This Day in Baseball and Rangers History for February 2

* 21 days until the Feb 23, 2024, spring training season opener with KC
* 55 days until the Mar 28, 2024, regular season opener against the Cubs

Today there are 2 bits of deep general baseball history associated with Feb 2 events -- (1) the founding of the NL as the first ML, and the question of what it means to be a "Major League"; and (2) the 1936 election of the first class to the National Baseball HoF.

February 2, 1876
The Founding of the National League
What Does It Mean to be a Major League?

In December of 1875, representatives of four western baseball clubs that were unhappy with participation the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NA), gathered at the Galt House in Louisville, KY, at a meeting initiated by William Hulbert, the owner of the Chicago Base Ball Association, to discuss the formation of a new league. In addition to Chicago, the other three clubs were -- the St. Louis Brown Stockings, the Cincinnati Red Stockings and the Louisville Grays. The teams decided at that time to form a new league, but needed to bring other teams into the fold.

On Feb 2, 1876, at a meeting in NYC, the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs was founded by the six strongest teams from the NA and two additional teams -- Chicago (the first reincarnation of the original White Stockings, which was later known as the Colts, the Orphans, and finally the Cubs), the Boston Red Stockings, the Philadelphia Athletics, the Hartford Dark Blues, the St. Louis Brown Stockings, the New York Mutuals, the Louisville Grays and the Cincinnati Red Stockings. The loss of its 6 strongest major-market teams caused the NA to collapse and disband before the 1876 season.

To understand the significance of the changes implemented by the NL, it's necessary to understand the NA that it was replacing and what it means to be a "Major League".

The NA had been created directly from the efforts, beginning in 1869, of the previously amateur National Association of Base Ball Players, to create a separate professional category to legitimize payment of players, and to create a professional level of play. From 1871-75, the NA had been the only professional baseball league in America. (During its existence, it was often referred to in the press simply as the "Professional Association"). During its 5-year span, it literally had all of the best players in the sport. In every year, the NA had teams in all of the major historic markets (NYC, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cincinnati and St Louis) as well as many minor markets. The NA comprised most of the professional clubs and the highest caliber of play then in existence at the time. But in 1968, an ad hoc "Major League Special Baseball Records Committee" under the direction of Commissioner William Eckert, declared the NL to be the first "Major League". Neither the MLB nor the National Baseball HoF recognize the NA as a ML for purposes of teams, players, statistics or records set. Many current baseball historians dispute the meaning of "Major League" and whether the NA was a ML. It certainly was in terms of talent and play, but it was not in one principal sense.

The term, "Major League" has two related senses. It certainly indicates a higher caliber of player and play, with a higher quality of presentation of the contest. But it also indicates a structural organization, centralizing power through agreements among participating teams in order to determine: the teams allowed to join and participate, scheduling games, the rules, players contracts and each team;s deference to another team's contracts, discipline for players and teams, a rigorously coherent presentation of the game, and so forth.

The NA allowed free entry by any team for a relatively small team fee. Teams defined their own season schedules and the extent of competition with other teams. Player contracts were entirely a team matter. The NA's Achilles Heel was its lack of a strong central system to control the actions of the teams and players -- conduct of players on the field, the influence of gambling and fixing games, one team raiding another team's players in mid-season, and so on. Some teams only joined the NA as a way of scheduling games against top clubs, and then dropped out to avoid going on expensive road trips. That lack of control made it impossible to build teams competing within the league into larger businesses -- into "prestige" teams. The only penalty for failing to abide by the rules in the NA was forfeiture of dues, which were small enough that that wasn't an effective deterrent. The NA lacked any power to stop abuses. And the structure impugns the performance. There was no systematic performance of team against team by which to judge the statistics of the best players.

