Officially known as: National League of Professional Baseball Teams
Abbreviated as: NL
The National League (NL) formed in 1876, giving it seniority over the American League (which became a major league in 1901). For this reason, the NL is nicknamed the "Senior Circuit." The league's founding meeting took place in New York, NY on February 2nd, at the instigation of William Hulbert, owner of the Chicago White Stockings. It was done in reaction to structural problems with the National Association, such as its lack of strong central leadership, its inability to force teams to complete their schedule, and the presence of many small and financially weak teams which brought down the quality of play. The National League in contrast was limited to larger cities, enforced territorial exclusivity for teams in its markets, and had a strong central league office. Even though Morgan Bulkeley, president of the Hartford Dark Blues, was the league's first president, Hulbert was the real power and took over the presidency after one year when Bulkeley stepped down to devote his time to his political career.
It took a few years and some tough decisions for the new circuit to become profitable - two teams were expelled after the inaugural 1876 season for not completing their schedules, and after the 1877 season, four players from the Louisville Grays were expelled for gambling, leading to the demise of that franchise as well - but it soon became the model for all professional sports leagues in North America. One of its major innovations was the reserve clause, which allowed teams to maintain their core of top players from year to year without fear of being outbid for their services by other teams. The policy, adopted in 1879, would be in force for almost a century. Rival leagues were set up from time to time to challenge its position, including the Union Association, which lasted only one year, the American Association, which was a lot more successful and lasted for a decade, and the Players League, which was forced out of business at great cost by the two other leagues. The NL had a monopoly on major league baseball from 1892 to 1901, when the American League proclaimed itself a rival major league. This time, however, the new entity was able to establish itself for the long term.
At first the two leagues were completely separate, competing leagues linked only by the World Series, which began in 1903. In 1920 they were unified under a single commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis. From 1900, after four teams were contracted out of the league, until 1961, the league had the same 8 teams, with only a few relocations affecting its composition. It expanded by two teams in 1962, in 1969 and again in 1993. It added one team in the expansion of 1998.
Through the years, the leagues have become more similar in rules and style, though the NL maintains a different style of play from the AL by continuing to eschew the designated hitter rule. The NL's style is a game that is less big-offense driven. The difference, arguably, was never so obvious as during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1997, teams in the National League began to play a number of interleague games against American League opponents each season.
Also in 1997, Radical Realignment almost saw seven NL teams switch to the American League. The plan failed and the NL kept all the teams, as well as gaining the Milwaukee Brewers from the AL. From 1998 to 2012, the National League had 16 teams while the American had 14; the two leagues have had the same number of teams - 15 - starting in 2013, after the Houston Astros switched to the AL.
Also, during that time, many teams played in multi-purpose stadiums that doubled as football stadiums. These stadiums often had playing surfaces made of artificial turf - "Astroturf" - rather than natural grass. By 2005, however, every NL team had eliminated artificial turf in favor of natural grass.
- Morgan G. Bulkeley: (February 2 - December 10, 1876)
- William Hulbert: (December 10, 1876 to April 10, 1882)
- Arthur Soden: (April 10 - December 6, 1882)
- Abraham Mills: (December 6, 1882 to November 19, 1884)
- Nicholas Young: (November 19, 1884 to December 12, 1902)
- Harry Pulliam: (December 12, 1902 to February 18, 1909)
- John Heydler: (February 18, 1909 - October 17, 1909)
- Thomas Lynch: (October 17, 1909 to December 9, 1913)
- John K. Tener: (December 9, 1913 to August 6, 1918)
- John Heydler: (August 6, 1918 to November 8, 1934)
- Ford Frick (November 8, 1934 to September 20, 1951)
- Warren Giles: (September 20, 1951 to December 5, 1969)
- Chub Feeney: (December 5, 1969 to December 11, 1986)
- A. Bartlett Giamatti: (December 11, 1986 to February 2, 1989)
- Bill White: (February 2, 1989 to March 1, 1994)
- Leonard Coleman: (March 1, 1994 to October 28, 1999)
The office was eliminated in 1999, although Bill Giles, son of former National League President Warren Giles, and current Phillies Chairman, currently holds the title of honorary National League president.
- First World's Series between the champions of the National League and American Association
- No postseason following the demise of the American Association
- World's Championship Series played between the teams with the two best records in the National League
- Temple Cup played between the teams with the two best records in the National League
- Chronicle-Telegraph Cup played between the teams with the two best records in the National League
- The World Series was played in a best-of-nine format
- The New York Giants declined to play the American League champions; there was no World Series
- Won three-game playoff against Brooklyn Dodgers
- Won three-game playoff against Brooklyn Dodgers
- Won three-game playoff against Milwaukee Braves
- Won three-game playoff against Los Angeles Dodgers
- The season was shortened by a strike; a special postseason format was used
- The season was ended by a strike and the postseason was cancelled; the Expos had the best record in the league when the season ended
- The season was shortened by the coronavirus pandemic; a special postseason format was used
- David Bohmer: "William Hulbert: Father of Professional Sports Leagues", in Stuart Shea, ed.: North Side, South Side, All Around Town, The National Pastime, SABR, 2015. ISBN 978-1-93359987-8
- Michael Haupert: "William Hulbert and the Birth of the National League", The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Vol. 44, Number 1 (Spring 2015), pp. 83-92.
- Donald Honig: The National League: An Illustrated History, Crown Publishers, New York, NY, 1983. ISBN 0517550415
- Tom Melville: Early Baseball and the Rise of the National League, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2001. ISBN 978-0-7864-0962-4
-  An article examining the differences between the National and American Leagues over the decades in The Hardball Times, part 1.
-  An article examining the differences between the National and American Leagues over the decades in The Hardball Times, part 2.
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