The Players' National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, popularly known as the Players' League (sometimes rendered as Players League), was a short-lived but star-studded professional American baseball league of the 19th century. It emerged from the Brotherhood of Professional Base-Ball Players, the sport's first players' union.
The Brotherhood included most of the best players of the National League. Brotherhood members, led by John Montgomery Ward, left the National League and formed the Players' League after failing to change the lopsided player-management relationship of the National League.
The PL lasted just the one season of 1890, and the Boston franchise won the championship. Although known to historians as the Players' League, newspapers often reported the standings with the shorthand titles of "League", "Association" and "Brotherhood". The PL was well-attended, at least in some cities, but was underfunded and its owners lacked the confidence to continue beyond the one season.
Players' League franchises and final standings
|Brooklyn Ward's Wonders||76||56||0.576||6½||46–19||30–37|
|New York Giants||74||57||0.565||8||47–19||27–38|
The Players League Triple Crown leaders were Hall-of-Famer Roger Connor with 14 home runs, Pete Browning with a .373 batting average, and Hardy Richardson with 146 RBI. For pitchers, Mark Baldwin had 34 wins, Silver King had a 2.69 ERA, and Mark Baldwin struck out 211 batters.
On June 21 King threw an unofficial eight-inning no-hitter.
Oddly, in its one season of operation, the Players League saw seven triple plays: the Giants on June 14, the Red Stockings on June 30, the Pirates on July 15, the Pirates again on July 30, the Burghers on August 15, Ward's Wonders on September 6, and the Bisons on September 29.
The Boston and Philadelphia franchises joined the American Association after the Players' League folded, and both folded together with the AA after the 1891 season. The PL franchises in Brooklyn, New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh each merged with their National League counterparts after the 1890 season.
Although the league was started by the players themselves, essentially as an elaborate job-action to improve their lot, the venture proved to be a setback for them in the longer term. The infamous reserve clause remained intact, and would remain thus for the next 85 years or so. The already-shaky AA had been further weakened by the presence of the PL. The Lou Bierbauer incident caused a schism between the NL and the AA, and the AA failed a year later, reducing the total number of major league teams (and players) significantly, giving the remaining owners much greater leverage against the players.
One benefit of the league, from the management standpoint, was the construction of new facilities, several of which were used for a while by the established major league clubs. The most prominent of these was a new Polo Grounds, originally constructed for the New York Giants of the Players League, which served afterwards as the home of the National League's New York Giants from 1891 to 1957 (it was rebuilt in steel and concrete in 1911) and of the New York Mets in their first two seasons. It was also the site of many other famous sporting events through its 75 years of existence.
Chicago's still-standing Wrigley Field has been called a "silent monument" to the Federal League experiment of 1914-1915, and it was likewise with the Polo Grounds and the Players' League. Once the demolition of the Polo Grounds began in 1964, the game's historians realized that this was not only the end of an era in general, but also in a sense it was the final chapter of the Players' League.
- "Baseball's Triple Play Summary (1876-Present)". Society for American Baseball Research. April 23, 2012. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
- David Pietrusza. Major Leagues: The Formation, Sometimes Absorption and Mostly Inevitable Demise of 18 Professional Baseball Organizations, 1871 to Present. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 1991 (hardcover, ISBN 0-89950-590-2) and 2005 (softcover, ISBN 0-7864-2530-X).
- Ed Koszarek. The Players League: History Clubs, Ballplyers and Statistics. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006 (softcover, ISBN 0-7864-2079-0).