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William Hulbert

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William Hulbert
William Hulbert Baseball.jpg
Born: William Ambrose Hulbert
(1832-10-23)October 23, 1832
Burlington Flats, New York
Died: April 10, 1882(1882-04-10) (aged 49)
Member of the National
Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg
Election MethodVeterans Committee

William Ambrose Hulbert (October 23, 1832 – April 10, 1882) was one of the founders of the National League, recognized as baseball's first major league, and was also the president of the Chicago White Stockings franchise.

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It was a weak ground ball to third base that ended over a century’s worth of baseball futility. On November 3, 2016, the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years. Much like the Red Sox win in 2004 that also put the brakes on a similar streak, it propelled the Cubs into another stratosphere in terms of popularity. The following April, according to the Los Angeles Times, four of the top five player jersey sales were Cubs. Players appeared on talk shows and late night comedy sketches. Even the backup catcher had his moment in the sun, with a second-place finish on Dancing with the Stars. Despite this popularity, many people don’t know why the Chicago Cubs are named after a baby bear. After all, there are no longer any wild bears in Illinois. Here’s the story of how they got that name and the sad story of their real life bear mascots who used to join them in the dugout. Cap_ansonIn February of 1876, Chicago businessman William Hulbert (known for grocery stores and selling coal) formed the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs. His Chicago White Stockings – called such because of the color of their uniforms and socks – were one of eight charter members, along with teams from Boston, Cincinnati, Louisville, New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Hartford. Play began in April that year with A.G. Spalding (yes, of ball fame) as player/manager. Later that year, the White Stockings would become the first National League champions. For the next decade and half, the Chicago White Stockings dominated the league. They were lead by baseball’s first superstar, Adrian Anson. In 1879, he was also named their captain and manager, forever earning him the nickname “Cap.” The team continued to win pennant after pennant with Anson gaining more and more influence with the club. By 1890, he even owned 13% of the Chicago White Stockings. That same year, a whole slew of players from every National League team left the league to form a more player-friendly one they dubbed, rather unimaginatively, the “Players League.” Because of this, Anson was forced to fill his roster with young, inexperienced players. So, the newspapers mockingly dubbed them the “Anson’s Colts.” It’s important to emphasize here that at this point in baseball history, team names weren’t necessarily created by anyone involved with the team. They were often, as we would call it, “crowdsourced” – perhaps a newspaper writer or a fan noticed a particular trait about the club and would conceive a nickname based on that. Unsurprisingly from this, they could be known by several different names. As for “Anson’s Colts,” the name got shortened to simply the Chicago Colts. Anson continued to manage and play for the Colts during the 1890s, but his numbers dwindled slightly from his insane peak, and his arrogance (like insisting that he play every day despite being 45 and somewhat past his prime) rubbed players the wrong way. His contract finally expired on February 1, 1898 and the team refused to resign him. Anson was mad, but his great playing career was finally over. As a snide joke, local newspapers began calling the team the Chicago Orphans in that they lost their “father” Anson. That name, too, stuck for several years. They were also sometimes called the “Rainmakers” because a number of their games were rained out that year. The Orphans (though, they were still called the Colts at times) were not a particularly memorable team from 1898 to 1901, even though they did feature a young Frank Chance (of “Tinkers to Evers to Chance” fame). In 1901, the upstart American League raided talent from the National League, leaving Chicago media to again joke about their ball club’s nickname. They now called them the “Remnants.” By 1902, they were earning a reputation for filling the holes left by the American League with young players or, as veterans sometime called them, “cubs.” In a Chicago Daily News article published on March 27, 1902 about the upcoming season, the writer referred to the team as the “Chicago Cubs,” with the title of the piece being “Selee Places His Men – Manager of the Cubs is in Doubt Only on Two Positions.” It goes on, “Frank Selee will devote his strongest efforts on the team work of the new Cubs this year…” Now, it was common at this time to call young baseball players “cubs,” but what made this a little different was the choice to capitalize the “C”– making it a proper noun. There has been some speculation that this wasn’t intentional, but perhaps a typesetting error, given that the article content seems to refer to the young players on the team as the “cubs” and not the whole team. However, the sub-headline of the piece would seem to refer to the whole team, so perhaps it was intentional. Either way, this caught on and for the next several years, “Cubs” became one of the accepted names of the team, along with “Colts,” “Orphans,” “Remnants,” and “Microbes,” with the latter originally intended as an insult because of the ongoing dispute between St. Louis and Chicago about the flow of the bacteria-filled Chicago River. However, by 1907, the team was almost universally referred to as the Chicago Cubs. chicago-cubsThe next year, in 1908, the team embraced the name and started taking it literally. Despite having won the World Series in 1907 and the year previous in 1906 setting a record of winning 116 games (a mark only matched in baseball history by the 2001 Seattle Mariners), they thought it was necessary to have a good luck charm in the form of a mascot. (At the time, team mascots were taken very seriously as genuine good luck charms, rather than just a marketing move for kids and the like.) Thus, they brought aboard a Boston bull terrier puppy named Bud. However, fans didn’t take to a dog being the mascot of a team commonly called the Cubs. So, the team got a person and put them in a weird-looking polar bear suit. Fans liked that a lot more, though history wasn’t kind to the photos of the team with the polar bear. In 1910, the team got a real live cub to be their mascot. That didn’t work out so well, however. At the beginning of the season, they had a baby black bear shipped from Spokane, Washington to Chicago. Predictably, the bear was cranky and liked to bite the players in the dugout. So, the team took the bear cub and put him in the dugout of their hated rivals, the Giants. Their intentions for the bear were not kind. Chicago baseball writer Charles Dryden wrote at the time, “We hope [Giants manager John McGraw] kicked the stuffing out of the little beast to get even, for it has been biting the regular Cubs on the ankle and we have enough cripples on the team.” chicago-cub2A few years later, the team brought in an Alaskan black baby bear named Clara Maduro. Despite the cute photos, the Chicago Tribune reported that the bear was “too strong and determined in its ways to be among peaceable people.” They were forced to send the bear to the Lincoln Park Zoo. In 1916, a Montana bear that was on its way to the stadium to entertain fans escaped its crate and made its way into a tailoring factory. It was promptly shot. But the team was undeterred and got another bear mascot, named Joa, who lived in a simple circular cage outside of the Weeghman Park (later, renamed to Wrigley Field). As you might imagine from the conditions in which he lived, he was surely, once clawed a player and was often seen chewing his steel chain in an attempt to free himself. Nearly a century later, the Cubs debuted another bear mascot – his name was Clark and he was animated. The origin story the team concocted was that the cartoon Clark had heard stories growing up of his great-grandfather Joa’s exploits as the Cubs’ mascot and was inspired to follow in his footsteps… Of course, had he actually known anything about Joa’s sad tale he might have run the other way instead. Nevertheless, after the team’s World Series win, Clark the Cub was seen partying with the team and marching in the celebration parade with them.


