When the Cincinnati Monarchs club left the Century League after the circuit’s first season (taking St. Louis along with them), there were a lot of hard feelings on both sides. Though neither club returned to the Century League, both continued to operate independently as touring clubs. But Cincinnati owner James Tice continued to keep an eye on the Century League and how it did business. And in the winter of 1881, he decided to take the lessons he felt he’d learned, and started his own professional circuit – the Border Association. The BA would feature eight clubs (same as the Century) with six clubs in the U.S. and two others in Canada. Cincinnati and St. Louis were joined by four other clubs: New York and Pittsburgh, plus two Canadian cities – Montreal and Toronto. With the older league already smarting from having the newcomers step into the void in New York, this ill will was quickly exacerbated: Tice, as Border Association President, promptly declared he would not honor Century League player contracts – and the war was on.
The impact of the new league was both immediate and massive. The rosters of the Century League clubs were altered drastically as many players left to join the new circuit. The CL clubs exacerbated the problem by feeding on themselves – the restriction on signing other teams’ players was universally ignored. Even Whitney’s own Chicago club began poaching players. When the dust settled, the face of baseball was changed.
On the field, the Philadelphia Centennials, under new manager (and star player) Zebulon Banks, captured their third pennant with a solid 61-24 season. Banks hit .337 and got good production from James Eubanks (.352) and Frank Sobreville (.346). Martin Tucker and Will Bullock split the pitching duties and each won 30 games (Bullock won 31, Tucker 30). Chicago finished second with a 56-28 record, followed by Detroit (the shuffled rosters benefited their low-rent approach for a change) at 50-34 and Boston at 44-40 was fourth. The sub-.500 clubs were Cleveland (38-48), Brooklyn (36-48), Providence (who was hit hard and fell to 31-53) and Baltimore in last place with a 22-63 mark. Whitiney’s Chicago club debuted catcher Chuck Embry who led the league with a .396 average (he also hit 12 home runs and second to Banks in RBIs with 78).Chicago also had the league’s top pitcher in Edwin Dudley who topped the circuit in wins (34) and ERA (2.07) and finished second to Bullock in strikeouts with 176,
The debut season of the Border Association saw the Toronto Provincials win the league’s first pennant with a 53-27 mark, good for a 5.5-game cushion over second-place Pittsburgh. Toronto boasted the league’s best pitching with Henry Ganus (28-11, 1.33 ERA) and Mack Walker (25-13, 1.70) finishing first and third, respectively, in ERA and taking the top two spots in wins. The hitting was good too as Toronto led the circuit in the three Triple Crown categories and had the second and third place hitters in the batting race with John Dorce (.352) and Gustav Gray (.348) finishing behind Montreal’s John Bates (.366).
The Pittsburgh Quarries (45-30) were second, with the Cincinnati Monarchs (43-31) third. The three other teams all finished below .500 : the St. Louis Brewers (36-43), Montreal Saints (33-47) and New York Stars (24-56).