The Beer and Whiskey League

William Hulbert made so many enemies as President of the National League that you begin to wonder if he simply had an aversion to friends. He managed to alienate most of the other league owners at one time or another in his tenure. Doing so in 1880 gave him a new rival for his league, the American Association.

In 1880 the Cincinnati Reds were in trouble financially, not to mention on the field. To solve their financial problem they decided to ignore three significant National Legue rules. First, they began renting out their park on off days and when they were on the road to local semipro teams. Then those teams  began selling beer in the stands. Finally, as Sunday was always an off day, the semipros began scheduling games on Sunday. It wa all too much for William Hulbert and the other owners. On 4 October 1880, the owners met in Rochester, NY and voted to “prohibit the sale of every description of malt, spiritous or vinous liquors” on league grounds. Cincinnati more or less politely told them to go to hell. On 6 October 1880, Cincinnati was expelled from the National League.

It took a year of planning and plotting, but Cincinnati struck back in 1881. On 2 November of that year a number of businessmen joined together to form the American Association. It had six clubs and six owners. Every owner was involved in the liquor business in some shape or form (brewer, distiller, saloon owner, etc). That led to the immediate nickname of “The Beer and Whiskey League.”

The Association began play in 1882 with teams located in Cincinnati (who won the initial pennant), Philadelphia, Louisville, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Baltimore. In 1882 they were joined by teams in New York and Columbus, Ohio. From the beginning the Association was a thorn to the NL. They raided teams, brought new teams into NL towns, they charged less for tickets, allowed beer and liquor to be sold in the stands, and were just simply a nuisance that cut deeply into NL attendance. The quality of play varied, but some of the teams were good.

In 1883, the two leagues settled their differences and created the League-Association Alliance that bound the two groups to honor each other’s contracts, create a common reserve rule, and to accept each other’s black lists. In 1884 they agreed to a postseason contest between the two league champions. This “World Series” lasted until 1890.

At the end of 1890, the two leagues argued over the spoils of the now defunct Player’s League (see previous post). The Association was already in deep financial trouble, and when the NL managed to corral almost all the top Player’s League talent, the Association bolted from the agreement and went it alone. The decision was fatal. The Association floundered and the NL moved to kill it off. The League offered to absorb four Association teams: St. Louis (now the Cardinals), Baltimore, Washington, and Louisville. Each team accepted and the Association died.

The Association died for a number of reasons, not least of which was the loss of four of it’s strongest teams. But it also had other problems. The Association never had the funding the NL had. It’s teams were owned by magnates with smaller fortunes (that’s, of course, not universally true, but as a rule is correct) thus less money was available. The cities were smaller. The Association put teams in Columbus, Milwaukee, Toledo, Rochester, Syracuse, Kansas City and Richmond. Nice towns, but not big metropolitan centers. They each had trouble drawing crowds. Finally, the Association was, for about haf its history not particularly competitive. Of 10 pennants, St. Louis won four. The others were won by different teams, but one of them, Brooklyn, immediately bolted for the NL, and Cincinnati, which had been critical in instituting the Association, moved back to the NL at a later date. That’s not real good for stability when your pennant winners are moving out as quickly as possible.

For ten years the Beer and Whiskey League gave Major League baseball a second league to compete with the already established National League. They also ended up winning the war over beer and alcohol and Sunday games because the NL adopted both ideas as soon as the Association folded. Finally the ballpark hot dog was, according to legend, invented by the Association (specifically in St. Louis). If that’s true, then that alone guarantees the American Association an honored place in baseball. Pass the mustard.


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2 Responses to “The Beer and Whiskey League”

  1. Kevin G Says:

    Anyone interested in more information should check out David Nemec’s book The Beer And Whiskey League.


  2. verdun2 Says:

    Exactly. Good book with much more detail than this little blog.

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