The NL was formed in 1876 specifically to monopolize baseball for both "the good of the game" and for the business benefit of the owners. Hulbert promoted the NL's replacement of the NA by disparaging the NA in the press as corrupt, mismanaged league, full of rowdy, drunken ballplayers and under the influence of gambling. But it was the structural differences that made the NL a long-term success. All NL teams had to be located in cities that had a population of 75,000 or more, giving them a chance to succeed. NL membership would be by invitation only. Teams were required to pay substantial dues, and both teams and players were subject to League discipline, including the possibility of expulsion and blacklisting for severe misbehavior. Teams had to respect the roster contracts of other teams. The initial NL season began with 8 teams using one uniform schedule of 70 games (10 against each other NL team) between Apr 22 and Oct 21. This form of ML structure became the model for all subsequent "Major League" sports.

"Hulbert continued as a strong president until his death in 1882. The league had remained unprofitable for most of that time, and various austerity measures were adopted by the teams, most notably lower salaries and greater use of the reserve clause (first thought of by Boston owner Arthur Soden in 1879). But the nation experienced an economic boom centered in urban areas, and the effects boosted pro ball's popularity and profitability, allowing the annual schedule to be lengthened over the course of the century. The advent of a second major league in 1883, the American Association, provided a popular two-league format. Beginning in 1884, that format included loosely-organized postseason series between the two league winners, the precursor of the World Series. The NL and the AA between them crushed the fledgling Union Association, which lasted for just one year, 1884." [BaseballBiography below]

In a 2022 interview of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred in the LA Times, Manfred was asked what benefit MLB's continuing antitrust exemption had, now that all player-related matters had effectively been transferred through labor law and federal statute to bargaining with the MLBPA. Manfred answered that its usefulness lay in the ability to control the teams, repeating the traditional notion that the antitrust exemption worked for the good of the game, although he put it as "a fan-friendly doctrine in the law".

National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (BR Bullpen)
National League (BaseballBiography)
Why the National Association Was a Major League (SABR Nat'l Past Time 2024)
Bill Shaikin, Manfred says antitrust exemption has meaningful use (LA Times 2022)
National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (Wikipedia)
1876 in baseball (Wikipedia)
1871 in baseball (Wikipedia)

February 2, 1936
The Election of the First Class to Be Inducted into the Hall of Fame

On Feb 2, 1936, the newly organized National Baseball Hall of Fame announced the results of the vote for the first class for the players for the National HoF -- Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson were elected. The members of the first 3 classes would be inducted into the HoF when the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum was completed in Cooperstown in 1939.

The voting in the first elections was quite different from current HoF voting. Members of the BBWAA were given authority to select individuals from the 20th century, while a special Veterans Committee, made up of individuals with greater familiarity with the 19th century game, was to select individuals from that century. It was decided in advance that 15 honorees should be selected before the initial 1939 ceremonies when the Museum was expected to be completed -- 10 from the 20th century and 5 from the 19th century. Players that overlapped centuries ended up with vote splits -- Cy Young, for example, finished 8th in the BBWAA vote and 4th in the Veterans Committee vote.

For the BBWAA vote, there were 33 initially recommended candidates, with 7 more added later. But the voters could vote for any player by write-in. There was no prohibition on voting for active players -- the 5-year waiting period would not come into effect until the 1950's. A number of active players received votes in the 1936 election, as did historic players who had been banned from baseball – such as Shoeless Joe Jackson and Hal Chase.

The 75% election requirement, however, was the same as today.

The BBWAA voters were instructed to vote for 10 players. A total of 226 BBWAA ballots were cast for 47 specific candidates by the BBWA, an average of 9.87 per ballot -- 170 votes were required for election. The five players first elected were all elected by the BBWA. Neither Babe Ruth nor Ty Cobb received unanimous votes. (The first unanimous BBWAA player elected was Mariano Rivera in 2019).

The Veteran's Committee vote in 1936 was mismanaged. Some voters were told to vote for 10 players and others for 5 players. To compensate for ths after the vote, the 10-vote ballots were relegated to half votes, making it mathematically impossible for any player to receive 75%. As a result, no players were elected by the special Veteran Committee in the first 1936 election.

1936 Baseball Hall of Fame balloting (Wikipedia)
Matt Kelly, When the First Five Were Chosen (Nat'l BB HoF)
1936 in baseball (Wikipedia)