Professional baseball celebrated its centennial in 1969, 100 years after the original Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first team to be paid for its efforts, closed out its first season. (It never made it through the second because the players clamored for more money, and the owners decided to fold the team instead of paying up—no kidding.) But if you ask most baseball fans when major league baseball started, the answer will invariably be 1876, the year the National League was formed. Ask the Commissioner's Office, and they'll say the same thing. People tend to ignore the National Association (1871-75), and, in my opinion, this negligence is idiotic and hypocritical.
The Special Baseball Records Committee, a group that was formed in 1968 to "establish rules governing recordkeeping procedures that mostly concern past play," put a rule in the books that the National Association "shall not be considered as a 'major league' due to its erratic schedule and procedures..."
The schedule could well have been erratic—it was 1871, after all. Erratic procedures? Like the Washington Olympics dropping seven of their first nine in 1872 and calling it quits? Sure that's erratic—the 1982 Baltimore Orioles probably wish they could've done the same thing when they started the season losing 10 of their first 12—but consider the final standings of the 1884 Union Association. It was the second league, after the American Association, launched in 1882, to compete with the National League. The Union Association, which lasted only one year, is categorized as a major league operation by the Special Baseball Records Committee, but look at its record:
Only five of these teams completed the season intact: Cincinnati, Baltimore, Boston, Washington and St. Louis. The others folded during the season and still other teams picked up the schedules: Philadelphia was replaced by Wilmington and then by Milwaukee; Altoona was replaced by Kansas City. The Chicago team had stiff competition for attendance from the National League White Stockings, so it moved to Pittsburgh. But even there the fans stayed away, so the team folded and St. Paul completed that schedule. Even with this help, however, the number of games played by most of the teams varied and thus the second-place team was able to finish 14½ games behind the third-place team.
Other "major league" teams also performed erratically. The 1899 NL Cleveland Spiders (20-134, 84 games out) played their last 127 games on the road, and there wasn't much that was normal about the 1981 schedule, either.
There may be good reason for excluding the National Association from the "major leagues," but its "erratic schedule and procedures" shouldn't count. It just doesn't seem right to exclude an entire league, its men and their accomplishments, because of a modern-day value judgment that doesn't hold up.