In 1876, a group of owners and team officials gathered at a New York hotel to draft and sign the constitution that created baseball’s National League and would ultimately have ramifications far beyond the diamond. The principles the document laid out, largely the work of Chicago White Stockings owner William Hulbert, would provide the basic model for every major team sports league in the world that followed.
Base-ball, as it was called in the mid-1800s, was a lawless enterprise. Alcohol, gambling, rudeness, disloyalty and quitting (by players and teams) in the middle of a season, players sitting among the spectators, spectators disrupting play on the field were symptoms of a game that was in many ways considered disgraceful.
In the wake of its record-breaking $3.26 million sale last spring of the 1857 Laws of Base Ball documents, SCP Auctions has unveiled the recently discovered 1876 Founding Documents and Original Constitution of Major League Baseball, a hand-written, 74-page sports artifact, which will go up for auction May 24. Bidding will close June 10.
It could be called the Ten Commandments of Major League Baseball, even though it’s 74 pages long. Or perhaps, since it has just been discovered, it could be baseball’s version of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Regardless, the 1876 “Founding Documents and Original Constitution of Major League Baseball” are a valuable piece of sports memorabilia. The documents will go on sale May 24 in online bidding sponsored by SCP Auctions.
A year after selling the much-publicized 1857 “Laws of Base Ball” for $3.26 million last year, SCP Auctions will offer the documents that led to the formation of Major League Baseball beginning next month. The 1876 “Founding Documents and Original Constitution of Major League Baseball,” is a previously unknown hand-written, 74-page artifact that auction officials say is of “unprecedented historical significance.”
On Feb. 2, 1876, Chicago White Stockings president William Hulbert called a meeting with the owners of several National Association teams beset by financial troubles and a lack of meaningful central authority, the N.A. was floundering, and Hulbert wanted to create something better from its ashes. By the end of the day, the National League was born.
In the wake of its record-breaking $3.26 million sale last April of the 1857 “Laws of Base Ball” documents, SCP Auctions now unveils the recently discovered and never-before-offered 1876 “Founding Documents and Original Constitution of Major League Baseball,” a hand-written, 74-page sports artifact of unprecedented historical significance.
“This, the founding document of Major League Baseball, is a central piece of Americana, inaugurating an institution that would come to be a defining aspect of American culture,” says Dan Imler, vice president of SCP Auctions.
Baseball first became an occupational endeavor in 1869, when the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first team to pay its players a salary. The dawn of professional baseball, however, was plagued by a lack of governance that seeded corruption and instability. Teams folded regularly due to the unregulated and often crooked practices of players and owners alike. By the end of the 1875 season, the future of professional baseball was in peril. In 1876, its saviors emerged and Major League Baseball was born.
In a meeting held on Feb. 2, 1876, at the Grand Central Hotel in New York City, Chicago White Stockings owner William Hulbert persuaded a carefully assembled group of baseball luminaries to join his effort to bring order, dignity and profitability to the fledgling sport. Supported by fellow visionaries such as Albert Spalding, Harry Wright, Nicholas Young, Morgan Bulkeley and others Hulbert set forth his blueprint for the destiny of professional baseball.
Offered here are those very pages, the central handwritten documents crafted by Hulbert and his supporters in 1875-76 that established what endures today as America’s oldest professional sports league. The groundbreaking documents go up for auction on May 24th at www.scpauctions.com. The new association was called “The National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs” and consisted of just eight teams: the Boston Red Stockings, Chicago White Stockings, Cincinnati Reds, Hartford Dark Blues, Louisville Grays, New York Mutuals, Philadelphia Athletics and the St. Louis Brown Stockings. The first page of the original handwritten Constitution states the new league’s objectives as follows:
• to encourage, foster and elevate the game of base-ball;
• to enact and enforce proper rules for the exhibition and conduct of the game;
• to make base-ball playing respectable and honorable;
• to protect and promote the mutual interests of professional base-ball clubs and professional baseball players; and
• to establish and regulate the “Base-Ball Championship of the United States.”
“Nearly 150 years ago William Hulbert saw the future of what baseball could be,” says Imler. “He set a new standard for the game and created a professional baseball league that has not only lasted, but has blossomed into a global institution. The forum he created fostered legends from Cap Anson to Babe Ruth to Mike Trout and all the superstars of today. These men owe their identities to Major League Baseball and Major League Baseball owes its existence to Hulbert and this foundational set of documents.“
The documents have never been offered publicly. The sports world has known very few transcendent foundational documents that have surfaced in original form for public offering. In addition to the aforementioned 1857 “Laws of Base Ball” sold by SCP Auctions ($3.26 million), there are James Naismith’s “1891 Original Rules of Basketball” (sold for $4.3 million) and “The 1859 Original Rules of Soccer” (sold for $1.4 million).
Adds Imler: “We’ve sold some incredible baseball artifacts before – from Babe Ruth’s 1920 Yankees jersey for $4.4 million to Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series home run bat for $575,000 – but this artifact trumps them all. Without these documents, such objects would not exist.”
Bidding is open to registered bidders only at www.scpauctions.com beginning on Wed., May 24, and closing on Sat., June 10. For more information on how to participate and take part in the bidding, please call 949-831-3700 or visit www.scpauctions.com. – Terry Melia
On April 22, 1876 — 141 years ago this Saturday — the Boston Red Stockings beat the Philadelphia Athletics, 6-5, in the first game ever played in the National League of Professional Base-Ball Clubs, the outfit that would ultimately become Major League Baseball.
The league grew from the ashes of the failed National Association. It got its start at a Feb. 2, 1876 meeting organized by Chicago owner W.A. Hulbert in which the NL’s original eight franchises agreed, among other things, to discourage the gambling that had been prominent at N.A. games, to “make base-ball playing respectable and honorable,” and to end the practice of forfeiting games by teams that had fallen out of the pennant race.