The Chicago White Stockings, the ancestors of today's Chicago Cubs, won the first NL Championship in 1876 with a 52-14 record. The next season, it was the Boston Red Caps winning their first title with a 42-18 record. The Red Caps are the Atlanta Braves today. The Red Caps repeated by winning in 1878 (41-19). The Providence Grays were the Champions in 1879 (59-25) as the league went from a 60 game schedule to a 84 game one. The White Stockings would be the first NL team to three-peat by winning the NL Pennant in 1880 (67-17), 1881 (56-28) and 1882 (55-29). The last NL Pennant before the first edition of the World Series went to the Boston Beaneaters, who were previously the Red Caps. They finished with a 63-35 record in an 88 game season.
In the first ever World Series, the Providence Grays (84-28) defeated the New York Metropolitans of the American Association in a best of five series 3-0. In 1885, the Chicago White Stockings (87-25) played the AA St Louis Browns in a best of seven series. The first game ended in a tie, the second was forfeited by the Browns. The seven game series finished in a tie at 3-3-1. The White Stockings (90-34) would repeat with the NL Pennant in 1886, this time losing to the Browns 4 games to 2. The Detroit Wolverines, who finished 2nd in 1886, won the NL Pennant in 1887.
They were set to play the Browns in the World Series, but this was no ordinary series. This one was set to be a "a series of contests for supremacy" which became a best of 15 series with games played in ten different cities. The Wolverines would win the whole thing by winning 8 of the first 11 games. In an odd occurrence, games 12 through 15 were actually played with the series decided. The last four games were split, giving the Wolverines the series 10-5.
The New York Giants would win the NL Pennant in 1888 (84-47), beating the Browns in the World Series 6 games to 4. The series changed to a best out of ten format. The Giants would win the NL again in 1889 (83-43) , winning the best out of ten WS over the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, 6 games to 3.
In an interesting, but common occurrence at that time, the Bridegrooms left the American Association to join the National League. The Bridegrooms would win the NL Pennant in their first season in 1890. They became the first team to win consecutive League Championships playing in different leagues. They played the AA Champ Louisville Colonels, but the best of 7 series ended in a tie, 3-3-1.
With no World Series played until 1903, the Boston Beaneaters ran off a streak of three straight NL Pennants, winning in 1891 (87-51), 1892 (102-48) and 1893 (86-43). The League created the Temple Cup, which lasted from 1894-1897. This was the first example of a "Wild Card" system as the first place team matched up against the second place team to determine the Championship. The Baltimore Orioles won the Pennant in 1984 (89-39), finishing 3 games ahead of the New York Giants (88-44). In what was a best of 7 series, it was the second place Giants who swept the Orioles in 4 games. The Orioles would repeat as NL Champs in 1895 (87-43), this time losing to the second place Cleveland Spiders (86-46) 4 games to 1. The Orioles had better luck in 1896, going 90-39. They faced the Spiders who finished 80-48. This time the Orioles swept the Spiders in 4 games, winning their first Temple Cup. The final Temple Cup was in 1897, where the Boston Beaneaters (93-39) held off the Orioles (90-40) by 2 games to take the NL Championship. However, it was the Orioles who won the final Temple Cup, 4 games to 1.
The 1898 Beaneaters (102-47) were considered one of the greatest teams in the 19th century. The Brooklyn Superbas won the NL Championship in 1899 with a record of 101-47 record. It had been a weird season, as talks existed of teams being contracted after the season. The Brooklyn Bridegrooms actually merged ownerships with the Baltimore Orioles prior to the start of the season before changing their name. The season resulted with the Cleveland Spiders, who had been completely stripped of all their talent throughout the season, finishing with a record of 20-134, the worst recorded record in the history of professional baseball. The Baltimore Orioles, Providence Grays, Cleveland Spiders and Detroit Wolverines folded after the 1899 season, leaving 8 teams in the NL.
The 1900 season featured the first and only Chronicle-Telegraph Cup, sponsored by Pittsburgh Chronicle-Telegraph. The Cup would be similar to the Temple Cup, featuring the NL Champion against the team that finished in 2nd place. The only difference was the fact that the best of five series would have all five games played in Pittsburgh. The Superbas would win the Championship (82-54) by 4 1/2 games over the second place Pirates (79-60). The Pirates had the real home field advantage, with all five games played at their home. But it was the Superbas who would win the series 3 games to 2.
The final two NL Championships went to the Pirates in 1901 (90-49), 7 1/2 games over the second place Philadelphia Phillies, and in 1902 (103-36), an astounding 27 1/2 games ahead of the second place Superbas. The Pirates would win the first NL Championship of the modern World Series era in 1903, but lost to the AL Champion Boston Americans.
In the pre World Series era (1894-1902), the kings of the National League were the Boston Red Caps (Beaneaters) who won 8 NL Championships. The Chicago White Stockings would win 6 in this time, followed by the Brooklyn Bridegrooms (Superbas) and Baltimore Orioles, who had each won 3. The Providence Grays and New York Giants each won 2 with the Detroit Wolverines winning the other NL Championship. In the four year history of the Temple Cup, only one NL Championship winning team won the Temple Cup, the 1896 Orioles. The New York Giants won the Temple Cup in 1894, Cleveland Spiders in 1895 and the Orioles in 1897.