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What does the American Association have to do with the 2013 Nation League playoffs?

The American Association was a baseball league that existed from 1882 to 1891. It was formed to challenge the National League, and competed by offering cheaper tickets (generally 25 cents, compared to the NL’s 50 cent tickets), games on Sundays, and beer and whiskey for sale at ballparks. For most of its run, the league was fairly popular, especially in river cities with large immigrant populations, who appreciated the cheaper price, Sunday games and access to that sweet, sweet beer. It was considered a major league for much of its existence, and there was even a world series played between the AA’s pennant winner and the NL’s pennant winner seven times. Eventually, however, the deeper pockets of the NL allowed it to lure some of the AA’s teams away, and the formation of the Player’s League weakened the AA more than the NL. Finally, after the 1891 season, the AA went out of business. However, over the course of the AA’s existence, eight of the AA’s teams joined the NL. Four of them, the Louisville Colonels, the Cleveland Spiders, the Washington Senators (no relation to either of the later Washington Senators franchises) and the Baltimore Orioles (no relation to the current Baltimore Orioles) were contracted by the NL after the 1899 season. The other four remain.

The Pittsburgh Alleghenys were formed in 1882 and were a founding member of the AA. They were originally based in the city of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, which was a separate city from Pittsburgh at that time (it was later incorporated into the city of Pittsburgh in the early 20th century). In 1887 they joined the NL, making them the first AA team to do so. In the NL, they became notorious for signing players from AA teams, most notably 2B Lew Bierbauer from the AA’s Philadelphia Athletics. The AA lodged an official complaint with the NL about the Alleghenys’ behavior, in which the AA denounced the Alleghenys for being "piratical." The Alleghenys made light of that accusation, renaming themselves the Pittsburgh Pirates beginning in the 1891 season, although the word did not appear on their uniforms until 1912.

The Brooklyn Atlantics were founded in 1883 and competed in the minor league Inter-State Association of Professional Baseball Clubs that year. The won the title that year and were invited to join the AA in 1884. As the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, they won the AA pennant in 1889, and represented the AA in the World Series, losing to the NL’s New York Giants. They then joined the NL in 1890 and won the NL pennant that year, tying the AA’s Louisville Colonels in the World Series that year (3-3-1), meaning the same Brooklyn team played in the World Series two years in a row, representing two different leagues. Over its history, the Brooklyn team was known as the Atlantics, the Grays, the Bridegrooms, the Grooms, the Superbas, the Robins, the Trolley Dodgers and eventually the Dodgers. In 1958, the Brooklyn Dodgers moved west and became the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The St. Louis Brown Stockings became a member of the National Association in 1875, but that league folded after that year. The Brown Stockings were then a founding member of the NL in 1876, but were forced out of that league amid game-fixing scandals soon after. The team continued to exist in various forms as an amateur or semi-pro club until it was purchased by a German immigrant, grocery store owner, self-made entrepreneur and all-around fascinating character named Chris Von Der Ahe in 1882. The team then became a founding member of the AA. In 1883, they shortened their name from the Brown Stockings to the Browns, and it was around that time that they began sporting red stockings, hinting at another future change. They were the most successful AA club, amassing the best overall record in the AA’s history, and representing the league in the World Series four times, winning once, tying once and losing twice. They finally joined the NL after the AA folded in 1891, and in 1900 became the Cardinals that we all know and loathe to this day. Incidentally, the team has no relationship to the later American League St. Louis Browns, who are now known as the Baltimore Orioles. When the AL Browns were formed, they took the name as a tie to St. Louis’s rich baseball history.

As everyone reading this almost certainly knows, Cincinnati was the birthplace of fully and openly professional baseball with the founding of the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869. I’m sure most of us also know, that team folded in 1870, and many of its members, including player-manager Harry Wright and his brother George moved to Boston and founded the Boston Red Stockings in 1871, which later became the Boston Beaneaters, the Boston Doves, the Boston Braves, the Boston Bees, and then settling back on the Braves. They then spent a few years in Milwaukee before winding up in Atlanta in 1966, making the Atlanta Braves the oldest continually operating franchise not just in baseball, but in all of American sports.

There was a second version of Cincinnati professional baseball, with a Cincinnati team being a founding member of the NL in 1876. That team was expelled from the NL soon after, however, for selling beer at the ballpark. So in 1881, a Cincinnati sportswriter named O.P.Caylor formed what is technically the third version of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, who played in 1881 as an independent club. The first exhibition game that team played was in 1881, at the then St. Louis Brown Stockings, meaning the very first game the current incarnation of the Reds played was against the current incarnation of the Cardinals, which the Red Stockings won, 12-3. In 1882, the Red Stockings became a founding member of the AA, winning the AA pennant in its first year of existence (there was no world series played that year, sadly) with an 80-55 record. The Red Stockings left the AA after the 1889 season and joined the NL as the Reds for the 1890 season.

What does all this mean? Well, other than the fact that I probably have too much time on my hands, it means that this year’s crop of National League playoff teams have a long, fascinating, and intertwined history with each other. The five of them have been playing professional baseball for a combined 673 years. The newest of the NL’s 2013 playoff teams was founded in 1883, and the most recent to join the National League joined in 1892. All four of the surviving American Association teams, plus the oldest team in sports, will square off to determine the National League’s pennant winner. This is one of the many things I love about baseball, and what makes it so special to me. There’s no denying that sometimes baseball can be a bit precious about its own history, and slow to embrace progress. But I can’t look at this year’s playoff matchups without thinking of the past, and the fact that one of these great franchises will be adding yet another pennant, and writing yet another chapter in its history.

I hope it’s the Reds.



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