Fruit magnate William W. Whitney's vision came to fruition - and yes, that's a pun - in the spring of 1876 when the Century League took the field for the first time. A West Point-educated engineer, Whitney had fallen in love with baseball while in the Union Army during the Civil War and after getting his fruit business up and running turned his attention to his favorite pastime.


The Century League was born in Chicago's Grand Pacific Hotel on January 11, 1876. The invitees were all either men who financially backed touring clubs of professional base ball players or either owned grounds on which games could be played or (like Whitney himself) could afford to have them quickly built. At the inaugural meeting were Whitney (representing Chicago), Jason Kirkham (Boston), Charles Bigsby (New York) and his brother Miles (Brooklyn), Jefferson Edgerton (Philadelphia), James Tice (Cincinnati), Hans Fuchs (St. Louis) and Nicholas Welch (Detroit). Invited to attend, but declining, were three others: Percival Upton (Baltimore), John Q. Miller (Cleveland) and Henry Pulver (Buffalo). The latter three decided they'd rather go out on their own but were unable to find others willing to join them and their rival league fizzled before it even got started.

Whitney, as an avowed enthusiast of the sport, began the meeting by listing the reasons why a successful professional circuit had not yet occurred. They included the tendency for the associations to charge low "dues" for membership; an inexplicable lack of common sense in accepting only larger cities that could support what was in essence, an entertainment industry; lack of proper scheduling (and enforcement thereof); the tendency of the players to jump from team to team, often midseason; and most of all, the lack of a strong, central authority to enforce rules and settle disputes. Whitney went on to explain his solutions for each of those issues. 

Though Whitney was an intelligent and persuasive speaker, not all of the attendees jumped aboard immediately. James Tice noted that his Cincinnati club had been very lucrative while touring the midwest playing town teams. The Bigsby brothers agreed that the touring model seemed to be a good one. Whitney countered this by pointing out that eventually the "townies" would grow tired of being roundly defeated by the professionals. The players too, could grow restive and look for greener pastures. What Whitney's circuit promised was consistently high-quality games played by the best professionals in the sport. By playing half their contests at home, the clubs would engender a following among the locals - this would be "their" club. And by locking up the players with contractual agreements, the practice of "rounding" (players jumping to other teams on a whim with little or no notice) would be ended. 

By the end of the meeting, Whitney had an agreement with the other seven gentlemen and the Century League would begin playing games in May. Most of the men had the core of their clubs already set in preparation for another summer of touring. Whitney - and a few others - quickly set about negotiating with some of the better players of the multitude of touring clubs.