The term National League generally refers to the organization more properly referred to as the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, the older (founded on February 2, 1876) of the two leagues constituting Major League Baseball in the United States and Canada. The National League is also known as the Senior Circuit, due to the fact that it has existed 25 years longer than the rival American League. Beginning with the 1903 season, the regular season champions of the two leagues have met annually in the World Series, with the exception of 1904 and 1994. Through the 2005 season, National League teams have won 41 and lost 60 of the 101 World Series played, although the National Leaguers have a rather better percentage of 28 and 34 in Series where the New York Yankees were not involved.
The National League was formed in 1876 when six of the strongest teams of the National Association withdrew from that organization (effectively killing it) to form a new league with stronger executive authority. The teams were: the Athletic of Philadelphia (folded in 1876), the Boston Red Caps (now the Atlanta Braves), the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs), the Hartford Dark Blues (folded in 1877), the Mutual of New York (folded in 1876), and the St. Louis Brown Stockings (folded in 1877). They were joined by two others, the Cincinnati Red Stockings (folded in 1880), and the Louisville Grays (folded in 1877). The league president's authority was tested the first season, when the Athletic and Mutual clubs refused to make western road trips later in the season, and were expelled from the N.L., which operated as a six-team league for the next two seasons.
The new league encountered its first rival organization, when the American Association began play in 1882. The A.A. offered cheaper ticket prices and Sunday baseball and alcoholic beverages where one or both were legal. The National League and American Association participated in an early version of the World Series seven times during their ten-year coexistence, though the series were only exhibition games arranged by the teams involved. The N.L. won most of those encounters, while some ended in ties due to disputes or other issues.
After the 1891 season, the A.A. disbanded and merged with the N.L., which became known legally for the next decade or so as the "National League and American Association". The teams now known as the Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates had already switched from the A.A. to the N.L. prior to 1892. With the merger the N.L. absorbed the team now known as the St. Louis Cardinals, along with three other teams which did not survive into the 20th century.
The National League became a 12-team circuit with monopoly status for the rest of the decade. The league became embroiled in numerous internal conflicts, not the least of which was a plan supported by some owners (and bitterly opposed by others) to form a "trust," wherein there would be one common ownership of all twelve N.L. teams. The N.L. used its monopoly power to force a $2,400 limit on annual player wages in 1894.
Then, the league contracted to eight teams for the 1900 season, eliminating its teams in Baltimore, Cleveland, Louisville, and Washington. This provided an opportunity for competition. Three of those cities received franchises in the new American League in 1901. The A.L. declined to renew its National Agreement membership when it expired, and on January 28, 1901, officially declared itself the second major league. By 1903, the upstart A.L. had located teams in Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. Only the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates had no A.L. team in their markets.
The National League at first refused to recognize the new league, but reality set in as talent and money drained away to the new league. After two years of bitter contention a new version of the National Agreement was signed in 1903. This meant formal acceptance of each league by the other as an equal partner in major league baseball.
After the contraction to eight teams in 1900, the National League consisted of the same eight teams in the same cities until 1953, when the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee. The team later moved to Atlanta in 1966. In 1958, the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants moved to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, bringing major league baseball to the West Coast of the U.S. for the first time.
The N.L. remained an eight-team league until 1962, when it added the New York Mets and the Houston Colt .45s (renamed the Houston Astros in 1965). In 1969 the league added the San Diego Padres and the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals), becoming a 12-team league for the first time since 1899. In 1993 the league expanded again, adding the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins. In 1998, the Arizona Diamondbacks became the league's fifteenth franchise, and the Milwaukee Brewers moved from the American League to the National, to make the National League the 16-team league it is today.
As a result of expansion to 12 teams in 1969, the National League, which for the first 93 years of its existence competed equally in a single grouping, reorganized into two divisions of six teams (East and West), 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. Beginning with the 1994 season, the league has 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 National League Division Series.
Often characterized as being a more "traditional" or "pure" league, the National League (as of 2005 at least) has never adopted the designated hitter rule as did the American League in 1973. In theory, this means the role of the N.L. manager is somewhat expanded in comparison to the A.L., because the manager must take offense into account when making pitching substitutions and vice versa. There are perceived to be fewer home runs and big offensive plays due to the presence of the pitcher in the batting order, although this is not always the case.
For the first 96 years of its coexistence with the American League, National League teams faced their A.L. counterparts only in exhibition games or in the World Series. Beginning in 1997, however, interleague games have been played during the regular season, and count in the standings.
Through the 2005 season, the Dodgers have won the most National League pennants (21, plus one A.A. pennant), followed closely by the Giants (20) and Cardinals (16, plus 4 A.A. pennants). Among National League teams, the Cardinals have won the most World Series (9) followed by the Dodgers (6) and Giants (5).
