Although the National Association only lasted for five seasons, it holds the distinction of being the first Major League. On this day in 1871, the first official game in MLB history was played.
Over the span of a few short decades, baseball had become a truly popular pastime. It had been a popular game up in the northeast, but when the Civil War occurred and the Yankees marched to war, they brought the game with them. Baseball quickly spread across the country, and within six years of the war’s end, the first professional league was born.
The National Association, which would become the precursor to the modern National League, was formed in 1871. Comprising of nine teams, it became the first true instance of what would come to be known as MLB, with teams of paid professionals squaring off against one another in a set confederation.
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On this day, the first true MLB game was played. The Cleveland Forest Citys faced off against the Fort Wayne Kekiongas, with Cleveland securing a 2-0 victory. Bobby Mathews earned the win, defeating Al Pratt. Deacon White, who would later be inducted into the Hall of Fame, was 3-4, with his double accounting for the first hit in MLB history.
It is also interesting that this game was a shutout. In the 127 games played in the NA, there were only four shutouts all season, including this performance. It is also worth noting that teams scored an average of approximately 10.5 runs per game, making this an extremely low scoring affair, and quite unusual for the NA.
Interestingly enough, the NA also did not include the first professional team. The Cincinnati Reds, just two years ago to the day, established themselves as a team of professionals, travelling the country for pay. They played their first pro game on this day in 1869, defeating the Cincinnati Great Westerns by a score of 45-9.
The NA would only last for five years, plagued by inner turmoil and weaker teams joining to get those professional teams to their home park, and dropping out before needing to hit the road. In 1876, the NA folded, with the stronger teams forming the modern National League.