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National Association of Base Ball Players

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The National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) was the first organization governing American baseball. The first, 1857 convention of sixteen New York City clubs[1] practically terminated the Knickerbocker era, when that club privately deliberated on the rules of the game. The last convention, with hundreds of members represented only via state associations, provoked the establishment of separate professional and amateur associations in 1871. The succeeding National Association of Professional Base Ball Players is considered the first professional sports league; through 1875 it governed professional baseball and practically set playing rules for all. Because the amateur successor never attracted many members and it convened only a few times, the NABBP is sometimes called "the amateur Association" in contrast to its professional successor.

Beside the playing rules and its own organization, the Association governed official scoring (reporting), "match" play, a championship, amateurism, and hippodroming or the integrity of the contest.[2] It permitted professionalism only for the 1869 and 1870 seasons. In its December 1867 meeting, its rules committee voted unanimously to bar any club "composed of one or more colored persons",[3] effecting the first known color line in baseball.


Prior to the Civil War, baseball competed for public interest with cricket and regional variants of baseball, notably town ball played in Philadelphia and the Massachusetts Game played in New England. In the 1860s, aided by the War, "New York" style baseball expanded into a national game and the NABBP, as its governing body, expanded into a true national organization, although most of the strongest clubs remained those based in New York City, Brooklyn and Philadelphia. By the end of 1865, almost 100 clubs were members of the organization. By 1867, it had over 400 members, including some clubs from as far away as San Francisco and Louisiana. Because of this growth, regional and state organizations began to assume a more prominent role in the governance of the sport.


The NABBP was initially established upon principles of amateurism. However, even early in its history some star players, such as James Creighton of Excelsior, received compensation, either secretly or indirectly. In 1866, the NABBP investigated Athletic of Philadelphia for paying three players including Lip Pike, but ultimately took no action against either the club or the players. To address this growing practice, and to restore integrity to the game, at its December 1868 meeting the NABBP established a professional category for the 1869 season. Clubs desiring to pay players were now free to declare themselves professional.

Cincinnati was the first to so declare and among the most aggressive in recruiting the best available players. Twelve, including most of the strongest clubs in the NABBP, ultimately declared themselves professional for the 1869 season.

Conflict arose, however, between amateur and professional interests. Important issues included how the championship was to be decided and regulating players jumping from one team to another. As a result, in 1871 most of the leading professional clubs broke away to found the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. The NABBP continued for approximately two years thereafter in a diminished status before disbanding into state and regional organizations.


Contrary to the organization name, NABBP members were clubs not players. Generally the clubs joined the association and retained membership by sending delegates to the annual convention, usually in the preceding December (the ancestor of baseball's so-called Winter Meetings). Membership mediated by state associations was introduced only after ten years; then dozens of clubs from a distant state (or even New Jersey) could join and remain in the NABBP by organizing a state association whose delegates would participate in the national meeting.

The number of clubs at the convention, and thus in the association, increased from 16 to 25 to 50 by spring 1859. This list gives the sixteen who convened in 1857 followed by the three later members who survived to be charter members of the National League in 1876; none of the sixteen did so.

  • Brooklyn: Brooklyn Atlantics (to 1870, professional), Brooklyn Bedford (1857), Brooklyn Continental (to 1863), Brooklyn Eckfords (to 1870, professional), Brooklyn Excelsior (to 1870, amateur), Brooklyn Harmony (1857), Brooklyn Nassau (to 1859), Brooklyn Olympic (1857 and 1859), Brooklyn Putnam (to 1862)
  • Morrisania (now in the Bronx): Union (to 1870, professional) --that is, the Union of Morrisania
  • New York: New York Baltic (to 1863 and later?), New York Eagle (to 1869?), New York Empire (to 1869), New York Gotham (to 1870, amateur), New York Harlem (to 1869?), New York Knickerbocker (to 1868?) --who would go down in history as the New York Knickerbockers

The five named in bold continued as sometime members of the 1871–1875 National Association, the first professional league. Dates refer to NABBP membership, not baseball activity or legal organization, but not all clubs retained membership annually; in particular, the Civil War curtailed membership for 1862 to 1865.

Newark, New Jersey is one of the cities across the Hudson River from New York. Eight Newark clubs were sometime members and two more clubs from Newark, Empire in 1858 and Eckford in 1870, played matches with member clubs.

  • Newark members, all years, ordered by first membership: Newark Base Ball Club (1860–1869) --that is, "Newark of Newark" or "Newark Newarks", Newark Eurekas (1860–1869), Newark Adriatics (1861–1862), Newark Americus (1865–1869), Newark Pioneer (1865–1867), Newark Active (1867-?), Newark Excelsior (1869), Newark Amateur (1870)

The members farthest from New York in the early years were the Liberty club of New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1858, the only one of 25 members outside modern New York City; Niagara of Buffalo, New York in 1859, when the next furthest of 50 members was based in Trenton, New Jersey; and Detroit of Detroit, Michigan in 1860, when five of 59 members were from outside New Jersey and New York states, the other four being in Washington, Baltimore, New Haven, and Boston. Six Philadelphia clubs joined for 1861 but war curtailed the season; some of the 55 members never played a game of any kind. Then the war curtailed membership for 1862 until 1866 when some pre-war members rejoined.

