1879 Winter Meetings: 50-Cent Admission Price Main Issue of Sessions

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: 1857-1900A few days before the 1879 season closed, the Chicago Inter Ocean reported the local White Stockings (who would finish fourth in the National League standings) would probably generate $2,000 to $3,000 profit for the season. Pennant-winning Providence would “make a trifle.” Fifth-place Cincinnati was estimated to lose not less than $8,000. First runner-up Boston and last-place Troy were predicted to lose half that amount, while the Cleveland and Buffalo clubs would “lose a little.” Syracuse was said to be “completely wiped out” and would not be back for 1880.1

The Chicago newspaper laid the financial blame directly on the players, in not complimentary terms: “The folly [is] paying men from $1,000 to $1,800 for six months’ work. It is not as though they were men of high order, who had spent large sums of money in training for a high profession, which demands reimbursement. On the contrary, the best of them are nominally farmers or mechanics, who at their legitimate business are worth from $30 to $60 a month, and that is all they are worth at base ball. … It is also the fact that a majority of [professional ball players] are simply ‘hoodlums,’ who would not make one-quarter as much as the club managements have been cajoled into paying them.”2

With this newspaper opinion as a backdrop, on September 29 the NL club owners held a closed meeting in Buffalo.3 League President William Hulbert — also the owner of the White Stockings, and from the same city the Inter Ocean was published — addressed the meeting, telling the others that the financial results of the season proved salaries had to come down. Hulbert told his fellow owners the 1879 season showed “the expenses of many of the clubs have far exceeded their receipts, attributable wholly to the high salaries.”

To address this situation, Hulbert reported, each club would use uniform contracts, and no money would be advanced to players. Contracts in the future would extend from April 1 to October 31. This would “give players nearly half the year for the pursuit of other employment.”4 Although not reported at the time, the owners agreed that five players from each team would not be negotiated with by any other NL club. This was done “for the sake of securing good players at small salaries.”5

The NL board of directors then took up a petition for reinstatement from Edward “The Only” Nolan, the Indianapolis pitcher who had been expelled from the League after the 1878 season for lying and exhibiting false telegrams to secure time off, which he apparently spent at a house of ill repute. The pitcher’s reinstatement plea was granted, but he would not play in the NL again until 1881.6

Less than two weeks later the Inter Ocean, quoting the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, speculated that the Cincinnati club would leave the NL. If a vacancy did occur in the Ohio city, a new club, the Cincinnati Star Base Ball club, made it known, it would apply for admission.7 On October 24 the Cincinnati club forwarded its formal resignation of membership to the League.8

The National League’s annual fifth winter meeting took place in Buffalo, New York, at the Pierce’s Palace Hotel on December 3.9 The old Cincinnati club had no delegates, but the new Star club was present. Officials from the Syracuse franchise were also absent, the club having disbanded and forfeited its membership.10

At least three hot issues were anticipated entering the meeting. First, the presidency of William Hulbert might be challenged. The Eastern clubs of the League believed Hulbert had too much say in running the circuit, to their detriment. Challengers for the top job were thought to be John B. Sage of Buffalo, Arthur Soden of Boston, and Henry T. Root of Providence.11 Ultimately, though, there was no challenge, and Hulbert was unanimously re-elected on the second day of the meetings.12

The mandatory 50-cent admission charge for NL games was also up for question, with Buffalo reportedly so against it that the club would not stay in the League if the “tariff” remained.13 At least two player contract disputes also threatened peace, but these were later resolved amicably.14 The New York Clipper wrote: “Take it altogether, things in the League are decidedly in a condition which will require skillful legislation and mutual compromises to escape from a serious secession of members, if not a breaking up of the organization.”15

First on the agenda of the Board of Directors was the election of Arthur Soden as director to fill the vacancy left by J.W. Neff of the old Cincinnati club (Hulbert, Root, Sage, and J.F. Evans of Cleveland were the remaining directors.) Nicholas E. Young was re-elected league secretary. The next order of business was to officially award Providence the 1879 pennant.16

The old Cincinnati club’s resignation was accepted. The Syracuse club was expelled due to its failure to play out the 1879 schedule.17 This left the National League with six members.

