The National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, or simply the National League, is the older of two leagues constituting Major League Baseball in the United States and Canada (until 2005 when the Montreal Expos moved to Washington) and the world's oldest extant professional team sports league. Founded February 2, 1876 to replace the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, it is sometimes called the Senior Circuit in contrast to the "junior circuit" of the American League, founded only in 1900-1901. The two league champions of 1903 arranged to meet in the World Series and, after the 1904 champions failed to do likewise, the two leagues have arranged for that annual culmination of the American baseball season, missing only in 1994. National League teams have won 42 and lost 60 of the 102 World Series played between these two leagues, 1903 to 2006.
By 1875, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was on shaky ground. The N.A. suffered from a lack of strong authority over clubs, unsupervised scheduling, unstable membership, dominance by one team, and an extremely cheap ($10) entry fee that gave clubs no incentive to abide by league rules when it was not convenient.
William Hulbert, a Chicago businessman and officer of the Chicago White Stockings approached several N.A. clubs with the plan for a league with stronger central authority and exclusive territories in larger cities only. Additionally, Hulbert had a problem, five of his star players were treated from expulsion from the NAPBBP because Hulbert had signed them to his club using what were considered questionable means. Hulbert had a great vested interest in creating his own league. After recruiting St. Louis privately, four western clubs met in Louisville, Kentucky in January 1876. With Hulbert speaking for the four in New York City on February 2, 1876, the National League was established with eight charter members.
- Chicago White Stockings from the N.A. (now the Chicago Cubs)
- Athletic of Philadelphia from the N.A. (expelled after the 1876 season)
- Boston Red Stockings, the dominant team in the N.A. (now the Atlanta Braves)
- Hartford Dark Blues from the N.A. (folded after the 1877 season)
- Mutual of New York from the N.A. (expelled after the 1876 season)
- St. Louis Brown Stockings (Browns) from the N.A. (folded after the 1877 season, having committed to Louisville stars for 1878)
- Cincinnati Red Stockings, a new franchise, unrelated to the team by the same name that folded in 1870 (expelled after the 1880 season)
- Louisville Grays, a new franchise (folded after the 1877 season when four players were banned for gambling)
The National League's formation meant the death of the N.A., as its remaining clubs folded or reverted to amateur or minor status. (The only strong club from 1875 excluded in 1876 was a second one in Philadelphia, often called the White Stockings or Phillies. But there would have been other entries under the established open enrollment system.)
The new league's authority was tested after the first season. The Athletic and Mutual clubs fell behind in the standings and refused to make western road trips late in the season, preferring to play games against local nonleague competition to recoup some of their losses rather than travel extensively. Hulbert reacted to the clubs defiance by expelling them, an act which not only shocked baseball followers (New York and Philadelphia were by far the two most populous cities in the league at the time) but made it clear to clubs that league schedule commitments, a cornerstone of competition integrity, were not to be ignored.
The National League operated with six clubs for 1877 and 1878. Over the next several years, teams came and went except for the stable Boston and Chicago entries as the league struggled. When all eight participants for 1881 returned for 1882, the first offseasion without turnover in members, the "circuit" was two nearly straight lines between the anchor cities, with Detroit, Buffalo, Troy, and Worcester on the northern route; Providence and Cleveland constituting its south.
The N.L. encountered its first strong rival organization when the American Association began play that same year of 1882, although direct competition was merely impending, with the A.A. circuit a distant southerly line stretching from St. Louis to Philadelphia. The A.A. offered Sunday games and alcoholic beverages in locales where that was permitted, and it sold cheaper tickets everywhere (25 cents versus the N.L.'s standard 50 cents, a hefty sum for many in 1882).
The National League and American Association participated in a version of the World Series seven times during their ten-year coexistence, though the series were only exhibition games arranged by the teams involved. The N.L. won most of those encounters, while some ended in ties due to disputes or other issues.
After the 1891 season, the A.A. disbanded and merged with the N.L., which became known legally for the next decade as the "National League and American Association". The teams now known as the Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers (in Brooklyn) and Pittsburgh Pirates (as well as the now defunct Cleveland Spiders) had already switched from the A.A. to the N.L. prior to 1892. With the merger the N.L. absorbed the team now known as the St. Louis Cardinals, along with three other teams which did not survive into the 20th century.
The National League became a 12-team circuit with monopoly status for the rest of the decade. The league became embroiled in numerous internal conflicts, not the least of which was a plan supported by some owners (and bitterly opposed by others) to form a "trust," wherein there would be one common ownership of all twelve N.L. teams. The N.L. used its monopoly power to force a $2,400 limit on annual player wages in 1894.
