Baseball is North America’s oldest and most storied professional team sport. Certainly, there have been numerous moments which are still remembered by baseball fans of all ages many years after they happened. We all remember moments like “The Catch” in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series and Bill Mazeroski’s World Series winning home run in 1960. There are also the players who transcend the ages like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson. These players continue live on in the hearts and minds of the nation long after their playing days are over. The great players, teams and memorable moments of the 20th century are well remembered, but somewhat less known are those of the 19th century that helped to shape the game and provide a foundation for the great national past time that would develop in the current century.
For the great Yankee teams of the 20’s, 30’s 40’s and 50’s, there are the St. Louis Browns of the American Association and Chicago White Stockings and Boston Red Stockings of the National League. The Ty Cobbs and Walter Johnsons of the game had their match in Cap Anson, Dan Brouthers and Amos Rusie. Colorful characters like Casey Stengel and Reggie Jackson had their equals in Arlie Latham and Mike “King” Kelly. It has been said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. This is certainly the case in baseball. The franchise shifts, player movements and salary issues of today are certainly not new, although the first half of the 20th century would give that impression. Since the National League began in 1876, at least one major league franchise either moved to a new city, moved to a new league, or has folded every year until 1893. Player movement of the early major leagues occurred quite frequently. Constant player movement and contract jumpers – players who left their old team for a better offer, often in the middle of the season – prompted Boston owner Arthur Soden to devise the reserve clause in 1879. There were also many player raids by teams on others, usually during the offseason, but occasionally – usually when a new league incited a war with the established leagues – during the season as well. The owners were always complaining that the players’ $2500 salaries were too much. In 1889, owners took it upon themselves to impose a player classification system to control salaries that led to the formation of a new league by the players.