1878 Winter Meetings: The National League Is Back to Eight Clubs

This article was written by Dennis Pajot

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

Baseball's 19th Century Winter Meetings: 1857-1900The 1878 baseball season was not financially successful for the National League. Financial reports for all teams are not available, but it is doubtful that any club made money. According to Harry Wright’s account books, the pennant-winning Boston Red Stockings lost $1,433.31.1 Indianapolis was more than $5,000 in debt and unwilling to continue.2 In late October the directors of the Blues gave each player $50 (of an estimated $250 they owed each player) and told them the club would not go on.3

Even prior to the close of the season, the National League was looking forward to getting expenses under control for the 1879 season. At a special, all-night session in Providence on August 9-10, attended by representatives from all clubs except Cincinnati and Milwaukee, League directors stated that the expenses of the League would certainly exceed receipts this year. Thus, they resolved that the salaries to be paid in 1879 must not exceed the sum the 1878 season indicated each club would be likely to take in. The League also decided contracts would run from April 1 to September 30, and a uniform contract for the engagement of players was adopted. Fixed salaries for players were discussed, but went no further. In addition, no advances on salaries were to be made by clubs to players in the winter.4

By November there was talk of change in the League. For example, the Milwaukee Sentinel reported that there would be an attempt to oust Milwaukee.5 However, the newspaper predicted an eight-club circuit consisting of Chicago, Boston, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Syracuse, Buffalo, Providence, and either Albany or Cleveland.6 On November 26 directors of the Cleveland club decided to apply to the League for admission.7

The National League Board of Directors met at the Kennard House in Cleveland on Tuesday, December 3, for some preliminary work before the full winter meeting.8 Present at this meeting were NL President William Hulbert (also of the Chicago club) and the Board of Directors — Arthur H. Soden (Boston), J.M.W. Neff (Cincinnati), William. B. Pettit (Indianapolis), and William P. Rogers (Milwaukee). Also present was league secretary Nick E. Young, who was re-elected to this position at a salary of $500 a year.9

After Boston was formally awarded the 1878 pennant, charges against the Milwaukee club were brought up. Communications were presented that the club had not paid three of its players in full.10 Club President Rogers said he had paid every player with the exception of John Peters, who the club claimed forfeited his contract by refusing to play with the Grays and had returned to his home in St. Louis. Peters claimed the club owned him $350.11 A telegram was then read that the Milwaukee club had an outstanding hotel bill in Cincinnati of $260.50. Rogers told the board this was true. A third charge against the club claimed that a fine imposed on one of its players had not been paid. The Milwaukee club was given 20 days to pay its indebtedness and withdraw honorably from the NL. If the money as not paid, the club would be expelled.12

Bill Craver and George Hall, both formerly of the Louisville club, and Ed “The Only” Nolan, late of Indianapolis, asked the NL directors for reinstatement. All three were denied.13 (Craver and Hall had been banned a year earlier for throwing games. Nolan had been expelled by the Indianapolis club in August for leaving the team, supposedly to attend the funeral of his (nonexistent) brother, but had been in “the fascinations of a beautiful habitué of an avenue assignation house, who had ruined more men in this city than she can count on the jeweled fingers of both her hands.”14 James Devlin, who had been banned with Craver and Hall, had been denied reinstatement in November.15

The League formally opened its third annual meeting on December 4. Present were William Hulbert and Albert Spalding (representing Chicago), Arthur Soden and Harry Wright (Boston), J.M.W. Neff and E.M. Johnson (Cincinnati), Henry T. Root and George Wright (Providence), Robert Townsend and Howard G. White (Syracuse), Edward B. Smith and John B. Sage (Buffalo), J. Ford Evans and Charles T. Wesley (Cleveland), and William B. Pettit (Indianapolis).16

Indianapolis resigned from the NL, and Syracuse, Buffalo (both in the International Association in 1878), and Cleveland were admitted to membership. Syracuse’s population was less than the 75,000 required for NL admission, but the Star baseball club was considered to be an established club with a capital stock of $5,000, having experience and “an enviable reputation,” and would draw well. The New York Clipper stated: “[T]he organization was in good hands, well managed, and the nine were honest and able to play the season through.”17 Buffalo was believed to be one of the best baseball towns in the country, and the club was on a sound financial basis, also having a capital stock of $5,000. Cleveland was less well funded, having only $4,000 in capital stock.18

