- Players and Teams of the National Association, 1871–1875 by Paul Batesel
The first professional baseball league, the National Association (NA), was founded in 1871 and shortly disbanded after the 1875 season. Though neither Major League Baseball nor the Baseball Hall of Fame recognize it as a major league, the NA has experienced increased scholarly attention over the last two decades. Two committees of the Society of American Baseball Research, the Biographical Research Committee and the Pictorial Committee, have shed light on the owners, managers, players, stadiums, and origins of the league which lacked a central governing authority and was thus prone to franchise instability. When the league folded, several of it teams were charter members of the National League (NL), and many of the NA’s players continued to play professional baseball. Paul Batesel’s, Players and Teams of the National Association, 1871–1875, is an informative and user-friendly reference work that provides a brief biographical sketch of all 325 players in the NA and a short history of all twenty-five clubs that participated in the league, including information about their management, uniforms, logos, home playing fields, and performance.
A detailed introduction provides important context to the changing landscape of baseball from its first organized game in Elysian Fields, in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1845, to the formation of the NA twenty-six years later. After discussing the demographics of the players, Batesel addresses how the NA comprised both amateur and professional players and offers three general categories for them: “drop-by” major leagues whose participation in the NA was just an interlude before they began their career and “pick-up” players whom teams seemed to have drawn from the street. For example, ninety-two of the 325 players played in only one game during a given season. The final category includes amateur players whose clubs joined the professional league. The introduction concludes with information about salaries and the economics of the league.
The NA consisted of financially well-off “gentleman,” who played for recreation and “hired guns” who saw baseball as a way to make a living. Batesel’s biographies focus on both the character and the human, often less glamorous, element of the players to provide a well-rounded picture. Photos are provided for 200 of the players. The breadth of information is striking and exciting to read and includes the player’s team, a few statistics from the NA and subsequent leagues, when applicable, and information about jobs, family, and post-playing career, and fascinating tidbits of information about the player’s life. For example, John Clapp may have been the first catcher to begin using a heavy rubber mouthpiece before masks were developed; Fred Goldsmith may have been the inventor of the curve ball; and pitcher George Zettlein ended the Cincinnati’s Red Stockings’ eight-nine-game winning streak. Relying on previously published research on players’ statistics, Batsel’s exhaustive research about the players’ lives is to be commended.
With league membership available for just $10, teams from New England and the Mid-Atlantic states to the Midwest competed with those from the big cities, like Chicago [End Page 328] or New York. Teams in small towns, like Rockford, Illinois; Troy, New York; Fort Wayne, Indiana; or Keokuk, Iowa, were at a competitive and economic disadvantage compared with their counterparts in large metropolitan areas, like Philadelphia or Boston. While fourteen clubs were unable to complete even a single season, the NA was dominated by just a few financially viable teams. Only the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia, Mutual of New York, and Boston Red Stocking competed for the pennant in each of the five years. Boston (the precursor to the Atlanta Braves) and the Chicago White Stocking (which became the Cubs) still exist today.
The entries for each of the league’s twenty-five teams are an invaluable resource for baseball fans and researchers. A concise franchise history gives information about the team’s founding, entry into the NA, financial difficulties, if any, and post...