As we’ve gone through this process at the Hall of Miller and Eric, we’ve offered an occasional series on “How the Hall Failed.” Until researching a decision on William Hulbert, I was so confident that Tommy McCarthy, Lloyd Waner, and Jesse Haines were about the worst selections the Hall has made. I’m not a fan of Candy Cummings, Rollie Fingers, or Wilbert Robinson either, but I understand how those debates may have gone.
Today I may have to consider that the worst Hall of Fame selection might have been Morgan Bulkeley. He was a Connecticut governor, a Hartford mayor, and the man who put together the Hartford Dark Blues of the National Association. Those are his good qualities as a candidate. Less strong qualities include sitting on the Mills Commission, the group that found Abner Doubleday invented baseball, and running the National League for its first season only, stepping down to pursue other interests. To be fair, he started cracking down on gambling, which is good, but he’s in the Hall pretty much just because he was the first President of the National League. He didn’t start the league, he didn’t seek the office, he didn’t perform particularly well, and he got out of the job as soon as he possibly could.
The first important President of the National League was the eighth person inducted into the Pioneer/Executive wing of the Hall of Miller and Eric, William Hulbert. If I were to mistakenly give exactly one person credit for the formation of the Senior Circuit, it would be him.
Hulbert was from Chicago, and he didn’t like the decidedly eastern bent of the National Association. He also didn’t care for the disorderliness of the league. And he really, really didn’t like teams who refused to complete their schedules. Under Hulbert’s watch, teams from the nation’s two largest cities, New York and Philadelphia, were thrown out of the league for doing just that. Hulbert saw that the fledgling league needed order and a centralized authority. He also predated Kenesaw Landis as someone who cracked down on illegal gambling, banning the group known as the “Louisville Four” for life after evidence was found showing three threw games for money and a fourth failed to comply with the investigation.
Hulbert wasn’t the first, but he was likely the most important President of the National League. Here’s why I think so. Just imagine what would become of the game if, say, the Braves and Twins decided in mid-August that it wasn’t fiscally wise to play the remainder of their games. If anything like that were tolerated, I don’t imagine the game would look remotely like it does today.
You know, I’ve asked you to imagine that situation. And I can’t. I can’t even imagine what would happen. William Hulbert was quite possibly a visionary. And at worst, he laid the groundwork for the first successful professional baseball league. That makes him very much deserving of recognition in the Hall of Miller and Eric. The Hall of Fame finally got it right in 1995; we were quicker.
Here are the eight current members of the Hall of Miller and Eric.
- Branch Rickey
- Kenesaw Mountain Landis
- Marvin Miller
- Henry Chadwick
- Bill James
- Doc Adams
- Charlie Comiskey
- William Hulbert
Stop by next week when we reveal number nine.