The constitution of the League was amended as follows: The requirement of the annual meeting to be held in a city where no league club was situated was stricken. No club would be allowed to send a player to the annual meeting. Managers of clubs would no longer be allowed on the field during a game. This rule was directed at Harry Wright of Boston, with some teams complaining he coached players while sitting on the players’ bench, “and that he being an expert it is not fair.” The rule prohibiting the playing of games between NL clubs and nonleague clubs before the season began was amended by adding the words “excepting local clubs.” In the future, the season was to close on October 1, instead of November 1.19

On December 4 and 5 the NL took up additional matters. Some of the more important were as follows: No NL club would be allowed to play any club that either employed or played against a team that used expelled players. Additionally, the League decided to deal with dishonest umpires in the same way it dealt with dishonest players, i.e., expulsion. The League also inserted a rule that when the umpire fined a player he could not revoke or remit the penalty.20 (The New York Clipper stated that of all the fines imposed in 1878, only one was enforced.21) In the event that the scheduled umpire did not appear for a game, the rule was amended to read that if the two teams could not agree on an umpire the captains would toss for the right of choice of the umpire, with the captain winning the toss having the right to designate the person to act as umpire.22

After considerable debate a new rule requiring that a foul ball be caught on a fly to put the batter out was carried by a vote of 4 to 3.23 [This was changed back at the March 1879 meeting.] The pitcher’s position was changed from six feet square to a space four feet wide and six feet long. The front line of the pitching position was still 45 feet from the center of home plate. Another pitching rule required the pitcher to face the batsman while in the act of delivering the ball, and not turn his back to the batter. This rule appeared to be aimed at John Montgomery Ward, who used this delivery with excellent results.24 “Some joker” wanted to insert a clause in the rules preventing pitchers from wearing glasses, no doubt with Will White of Cincinnati in mind, but this was voted down.25

For 1879 the number of “called balls” to award a batter first base would still be nine, but reworded, so that instead of three unfair pitches equaling one ball, then three balls required for a walk, the rule now read simply nine balls walked a batter. If a pitcher now hit a batter, he would be fined between $10 and $50, “unless it was clearly an accident.” This had been a practice of the above mentioned “The Only” Nolan, who would “try the metal of the batter by driving the ball at him regardless of the consequences.”26 Another rule change noted that the first batter in any inning after the first inning of a game would be the batter who followed the last batter “who had completed his turn at bat in the preceding inning,” instead of the batter who followed “the third man out in the preceding inning.” Under the old rule, if a runner was put out on a base, such as a force at third base, the batter after the runner called out would lead off the next inning. This new rule was to stop the frequent doubling back and repeating of batters.27

William Hulbert was unanimously re-elected president, and a board of directors consisting of J.M.W. Neff (Cincinnati), Howard G. White (Syracuse), Henry T. Root (Providence), and J. Ford Evans (Cleveland) was elected. After “a lengthy and exciting discussion,” the contract for the official league ball was awarded to A.G. Spalding & Bros. of Chicago. The NL meeting was then adjourned.28

The NL consisted of only seven teams at this point. It was thought that if the Milwaukee club could get itself upon a sound financial basis, it would be accepted back into the League.29 W.P. Rogers set about getting money to keep Milwaukee in the NL. Within a week he called for local enthusiasts to raise capital from $4,000 to $5,000 to show the NL that Milwaukee was properly reorganized.30 Little interest was shown when the meeting was called, and Milwaukee was out of the League.31

With Milwaukee out, the NL still needed one more team to complete an eight-club circuit. At the annual meeting the Troy, New York, club conditionally applied for admission. The Trojans wanted to play outside matches, especially against their rival in Albany. Hulbert said this could not be allowed, and Troy officials said they would need time to consider joining the League.32 Not all were convinced Troy should belong to the NL. Howard White, of the Syracuse club, wrote to Nick Young in January stating that the board of directors of the Star club had doubts as to the playing standards of the Troy club. They claimed the Troy team had little experience in travel, almost all of its games being played at home in 1878, excepting games in Albany and Springfield. White believed Albany had a stronger organization and drew better than Troy. He suggested the League delay, for at least 15 days, further consideration of Troy’s application.33 White’s protests notwithstanding, on January 26, 1879, the Troy club was admitted to the NL by the unanimous consent of the other seven clubs as the eighth franchise.34

