1880 Winter Meetings: ‘The Most Harmonious of all the League Meetings’

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 Chicago White Stockings ran away with the 1880 National League pennant, winning 67 games while losing only 17. Providence, Cleveland, Troy, Worcester, Boston, Buffalo, and Cincinnati rounded out the standings.1

The NL held a meeting at the Osburn House in Rochester, New York, on October 4, 1880. Present were William Hulbert of Chicago (also NL president), secretary Nicholas Young, and representatives from all the teams. The five-man reserve rule was discussed. Buffalo, Cincinnati, and Boston (surprisingly, as Arthur Soden was the original author of the rule) were opposed to renewing the rule. However, after discussion it was decided to renew the “baseball slavery-act,” with only Buffalo voting against it.2

Other important matters taken up were directed mainly at the Cincinnati club. The club had violated the NL gentleman’s agreement by playing Sunday games and selling liquor on its grounds. The NL now wanted to adopt these policies formally, but Cincinnati was balking at agreeing. Club representative W.C. Kennett told the league his board of directors assured him the club would restrict the sale of liquor to a bar under the grandstand, and eventually even discontinue this. He also said he was instructed to accept amendments regarding the sale of liquor and Sunday ball, but not to give up the main issues. He refused to vote one way or the other on the agreements. A resolution was then submitted to the full membership that the Cincinnati club vacate its membership if its representative would not formally vote on the issues of Sunday games and the sale of liquor on NL grounds. Seven delegates voted in favor of the resolution. Kennett retired to telegraph his board of directors on the situation, and nothing further was done with the Cincinnati matter at this time.3

On October 26, the Cincinnati club held a special meeting and unanimously decided to withdraw from the National League, with an eye toward forming a new and independent baseball league.4 This venture never materialized.5 Detroit reportedly would replace Cincinnati, with Frank Bancroft, having resigned as manager of the Buffalo team, as their new manager. However, there also were rumors that the Nationals of Washington, D.C., would enter the NL.6

The fifth annual National League meeting was held at the St. James Hotel in New York on December 8, 9, and 10. Though it was “pretty certain” that Detroit would replace Cincinnati, the Nationals, and the Metropolitans of New York sent representatives. However, the Metropolitans decided not to enter the NL at this time, as tours west would cost too much. Owner John B. Day attended the meeting only to arrange spring games with Eastern clubs of the National League. The Mets had secured the Polo Grounds for four days of each week from April 1 to November 1, 1881.7

On the first day, the League Board of Directors officially awarded the 1880 pennant to the Chicago White Stockings, confirmed the expulsion of the four Louisville players in the gambling scandal of 1877, and re-elected Nick Young as secretary.8 The full body of NL owners present then met: W.A. Hulbert and A.G. Mills (Chicago), Henry T. Root (Providence), James F. Evans (Cleveland), Freeman Brown (Worcester), Arthur Soden and Harry Wright (Boston), and James M. Moffat and J.H. Smith (Buffalo). C.R. DeFreest of the Troy club reported he would attend the last day of the meetings. The first order of business was to fill the vacancy left by the withdrawal of Cincinnati. The Detroit club, represented by its president, Mayor W.G. Thompson, and manager Bancroft, was voted into the League by a vote of 4 to 2 (Chicago and Providence voting for the Washington Nationals). The vote was then retaken to make it officially unanimous.9

The full NL ownership (minus Troy) then took up constitution and bylaw changes. They decided to prohibit any League club from playing match games on Sunday, or allowing any player to participate in a Sunday game during the term of his NL service. The sale of beer or spirits on League grounds was prohibited, as was open betting or pool selling. After “due proof of the facts,” a two-thirds vote of the clubs would result in expulsion of the guilty club for any of these infractions.

In a move to bolster the authority of the umpire, he was made a League officer, making him responsible only to the League, and, at least in theory, independent of club influence. The Clipper was confident this change would bring to umpiring a better selection of men. The penalties for player misconduct were graded, to be more in line with the offense. Any player in the future found guilty of “offering, agreeing, conspiring, or attempting to lose any game of ball, or being interested in any pool or wager” would be expelled, while drunkenness, insubordination, “or any dishonorable or disreputable conduct” would be subjected to suspension. In addition, managers were now subject to the same penalties for objectionable conduct.10

Professional clubs in the League Alliance were made honorary members of the NL, placed on equal footing in all matters of substance. League Alliance clubs would now have the same protection against dishonest play and “revolving of players” that teams in the NL enjoyed. A League Alliance championship was provided for. Alliance teams were to send the scores of games to the NL secretary, who would record the results. At the end of the season the team with the greatest number of wins would be awarded a suitable emblem of the championship.11

On the second day of meetings, consideration of playing rules was the main topic. Important changes included increasing the 45-foot pitcher’s distance from home plate to 50 feet.12 It was believed this would help the batter, but another change which reduced, from four to three, the number of “fair balls” the batter could choose to take without lowering the number of “unfair balls” in a base-on-balls took away this advantage. (The number of called strikes was always three, but the batter previously had been given a warning if a pitch was “fair” and not struck at.)13 The League in the future would require each team to create and record its batting order by 9:00 A.M. for the afternoon game. This was to appease spectators who had purchased official scoresheets giving the order, only to find it had been changed.14

A number of baserunning rules were changed or adopted. Starting in 1881 temporary substitute runners were prohibited. Another rule required the runner to retouch the base he occupied before the umpire called time on any play. This was intended to stop the unfair stealing of bases by the player standing close to the next base and taking it when play was resumed. The runner was required to return to his occupied base on a foul ball not ruled an out and returned to the pitcher. The runner could be put out if the base or runner was tagged before he returned.15 An awkward rule (at least to modern readers) was removed. Now an umpire was to use his best judgment on the legitimacy of a catch by a fielder. Previously, if the umpire could not see the play he could take the testimony of bystanders nearest the player attempting the catch to make his decision. Now, if the umpire could not see the play he was to rule the batter not out. (Keep in mind that a foul ball caught on one bounce was ruled an out, so an outfielder might be behind spectators when attempting the one-bounce catch.)16

On the night of this second session the election of officers took place. William Hulbert was unanimously re-elected president, but declined to serve. However, the other owners called on him to reconsider, which he did. The new board of directors was then chosen, consisting of representatives from the Buffalo, Troy, Worcester, and Detroit franchises. The meeting adopted the Spalding ball as the official ball and scheduled the 1881 annual meeting for the Tremont House in Chicago. The “most harmonious of all the League meetings” to date was then adjourned.17

The NL owners met again on March 8 and 9, 1881, at the Tifft House in Buffalo. A schedule was adopted and umpires selected. The owners decided to furnish umpires with a rule book, “in which he shall mark each rule referring to rain” to help him determine when a game should be called. The game should be suspended “in case rain falls so heavily that the spectators are compelled by the severity of the storm to seek shelter.” When a game was prevented from being finished by rain, the home club would not refund tickets or money, the League deciding that when a spectator entered the ground he took a chance “of being disappointed by the interposition of nature.”18

The meeting adjourned with the eight club representatives showing their appreciation to secretary Nick Young by presenting him with an 11½-foot-long, three-jointed hexagon split-bamboo fishing rod with extra tip. The rod was enclosed in a handsome Russia leather case, lined with scarlet satin with white cord. Young expressed his “thanks feelingly.”19



1 Baseball-Reference.com.

2 New York Clipper, October 16, 1880: 238. However, in an article in the Clipper on January 1, 1881, page 325, Michael Scanlan of the Washington Nationals club stated that the five-man rule was abolished and each club was required to name the players they proposed to sign. His club, then in the National Association, was divided among the NL clubs. There was an issue with some players having already been signed contracts, at least verbally, and given advance money, but this was worked out. Scanlan, “bitter” after Washington lost its League bid, also said the clubs signed an agreement that no player would receive over $1,200 in salary “so that each club could live within its receipts.”

3 New York Clipper, October 16, 1880: 238; Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago), October 5, 1880: 5. Constitution and Playing Rules of the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, A.G. Spalding & Bros., Chicago, 1881: 55, reported that the Cincinnati club‘s position was declared vacated at the meeting.

4 New York Clipper, November 6, 1880: 261; Daily Inter Ocean, October 30, 1880: 7.

5 Daily Inter Ocean, November 6, 1880: 2; St. Louis Globe-Democrat November 14, 1880: 6.

6 New York Clipper, November 13, 1880: 266.

7 New York Clipper, December 11, 1880: 298.

8 Daily Inter Ocean, December 9, 1880: 3.

9 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, December 9, 1880: 6; New York Clipper, December 18, 1880: 309; Constitution and Playing Rules of the National League, Chicago, 1881: 14.

10 New York Clipper, December 18, 1880: 309; Constitution and Playing Rules of the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, 1881: 14.

11 Daily Inter Ocean, December 9, 1880: 3; St. Louis Globe-Democrat, December 9, 1880: 6; Constitution and Playing Rules of the National League, 1881: 18 and 46.

12 New York Clipper, December 18, 1880: 309.

13 New York Clipper, January 1, 1881: 324; New York Clipper, January 8, 1881: 333. Constitution and Playing Rules of the National League, 1881: 38-39.

14 Ibid. The mandatory 9:00 a.m. lineup is not mentioned in Rule 21, Section 3, of the 1881 playing rules.

15 New York Clipper, December 18, 1880: 309; New York Clipper, January 8, 1881: 333.

16 Spalding’s Base Ball Guide and Official League Book for 1880, A.G. Spalding & Bros., Chicago, 1880: 73; New York Clipper, December 18, 1880: 309, Clipper, January 8, 1881: 333; Constitution and Playing Rules of the National League, 1881: 45.

17 New York Clipper, December 18, 1880: 309. Later, the franchises named Josiah Jewett, C.R. DeFreest (although the Constitution and Playing Rules of the National League, 1881 lists the Troy representative as A.L. Hotchkin), Freeman Brown, and Mayor Thompson respectively.

18 New York Clipper, March 19, 1881: 413; Constitution and Playing Rules of the National League, 1881: 61–62.

19 New York Clipper, March 19, 1881: 413.