National Association of Base Ball Players

From BR Bullpen

The National Association of Base Ball Players was the first formal governing body for baseball. Until the Association was founded in 1857, the development of baseball rules had largely been controlled by the prestigious New York Knickerbockers club. Despite the new Association's title, the members of the Association were clubs, not individual players, and it was in no way a national organization; all of the founding members were from the five boroughs that currently make up New York City.[1] The organization's first president was William Van Cott, an executive of the Gotham Club of New York. While the NABBP never became an organization of players, it managed to grow into its claims of being a national organization. By the end of the Civil War, it had grown to over 100 clubs hailing from all over the Union, and to over 300 by 1867.[2]

While the Association was founded as an amateur organization, its dedication to amateurism was long challenged. As early as 1860 players like Jim Creighton were being paid under the table for their services. Professionalism took a huge step forward in 1862 with the opening of Brooklyn's Union Grounds, the first fully enclosed ballpark.[3] Enclosed parks like the Union Grounds enabled grounds owners to charge admission, which gave teams both the money and incentive to build themselves up with professional players. By 1868, Henry Chadwick could say that nearly every noteworthy club had violated the rule against professionalism in some way.[4]

In December of 1867, the NABBP had begun barring African-Americans from playing in the league, despite a few having already played in the league in years prior.

In 1869, the Association decided to accept the inevitable and allow open professionalism. Teams were divided into professional and amateur categories, with rules covering when professional players could be used against amateur teams.[5] The decision to allow professional teams allowed the celebrated tour of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, but it only exacerbated tensions between the advocates of amateur and professional ball.

In 1871, the top professional teams decided to abandon the old Association and found a new National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. While the professionals made up only a tiny fraction of the whole membership, the new NAPBBP wound up becoming the new leader in the game's development. Amateurs modeled their rules on the professionals'. Deprived of its primary reason for existence, the old Association quickly sank into irrelevance.


  1. Spirit of the Times, January 31, 1857, quoted in Early Innings, document 13
  2. Charles C. Alexander, Our Game, p.14
  3. Brooklyn Eagle, April 7, 1862, quoted in Early Innings, document 22
  4. Henry Chadwick, The Game of Baseball quoted in Early Innings, document 33
  5. DeWitt's Baseball Guide pp. 23-24, quoted Early Innings, document 34

Further Reading[edit]

  • Richard Hershberger: "Did New York Steal the Championship of 1867 from Philadelphia?", in Morris Levin, ed.: From Swampoodle to South Philly: Baseball in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, The National Pastime, SABR, 2013, pp. 22-27.
  • Robert Tholkes: ""Country" Base Ball in the Boom of 1866: A Safari Through Primary Sources", Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 50, Number 2 (Fall 2021), pp. 111-123.
  • Marshall D. Wright: The National Association of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2000.