Born in Burlington Flats, New York, Hulbert moved with his family to Chicago two years later where he lived the rest of his life save for a stint at Beloit College beginning in 1847. When he returned to Chicago from school, he married into the family of a successful grocer and expanded the business into the coal trade. A backer of the Chicago White Stockings baseball club of the National Association from its inception in 1871, Hulbert became an officer of the club in 1874 when it resumed play after being forced to sit out two seasons due to the Great Chicago Fire and assumed the presidency the next year.

In his brief tenure as a club president in the National Association, Hulbert soon became fed up with the circuit's lack of definite structure, organization, and integrity. He was particularly disgusted by the Davy Force case in 1874. Force, the shortstop of the White Stockings that year, was a notorious "contract jumper", a common occurrence in the National Association in which players would move from team to team each year selling themselves to the highest bidder. Determined to keep his shortstop, Hulbert signed him to a contract for the 1875 season in September, before the 1874 season had concluded, a violation of league rules. In December, Force signed a second contract with the Philadelphia Athletics, and Hulbert protested. The Association Judiciary committee originally awarded Force to Chicago, but at a second meeting in early 1875, after a Philadelphia man had been elected president of the association, the decision was reversed.

Hulbert became convinced that the Eastern ballclubs were conspiring to keep the Western clubs second-class citizens and plotted to overthrow the might of the Boston Red Stockings, which won each association pennant between 1872 and 1875. To do so, he convinced Illinois native and star Boston pitcher Al Spalding to sign with Chicago for the 1876 season and also signed Boston stars Cal McVey, Deacon White, and Ross Barnes and Philadelphia stars Cap Anson and Ezra Sutton, though Sutton later backed out of his deal. The signings were made while the 1875 season was in progress, but Hulbert decided to anticipate league disciplinary action by establishing his own league.