The National League again met at the Tifft House in Buffalo on March 24 and 25. Representatives from all eight franchises (Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Providence, Syracuse, Troy) were present, plus league secretary Nick E. Young. After much discussion, an 84-game schedule, beginning May 1, was adopted for the league. The owners decided to keep general admission at 50 cents at all NL games.35

Three National Association teams, Utica (New York), Worcester (Massachusetts), and Manchester (New Hampshire), asked permission to play games on NL grounds, but were denied. These clubs also were turned down in their request to play NL clubs without the $100 guarantee. In addition to hiring umpires, the clubs agreed to engage or negotiate with any player for 1880 only after November 1, 1879, unless the player had been released. Lastly, no club would allow open betting or pool selling on their grounds.36

Section 13 of the playing rules was again amended so that “a foul ball caught either on the fly or the first bound puts out the striker.”37 (However, the 1879 rules published in the 1879 Spalding Baseball Guide, Rule IV, section 13 reads that a batsman is out: “If a fair or foul ball be caught before touching the ground, or any object other than the player, provided it be not caught in a player’s hat or cap … [and] if a foul ball be similarly held, before touching the ground.”) The rule pertaining to the catcher catching the ball after the third strike was changed from “the ball had to be caught on one bounce or a fly” to “the ball had to be caught before touching the ground.”38 By a vote of 6 to 2 the Harry Wright rule was passed, allowing only participating players and an umpire on the field during a game, except uniformed law-enforcement officers necessary to preserve peace.39

Although almost forgotten today, the International Association (IA) was considered by some equal to the National League (if not better organized).40 It had been formed to give some structure and stability to clubs outside the National League orbit. It was felt “[W]ithout such an Association the majority of the professional clubs would be without the benefit of any protection, and a chaotic condition of things would prevail among the co-operative professional clubs. …”41

Membership to the IA was open to all applicants, with only the stronger clubs competing for the championship. During the 1878 season, some 30-odd teams belonged to the IA.42 Thirteen clubs began the season competing for the pennant; only seven of these finished the season.43

The International Association held its annual meeting at the Bagg’s Hotel in Utica, New York, on February 19 and 20, 1879. Present were representatives from clubs in Utica, Washington, Manchester, New Bedford, Worcester, Springfield, Albany, a second Albany club (Capital Citys), Columbus (Ohio), and Holyoke (Massachusetts). All these clubs were said to be financially strong. The Association hoped that eventually every professional club in the country would join, though, of course, not all would compete for the championship.44

Three clubs no longer associated with the International would have some impact on the meetings. The Tecumseh club of London, Ontario, had disbanded during the 1878 season.45 Thus having lost the Canadian portion of the circuit, the International changed its name to the National Association (NA).46 The Buffalo and Syracuse clubs had joined the National League. As a number of clubs had disbanded or were expelled during the season, the 1878 pennant standings were a confusing mess. The Syracuse Stars had claimed a forfeit victory over the Rochesters during the season, which gave the Stars a record of 24-8, the same as the Buffalo club. Buffalo representatives claimed the Judiciary Committee had no authority to count a forfeited game unless it occurred due to a dispute occurring on the field. They also pointed out that on the day of the claimed forfeit the Rochester nine was disbanded and could not have fielded a team. The representative of the Stars claimed that on the day in question the Rochester club did in fact exist, even though the management had released its players. The Judiciary Committee decided to throw out the forfeit game and awarded the championship to Buffalo. Thus, Buffalo received the $165 pennant money, the Stars $110 in runner-up money, and Utica the third-place prize of $55.47

In an odd twist, the delegate from the Manchester club moved to award the pennant to the Utica club, as both Buffalo and Syracuse had left the National Association for the National League, so forfeited any recognition from the Association. This motion was discussed for over an hour and then carried by a vote of 6 to 3. The rest of the day was spent adjusting rules and some constitutional language.48

On the second day of the meeting it was voted to admit the Capital City Club of Albany to the NA, thus placing two teams in that New York city. Later in the day L.J. Powers of Springfield was elected president of the NA, Charles J. Everett of Utica elected vice president, and J.A. Williams of Columbus elected secretary-treasurer.49

Entering for the championship for 1879 were Utica, Albany, Capital City of Albany, Springfield, Holyoke, Worcester, Manchester, New Bedford, and Washington. The Buckeye Club of Columbus decided not to enter the championship portion of the NA. The championship games were set at eight against each team, equally divided between home and away. The matter of the 1878 NA pennant also was reconsidered. By a vote of 5 to 4, the earlier decision to award Utica the pennant was rescinded, and Buffalo was officially awarded the pennant and championship money. The last item on the agenda was an appeal by James Devlin to be reinstated. The former Louisville pitcher wanted to umpire games in the NA. His plea was not acted upon.50



1 David Quentin Voigt, American Baseball: From Gentleman’s Sport to the Commissioner System (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968), 76.

