Major League Baseball
MLB History: First Professional Baseball League Founded
Major League Baseball

MLB History: First Professional Baseball League Founded

Updated Mar. 4, 2020 5:07 p.m. ET

While the National League is the oldest continually running professional baseball league, it was not the first one to come about. What came to be known as the MLB began on this day in 1871, when the National Association was incorporated.

It seems as though the MLB always existed in one way or another. Baseball became a part of the country's identity early on, and references to the game can be found dating back into the 18th century. Who knows what kind of talent existed back then in the town leagues or informal gatherings to play the game?

Eventually, the Cincinnati Reds became the first professional team, setting the stage for other teams to copy that model. When enough of those teams came into being, it made sense that they would form their own league. As such, on this day in 1871, the first professional baseball league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players came into being.

The league seemed to be a great idea. For a $10 entry fee, teams could join the National Association, joining the ranks of what became the first Major League. The league would go on to have some success in its first season, with fans and pundits alike becoming fans.


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    Unfortunately, there were issues that quickly came to the surface. Teams would join in order to lure top teams to their parks, but then drop out before needing to go on a road trip. Harry Wright's Boston entry dominated the league. The league also lacked a central office, making it virtually impossible to police the action.

    Eventually, the stronger teams grew frustrated with the NA. The league survived until 1875, when the top six teams, led by William Hulbert, decided that it was time to form their own league. Joined by the Reds and the Louisville Grays, the eight teams formed the National League. That spelled the end of the NA, as the first league petered out.

    The true stature of the National Association has been a cause of debate for some time as well. For years, the MLB refused to recognize it as a true major league. However, as it included six of the first eight teams in the National League, and many of the top players from that time, the NA is certainly deserving of that status.

    Professional baseball truly came into being on this day in 1871. With stronger leadership and higher standards, the National Association may have even survived to this day.


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