The 1880s were the first full decade for major league Baseball. The rules were still changing almost yearly, resulting in vast differences in player performance. Pitching staffs consisted of one or two men early in the decade, leading to most pitchers ruining their arms before age 30 and few pitchers making it through the decade.
The 1880s saw the formation of the American Association as the first rival to the National League. While it became competitive, personality conflicts led to several teams deserting the AA for the NL and the talent level began slipping before it ever reached that of the NL. The two leagues participated in a World's Series starting in 1884, with the NL winning all but one. The year 1884 also saw a third league, the Union Association, which is recognized as a major league, although its status is disputed. Stars of the decade included Dan Brouthers, Deacon White and John Clarkson.
The minor leagues were slowly expanding but were in a state of constant flux. Few leagues survived for more than a couple years. Still, they were already becoming the primary training ground for future major leaguers as well as a home to washed-up ex-MLBers.
Baseball was being played on a limited stage internationally. The Cuban Winter League was active for most of the decade, but that was the lone international professional circuit to have any success.
There were no formal Negro Leagues. Several all-black teams played at times, but the top black players this decade often played in the minors. Segregation was spreading in baseball but was not the rule yet. Fleet Walker and Welday Walker even played in the majors, and other possible African-Americans who did not reveal their heritage were active. In the minors, players such as Bud Fowler, George Stovey and Frank Grant were starring in integrated leagues, often in the highest tier of the minors.
|Years||National League||American Association||Postseason||Other|
|1882||1882 NL||1882 AA|
|1883||1883 NL||1883 AA|
|1884||1884 NL||1884 AA||1884 WS||1884 UA|
|1885||1885 NL||1885 AA||1885 WS|
|1886||1886 NL||1886 AA||1886 WS|
|1887||1887 NL||1887 AA||1887 WS|
|1888||1888 NL||1888 AA||1888 WS|
|1889||1889 NL||1889 AA||1889 WS|
- Edward Achorn: The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America's Game, PublicAffairs, Perseus Books Group, New York, NY, 2013. ISBN 978-1-61039-260-0
- Jean-Pierre Caillault: The Complete New York Clipper Baseball Biographies: More Than 800 Sketches of Players, Managers, Owners, Umpires, Reporters and Others, 1859-1903, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2009.
- Christopher D. Green: "Baseball's First Power Surge: Home Runs in the Late 19th-Century Major Leagues", The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 40, Number 2 (Fall 2011), pp. 99-103.
- Bill James: "The 1880s", in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, The Free Press, New York, NY, 2001, pp. 35-51.
- David Nemec: The Beer and Whisky League, Lyons Press, Guilford, CT, 2003. ISBN 978-1558212855
- Marty Payne: "More Than Ballplayers: Baseball Players and Pursuit of the American Dream in the 1880s", Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Vol. 46, Nr. 1 (Spring 2017), pp. 79-86.
- Ryan A. Swanson: When Baseball Went White: Reconstruction, Reconciliation, and Dreams of a National Pastime, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2014. ISBN 978-0-8032-3521-2