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The National League is the older of the two leagues constituting Major League Baseball. The League was founded in 1876. The American League was founded in 1900. The league originated from the National Association of Baseball (NA), which was the prevailing professional baseball league at the time.
Tired of the disorganized and undisciplined NA – the NA was a hotbed of rowdyism, drunkenness, and gambling, William Hulbert, the owner of the Chicago franchise in the Association (now known as the Cubs), founded the new National League. The National League has lasted to this present day and is largely responsible for baseball’s having retained its integrity and popularity through its early troubled history.
Hulbert innovated such factors as limiting the number of franchises with large populations, over 75,000 at the time, so that they could financially support the teams. Schedules were arranged prior to the season, with enforcement of teams having to actually play those games on those days, and contracts that were legally-binding. Hulbert continued as a strong president until his death in 1882, although the league remained unprofitable for that time.
The National League began to prosper towards the end of the 19th century as the nation experienced an economic boom centered in urban areas, and the effects boosted pro ball’s popularity and profitability. The advent of a second major league in 1883, the American Association (AA) provided a popular two-league format. Beginning in 1884, that format included loosely-organized postseason series between the two league winners, the precursor of the World Series. The relationship between the two leagues was fruitful until 1890.
During this year, much strife was occurring in professional baseball. Players were revolting against the heavy-handed tactics of owners; another Major League, the Union Association (UA), was stealing some thunder from the other two established leagues; the National League convinced the AA to expand in order to outcompete the UA – it was a failure as the AA succumbed to financial ruin; to make matters worse, the National League began raiding players from the AA, their allies, as their top franchises joined with the National League. It was all to much for the American Association as they were forced to close down.
In 1900, a new league - the American League - was formed. The American League was well aware of the previous double-crossing tactics of the National League, and geared up for battle. The American League was successful in raiding National League stars. The newer league proved to be a better organized, better financed, and more determined than previous league rivals. The more established National League was forced to cooperate, and in 1903, the return to a two-league format allowed the resumption of postseason play with the World Series of 1903.
Today the National League game still resembles the game as it was a century ago. The biggest difference between the two leagues is that the National League remained with the rule that the pitcher must be in the batting lineup. The American League adopted the Designated Hitter (DH) to fill in for the pitcher in the 1970s. This DH rule has led to differences in the style of play between the two leagues. The American League is generally more based upon power – with emphasis on the home run, while the National League is said to be more pitching-oriented, with more of a focus on an offensive running.
The National League first revolutionized the idea of developing talent in a minor league farm system in the 1920s. This was an idea of the St. Louis Cardinal’s General Manager, Branch Rickey. As a result, St. Louis became a perennial powerhouse for the next two decades, relying on the players they had brought up through their farm system, instead of having to compete with other teams to sign established players to contracts. Although this would not be Rickey’s most memorable accomplishment.
Branch Rickey would move on to be General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and in 1946 forever changed the game of baseball when he signed Jackie Robinson to a minor league contract. Robinson would be the first black man signed. The following year, Robinson made his debut for the Dodgers. He would face a lot of adversity that year with racism being rampant even on his own team. Yet Robinson never showed his anger or displeasure, as he quietly led the Dodgers to the five National League Pennants over his Hall-of-Fame career.
This move initiated more black players to be signed to the Major Leagues, more so in the National League, as the American League were slower to sign them. This definitely shifted the balance of power to the National League with entrance of such superstars like Willie Mays, Roy Campanella, Hank Aaron, and Monte Irvin.
The National League, which for the first 93 years of its existence competed equally in a single grouping, re-organized into two divisions of 6 teams (East and West) in 1969, with the division champions meeting in the National League Championship Series (an additional round of postseason competition) for the right to advance to the World Series. In 1994, both National and American leagues were been divided into three divisions (East, West and Central), with the addition of a Wild Card team (the team with the best record among those finishing in second place) to enable four teams to advance to the preliminary Division Series.
For the 2004 season, the St. Louis Cardinals had an extremely strong season on their way to a Major League-best 105 wins. Their year featured three players who had strong enough seasons to compete for the MVP – 1B-Albert Pujols, 3B-Scott Rolen, and CF-Jim Edmonds. They also had an amazingly reliable pitching staff, where 4 of their 5 starters had at least 15 wins, and all 5 starters pitched at least 180 innings. This had not been accomplished for a few decades! Behind such strength, the Cardinals easily defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros to meet the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.
National League Teams
East Division – Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Florida Marlins, New York Mets, Montreal Expos
Central Division – St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers
West Division – Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres, Colorado Springs Roofing Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks