Before there was a National League, there was the National Association. Before the NA, there was the National Association of Base Ball Players. And if we avoid looking directly at it, we get a glimpse of what it might have been like….
Actually, I’m being overdramatic. We have records of NABBP-era games. They’re sensible, but to our eyes weird. The stats they kept were runs, outs, hits, and total bases, and not all of those necessarily in the same season. Teams scored dozens of runs per game. The pitcher served the ball up, wrist-snapping being prohibited. Gamblers often had their own areas in the park.
But it was baseball. And for the top players and clubs, it was professional baseball, though not overtly.
There were real games with real players, playing for real wins and real honors.
The NABBP was organized mostly around New York area clubs in the time between the emergence of the New York game and the professional era. The NABBP kept on a few more years after the NA kicked off league play, and many of the NABBP teams remained independent and continued to tour. But professional baseball had arrived.
There was no bright line demarcating the NABBP era from the NA era. That’s something we’ve done retrospectively because we have good stats for one, and fewer and stranger ones for the other.
The NA was just the next thing; it grew naturally out of baseball’s increasing national popularity and changing attitudes about professionalism. The players in the NA had usually played on NABBP clubs such as the Atlantic, the Red Stockings, and the Excelsiors just months before.
The NABBP is information, data, even if it’s not as familiar as history since. But that doesn’t make it easy to sift through, no matter how we look at it.