1876 documents that launched MLB headed for auction

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1876 documents that launched MLB headed for auction

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SCP Auctions
The original constitution setting out the rules for the National League in 1876 will go on the block next month.

It could be called the Ten Commandments of Major League Baseball, even though it’s 74 pages long. Or perhaps, since it has just been discovered, it could be baseball’s version of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Regardless, the 1876 “Founding Documents and Original Constitution of Major League Baseball” are a valuable piece of sports memorabilia. The documents will go on sale May 24 in online bidding sponsored by SCP AuctionsSports Collectors Daily reported.

The artifact is a handwritten document that officials from California-based SCP Auctions claim is of “unprecedented historical significance.” The contents became part of baseball’s early bylaws, but the location of the original documents had been a mystery. They had been in the possession of the family of a longtime National League executive and had been passed down through the generations, Sports Collectors Daily reported.

“This is a huge revelation,” SCP Auctions Vice President Dan Imler told USA Today. “This is not a document that has made the rounds publicly. It’s never been exhibited in a major institution. It’s never been sold previously in a prior auction. It has never appeared anywhere.”

Baseball became a professional sport in 1869 thanks to the barnstorming tour of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, and in 1871 the National Association was formed. But after the 1875 season, baseball owners realized that more rules and structure were needed to make baseball more successful and profitable. In a meeting held on Feb. 2, 1876, in New York, Chicago White Stockings owner William Hulbert proposed a blueprint for operating professional baseball.

The other owners hammered out a plan and a new association was formed, dubbed “The National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs.” The league’s inaugural franchises would be located in Chicago, Boston, Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Hartford and Louisville.

Copies of the plan were given to each club but the one coming to SCP Auctions is the first original known to have survived, Sports Collectors Daily reported.

“Very few documents of this importance exist in tangible form,” Imler told USA Today.

“It's really remarkable to think that a document of such historical importance has never been unearthed until now," SCP Auctions spokesman Terry Melia said Sunday. "We're just excited to see what kind of reaction the original MLB constitution gets from the collecting community when our online bidding starts May 24.

“We expect it will be very strong." 

Authenticating the constitution took several months, as experts confirmed the age of the ink and the paper. The handwriting was analyzed and baseball historian John Thorn added his expertise as a consultant, USA Today reported. 

The baseball constitution continues a trend of originating documents that have come to auction. In 2016, SCP Auctions sold a set of 1857 documents representing the original rules of baseball for $3.26 million on auction, Sports Collectors Daily reported. James Naismith’s original 13-page “Rules of Basket Ball” sold for $4.34 million in 2010 by Sotheby’s to a consortium put together by Josh Swade, who chronicled his quest in his 2013 book, “The Holy Grail of Hoops One Fan’s Quest to Buy the Original Rules of Basketball,” and in an ESPN documentary.

The SCP auction for the baseball constitution documents will close on June 10.

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