Then, the league contracted to eight teams for the 1900 season, eliminating its teams in Baltimore, Cleveland, Louisville, and Washington. This provided an opportunity for competition. Three of those cities received franchises in the new American League in 1901. The A.L. declined to renew its National Agreement membership when it expired, and on January 28, 1901, officially declared itself a second major league. By 1903, the upstart A.L. had located teams in Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. Only the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates had no A.L. team in their markets.
The National League at first refused to recognize the new league, but reality set in as talent and money drained away to the new league. After two years of bitter contention a new version of the National Agreement was signed in 1903. This meant formal acceptance of each league by the other as an equal partner in major league baseball.
After the contraction to eight teams in 1900, the National League circuit did not change until 1953 when the Braves moved from Boston to Milwaukee; in 1966 the club moved on to Atlanta. In 1958 the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants moved to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, bringing major league baseball to the West Coast of the U.S. for the first time.
The N.L. remained an eight-team league until 1962, when it added the New York Mets and the Houston Colt .45s (renamed the Houston Astros in 1965). In 1969 the league added the San Diego Padres and the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals), becoming a 12-team league for the first time since 1899. In 1993 the league expanded again, adding the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins. In 1998, the Arizona Diamondbacks became the league's fifteenth franchise, and the Milwaukee Brewers moved from the American League to the National, to make the National League the 16-team league it is today.
As a result of expansion to 12 teams in 1969, the National League, which for the first 93 years of its existence competed equally in a single grouping, reorganized into two divisions of six teams (East and West), with the division champions meeting in the National League Championship Series (an additional round of postseason competition) for the right to advance to the World Series. Beginning with the 1994 season, the league has been divided into three divisions (East and West with 5 teams each and Central consisting of six teams), with the addition of a wild card team (the team with the best record among those finishing in second place) to enable four teams to advance to the preliminary National League Division Series.
Often characterized as being a more "traditional" or "pure" league, the National League (as of 2005 at least) has never adopted the designated hitter rule as did the American League in 1973. In theory, this means the role of the N.L. manager is somewhat expanded in comparison to the A.L., because the manager must take offense into account when making pitching substitutions and vice versa. There are perceived to be fewer home runs and big offensive plays due to the presence of the pitcher in the batting order, although this is not always the case.
For the first 96 years of its coexistence with the American League, National League teams faced their A.L. counterparts only in exhibition games or in the World Series. Beginning in 1997, however, interleague games have been played during the regular ("championship") season, and count in the standings.
Through the 2006 season, the Dodgers have won the most National League pennants (21, plus one A.A. pennant), followed closely by the Giants (20) and Cardinals (17, plus 4 A.A. pennants). Representing the National League against the American, the Cardinals have won the most World Series (10) followed by the Dodgers (6), Pirates (5), and Giants (5). St. Louis also holds the distinction of being the only A.A. club to defeat an N.L. club in the 19th century version of the World Series.
Charter franchises (1876)
The original eight charter teams were the following:
- Athletic of Philadelphia from National Association, expelled after 1876 season
- Boston Red Stockings (some say Red Caps) from National Association (now the Atlanta Braves)
- Chicago White Stockings from National Association (now the Chicago Cubs)
- Cincinnati Red Stockings new franchise, expelled after 1880 season
- Hartford Dark Blues (later the Brooklyn Hartfords) from National Association, folded after 1877 season
- Louisville Grays new franchise, folded after 1877 season
- Mutual of New York from National Association, expelled after 1876 season
- St. Louis Brown Stockings from National Association, folded after 1877 season
Other franchises, 1878-1891
Joined in 1878
- Indianapolis Blues, folded after 1878
- Milwaukee Grays, folded after 1878
- Providence Grays, folded after 1885
Joined in 1879
- Buffalo Bisons, folded after 1885
- Cleveland Blues, folded after 1884
- Syracuse Stars, folded after 1879
- Troy Trojans, folded after 1882
Joined in 1880
- Worcester Worcesters, folded after 1882 (contrary to many sources, they were not called the Ruby Steps)
Joined in 1881
- Detroit Wolverines, folded after 1888
Joined in 1883
Joined in 1885
- St. Louis Maroons, joined from U.A., folded after 1886
Joined in 1886
Joined in 1887
Joined in 1889
- Cleveland Spiders, joined from A.A., folded after 1899
Joined in 1890
Post-AA merger, 1892-1899
In 1892, the National League absorbed the American Association, bringing in four teams from the A.A., in addition to the four teams that had switched leagues in the preceding half-decade. From 1892 through 1899, the twelve teams in what, for a time, was termed the "National League and American Association" were the following:
- Baltimore Orioles joined from A.A. in 1892, contracted after 1899
- Boston Beaneaters (now the Atlanta Braves), N.L. charter member, originated in N.A.
- Brooklyn Dodgers (now the Los Angeles Dodgers), joined from A.A. in 1890
- Chicago White Stockings or Colts (now the Chicago Cubs), N.L. charter member, originated in N.A.