For 1865 there were only 30 members with not one in New England and western outliers merely in Washington, Altoona in central Pennsylvania, and Utica in central New York state. But the December 1865 meeting attracted triple the membership with scattered clubs from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. During the next three seasons, the association "filled" with clubs from St Louis and Iowa to Boston and Maine. By 1867 there were too many delegates to handle in convention, so membership via state associations was introduced for 1868 and, perhaps for that reason, there is no reliable enumeration of the members from 1868 to 1870.


The 1857 Atlantic Club of Brooklyn and the 1858 Mutual Club of New York appear to have been recognized as the best clubs of these respective seasons, but scheduling was insufficient overall between New York and Brooklyn clubs to establish a definitive champion. In 1859, though, Atlantic did emerge as decisive champions of baseball with an overall record of 11 wins and 1 loss and series victories over both Eckford of Brooklyn and Mutual. Thereafter, a formalized challenge system developed whereby the championship, symbolized by a "pennant", would change hands upon the defeat of the existing champion in a two out of three series. Such "series" could actually occur over several weeks or months, with games against other clubs played in between, so the format does not closely resemble the modern World Series in determining baseball's champion. But a series was limited to a season; one win in one or two games did not carry over to next spring.

Without a regular schedule of games, neither the number of wins nor winning percentage necessarily indicates team strength, much less identifies the best team or a credible champion. A challenge format makes sense for that purpose, and it fits the convention whereby contestants meet on the field with money or a trophy at stake. A trophy base ball, provided by the home club and used in the game, was commonly at stake; the pennant provided by the Association was a second trophy at stake in some games. Unfortunately, the strongest team in a given year did not always have an opportunity to play for the championship, as the strongest boxer or chess player may annually have an opportunity in the challenge formats that developed in those sports.

Indeed, in several NABBP seasons it appears that the strongest team never played a series for the championship, including at least Athletic of Philadelphia in 1868 and the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869. The latter were undefeated, with victories over all of the leading clubs (including ultimate 1868 and 1869 champions Mutual and Atlantic), but they never faced a reigning champion in a deciding game, partly because in scheduling tours of continental scope they practically opted out.

Decisive games were also marred by disputes. In 1860, reigning champion Atlantic of Brooklyn and challenger Excelsior of Brooklyn split their first two games. In the third, Excelsior was leading 8-6 and had men on base, but chose to withdraw because of rowdy behavior by Atlantic partisans and gamblers. The game was declared a draw, and the championship retained by Atlantic.

In 1870, Mutual of New York was leading 13-12 in the deciding game of its series with the Chicago White Stockings when Mutual left the field in protest. Officials decided to revert the score to the end of the last completed inning and awarded the game, and thus the championship, to Chicago. The Mutual club declared itself champion.

First game of the 1865 championship series between Atlantic and Mutual, played at Elysian Fields (Currier & Ives lithograph).

End of Year Champions

Teams with most wins

The won-lost-tied records compiled by Marshall Wright (2000) are not consistently limited to matches between NABBP members.

  • 1857 Atlantic (Brooklyn, NY) 7-1-1
  • 1858 Mutual (New York, NY) 11-1
  • 1859 Excelsior (Brooklyn, NY) 12-3
  • 1860 Excelsior (Brooklyn, NY) 18-2-1
  • 1861 Mutual (New York, NY) 8-2
  • 1862 Eckford (Brooklyn, NY) 14-2
  • 1863 Eckford (Brooklyn, NY) 10-0
  • 1864 Atlantic (Brooklyn, NY) 20-0-1
  • 1865 Atlantic (Brooklyn, NY) 18-0
  • 1866 Union (Morrisania, NY) 25-3
  • 1867 Athletic (Philadelphia, PA) 44-3
  • 1868 Athletic (Philadelphia, PA) 47-3
  • 1869 Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH) 57-0
  • 1870 Mutual (New York, NY) 68-17-3


The Chicago Cubs, who played their first season in the NABBP in 1870 as the Chicago White Stockings, is the only surviving team from the NABBP. Although the current Cincinnati Reds do claim the Cincinnati Red Stockings lineage as baseball's first fully professional team, the modern Reds didn't start play until 1882, twelve years after the Red Stockings folded. Half of the Cincinnati team, including their ownership, started a new team in Boston in 1871 that ultimately became the Atlanta Braves, though that team started in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players from the get-go.


  1. ^ "New York City clubs" means clubs based in the territory of modern New York (city), five boroughs or counties of New York state. Dozens of early base ball clubs were based in contemporary New York and Brooklyn including 15 of the 16 who convened in 1857, all but the Union club of Morrisania, now part of the Bronx.
  2. ^ "Hippodroming" commonly means play in the interest of gamblers, maybe including team members. That may cover losing rather than winning, winning by a small rather than a large margin, and falling behind early in the game. It may cover particular events rather than the decision or the score in runs, such as putting out a particular player or hitting a foul ball. The integrity of the contest (modern terms), if not hippodroming itself, also covers theatrical play and friendly play. Roughly, the participants and spectators should all know whether everyone is playing to win. The Association did not schedule championship games (or any others) and clubs sometimes agreed to play a friendly rather than a championship game only at the ballpark just before the event.
  3. ^ Early Innings: a documentary history of baseball, 1825-1908, compiled and edited by Dean A. Sullivan, published 1995 by University of Nebraska Press


  • Block, David (2005). Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search For The Roots Of The Game. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-1339-5
  • Goldstein, Warren (1991). Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-9924-0
  • Seymour, Harold (1960). Baseball: The Early Years. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505912-3
  • Wright, Marshall D. (2000). The National Association of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870. McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-0779-4