The Star Club of Cincinnati (represented by Justus Thorner and O.P. Caylor) and the National Club of Washington (represented by R.C. Hewitt) applied for admission to the League. A committee of John Sage, Henry Root, and J.F. Evans reported in favor of Cincinnati, as that club fully endorsed the present league management and financial policy of the League — i.e., the 50-cent admission price. The full League delegation unanimously voted in favor this new Cincinnati club. Although the Worcester club, represented by Frank Bancroft, had made no formal application for League membership, it was understood that “‘Barkis was willin’,” provided the half-dollar admission fee was reduced.18

The directors then decided that Chicago would take over third place in the 1879 standings, by counting the August 8 game, which had been postponed to August 13, as a Cincinnati forfeit to the White Stockings. The controversy here was that it had rained heavily the morning that Chicago claimed a forfeit, and the grounds were unfit for play in the afternoon.19

A number of constitutional amendments were adopted, a few of consequence to the players’ on-field and off-field conduct. Each club was given the power to suspend any of its players. In addition, a player could be suspended for the remainder of the season or carry over to the next season for drunkenness or insubordination. This would permit a harsh punishment of offenders who did not deserve the severe penalty of perpetual expulsion.20 The Spalding Guide, the official mouthpiece of the NL, thought this legislation would be a benefit to both players and clubs. The Guide opined: “It needs no argument to show that the new system of discipline and penalties is for the good of every player who means to give his best services to his Club, or that its effect will be to surround the player of morally weak tendencies with wholesome restraining influences.”21

Another amendment to the constitution made the penalty against a club using an expelled played last only as long as the player was in the club’s employ. Once the player was discharged, the penalty would be removed.22

As a concession to the Eastern clubs in the league, a club had the right to play games with any club whose grounds were not within four miles of the corporate limits of a League club (this had previously been five miles), but only prior to May 1. This was especially helpful to Troy, as it allowed the Trojans to play lucrative exhibition games with their rivals in Albany. It was felt by some that the prohibition of games with outside clubs had been due to the Western clubs of the League having no “outside clubs of prominence to play,” and that allowing games would have no benefit to them.23 A not-too-impressive record of NL clubs losing to National Association  clubs 19 times in 1879, while winning 26 times — there were four tie games — perhaps also influenced this decision.24

The League decided that future playing dates could no longer be changed by mutual consent of the teams involved, but only by the written consent of all teams in the NL. In addition, all postponed or tied games had to be played, unless the visiting club was compelled to leave to fill League dates in another city. Also added was a section giving the home team the right to enforce its ground rules on the visiting team. An effort to repeal the rule prohibiting Sunday games failed.25

That evening playing rules were reviewed and revised. Interestingly, there was nothing in the League code to prohibit any club from playing more than nine men at a time. The old National Association code stated nine players constituted a full field, but this clause had been omitted at the NL’s first meeting in 1876. This oversight was corrected.26

The umpire will be the sole arbiter to whether a ball was unfit for play. He will also note the time of the beginning of any rain — without the request of a captain — and call the game if it continued for 30 minutes. Other major changes included a provision that if the team scheduled to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning was ahead in the score, it would not bat. Also in the last of the ninth — or any extra inning —the contest would end when the winning run was scored in the bottom of the inning.27 The number of called balls was reduced to eight from nine, an effort to “shorten the game somewhat, decrease the advantage of the pitcher over the batsman, and save the catcher’s hands in some degree.” Aid for the catcher, though, was offset by a new rule requiring him to catch the third strike before it touched the ground.28 However, the “boy’s rule” of the foul-bound catch by a fielder was retained.29

The 50-cent admission fee was “the most animated discussion” of the meeting. The Buffalo delegation offered a resolution that each club be allowed to regulate its own admission fee. This was seconded by Troy. But Cincinnati, Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, and Providence vigorously opposed it and the measure was voted down, 5 to 2. Troy then offered a resolution that any club be permitted to sell reduced-price blocks of tickets (a season-ticket package), but this offering was defeated by the same vote.30 The Spalding Baseball Guide explained:

Experience has convinced a majority of the officers of League clubs that a smaller rate of admission will not produce the revenue necessary to pay salaries and expenses. … The League has no desire to cut down salaries, but would be glad to be able to offer still stronger inducements to young men of intelligence and fine physical development, of brain and brawn, of mind and muscle, to engage in ball playing as an avocation. Moreover, it is vitally necessary that the compensation to players shall be sufficient to remove all temptation to dishonesty — sufficient to enable the player to live comfortably and respectably, and at the same time by prudence and economy to save something out of his income against the time when he shall no longer be able to play ball. The highest interests of the game will be served rather by an increase than a reduction of salary expenses. Hence, in the belief that the exaction of a smaller entrance fee to games than fifty cents would result in diminishing Club revenues and thereby compel a reduction of salaries below the present rate, the League has determined on maintaining the price of admission at the figure which experience has shown that the patrons of base-ball will cheerfully pay for witnessing games of the high grade of skill offered by League nines.”31

