Where Do We Start? 1882 or 1887?

People tend to want to disassociate the first five years of the Pirates franchise from the next 126 and counting. Most people count the start of the Pirates franchise from it’s first game in the National League on April 30,1887. I don’t do that, I count it from the first game they played in the American Association on May 2,1882. Here is why:

The move is really not different than the one the Brewers made moving from the AL to the NL, or the move the Astros will make next year, going to the AL. The American Association was a recognized major league at the time and it still is now. Baseball even recognizes the Union Association(1884) and that league was a joke compared to the other two major leagues at the time, yet they don’t recognize the National Association as a major league…that’s another story. The Pittsburgh Alleghenys were one of the founding teams in the AA and they lasted five seasons before being asked by the National League to switch leagues. The team gladly switched leagues because they thought they were receiving unfair treatment in the American Association.

The 1886 AA team that switched leagues had eleven of the same players as the 1887 team in the National League. That 1887 team only used sixteen players all season and not all of them were with the team at the beginning of the year. You basically had the same team, both at the end of one year and beginning of the next.

They had the same manager each year(Horace Phillips), same president who ran the team(William Nimick), played in the same ballpark (Recreation Park) and had the same exact team name. The only thing that changed was the actual major league they played in and not much else.

I could see if the American Association was considered a minor league, but it wasn’t at the time of the switch. The American League actually existed before 1901, it was a minor league in 1900, so stats from that season are considered minor league stats. Pittsburgh was actually the home of minor league baseball and some say they still play minor league ball there to this day but when figuring out when the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise actually started playing major league baseball, I see no reason why the answer shouldn’t be 1882.

Just as an added note, three other current franchises also first came into existence in the American Association, the Los Angeles Dodgers got their start in the league in 1884 as the Brooklyn Atlantics and moved to the NL in 1890. The St Louis Cardinals began in 1882 as the Brown Stockings and lasted through the entire existence of the AA, moving to the NL in 1892. The Cincinnati Reds began in 1882  as the Red Stockings and moved to the NL in 1890. The Reds franchise just recently won their 10,000th game and no one seemed to mind that the first 549 wins came while they were in the American Association.

When the Pirates finally win their 10,000th game in franchise history, hopefully next year, I’m sure most people won’t mind that the first 236 came while they played in another major league.

Pirates History

  • I am inclined to agree with you John. Not sure why the organization seems to prefer the “established in 1887” tag line