The Union Association was a league in Major League Baseball which lasted for only one season in 1884. St. Louis won the pennant and joined the National League the following season. Chicago moved to Pittsburgh in late August, and four teams folded during the season and were replaced. Seven of the twelve teams who were in the league at some point during the season did not play a full schedule.
|No. of teams||12|
|1884-St. Louis Maroons|
There was also a minor league called the Union Association that operated from 1911 through 1914.
The league was founded in September 1883 by the young St. Louis millionaire Henry Lucas. Lucas was eventually named the league's president, with owner Tom Pratt of the Philadelphia franchise serving as vice-president and Warren W. White of the Washington franchise as secretary.
After being appointed president, Lucas bought the best available players for his St. Louis franchise at the expense of the rest of the league, all of this representing an obvious conflict-of-interest situation. Subsequently, the Maroons finished with a record of 94-19 (.832 winning percentage) and won the pennant by 21 games.
The not only suffered from lopsided talent distribution, but also the revolving-door nature of the franchises: four franchises folded during the season, forcing the league to scramble to replace them with three teams from lower leagues and one new team, while Chicago moved to Pittsburgh mid-season. A poorly drafted schedule also created major problems, with the league derisively dubbed "The Onion League" by its detractors in the two established leagues. The list of franchise movements is as follows:
- April 17: Season opens with the following franchises: Altoona Mountain Citys, Baltimore Monumentals, Boston Reds, Chicago Browns, Cincinnati Outlaw Reds, Philadelphia Keystones, St. Louis Maroons, and Washington Nationals
- May 31: Altoona Mountain Citys fold.
- June 7: Kansas City Cowboys formed to take over Altoona's games starting on this date.
- August 7: Philadelphia Keystones fold.
- August 18: Wilmington Quicksteps recruited from Eastern League to take over Philadelphia's games, starting on this date.
- August 21: Chicago Browns play their last game, with the franchise moving to Pittsburgh.
- September 15: Wilmington Quicksteps fold, having played their final game on September 12. By this point in the season the St. Louis Maroons have already clinched the pennant, even though there are still five weeks of games left to play.
- September 18: Pittsburgh Stogies (formerly the Chicago Browns) fold.
- September 27: St. Paul Saints and Milwaukee Brewers recruited from the Northwest League to finish the Chicago/Pittsburgh schedule, and the Philadelphia/Wilmington schedule, respectively.
- October 19: Season concludes.
The St. Louis franchise itself was deemed to be strong enough to enter the National League in 1885, but it faced heavy competition within the city, as the St. Louis Browns were a power in the American Association.
The lone survivor of the Union moved to Indianapolis and became the Hoosiers after 1886, having compiled records of 36-72 and 43-79, and played three seasons before folding, with records of 37-89, 50-85 and 59-75 for a .360 win percentage in the NL, and an all-time winning percentage of .432. These figures perhaps reveal the gulf in class between the UA and the established major leagues.
Perhaps the most obvious impact of the short-lived league was on the career of a player who did not jump to the new league: Charles Radbourn. With a schedule of a little over 100 games, most teams employed two regular pitchers, and the Providence Grays in the National League featured Radbourn and Charlie Sweeney.
According to the book Glory Fades Away by Jerry Lansche, Sweeney fell out of grace with the Providence team in late July after he refused to be replaced in a game while drunk, and was expelled. Rather than come crawling back, Sweeney signed with Lucas' team, leaving Radbourn by himself.
Leveraging his situation, Radbourn pledged to stay with the club and be the sole primary pitcher if he would be given a raise and granted free agency at season's end. Radbourn, who already had 24 wins at that point to Sweeney's 17, pitched nearly every game after that, and went on to win an astounding 59 games (a record) during the regular season. For an encore, he won all three games of 1884's version of the World Series, pitching every inning of a sweep of the New York Metropolitans of the American Association.
His performance in 1884, along with a generally strong career and an overall record of 309-194 (.614) assured Radbourn his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Notable players that made their debut in the Union Association included Tommy McCarthy, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1946, and Jack Clements, the only man in baseball history to play a full career as a left-handed catcher. Switch-pitcher Tony Mullane attempted to sign with the Maroons, but was threatened with banishment from the NL if he did so (the Browns had a reserve clause on Mullane) and relented.
The Union Association saw two no-hitters in its brief existence: one by Dick Burns of the Outlaw Reds on August 26 and one by Ed Cushman of the Brewers on September 28. On July 7, Hugh Daily struck out 19 Boston Reds in a nine-inning game, an "MLB" record that would stand for 102 years, until Roger Clemens struck out 20 batters in a game in 1986. Henry Porter and Dupee Shaw got 18-strikeout games. The Chicago Browns executed a triple play on June 19.
|St. Louis Maroons||94||19||0.832||—||49–6||45–13|
|Cincinnati Outlaw Reds||69||36||0.657||21||35–17||34–19|
|St. Paul Saints||2||6||0.250||39½||0–0||2–6|
|Chicago Browns/Pittsburgh Stogies||41||50||0.451||42||21–19||20–31|
|Altoona Mountain Citys||6||19||0.240||44||6–12||0–7|
|Washington Nationals (UA)||47||65||0.420||46½||36–27||11–38|
|Kansas City Cowboys||16||63||0.203||61||11–23||5–40|
Status as a major league
Although the league is conventionally listed as a major league, this status has been questioned by a number of modern baseball historians, most notably Bill James in The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. The league had a number of major league players (on the St. Louis franchise, at least), but the league's overall talent and organization was notably inferior to that of the two established major leagues. James found that the contemporary baseball guides did not consider the Union Association to be a major league either: the earliest record he could find of the Union Association as a major league was Ernest Lanigan's The Baseball Cyclopedia, published in 1922.
For example, the league's only "star" player, Fred Dunlap, led the league in batting average with .412 (86 points higher than his second-best season and 120 points higher than his career average), on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs scored, hits, total bases, and home runs (with just 13, typical for the era). After the Association folded, Dunlap never hit more than .274 or more than 10 home runs until he retired in 1891, another measure of the inferior quality of the Union Association. In point of fact, if the 1884 season is excluded from his career totals, Dunlap's career batting average was a mere .276.
Of the 272 players in the Association, 107 (39.34%) never played in another major league, while 72 (26.47%) played very briefly (less than 300 at bats and/or 50 hits) in other major leagues, and 79 (29.04%) had longer careers but little success in other major leagues.
- "The Chronology - 1883 - BaseballLibrary.com". baseballlibrary.com. Archived from the original on October 20, 2012. Retrieved May 4, 2018.
- Richter, Francis C. (March 14, 1908). "Two Big Wars Interrupted the Progress of the National Game" (PDF). Sporting Life. 51 (1): 6. Archived (PDF) from the original on May 8, 2011. Retrieved September 21, 2011.
- "The Chronology - 1885 - BaseballLibrary.com". baseballlibrary.com. Archived from the original on January 1, 2008. Retrieved May 4, 2018.
- 1884 Union Association Baseball Debuts / Rookies by Baseball Almanac
- Silver, Nate (April 13, 2007). "NerdFight: League Quality Adjustments". baseballprospectus.com. Archived from the original on October 1, 2007.
- James, Bill (May 11, 2010). "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract". Simon and Schuster. Archived from the original on May 4, 2018. Retrieved May 4, 2018 – via Google Books.
- 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. ISBN 0-89950-590-2
- Union Association at baseball-reference.com.
- Union Association and 1884 in baseball at baseballlibrary.com