National Association as a major league

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Whether to cover the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (1871–1875) as a major league is a recurring matter of difference in historical work on American baseball among historians, encyclopedists, database builders, and others who work on the facts of baseball history on the playing field.

Background[edit]

The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was the first professional baseball organization. It operated from 1871 until 1875. Whether to treat it as a major league has been a contentious issue in baseball historiography and statistics, because the major leagues utterly dominate not only publication but thinking, talking, and writing about the history of the game on the field, the careers of players and field managers as participants, of clubs, and even cities, as competitors are all viewed through the prism of what was accomplished during their major league careers.

For example, it is routine to say that a player's career began when he first appeared in a major league game. Players retire from baseball when they last appeared in a major league game. A player will have "played baseball for two seasons" if he appeared in major league games during two calendar years — whether he played two games in emergencies, recruited from the fans in attendance, or two full seasons during a professional career of twenty years.

The controversy[edit]

In 1969, Major League Baseball's newly formed Special Baseball Records Committee decided that the National Association should be excluded from major league status, citing the association's "erratic schedule and procedures" as well as a history of gambling and "poor newspaper coverage".[1] Thus, when the landmark 1969 Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia was published, National Association records were not included in totals for such early stars as Cap Anson. Arguments against including the NA as a major league generally revolve around the league's quality of play, significant differences in the sport's rules during the era, and the instability of the league (as many teams lasted only one season or part of a season), and the poor state of the NA records.

The Special Baseball Records Committee's decision has faced continuing criticism. Oft-cited arguments in favor of the National Association are its status as the first fully professional baseball league, the fact that several of its teams continued on as part of the National League when it was founded in 1876, and the much more complete state of National Association records today than they were in 1969, thanks to research efforts by a number of baseball historians. In 1982, Sports Illustrated writer Marc Onigman argued that the NA should be included in the major leagues, despite its acknowledged flaws, pointing out the same flaws existed in other leagues as well, and called the Committee's decision "a modern-day value judgment that doesn't hold up".[2] The committee's decision has been criticized for favoring the owner-run National League over the player-dominated National Association.[3] David Nemec's The Great Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Major League Baseball includes players' National Association statistics in their major league totals; Nemec states that his compendium "is not bound by major league baseball's decision to treat its statistics separately", points out that "the National Association contained most of the best professional players of its time", and also argues that the National Association is more entitled to major league status than the 1884 Union Association.[4] The editors of The 2007 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia also registered their disagreement with the NA's exclusion, arguing that the NA "was indisputably the Major League Baseball of its day", but they nevertheless decided not to combine their NA records with later leagues, to avoid confusing conflicts with totals shown in the "official records".[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Paul D. Staudohar, The Business of Professional Baseball (University of Illinois Press, 1991), ISBN 978-0252061615, p. 98. Excerpts available at Google Books.
  2. ^ Marc Onigman, "The National Association Should Be In The Major Leagues, Warts And All", Sports Illustrated, May 24, 1982.
  3. ^ "Numbers game draws heated criticism from Voigt", Reading Eagle, April 1, 1984.
  4. ^ David Nemec, The Great Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Major League Baseball (University of Alabama Press, 2006), ISBN 978-0817314996, p. 865. Excerpts available at Google Books.
  5. ^ Gary Gillette and Pete Palmer, The 2007 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia (Sterling Publishing, 2007), ISBN 978-1402747717, p. x. Excerpts available at Google Books.

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