A year after selling the much-publicized 1857 “Laws of Base Ball” for $3.26 million last year, SCP Auctions will offer the documents that led to the formation of Major League Baseball beginning next month.
The 1876 “Founding Documents and Original Constitution of Major League Baseball,” is a previously unknown hand-written, 74-page artifact that auction officials say is of “unprecedented historical significance.”
While the contents became part of pro baseball’s early by-laws, the survival of the original documents wasn’t known until recently. They had been quietly held by the family of a longtime National League executive, passed down through generations.
It’s expected they will bring least a seven-figure price in the auction, which will open May 24.
“To Make Base-Ball Playing Respectable and Honorable”
The Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first team to pay its players a salary in 1869 but the dawn of professional baseball, was plagued by a lack of governance that seeded corruption and instability. Teams folded regularly due to the unregulated and often crooked practices of players and owners alike. By the end of the 1875 season, the future of professional baseball was shaky at best. In 1876, its saviors emerged and what we would come to know as Major League Baseball was essentially born.
In a meeting held on Feb. 2, 1876, at the Grand Central Hotel in New York City, Chicago White Stockings owner William Hulbert gathered with a group of men representing each of the troubled National Association franchises, hoping to bring order, dignity and profitability to the fledgling sport. Supported by fellow visionaries such as Albert Spalding, Harry Wright, Nicholas Young, Morgan Bulkeley and others, Hulbert set forth his blueprint for how professional baseball would operate.
They quickly hammered out a plan.
The new association was called “The National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs” and consisted of just eight teams: the Boston Red Stockings (who later became the Braves), Chicago White Stockings (eventually known as the Cubs), Cincinnati Reds, Hartford Dark Blues, Louisville Grays, New York Mutuals, Philadelphia Athletics and the St. Louis Brown Stockings (forerunner of the Cardinals). In the vernacular of the day, the objectives of pro “base-ball” was transcribed on the first page of the original handwritten Constitution:
- to encourage, foster and elevate the game of base-ball;
- to enact and enforce proper rules for the exhibition and conduct of the game;
- to make base-ball playing respectable and honorable;
- to protect and promote the mutual interests of professional base-ball clubs and professional baseball players; and
- to establish and regulate the “Base-Ball Championship of the United States.”
“Nearly 150 years ago William Hulbert saw the future of what baseball could be,” said SCP Vice President Dan Imler. “He set a new standard for the game and created a professional baseball league that has not only lasted, but has blossomed into a global institution. The forum he created fostered legends from Cap Anson to Babe Ruth to Mike Trout and all the superstars of today. These men owe their identities to Major League Baseball and Major League Baseball owes its existence to Hulbert and this foundational set of documents.“
Copies of the plan were given to each club but the one coming to SCP Auctions is the first original known to have survived.
Important Sports Documents Bring Big Bucks
The documents are the latest in a line of important papers to come to auction in recent years. In addition to the aforementioned 1857 “Laws of Base Ball” sold by SCP Auctions ($3.26 million), there are James Naismith’s “1891 Original Rules of Basketball” (sold for $4.3 million) and “The 1859 Original Rules of Soccer” (sold for $1.4 million).
It’s reasonable to think the latest auction could set a new record for a sports-related item.
“We’ve sold some incredible baseball artifacts before – from Babe Ruth’s 1920 Yankees jersey for $4.4 million to Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series home run bat for $575,000 – but this artifact trumps them all,” Imler said. “Without these documents, such objects would not exist.”
Bidding opens Wed., May 24, and closes on Sat., June 10. Auction registration information is available via www.scpauctions.com or by calling 949-831-3700.