The founding document of professional sports

The founding document of professional sports June 1, 2017


On February 2, 1876, the constitution of the National Baseball League was signed.

Before that, playing a sport professionally meant that the players split the money that the fans paid to watch the game.  Amateur sports was considered far more honorable.

The document establishing the National League not only was foundational for baseball.  It was foundational for all professional sports to come.   Among other things, it established that teams would be owned and that the owners would pay athletes to play for them.

This founding document has been put up for sale.  (The auction referred to in the story after the jump has been postponed, due to a dispute over who currently owns it.)

From Andrew Dalton, National League’s founding constitution from 1876 to be auctioned, Associated Press:

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.

The constitution is getting a public airing for the first time in more than a century when it’s put up for sale by SCP Auctions of Laguna Niguel, California, starting Wednesday.

It offers a glimpse into a time when nearly half the teams in the league had “stockings” in their names, 50 cents for a ticket was considered a steep price, and getting paid to play sports was deemed dirty. . . .

On Feb. 2, 1876, in a meeting at the Grand Central Hotel in New York that included other early baseball luminaries like Harry Wright and Al Spalding, the new constitution of the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs was drafted and signed.

It listed on its opening page its central principles, including:

— “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.”

But it did something far more revolutionary in sports. It created a strict division between capital and labor. Owners and their officers ran the business end, and paid wages to the players.

“Hulbert was a genius in the model he created with the National League,” Thorn said. “It is this model that gave birth to every professional sports league that followed, from football to basketball to European football. Professional sports teams owe everything to Hulbert.”

[Keep reading. . .]

Photo of the Chicago White Stockings, 1885. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.  On the front row, far right, is future evangelist Billy Sunday.

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