There was only one major league at the time, so the series was played between the first- and second-place teams. The Temple Cup was also known as the World's Championship Series. If one team won three titles, that team would have permanent possession of the Cup. This trophy was a precursor to the World Series trophy awarded to the Major League BaseballWorld Series winner since 1903.
In the 1880s, there had been postseason play between the winners of the National League and the American Association, but in 1892 the National League absorbed the Association, becoming a 12-team league, and played a split season. In 1893 the Pittsburgh Pirates finished second to the Boston Beaneaters (today's Atlanta Braves). The Pirates' president, William Chase Temple, felt that his team should have the option of having a playoff series to claim the title. As a result, Temple had his $800 trophy minted and he donated it to the league. The revenue was to be split 65% to 35% between the winner and the loser, but the players of the first series (in 1894) agreed to split the money evenly. However, after the series the New York Giants (now the San Francisco Giants) cheated some Baltimore Orioles players out of their money, tainting the Cup and prompting Temple to sell the Pirates in disgust.
Lack of enthusiasm on the part of the players doomed the series; their apathy spread to the fans, few of whom attended Temple Cup games in later years. Interest in the series faded quickly, as it seemed artificial, with the second-place team winning three of the four series. The Baltimore Orioles appeared in every Temple Cup series, winning the last two and thus coming the closest to gaining permanent possession of the trophy. The last Temple Cup series was played in 1897. However, the concept was revived in 1900 with the Chronicle-Telegraph Cup.
After the Temple Cup series ended, the National League returned the trophy to Temple, whose Pirates team never finished higher than sixth place in the standings during the Cup's existence. In 1939, The Sporting News tracked down the Cup, finding it in the possession of a Temple family member in Florida. The Cup was displayed at the 1939 New York World's Fair. The Temple family later sold the Cup for $750 to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, where it remains today.