The first team to win a National League pennant were the Chicago White Stockings of 1876 (the inaugural season for the first major league). But, that team was created and formed from National Association stars with the Big Four (Al Spalding, Deacon White, Ross Barnes and Cal McVey) as the core along with the youngster named Adrian Anson. But the team's success did not last long.
White, an easterner (unlike the rest), returned to the east and rejoined Boston. Barnes was a bust when the fair-foul rule was changed. Throughout early baseball a batted ball needed only one bounce in fair territory in order to be ruled a fair ball. Barnes had mastered the art of hitting in this era, hitting .429 his first N.L. season. But the next year the rule was changed and his average plummeted below .300. His baseball career was essentially over.
Spalding, turning his attention to the business side of baseball, retired after just one season in the National League as a pitcher. Then following the 1877 season, Spalding quit managing. The Chicago club quickly fell into the bottom of the league, especially after a second to last finishing in the '77 season.
In 1878, the ex-NA player and president, Bob Ferguson became the Chicago manager and although the club finished 30-30, the team was not that good. So owner, William Hulbert gave the reigns to Adrian "Cap" Anson. The big, heavy-hitting, third baseman was a leader by nature and a tough competitor, all the things a manager in any era needs to succeed in the game of baseball. Anson, quickly began making the Chicago team, "his team".
Anson "cleaned house" in Chicago in 1879. He brought in players he had scouted himself, which in those days was the norm. There was no minor league system to develop young, talented, players and there were no team scouts to find these players, so Anson and other managers had to do the work themselves. Anson was good at it. He brought in Ned Williamson, a good fielding and hard hitting infielder along with speedy outfielders, George Gore and Abner Dalrymple.
Of course, in these non-gloved or padded days, a tough catcher was extremely necessary and Anson found one. Silver Flint became his catcher for the next decade, his nickname of "silver" for his silvery blond hair. He was the first of the great defensive catchers. Flint could not hit worth a darn, sometimes through the years he batted behind the pitcher, but he could catch. From 1882 to 1884, Flint caught almost every game, a rarity for a catcher, even today let alone in the 1880s when almost no one did it. He was scrappy and tough, breaking almost every bone in his hands and face through his catching days the perfect fit to complete Anson's team.
The next season in 1879, Anson's Chicago club improved to 46-33, good enough for fourth place. But the fun was just beginning. With the addition of Mike "King" Kelly for the 1880 season, the White Stockings were ready to roll. They finished the season with a 67 and 17 record for a .798 winning percentage, still the highest National League history. This began the run of five pennants in seven years with a second place finish in 1883. Anson and his boys became the first dynasty in baseball history and the most successful dynasty until the Yankees.
Anson's team could do it all; run, hit, pitch, yell and play defense. Anson handled the yelling and whining, which he was good at and known for it through the years. Anson also helped out in the other areas as well. He batted cleanup and played first base for the Chicago club all the way through the 1897 season. He was a great hitter, smacking line drives through the outfield alleys with lasting consistency. He was a great rbi-man and great average hitter but not the only one.
Anson's top of the order consisted of Gore and Dalyrmple, who both scored runs at alarming rates. Dalrymple might not have been the best outfielder or hitter, but he was a determined baserunner and very fast. He was a mainstay at the top of the Chicago lineup. Gore too was fast and he could hit. He combined the two to become an amazingly consistent run scorer, so much so that he ended his playing career by scoring more runs than games played.
The main contributors to the hitting for Chicago (besides Anson) were Ned Williamson and Mike Kelly. Williamson was a power hitter when power hitting was not the norm or even liked. Williamson, hitting when there were no fences or if there were fences they were in another country, was a regular power hitter. In 1883 with a fence, Ned hit 49 doubles in 98 games and the next season he hit 27 home runs, an incredible number which lasted as the home run record until Babe Ruth passed it in 1919. The reason for the great power numbers was that the fence in right was 196 feet down the line and 252 to dead right. In 1883, balls hit over this fence were considered ground rule doubles but the following year, they became homers. But even besides this fact, Williamson was a great power hitter, probably the best until big Dan Brouthers arrived.
Mike "King" Kelly was the first big time hero and character of baseball. He was wild and scary but he could play the game of baseball. He was fast and cunning on the base-paths and was the first of the dominating baserunners that Ty Cobb and Ricky Henderson would later make famous. A heavy drinker and trickster, Kelly tried every trick and every angle he could find that would give he and his teammates an edge in the game.
Kelly was the inventor of the hook slide, which shocked opposing infielders ready to apply the tag. His teammates copied this style adding to the greatness of the Chicago baserunning. Kelly also found quirk in the game that he used to his advantage. In the age of one umpire, Kelly would go from first to third when he thought the ump was not looking. Later, the great Baltimore team of the 1890s would rely on this tactic. Kelly also found holes in the rulebook. In the 1880s a change in the lineup was made orally. So one day, Kelly was on the bench when a pop up came his way. Silver Flint was charging for it but Kelly was on the spot. He yelled, "Kelly catching for Chicago" and he promptly caught the ball. The other team and the umpires were confused but it was legal. The rule, of course was changed very soon.
With this wild and talented squad, Anson led his team to dominance in the National League. Anson was a great manager, which is often forgotten because of his prominence as a player. But manage he could. He was a strict disciplinarian, using bed checks on the road, he was the creator of spring training, and a tactician during the game. Although Baltimore is famous for the hit and run, Anson was the first to use it. Anson also tried many other strategies during his days including the first to go to pitching rotations; first the two-man and then the three-man. With Anson leading and his cast of great players, it's no wonder this team dominated the 1880s.
Cap Anson was one of the first superstars but he qualifies as a founding father because of his innovations as a manager. Cap had a great playing career, including being the first player to amass 3000 hits in a career. It was a career in baseball that saw him play for 28 years. With him in the lineup he helped numerous teams to championships and he was part of the first professional league (the National Association) where he played for Philadelphia, and he was also part of the first major league (National League), where he played for the Chicago White Stockings. But he falls into the founding father role because of his managerial baseball innovations; which include spring trainings, pitching rotations, base coaches and infield / outfield coodination. He also created the first "fair" or official dynasty in baseball history. Below is a short history about that dynasty.