Charter Franchises (1876)
The original eight charter teams were the following:
- Athletic of Philadelphia from National Association, expelled after 1876 season
- Boston Red Stockings (some say Red Caps) from National Association (now the Atlanta Braves, and the only surviving N.A. charter member)
- Chicago White Stockings from National Association (now the Chicago Cubs)
- Cincinnati Red Stockings new franchise, folded after 1880 season
- Hartford Dark Blues from National Association, folded after 1877 season
- Louisville Grays new franchise, folded after 1877 season
- Mutual of New York from National Association, expelled after 1876 season
- St. Louis Brown Stockings from National Association, folded after 1877 season.
Post-AA Merger (1892)
Many franchises came and went between 1876 and 1892 when the National League absorbed the American Association. In 1892 the twelve teams in what---for a time---was termed the "National League and American Association" were the following:
- Baltimore Orioles joined from A.A. in 1892, contracted after 1899
- Boston Beaneaters (now the Atlanta Braves), N.L. Charter Member, originated in N.A.
- Brooklyn Dodgers (now the Los Angeles Dodgers), joined from A.A. in 1890
- Chicago White Stockings or Colts (now the Chicago Cubs), N.L. Charter Member, originated in N.A.
- Cincinnati Reds joined from A.A. in 1890
- Cleveland Spiders joined from A.A. in 1889, contracted after 1899
- Louisville Colonels joined from A.A. in 1892, contracted after 1899
- New York Giants (now the San Francisco Giants), enfranchised 1883
- Philadelphia Phillies enfranchised 1883
- Pittsburgh Pirates joined from A.A. in 1887
- St. Louis Cardinals joined from A.A. in 1892
- Washington Nationals joined from A.A. in 1892, contracted after 1899
After the 1899 season, the league contracted for the first time since 1877, dropping four clubs and leaving eight teams which would stay in place for over 50 years.
Contraction, Expansion and Relocation Since 1892
- 1900: Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Spiders, Louisville Colonels, and Washington Nationals are all expelled from the National League
- 1953: Boston Braves move to Milwaukee
- 1958: Brooklyn Dodgers move to Los Angeles and New York Giants move to San Francisco
- 1962: Houston Colt .45s and New York Mets enfranchised
- 1966: Milwaukee Braves move to Atlanta
- 1969: Montreal Expos and San Diego Padres enfranchised
- 1993: Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins enfranchised
- 1998: Arizona Diamondbacks enfranchised
- 1998: Milwaukee Brewers withdraw from the American League and join the National League
- 2005: Montreal Expos move to Washington, renamed the Washington Nationals
National League East
- Atlanta Braves enfranchised 1871 as the Boston Red Stockings (or Red Caps) in National Association, joined National League as Charter Member (1876), moved to Milwaukee (1953) and to Atlanta (1966)
- Florida Marlins enfranchised 1993
- New York Mets enfranchised 1962
- Philadelphia Phillies enfranchised 1883
- Washington Nationals enfranchised 1969 as the Montreal Expos, moved to Washington (2005)
National League Central
- Chicago Cubs enfranchised 1874 in National Association, joined National League as Charter Member (1876)
- Cincinnati Reds enfranchised 1882 in American Association, joined National League (1890)
- Milwaukee Brewers enfranchised 1969 as the Seattle Pilots in American League, moved to Milwaukee (1970), joined N.L. (1998)
- Pittsburgh Pirates enfranchised 1882 in American Association, joined National League (1887)
- St. Louis Cardinals enfranchised 1882 in American Association, joined National League (1892)
National League West
- Arizona Diamondbacks enfranchised 1998
- Colorado Rockies enfranchised 1993
- Los Angeles Dodgers enfranchised 1884 as the Brooklyn Atlantics in American Association, joined National League (1890), moved to Los Angeles (1958)
- San Diego Padres enfranchised 1969
- San Francisco Giants enfranchised 1883 in New York, moved to San Francisco (1958)
NL Presidents 1876-1999
- Morgan G. Bulkeley 1876-1876
- William A. Hulbert 1877-1882
- Arthur H. Soden 1882-1882
- Abraham G. Mills 1883-1884
- Nicholas E. Young 1885-1902
- Harry C. Pulliam 1903-1909
- John A. Heydler 1909-1909
- Thomas J. Lynch 1910-1913
- John K. Tener 1913-1918
- John A. Heydler 1918-1934
- Ford C. Frick 1934-1951
- Warren C. Giles 1951-1969
- Charles S. Feeney 1970-1986
- A. Bartlett Giamatti 1986-1989
- William D. White 1989-1994
- Leonard S. Coleman, Jr. 1994-1999
Office eliminated in 1999, although Bill Giles, son of former NL President Warren C. Giles, currently holds the title of honorary National League president.
Several other sports have had leagues called "National League", usually with the sport name as a qualifier, including:
- National Hockey League, the major league of ice hockey in the United States and Canada
- National Football League, the major league of American football.
- There was once the National Basketball League, which merged with its rival the Basketball Association of America to form the National Basketball Association - the surviving major league of basketball in the United States and Canada.
- 19th century National League teams
- National League pennant winners 1876-1900
- National League pennant winners 1901-68
- National League Championship Series (NLCS)