Ryczek: Why the National Association was a major league

From SABR member Bill Ryczek at The National Pastime Museum on October 19, 2015:

Major and minor are relative terms; something is major or minor based upon its relative position among a group of objects. In the United States, the Democrats and Republicans are considered major parties, while the Libertarians and Greens are minor parties. If the former two didn’t exist, the Greens and Libertarians would be the major parties, even if they were no more significant than they are now. Since the National Association (NA) was the only baseball league in existence from 1871 through 1875, how could it not be considered a major league?

That question was answered by the Major League Special Baseball Records Committee, assembled in 1968 by then-Commissioner William Eckert, which stated that the NA was not a major league “due to its erratic schedule and procedures.” Scheduling and procedures are reflective of the management of the sport rather than the quality of play on the field, and if inept administration can disqualify a league from major status, perhaps the records of the American and National Leagues during Eckert’s sorry tenure should be expunged. We can stick Denny McLain’s 31 wins and Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA in the same trashcan with Levi Meyerle’s .492 batting average in 1871 and Al Spalding’s 54–5 pitching record in 1875.

The primary criterion for defining the quality of a league should be the relative skill of its players in relation to that of all players active at that time. There is no question that during the first half of the 1870s the best baseball players in America played in the National Association. There were a few professional teams that were not members of the NA, but they were clearly of inferior caliber, and it was a major upset when one of them beat an NA team. None of the amateur teams was remotely as good as the professionals, and when NA teams went on tour to play amateurs and lesser professionals, they often won by scores such as 20–2 or 35–4, and sometimes much more. Anyone who was serious about playing baseball for a living wanted to play in the NA.

Read the full article here: http://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/article/why-national-association-was-major-league

Originally published: October 19, 2015. Last Updated: October 19, 2015.