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 44-45.
8 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 45.
10 1877 Constitution and Playing Rules of the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs (Chicago: A.G. Spalding & Bro., 1877), 17; 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 45.
11 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 46.
12 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 5, 1877: 5; 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 47.
13 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 1, 1877: 8.
14 Dennis Pajot, The Rise of Milwaukee Baseball, The Cream City from Midwest Outpost to Major League City (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2009), 48.
17 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, December 9, 1877: 7.
18 Inter Ocean (Chicago), December 1, 1877: 6; 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 46.
19 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, December 6, 1877: 3.
20 New York Clipper, January 26, 1878: 346.
21 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of the NL, 46.
22 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 7, 1877: 5; December 10, 1877: 2; 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 7-8.
23 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 7, 1877: 5; December 10, 1877: 2; 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 3, 14.
24 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 7, 1877: 5; December 10, 1877: 2; 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, diagram facing page 1, explanation page 25-26.
25 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 30.
26 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 7, 1877: 5; December 10, 1877: 2; 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 26.
27 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 10, 1877: 2; 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 27, 30.
29 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 31.
30 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 10, 1877: 2; 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 28.
31 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 10, 1877: 2; 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 36.
32 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 10, 1877: 2; 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 40.
33 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 10, 1877: 2; 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 51-52.
34 Inter-Ocean (Chicago), March 30, 1878: 6.
35 Milwaukee Sentinel, January 14, 1878: 5.
36 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, February 21, 1878: 5; February 24, 1878: 7.
37 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, February 24, 1878: 7.
38 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, March 16, 1878: 2.
39 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 10, 1877: 2; 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 18-22.
40 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 10, 1877: 2; 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 6.
41 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 51.
42 Ibid., 50-51.
43 Ibid., 51; Voigt, American Baseball, 70.
44 Inter-Ocean, December 8, 1877: 2; 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 41.
45 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, December 9, 1877: 7. Note: Newspapers of 1878 were helter-skelter in the use of Reached Base and Total Bases. For example, the Milwaukee Sentinel of June 3, 1878, placed Total Bases in the box score of the Milwaukee-Providence game, and Reached Base in the other two box scores of NL games. The Boston Daily Advertiser used R.B. for all three games this day. On June 4, the Daily Advertiser used R.B. for the Providence-Milwaukee game, but neither T.B. nor R.B. for the Chicago/Boston game. On June 7, the Daily Advertiser used T.B. in the box score of the Cincinnati-Indianapolis game, and neither T.B. nor R.B. for the Boston/Milwaukee game. The official NL statistics in the 1879 Spalding Guide, 100-101, lists Reached First Base for each player appearing in six games or more.
46 1878 Constitution and Playing Rules of NL, 48, 50.
47 Ibid., 50, 52, 63.
49 Lowell (Massachusetts) Daily Citizen, January 17, 1878: 4.
51 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, March 8, 1878: 3.
52 Milwaukee Sentinel, April 2, 1878: 3, April 3, 1878: 4; April 4, 1878: 4.
53 Lowell Daily Citizen, April 2, 1878: 2.
54 Milwaukee Sentinel, April 4, 1878: 4.
55 Lowell Daily Citizen, June 15, 1878: 3.