November 14, 1889: After nine years of expulsion, the Cincinnati Reds are readmitted to the National League.
While it’s commonly known that the Cincinnati Red Stockings were considered to be the first “professional” baseball team in 1869, the Red Stockings were disbanded after 1870. Cincinnati did not field a team in the first “National Association” which existed from 1871-1875. The National Association is not considered today to have been a Major League, but the NA did morph into the National League in 1876 and the Cincinnati Reds did field a team in this first Major League from 1876-1880.
However, these Reds teams were bad baseball teams, producing records of 9-56 and 15-42 in their first two seasons. The Reds went and signed some quality free agents and improved to 37-23 and 43-37, but was still losing money, and released the players. Piecing together a team for 1880, the Reds went 21-59 and attendance collapsed. To build revenue, the Reds resorted to selling alcohol at the ball park and leasing the park on Sundays to other local teams (both items prohibited by the National League) and the team was expelled from the league.
Cincinnati did not have a professional team in 1881, but Cincinnati representatives were instrumental in founding the American Association in 1882. The Cincinnati Red Stockings were one of the better organizations in the AA and had contending/winning teams in every season except for one from 1882-1889. Meanwhile, the National League had also expelled teams or did not field teams from New York and Philadelphia for different reasons, leaving the NL without teams in three large metropolitan areas.
Various leagues tried to form during this time and league fought over players. Of the leagues that formed, today only the Union Association (1884), the Player’s League (1890), and the American Association (1882-1891) are considered to have been major leagues in today’s statistical record. Cincinnati had teams in two of these leagues. The Cincinnati Outlaw Reds played in the one season of the Union Association (69-36). Cincinnati had two different teams in the American Association. The Red Stockings played in the AA from 1882-89 as mentioned above, but when that squad returned to the NL, the AA authorized the franchise called Cincinnati Kelly’s Killers (sometimes referred to as the Cincinnati Porkers, 43-57) in 1891 to replace the Red Stockings. The AA and the NL merged following the 1891 season and this Cincinnati squad was disbanded.
The AA had the misstep of having a power struggle at the top at the end of 1889 season and deadlocked on a 4-4 team tie for a new league president. Cincinnati and Brooklyn took this opportunity to express their dissatisfaction and the direction of the AA and jumped back to the National League. Philadelphia had been operating with franchises in both major leagues for several years. Meanwhile, the “Brotherhood” formed, the players’ first truly successful attempt at organizing their labor “force” versus the owners of the time. The attempt was strong enough that many of the Brotherhood leaders had formed a “Player’s League” for the 1890 season with franchises in the major metropolitan areas of the United States. The National League rushed to get teams back in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and New York (Brooklyn) for 1890 to fight off this new major league.
Cincinnati briefly had a team in this Player’s League, but the organization never played an official major league game. After re-admission to the National League, the Reds had one of the stronger teams in the league, finishing 77-55. No Player’s League team was operating in Cincinnati and the Reds had not suffered player losses to the new league. However, after the completion of the 1890 season, Reds ownership team lead by Aaron Stern withdrew the team from the National League. Stern’s group sold the team to a group led by Albert Johnson who intended to move the team to the Player’s League for the 1891 season. Unfortunately for Johnson, the Player’s League disbanded in January, 1891, and Johnson decided to return to the American Association for 1891.
However, the National League, not happy with the recent moves by Cincinnati, awarded a new Cincinnati franchise to owner John T. Brush, who then considered moving the team to Indianapolis since Johnson had leased the ballpark and had the players under his control. Stern’s 1890 NL Reds had not turned a profit, despite having a good team, and Johnson was able to sell his interests back to the National League, too, and the ballpark and most of the players were back in the National League in time for the 1891 season. The Player’s League Reds had gone as far as to have played some exhibition games in the fall of 1890 showcasing their new team for 1890.
It wasn’t quite that easy as just returning to the National League. The American Association was angry at losing the Cincinnati franchise again and fielded a team (the Kelly’s Killers) anyway and secured an injunction against the NL and prevented the league from paying Johnson the purchase price. These lawsuits went on for more than a decade and were not settled until Johnson’s death in 1901. By this time, the AA had folded and another organization, the Western League, had become a new Major League (called the American League) to compete with the National League for players. Cincinnati did not field a team in the Western League nor did Cincinnati have a team in the Federal League (1914-15) which is also considered a major league by baseball historians. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds played on with the players they had signed and with Brush’s new ownership group.
There have been other proposed major league organizations. The Mexican League (1946-47) attempted to compete with Major League baseball and had raided the league of some players, but never really made it to major league status. Many people believe the Pacific Coast League may have been of major league quality up through the 1950’s before Major League expansion and team movement brought recognized Major League baseball to the west coast. The Continental League was another strong attempt in forming a new Major League in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. That league did not come to fruition, but did lead to the Major League expansion clubs of the New York Mets and Houston Colt .45s. Future Reds General Manager Bob Howsam was one of the principals in formation of the Continental Baseball League. Cincinnati did not field teams in either of these three league organizations.
Today’s best Japanese leagues are nearing major league quality according to some sabermetricians. It is hard to say where the Negro Leagues of the first half of the 20th Century fit into major league level discussions. Obviously, many of baseball’s greatest players played in those leagues during that time, but the competitive talent wasn’t always balanced; but neither was the National League’s in it’s early days.
As for the Reds Stockings…their principal leaders, brothers Harry Wright and George Wright, took the team concept and many of it’s players to Boston and formed the Boston Red Stockings. The Boston Red Stockings did join the National Association and have continued operation through this day using a variety of team nicknames and even traveling through different cities. They became the Boston Red Caps, the Boston Beaneaters, the Boston Doves, the Boston Rustlers, the Boston Braves, the Boston Bees, the Boston Braves (again), the Milwaukee Braves, and they are now the Atlanta Braves.
Information for this article was taken from “Redleg Journal” by Greg Rhodes and John Snyder, “The Ball Clubs” by Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella, and “The Great Encyclopedia of 19th-Century Major League Baseball” by David Nemec.