After enlisting the support of Western clubs including the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the St. Louis Brown Stockings, and the Louisville Grays, Hulbert held a meeting with the Eastern clubs of the Mutual of New York, the Athletic of Philadelphia, the Boston Red Stockings, and the Hartford Dark Blues on February 2, 1876, at the Grand Central Hotel in New York City and sold them on his vision for a new league founded on the principles of square dealings, recognition of contracts, and business integrity along with a more orderly game on the field through prohibitions on drinking, gambling, and Sunday baseball and more definite organization off it through limiting membership to cities of 75,000 inhabitants or more, giving clubs exclusive territorial rights, and mandating teams to complete a predetermined schedule. The result was the founding of the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs. At the founding meeting, straws were drawn to determine the first president of the circuit, and Hartford president Morgan Bulkeley drew the short straw. He only remained president for one year and took little interest in the affairs of the league, not even bothering to attend the 1877 league meeting. When he did not show up, Hulbert was elected the new president, retaining his presidency of the White Stockings as well.

In his tenure as president from 1877 to his death in 1882, Hulbert ruled with an iron fist and took steps to insure league integrity and compliance with league rules. His first major act was expelling the New York and Philadelphia clubs from the league for failure to complete their 1876 schedules as required. While losing clubs in the two most populous cities in the United States was a serious blow, the expulsion sent a clear message that the lax adherence to league rules that had plagued the National Association would not be tolerated. Also in response to the New York/Philadelphia scheduling problem, Hulbert ended the practice of clubs determining their schedules through the club secretaries by declaring that the league itself would establish the schedule. Hulbert also instituted the practice of the league hiring of umpires to bolster public perceptions of league integrity.

Perhaps his greatest challenge was dealing with four members of the Louisville ball club who conspired to throw the 1877 pennant. In a move that established a precedent for future handling of dishonest ballplayers, Hulbert banned all four players from the league for life. The banning had a ripple effect across the league that led to the Louisville, St. Louis, and Hartford franchises folding, and the league began to face a crisis as Hulbert was forced to replace these and other teams over the years with clubs from smaller cities such as Providence, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Syracuse. In 1879, after the Cincinnati franchise nearly collapsed amid controversy created by having three star players making more money than the rest of the team combined, Hulbert oversaw the imposition of the first reserve rule designed to curb player salaries and prevent players jumping from team to team.

Hulbert's final major act as president also involved the Cincinnati franchise. While it was understood from the league's inception that beer and Sunday baseball were inappropriate, they were not actually prohibited by league rules, and the Cincinnati club, playing in a city with a large German population fond of beer and Sunday entertainment, practiced both activities to boost revenue. This led the league to pass new rules banning both for the 1881 season and then expelling the unapologetic Cincinnati club for violating a rule that would not go into effect for two more months. This final league expulsion brought the National League its greatest challenge yet, as Cincinnati spearheaded the creation of the rival American Association in 1882 that moved into populous areas abandoned by the NL over the years such as New York and Philadelphia. Hulbert did not live to see this rival franchise begin play, however, dying of a heart attack in 1882 at the age of 49 two weeks before the AA made its debut.

For decades, Hulbert was kept out of the Baseball Hall of Fame despite his critical role in founding the first professional league. This was because when American League founder and first president Ban Johnson was elected to the Hall in 1937, it was decided that an early National League executive should be enshrined as well, and apparently not looking into history too closely, the electors chose to elect Morgan Bulkeley because he was the first president of the league. This injustice was finally rectified by the veterans committee, which enshrined Hulbert in 1995.

Hulbert is buried in Graceland Cemetery under a grave marker designed to look like a baseball. In addition to his name and his birth and death dates, the marker includes the names of the cities originally included in the National League.


  • Bales, Jack. Before They Were the Cubs: The Early Years of Chicago’s First Professional Baseball Team. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2019.
  • Haupert, Michael. "William Hulbert". Society for American Baseball Research. Retrieved 3 March 2016.

External links

Preceded by
Owner of the Chicago Cubs
1876 – 1882
Succeeded by
Albert Spalding
This page was last edited on 18 April 2019, at 05:27
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