2 Alfred Henry Spink, The National Game (St. Louis: The National Game Publishing Co., 1910, reprinted by Southern Illinois Press, 2000), 81.

3 Indianapolis Journal, October 24, 1878: 5.

4 Handwritten minutes of NL August 9-10 meeting from Baseball Hall of Fame; Boston Daily Advertiser, August 12, 1878: 1; Milwaukee Sentinel, August 12, 1878: 4.

5 Milwaukee Sentinel, November 16, 7, and 29, 1878: 8.

6 Milwaukee Sentinel, November 16, 1878: 7.

7 Inter Ocean (Chicago), November 27, 1878: 5.

8 Inter Ocean, December 4, 1878: 4.

9 New York Clipper, December 15, 1878: 298; Minutes of 1878 meeting of the National League Board of Directors.

10 Minutes of 1878 meeting of the National League Board of Directors.

11 Daily Milwaukee News, September 10, 1878: 4; Milwaukee Sentinel, November 16, 17, and 29, 1878: 8.

12 Minutes of 1878 NL Directors meeting.

13 Inter Ocean, December 5, 1878: 5; Milwaukee Sentinel, December 5, 1878: 1; New York Clipper, December 15, 1878: 298; Minutes of 1878 NL Directors meeting.

14 Indianapolis Journal, August 13, 1878: 8; August 19: 8; September 7, 1878: 5.

15 Milwaukee Daily News, November 24, 1878: 4.

16 Minutes of 1878 NL Directors meeting.

17 New York Clipper, December 15, 1878: 298.

18 Ibid.

19 Inter Ocean, December 7, 1878: 2; New York Clipper, December 15, 1878: 298.

20 Ibid.

21 New York Clipper, December 15, 1878: 298.

22 Ibid.; 1879 playing rules from 1879 Spalding Baseball Guide.

23 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 6, 1878: 1; New York Clipper, December 14, 1878: 298.

24 1879 Spalding Guide, Rule III; Inter Ocean, Chicago, December 7, 1878: 2. 

25 New York Clipper, December 15, 1878: 298.

26  Inter Ocean, December 7, 1878: 2; 1879 Spalding Guide Rule III.

27 1879 Spalding Guide Rules III and IV.

28 Inter Ocean, December 6, 1878: 5; Milwaukee Sentinel, December 6, 1878: 1; Minutes of 1878 NL Directors meeting.

29 Inter Ocean, December 7, 1878: 2.

30 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 12, 1878: 8.

31 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 17, 1878: 8.

32 New York Clipper, December 15, 1878: 298; Inter Ocean, December 14, 1878: 6.

33 Letter sold at auction by Robert Edward Auctions (robertedwardauctions.com/auction/2006/spring/723/two-1879-letters-regarding-troys-admission-national-league/), accessed August 20, 2015.

34 Milwaukee Sentinel, January 27, 1879: 4; St. Louis Globe-Democrat, January 27, 1879: 3.

35 St. Louis Globe Democrat, March 25, 1879: 2; March 26, 1879: 2; Syracuse Standard, March 26, 1879: 4.

36 Syracuse Standard, March 26, 1879: 4; New York World, March 26, 1879: 8.

37 New York World, March 26, 1879: 8; Boston Post, March 26, 1879: 2.

38 New York Clipper, December 15, 1878: 298; 1879 playing rules from 1879 Spalding Baseball Guide.

39 Syracuse Standard, March 26, 1879: 4; Dubuque Daily Times, March 28, 1879: 4.

40 New York Clipper, May 11, 1878: 50.

41 New York Clipper January 4, 1879: 325.

42 New York Clipper, September 7, 1878: 186.

43 New York Clipper, January 17, 1880: 341.

44 New York Clipper, March 1, 1879: 386.

45 Milwaukee Sentinel, August 23, 1878: 1.

46 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, February 21, 1879: 5.

47 New York Clipper, March 1, 1879: 386.

48 Ibid.

49 Ibid.

50 Ibid.