The Spalding Guide thought the constitution and playing rule changes would help in the “improvement of the game and the perpetuity of its popularity as the great out-door American sport.”32

In other minor matters, the constitution was amended to require locating future annual meetings in a non-National League city. The contract for furnishing the baseball for 1880 was awarded to A.G. Spalding & Co. In another ball-related item, L. H. Mahn of Boston, who had held the League contract during the 1878 season, reported the Milwaukee Club of that season owed him $15 for balls furnished. Secretary Young was requested to pay the bill out of League funds, and did so to preserve the League’s credit and honor. However, a similar request by Mahn against the Louisville and St. Louis clubs of 1877 was denied, as Mahn dealt directly with each club that season.33

The meeting adjourned leaving the composition of the 1880 National League in doubt. The Board of Directors of the Buffalo club planned a meeting later in the month to decide if it would remain in the NL, join the minor-league National Association, or become an independent club. The directors of the Troy club also announced they would convene a meeting on December 11 to decide if they would remain in the League or join the National Association. Representatives from the Albany, Worcester, Springfield (Massachusetts), Washington (all of which had played in the National Association in 1879), and Baltimore clubs would also attend.34 This meeting was canceled, when Buffalo and Troy decided to remain members of the NL.35

The stockholders of the Worcester club met on January 7, 1880, deciding to apply for admission to the NL. However, since the city had a population less than the 75,000 the League constitution required, a unanimous vote would be needed to secure admission.36 The Worcester club planned to retain most of the players — who were now touring Cuba and the Southern United States— from their 1879 team.37

The Troy baseball directors sent this communication to the NL: “While the Troy people entertain friendly feeling for the Worcesters, they must protect their own interest first, and, as the admission of the Albanys will benefit them more than the Worcesters, they shall act accordingly and not vote for the latter until the former is admitted to the League. In case ten clubs are allowed in the League, then Troy will vote to admit Worchester.” Worcester’s hopes were not lost, though. The League could evade the unanimous vote issue by adding to Worcester’s population the districts within five miles of it, giving the City of Seven Hills the required 75,000.38

Whether Albany or Worcester would be admitted as the eighth member of the NL was an open question. However, with regard to Washington, there was no question. The New York Clipper reported the Nationals would not be admitted, even if they should make application. It was felt Washington was too far out of the line of travel of the clubs, thus the increased expenses to play there had little prospect of sufficient return.39

 On February 3, the League announced that the Worcester club had been elected to membership in the National League. Directors had furnished sworn testimony that Worcester, including the radius of 4½ miles from its corporate limits, contained over 75,000 inhabitants, and therefore required two adverse votes to block admission. The lone Troy vote against admission was not enough.40

The National League for 1880 would consist of the holdover clubs from Chicago, Buffalo, Cleveland, Providence, Troy, Boston, the new Cincinnati Star club, and Worcester. The NL would now be equally divided east/west — according to the professional baseball geography of the time.

NL officials met again on February 26 at the Osborn House in Rochester, New York. A staff of umpires was selected and the 1880 playing schedule was released, with games scheduled from May 1 to the end of September. William Hulbert and J.F. Evans were appointed to arrange for a replacement club in the possibility that a member of the NL forfeited its membership by any cause during the season. Any such temporary replacement would not give membership to that club in the NL.41

The hard and fast 50-cent admission rule would also be challenged, unofficially. The Cincinnati, Buffalo, Troy, Boston, and Worcester clubs had reportedly reduced the effective price of admission about 40 percent by the introduction of a coupon system of tickets.42

National Association Meeting

In 1879 nine clubs entered the National Association championship race, but only five completed their schedule. Albany finished with the most wins (27), while the Holyokes and Washington Nationals each recorded 23 wins (Holyoke losing 16 and Washington 18).43 Manchester had disbanded early in the season “through the questionable habits of two or three of their prominent players.” The Capital City team was transferred to Rochester, upon the non-success of the experiment of running two teams in Albany, and the Utica team [also] disbanded early. However, the National Association campaign of 1879 was a “decided success,” the majority of the teams finishing in the black. This was largely credited to the 25-cent admission fee, which proved much more successful than the National League’s 50-cent tariff. Another benefit to the NA was its “free-trade policy,” which allowed each club to play whatever teams it wanted during the season on offdays. 44

