The league retained the same franchises from 1881, but the competition from the new American Association was a concern. The two leagues shared no cities, so there were no direct conflicts, but taking a major market in Philadelphia that the NL had abandoned after 1876 must have raised some eyebrows. The NL teams themselves were little affected, as no players of note moved to the AA. Chicago won its third straight NL pennant, in a close race with Providence which finished three games back. Then followed Buffalo and Boston, Cleveland, and Detroit, with Troy under .500 and Worcester was the doormat. Worcester departed the league after this season.
Dan Brouthers topped batters with a .368 average, followed by Cap Anson at .362. Then came Roger Connor at .330, Joe Start at .329, Jim Whitney (a pitcher) at .323, and George Gore at .319. Gore scored 99 runs, falling just short of the century mark in spite of the 84-game schedule. Abner Dalrymple scored 96, Harry Stovey 90, and King Kelly 81. Kelly had 37 doubles, followed by Anson with 29.
Jim McCormick led the way in wins with 36, then came Charley Radbourn with 33, Pud Galvin and Fred Goldsmith at 28, Larry Corcoran 27, Stump Weidmann 25, and Jim Whitney rounding out the 20-game winners with 24. Corcoran led the way with a 1.95 ERA, Radbourn was at 2.11, McCormick 2.37, Goldsmith 2.42, and Tim Keefe 2.49. Radbourn edged McCormick with 201 strikeouts to 200, and George Derby was third with 182.
NL Win Shares, pitchers; Charley Radbourn (Providence) 50, Jim McCormick (Cleveland) 42, Jim Whitney (Boston) 40, Stump Wiedman (Detroit) 35, Pud Galvin (Buffalo) and Fred Goldsmith (Chicago) 29, Larry Corcoran (Chicago) 28, Tim Keefe (Troy) 24.
Position players; John M. Ward 31 (Providence--actually, Ward was 2/3 a RF and 1/3 a pitcher this year, and got most of his WS for pitching), Dan Brouthers (Buffalo) 20, Jack Glasscock (Cleveland), Charlie Bennett (Detroit), Roger Connor (Troy) all 19, Cap Anson(Chicago) and Paul Hines (Providence) 18 each, George Gore (Chicago) 17, Abner Dalrymple, King Kelly, and Ned Williamson, all of Chicago, 16 WS each.
WARP3 scores: Radbourn 6.6, McCormick 8.8, Whitney 7.2, Wiedman 8.7, Galvin 1.3, Goldsmith 3.5, Corcoran 5.5, Keefe 7.9. For the players, Ward 4.5, roughly half of that as a pitcher, Brouthers 9.2, Glasscock 8.2, Bennett 8.9, Connor 7.2, Anson 6.3, Hines 7.4, Gore 8.1, Dalrymple 6.1, Kelly 6.4, Williamson 7.2. Other top scores were Joe Hornung of Boston at 5.5 and Buck Ewing of Troy at 5.6.
WAR for pitchers: McCormick 9.3, Weidmann 7.6, Radbourn 7.1, Corcoran 6.3, Goldsmith 5.6, Whitney 4.6, Galvin 4.0.
WAR for position players: Brouthers 6.0, Glasscock 4.8, Connor 4.4, Williamson and Start 4.3, Anson and Bennett 4.2.
Top pitcher: Jim McCormick. With George Bradley fading quickly, McCormick was the only reliable pitcher Cleveland had, and he ended up pitching over 100 more innings than any other NL hurler.
#1 Jim McCormick, #2 Charley Radbourn, #3 Jim Whitney, #4 Stump Wiedman, #5 Larry Corcoran.
Top player: Dan Brouthers is an easy pick, leading in average, OBA, slugging, OPS, hits, and total bases.
#1 Dan Brouthers, #2 Charlie Bennett, #3 Jack Glasscock, #4 Roger Connor, #5 Paul Hines, #6 George Gore.
The "Heisman" for best two-way awarded to Jim Whitney, one of the best hitters in the league as well as a solid pitcher. Ward finishes second here, because Whitney hit better.
No rookie selection, as there was no standout NL rookie after a bunch of notables last year.
Top manager: Cap Anson. He did lead the pennant winners, after all.