The only "third" major league to be of superior quality to the two alternatives, the Players League lasted just a single season. It was formed by the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players to combat the reserve clause and salary limits put in place while Brotherhood union John Ward and other players were touring overseas in the 1888-89 offseason. Officially called the Players' National League of Base Ball Clubs, it featured teams in 6 of the 8 NL cities and an American Association city and the top players from each league.
Lawsuits were filed against the PL's signing of Buck Ewing and for violation of the reserve clause but both were thrown out in court.
Unlike other major leagues, the PL aimed for parity between franchises, resulting in a close pennant race, and put a cap on team profits. The league's structure was organized by the players themselves - Brotherhood leaders Ward, Dan Brouthers and Tim Keefe. The league was governed by a 16-man senate, with 2 representatives from each team. While the league was backed by the American Federation of Labor, ticket costs were set to higher NL prices (50 cents) instead of the working class's American Association prices (25 cents).
One improvement they put in place was a two-umpire system. The league also came out with one of the most advanced scheduels ever, but the National League saw to counter it by scheduling home games to conflict with PL games - as a result, all teams suffered in attendance and the year was rough financially for all three major leagues. The three leagues together combined for about a million dollars in red ink. With the NL bluffing that it was strong financially, the Players League stopped their challenge and the NL returned to its tight salary system and reserve clause. A "peace meeting" between the NL, AA and PL (excluding the PL's main leaders) led to decisions that ruined the PL - the AA having already been destroyed by the largest financial losses of all 3 leagues, when it was clearly an afterthought to the two main leagues. The AA lingered around for only one more year before it too was absorbed into the NL. NL leader Al Spalding had certainly done an efficient job at clearing out the playing field of all rivals.
The NL-PL conflict had been the hottest in baseball history as lies, insults, mudslinging and rumors proliferated on both sides, giving newspapers lots of good stories.
Teams & Statistics
President: Colonel Edward A. McAlpin
|Boston Reds||81||48||.628||0||197,346||King Kelly|
|Brooklyn Wonders||76||56||.576||6.5||79,272||Monte Ward|
|New York Giants||74||57||.565||8||148,197||Buck Ewing|
|Chicago Pirates||75||62||.547||10||148,876||Charlie Comiskey|
|Philadelphia Quakers||68||63||.519||14||170,399||Jim Fogarty (7-9) / Buffinton (61-54)|
|Pittsburgh Burghers||60||68||.469||20.5||117,123||Ned Hanlon|
|Cleveland Infants||55||75||.423||26.5||58,430||Henry Larkin (34-45) / Tebeau (21-30)|
|Buffalo Bisons||36||96||.273||46.5||61,244||Jack Rowe (27-72) / Jay Faatz (9-24)|
|Pete Browning||Cleveland||BA||.387||Silver King||Chicago||W||32|
|Hugh Duffy||Chicago||Runs||161||Mark Baldwin||Chicago||W||32|
|Monte Ward||Brooklyn||Hits||207||Mark Baldwin||Chicago||SO||2.11|
|Hardy Richardson||Boston||RBI||143||Silver King||Chicago||ERA||2.69|
|Roger Connor||New York||HR||13||Bill Daley||Boston||Pct||.692; 18-8|
|Old Hoss Radbourn||Boston||Pct||.692; 27-12|
- Charles C. Alexander: Turbulent Seasons: Baseball in 1890-1891, Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, TX, 2011.
- Bryan Di Salvatore: A Clever Base-Ballist: The Life and Times of John Montgomery Ward, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, 1999.
- Gordon Gattie: "The Legacy of the Players League 1890 Chicago Pirates", in Stuart Shea, ed.: North Side, South Side, All Around Town, The National Pastime, SABR, 2015. ISBN 978-1-93359987-8
- James Hawking: Strikeout: Baseball, Broadway and the Brotherhood in the 19th Century, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, NM, 2012.
- Ed Koszarek: The Players League: History, Clubs, Ballplayers and Statistics, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2006.
- David Nemec: The Beer and Whisky League, Lyons Press, Guilford, CT, 2003 (originally published in 1995). ISBN 978-1558212855
- Scott D. Peterson: Reporting Baseball's Sensational Season of 1890: The Brotherhood War and the Rise of Modern Sports Journalism, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2015. ISBN 978-0-7864-7368-7
- Robert B. Ross: "The Great Baseball Revolt: The Rise and Fall of the 1890 Players League", University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2015. ISBN 978-0-8032-4941-7