The 1890s were a period of significant change in baseball, in terms of leagues, teams, rules and offensive levels. By the end of the decade, we had a game that is very similar to modern-day baseball, a far cry from the 1880s. The decade began with the formation of a third major league, the Players League, by the Brotherhood, in an attempt to fight the power of the owners. While it was the top league, it lasted only one year before folding in a year of poor economic performance for all three major leagues. The fading American Association collapsed the next season. That left a 12-team National League as the sole major league for the rest of the decade. To try to liven things up, the Temple Cup was introduced as a postseason, but it was never taken very seriously and was gone by the end of the decade.
The most significant rule change took place in 1893, when the mound was moved from 50' away from home plate to 60' 6" away, the current distance. The switch resulted in increased offensive levels and the 1894 NL season remains the highest-scoring in baseball history. The change was even more explosive in some minor leagues - the Western League produced phenomenally high offensive results, including several new minor league home run records by Perry Werden.
One other major development was the spread of syndicate ball, where the same owners held a stake in two teams. The most notable result of syndicate ball was the pathetic 1899 Cleveland Spiders, baseball's worst team ever (according to most opinions), when the owners moved their top players to the St. Louis Perfectos, leaving Cleveland with the dregs.
|Years||National League||American Association||Postseason|
|1890||1890 NL||1890 AA||1890 WS|
|1891||1891 NL||1891 AA|
|1892||1892 NL||1892 CS|
|1894||1894 NL||1894 Temple Cup|
|1895||1895 NL||1895 Temple Cup|
|1896||1896 NL||1896 Temple Cup|
|1897||1897 NL||1897 Temple Cup|
- Charles C. Alexander: Turbulent Seasons: Baseball in 1890-1891, Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, TX, 2011.
- William H. Brewster: The Workingman's Game: Waverly, New York, the Twin Tiers and the Making of Modern Baseball, 1887–1898, Luminare Press, Eugene, OR, 2019. ISBN 978-1643882321
- 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 1890s", in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, The Free Press, New York, NY, 2001, pp. 52-70.
- Bob LeMoine and Bill Nowlin, eds.: The Glorious Beaneaters of the 1890s, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2019. ISBN 978-1-970159-19-6
- Mitch Lutzke: The Page Fence Giants: A History of Black Baseball’s Pioneering Champions, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2018. ISBN 978-1-4766-7165-9