- Cincinnati Reds, joined from A.A. in 1890
- Cleveland Spiders, joined from A.A. in 1889, contracted after 1899
- Louisville Colonels, joined from A.A. in 1892, contracted after 1899
- New York Giants (now the San Francisco Giants), enfranchised 1883
- Philadelphia Phillies, enfranchised 1883
- Pittsburgh Pirates, joined from A.A. in 1887
- St. Louis Browns (now the St. Louis Cardinals), joined from A.A. in 1892
- Washington Senators, joined from A.A. in 1892, contracted after 1899
After the 1899 season, the league contracted for the first time since 1877, dropping four clubs and leaving the "classic eight" teams which would stay in place for over 50 years: Boston (eventually to become known as the Boston Braves), Brooklyn (eventually the Brooklyn Dodgers), Chicago (eventually the Chicago Cubs), Cincinnati Reds, New York Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, and St. Louis Cardinals.
Contraction, expansion and relocation, 1900-present
- 1900: Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Spiders, Louisville Colonels, and Washington Senators or Nationals are all dropped from the National League
- 1953: Boston Braves move to Milwaukee
- 1958: Brooklyn Dodgers move to Los Angeles and New York Giants move to San Francisco
- 1962: Houston Colt .45s (renamed Astros in 1965) and New York Mets enfranchised
- 1966: Milwaukee Braves move to Atlanta
- 1969: Montreal Expos and San Diego Padres enfranchised
- 1993: Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins enfranchised
- 1998: Arizona Diamondbacks enfranchised
- 1998: Milwaukee Brewers transfer from the American League to the National League
- 2005: Montreal Expos moved by MLB to Washington, renamed the Washington Nationals
National League East
- Atlanta Braves enfranchised 1871 as the Boston Red Stockings (or Red Caps) in National Association, and with connections to the original independent Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869-70; joined National League as Charter Member (1876), moved to Milwaukee (1953) and to Atlanta (1966). Oldest professional sports franchise in North America.
- Florida Marlins enfranchised 1993
- New York Mets enfranchised 1962
- Philadelphia Phillies enfranchised 1883
- Washington Nationals enfranchised 1969 as the Montreal Expos, moved to Washington (2005)
National League Central
- Chicago Cubs enfranchised 1874 in National Association, joined National League as Charter Member (1876). The club has played in its current city longer than any other American professional sports franchise.
- Cincinnati Reds enfranchised 1882 in American Association, joined National League (1890)
- Houston Astros enfranchised 1962 as the Houston Colt .45s, changed name to Astros (1965)
- Milwaukee Brewers enfranchised 1969 as the Seattle Pilots in American League, moved to Milwaukee (1970), joined National League (1998)
- Pittsburgh Pirates enfranchised 1882 in American Association, joined National League (1887)
- St. Louis Cardinals enfranchised 1882 in American Association, joined National League (1892)
National League West
- Arizona Diamondbacks enfranchised 1998
- Colorado Rockies enfranchised 1993
- Los Angeles Dodgers enfranchised 1884 as the Brooklyn Atlantics in American Association, soon acquired nickname "Dodgers" (from "Trolley Dodgers"), joined National League (1890), moved to Los Angeles (1958)
- San Diego Padres enfranchised 1969
- San Francisco Giants enfranchised 1883 in New York, moved to San Francisco (1958)
NL presidents 1876–1999
- Morgan G. Bulkeley 1876
- William A. Hulbert 1877–1882
- Arthur H. Soden 1882
- Abraham G. Mills 1883–1884
- Nicholas E. Young 1885–1902
- Harry C. Pulliam 1903–1909
- John A. Heydler 1909
- Thomas J. Lynch 1910–1913
- John K. Tener 1913–1918
- John A. Heydler 1918–1934
- Ford C. Frick 1934–1951
- Warren C. Giles 1951–1969
- Charles S. "Chub" Feeney 1970–1986
- A. Bartlett Giamatti 1986–1989
- William D. White 1989–1994
- Leonard S. Coleman, Jr. 1994–1999
Office eliminated in 1999, although Bill Giles, son of former NL President Warren C. Giles, currently holds the title of honorary National League president.
Several other sports have had leagues called "National League", usually with the sport name as a qualifier, including:
- National Hockey League, the major league of ice hockey in the United States and Canada
- National Football League, the major league of American football.
- There was once the National Basketball League, which merged with its rival the Basketball Association of America to form the National Basketball Association—the surviving major league of basketball in the United States and Canada.
- The National League Story, Lee Allen, Putnam, 1961.
- The American League Story, Lee Allen, Putnam, 1962.
- The Baseball Encyclopedia, published by MacMillan, 1968 and later.
- 19th century National League teams
- National League pennant winners 1876-1900
- National League pennant winners 1901-68
- National League Championship Series (NLCS)