On January 19, 1880, NA secretary James A. Williams sent a circular inviting “all professional clubs of good standing” to enter the NA ranks. Clubs did not have to compete for the championship to be a member. They would join for “the protection it affords, as well as many other advantages.”45 The New York Clipper thought “[I]t is absolutely necessary for the welfare of the general class of professional clubs throughout the country that there should be some association in existence to give the fraternity laws and to protect alike club-managers and stockholders and club players.” The National League was only a business partnership to look after itself. “Without such an association [as the NA] there will be little but chaos outside of the League.” The Clipper believed it would be in the interest of NL that the National Association should have a permanent existence.46

Days before the NA meeting the Springfield (Massachusetts) club disbanded, the Worcester club’s action of joining the NL being its “death blow.”47

Only four clubs (Albany, Nationals of Washington, Baltimore, and Jersey City) were represented at Earle’s Hotel in New York on February 18, but they “accomplished more and better work in legislating for the majority class of the professional fraternity — the class not represented in the [National] League — than has been done at any previous National Convention.”48  H.B. Bennett of the National club was elected chairman in the absence of a president. The 1879 pennant was awarded to Albany. When all the games played by the Rochester team were disregarded and numerous other games by four other teams were not counted, the official record showed Albany with a 25-13 record, ahead of the Nationals’ 22-16 record. In other business, a few players were reinstated and the treasurer’s report showed the NA was in “a sound financial condition.”49

The representatives then formed a committee to revise the Association’s constitution and bylaws. Among the most important changes was a provision that no club could employ an expelled player of any baseball association, except by the unanimous consent of the members of the NA. Previously only a majority was required for employment. The penalty for violation of the rule was forfeiture of membership in the NA. All games between teams entered for the NA championship played on either club’s grounds were to count toward the Association championship, except those played on holidays. The practice of throwing out the results of all games played by teams that withdrew, disbanded, or forfeited their membership without completing their schedule was formally placed in the constitution. Perhaps the most important change was the amendment that all games in the NA would be under a 25-cent admission rule, and the visiting club would receive only the $75 guarantee. This gave the home team all the benefit of its power to attract large crowds.50

The official ball of the NA would be supplied by Louis H. Mahn of Boston. Before adjourning on the final day, the officers were elected as follows: Henry W. Garfield of Albany, president; H.R. Bennett of the Nationals, vice president; and James A. Williams of Columbus, Ohio, secretary and treasurer.51

Some of the new playing rules of the NA are of interest to modern readers. Section 4 of Rule I was changed to read, “The bat may be either round or four-sided in form, but it shall not exceed two and a half inches in diameter in its widest part. It must be made wholly of wood, and shall not exceed forty-two inches in length.”52 A new rule called for the game to end when the go-ahead run scored in the last of the ninth or extra-inning game. Previously all three outs had to be registered to end a game.53 The one-bounce foul catch out was reinstated by a unanimous vote.54 A new pitching rule read that “the pitcher, when about to deliver the ball to the batsman, shall not turn his back to the batsman.” Called balls were dropped from nine to eight, conforming to the NL eight-ball rule.55 The St. Louis Globe-Democrat called the NA’s rule code “the model one of the country.”56

The meeting continued on February 19 with a schedule committee appointed. Before the meeting adjourned, the Albany and National clubs signed an agreement adopting the NL rule of deducting $30 from the salary of players to defray expenses for uniforms, and 50 cents a day toward expenses when on the road. However, Baltimore and Jersey City would not sign this agreement. “These two clubs also agreed to divide the gross receipts of match-games played on holiday occasions.”57

Within a week Henry Garfield declared he could not accept the NA presidency, due to his business schedule. Apparently he had never been consulted, and did not even know his name had been submitted for the position.58

By May, only the Nationals of Washington, Baltimore, and Albany were entered for the championship of the NA, agreeing that each team would play 28 games with every other team.59 In June, Rochester joined the National Association championship season.60

In July, the Baltimore team disbanded, “succumbing to bad management.”61 Albany soon followed, leaving only Rochester and the Nationals.62 The Nationals soon resigned from the NA and joined the League Alliance “for protection,” thus forfeiting all claim to any championship.63 However, Rochester and the Nationals continued to play each other in various locations “with the hope of better remuneration than they have been able to obtain elsewhere of late.”64 The two teams played 17 games, with the Nationals winning 11.65 “Thus end[ed] ‘the strange, eventful history’ of the Association.”66



1 Inter Ocean, September 27, 1879: 3. It was later reported Providence profited $1,500. (New York Clipper, November 29, 1879: 282.)

