- National Association as a major league
Whether to cover the National Association as a major league is a recurring and crucial matter of difference in historical work on American baseball—that is, among historians, encyclopedists, database builders, and others who work on the facts of baseball history on the playing field.
First Professional Baseball organization
The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was the first professional baseball organization. It operated from 1871 until 1875. Whether to cover it as a major league is crucial because the major leagues utterly dominate not only publication but thinking, talking, and writing about the history of the game on the field. The careers of players and field managers as participants, of clubs, and even cities, as competitors are all viewed through the prism of what was accomplished during their Major League careers.
For example, it is routine to say that a player's career began when he first appeared in a major league game. Players retire from baseball when they last appeared in a major league game. A player will have "played baseball for two seasons" if he appeared in major league games during two calendar years — whether he played two games in emergencies, recruited from the fans in attendance, or two full seasons during a professional career of twenty years.
The extreme abbreviation "NA" is common today. Even in formal prose, where it is often used in parentheses to make a proper noun such as "Boston (NA)". As such it specifies one baseball club among all those with names that have the natural short form "Boston", such as "Boston Base Ball Club, Incorporated".
The importance of and widespread familiarity with two-letter abbreviations for baseball leagues is related to the publication of encyclopedic works, in print for fifty years and on the web for ten years, whose main feature is historical playing records of baseball seasons. Leagues govern seasons, annual competitions with their own championships at stake, if nothing else. Leagues publish playing records for the participants in their league seasons. So league seasons have become the basic unit of baseball's historical record as it is widely disseminated; game records are retained by league offices or deposited in archives such as the Baseball Hall of Fame collections, when not lost in fires. The playing records portion of a baseball reference work is full of entries for individual players that consist mainly of long lines of numbers prefixed by something like "Bos NA 1871", specifying one club in one league-season. All of the (candidate) major leagues in baseball have standardized two-letter abbreviations such as NA — namely, NA, NL, AA, UA, PL, AL, FL — whose crucial value is in this encyclopedic context.
Whether or not the National Association should be counted as a major league has been in dispute for many years. Oft-cited arguments in its favor are its status as the first fully professional baseball league, and the fact that several of its teams continued on as part of the National League when it was founded in 1876. Arguments against generally revolve around the league's quality of play, significant differences in the sport's rules during the era, and the instability of the league, as many teams lasted only one season or part of a season.
To count or not to count
Some encyclopedias do not fully count any playing records in the limited sense that they do not publish any career totals or other sums of league-season records.
Baseball-Almanac. "Chick Fulmer Stats". Retrieved 2006-09-08. - does not cover NA
TheBaseballPage. "Chick Fulmer". Retrieved 2006-09-08. - counts NA
BaseballLibrary - counts NA - still used because it includes The Ballplayers biographical entries on important mlb players.
- Baseball-Reference. "Chick Fulmer". Retrieved 2006-09-08.
- Retrosheet. "Chick Fulmer". Retrieved 2006-09-08.
- Lowry, Philip ( ). Green Cathedrals. (first edition of the leading ballparks encyclopedia)
- Palmer, Pete ( ). Total Baseball .
- Palmer, Pete ( ). The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia 2005.
- Nemec, David ( ). The Great Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Major League Baseball.
- Wright, Marshall ([ ] ). Nineteenth-Century Baseball: . Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co.
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