Baseball – The American League

The Western League of Professional Baseball Clubs was a minor league located in the Great Lakes area of the United States. It had been in existence since the late 1870′s but never knew financial stability. In November of 1893 in Detroit the league reorganized, and it was at this point that the future American League took shape.

Bancroft β€œBan” Johnson was a sports editor for a Cincinnati newspaper at the time and was close friends with Charles Comisky, the manager of the Reds, and John Brush, the team owner. At the urging of both Comisky and Brush, the team owners at that November meeting in Detroit elected Mr. Johnson as president of the Western League for the 1894 season. Johnson accepted the appointment and remained in that position for 35 years.

The franchises of this league included:

Detroit Tigers, Sioux City Cornhuskers, Milwaukee Brewers,Toledo White Stockings,Buffalo Bisons, Kansas City Blues, Grand Rapids Rustlers, Indianapolis,and theSt. Paul

Critical of National League

Mr Johnson was very vocal in his displeasure of the National League. He didn’t like the idea that the NL monopolized baseball since the folding of the American Association, and he criticized the league for its rough and rowdy persona. He felt as William Hulbert felt when the National League was created that it should evoke a family atmosphere. Johnson believed that umpires were crucial to the game and disrespect towards them would not be tolerated. Johnson fined and even suspended players for cursing on the field. The Western League was soon appreciated as the finest run league in all of baseball.

Baseball   The American League

American League is Born

The owners of the NL teams regularly spoke of contraction during the middle and late 1990′s, feeling the competition would attract more fans with an 8 team league rather than the 12 they had now. This is exactly what Ban Johnson was hoping for, figuring he would place new teams in the abandoned cities of the NL and eventually create a new major league.

Johnson’s wildest dreams came true in 1900 when the National League contracted 4 teams, leaving Baltimore, Louisville, Cleveland and Washington D.C. without major league franchises. Johnson knew that the time was ripe for taking on the NL. He began his grand scheme by moving the Grand Rapids team to Cleveland and persuaded his friend Comisky to relocate the St. Paul franchise to Chicago. The Chicago move actually had the blessings of the NL as they were concerned that the old American Association was considering a revival.

For the 1900 campaign, Johnson renamed his Western League teams. They were now referred to as the American League, although they were content to still play as a minor league. Not only was 1900 a huge success for the new league, it was decided that Johnson should receive a new 10 year contract for his efforts.

The National Agreement

The National Agreement was an agreement between the National League and minor league baseball. It stated that the NL must pay individuals a minimum of $1000 per year and the minor leagues were to pay a maximum of $750.

When the agreement expired in October of 1900 with Ban Johnson’s American League, he did not renew it. On January 28th 1901, Johnson declared the American League would from then on operate as a major league, and just for good measure, he placed new franchises in Boston, Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia.

(An unceremonious note: the Buffalo Bisons were assured by Johnson that they would be included as an American League franchise but were dumped in favor of Boston. It was later revealed that Johnson was in cahoots with the Boston ownership and even had a stake in it’s future.)

Jumping Ship

The next move by the National League was nearly incomprehensible. They put a limit on NL salaries set at $2,400. The AL owners jumped on that like a hobo on a ham sandwich. They went after every prominent NL player and more than 100 jumped to the upstart American League. For two years the American League greatly outdrew the National League in attendance. In retaliation, the NL attempted to sabotage the AL by luring away John McGraw from Baltimore and several of his best players to the New York Giants.

The NL finally sued for a peaceful settlement and in 1903, after moving the Baltimore franchise to New York in the AL, reached a new National Agreement that recognized the AL as a second major league. A National Commission was set up with both league presidents and Red’s team president Garry Hermann presiding.