William Hulbert

William Hulbert used to say that he'd rather be a lamp post in Chicago than a millionaire anywhere else. But civic pride or not, he'd have to smile if he knew he ended up on a plaque in Cooperstown, New York. Election came 113 years after his death, giving Hulbert an unofficial record for longest elapsed time between a contribution to the game and entrance to the Hall of Fame.

William Hulbert was a true fan of baseball.
William Hulbert was a
true fan of baseball.

Had it not been for this Chicago businessman, baseball might not have been worth a shrine and museum. No one did more than he did to create and nurture what we take for granted as the game’s structure. In fact, Albert Spalding referred to Hulbert as "the man who saved baseball."

In a matter of just seven years, Hulbert helped create the National League; dealt with some of the early problems such as gambling, excessive drinking, and loose organization; served as the league’s second president; and even took steps toward building its first dynasty.

William A. Hulbert (1832-1882) began making his mark on baseball history in the 1870s, as an official for the National Association’s Chicago White Stockings. In 1876, he convened a meeting in New York City, resulting in the formation of an eight-team National League. His brainchild, in a change of approach, involved a league of clubs, rather than an association of players.

Hulbert's White Stockings won the first NL championship in 1876, using players like Al Spalding, a future Hall of Famer who had been lured from the Boston Red Stockings along with Ross Barnes, Cal McVey, and Deacon White. Also on the club was Cap Anson, possibly the best player of the century.

Chicago’s success, however, scarcely guaranteed the league’s survival. Hulbert, having succeeded Morgan Bulkeley as league president, expelled the New York and Philadelphia franchises for failing to complete their 1876 schedule. His decision left only six teams for 1877 and ’78, but it dramatized the need for organization and follow-through.

In 1877, Hulbert took action against four Louisville players for gambling, and he unloaded the St. Louis and Cincinnati franchises for liquor violations. The new league endured and endured. Coincidentally, a rival circuit began play just about the time of Hulbert’s death in April 1882; the NL’s eventual victory testifies to the foundation laid by Hulbert.

Meanwhile, his team had become the class of professional baseball. Chicago won the NL title in 1880, '81, '82, '85, and '86. Players who performed for Chicago included legendary showman King Kelly, future Hall of Famer John Clarkson, and an outfielder named Billy Sunday, who would go on to fame as a preacher. Hulbert had given his beloved Chicago a team of which it could be proud.

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