2 Chicago Inter Ocean, September 27, 1879: 3.

3 North American (Philadelphia), September 30, 1879: 1.

4 Inter Ocean, October 1, 1879: 2.

5 New York Clipper, October 25, 1879: 243.

6 Inter Ocean, October 1, 1879: 2; Baseball-Reference Bullpen — The Only Nolan, baseball-reference.com/bullpen/The_Only_Nolan; The New York Clipper reported on October 11, 1879, (229) that Nolan had to be reinstated because the White Stockings were planning a West Coast tour, and all the San Francisco teams had played against Nolan. Harry Wright said that if the NL rules were enforced, only Boston and Cleveland could maintain their membership, all others having played against a club employing an expelled player.

7 Inter Ocean, October 1, 1879: 5.

8  St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 25, 1879: 6.

9  Inter Ocean, December 4, 1879: 2.

10 New York Clipper, November 29, 1879: 282.

11 New York Clipper, December 6, 1879: 291.

12 Spalding’s Official Baseball Guide and Official League Book for 1880 (Chicago: A.G. Spalding & Bros.), 80.

13 New York Clipper, December 6, 1879: 291.

14 New York Clipper, December 13, 1879: 298.

15 New York Clipper, December 6, 1879: 291.

16  Inter Ocean, December 4, 1879: 2; Spalding’s Guide, 78-79

17 New York Clipper, December 13, 1879: 298.

18 Ibid. For non-Dickens readers, Mr. Barkis, a cart driver in the novel David Copperfield, sends this message to Peggotty, indicating he is willing to marry her. 

19 Inter Ocean, December 4, 1879: 2; New York Clipper, December 13, 1879: 298.

20 New York Clipper, December 13, 1879: 298.

21 Spalding’s Guide, 22.

22 New York Clipper, December 13, 1879: 298.

23 Ibid.

24 New York Clipper, November 15, 1879: 269.

25 New York Clipper, December 13, 1879: 298.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 Spalding’s Guide, 25.

29 New York Clipper, December 13, 1879: 298.

30 Ibid.

31 Spalding’s Guide, 23-24.

32 Spalding’s Guide, 22.

33 New York Clipper, December 13, 1879: 298.

34 New York Clipper, December 13 1879: 298.

35 New York Clipper, January 3, 1880: 322.

36 New York Clipper, January 17, 1880: 338.

37 Lowell Daily Citizen, December 11, 1879: 3; New York Clipper, January 17, 1880: 338.

38  New York Clipper, February 7, 1880: 365.

39 New York Clipper, January 24, 1880: 346.

40 New York Clipper, February 14, 1880: 373.

41 Spalding’s Guide, 83-84.

42 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, March 7, 1880: 16.

43 New York Clipper, October 25, 1879: 243; January 17, 1880: 341.

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

45 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, January 25, 1880: 9; New York Clipper, January 31, 1880: 354.

46 New York Clipper, February 21, 1880: 381.

47 Ibid.

48 New York Clipper, February 28, 1880: 389.

49 Ibid.

50 Ibid.

51 Ibid; St. Louis Globe-Democrat, February 29, 1880: 6.

52 Spalding’s Guide: 61. National League rules did not permit four-sided bats.

53 New York Clipper, February 28, 1880: 389.

54 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, February 22, 1880: 3.

55 New York Clipper, February 28, 1880: 389.

56 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, February 22, 1880: 3.

57 New York Clipper, February 28, 1880: 389.

58 New York Clipper, March 6, 1880: 395; New York Herald, March 23, 1880: 10. I could not ascertain if a new president was elected, the vice president took over the position, or the NA acted without a president.

59 New York Clipper, May 29, 1880: 75.

60 New York Clipper, June 9, 1880: 98.

61 New York Clipper, July 10, 1880: 122

62 Cleveland Herald, July 19, 1880: 5

63 New York Clipper, July 24, 1880: 138.

64 New York Clipper, August 21, 1880: 173.

65 New York Clipper, September 4, 1880: 187.

66 New York Clipper, July 24, 1880: 139.