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A History of Major League Baseball, Part VI: The American League

This is a contribution by Jason E. Castro. Jason is a writer from Staten Island who has published several short stories in on-line literary magazines such as Danse Macabre, MediaVirus Magazine, Sparkbright Magazine and Greensilk Journal. He also has two books to his credit, “Rowdies” published in 2011 and “Cricket for Souls” which has been accepted by Muse It Up Press.

Part I: The Knickerbocker Rules

Part II: The National Association

Part III: The National League

Part IV: The Union Association

Part V: Rowdyball

Charlie Comiskey

Charlie Comiskey

In 1893, a Cincinnati newspaper editor named Byron “Ban” Johnson ascended to the presidency of the minor Midwest-based Western League. He was aided by Charlie Comiskey, a former American Association star who was managing the NL’s Cincinnati Reds at the time. After the 1894 season, Comiskey would purchase the WL’s Sioux City (Iowa) franchise and transfer it to St. Paul, Minnesota. Comiskey’s St. Paul Apostles would see franchises from other cities abandoned by the NL—Indianapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee. They would also play the only future American League team to carry its name and history from the WL—the Detroit Tigers.

Over the next several years, Johnson and Comiskey would successfully clean up the league and make it attractive to former NLers such as Connie Mack. And in 1900, the WL scored a coup d’état of their own by swiftly moving smaller market clubs from locales such as Grand Rapids (Michigan) and Kansas City into the cities vacated by the NL. They renamed the circuit American League for the 1900 season, and set themselves up for the future by obtaining permission from the NL to move the St. Paul Apostles to Chicago. Comiskey wisely chose the abandoned White Stocking nickname for his new team, which would win the pennant that year, and later shorten “Stockings” to “Sox.”

Major League Baseball

Major League Baseball

In 1901, the American League declared war on the National League. And so begins the “modern era” of Major League Baseball.

The AL officially opened for business on April 24, 1901, with the White Stockings earning an 8-2 victory over the Cleveland Blues (later Naps, then Indians) in Chicago. The league had six additional franchises—Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers, Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals (later Senators, before moving to Minnesota in 1961 to become the Twins), Boston Americans (later Pilgrims, then Red Sox), and Philadelphia (later Kansas City, then Oakland) Athletics–and most, if not all, opened their wallets wide. These franchises looted the NL for talent like criminals of today grab televisions during a catastrophic event, and there were plenty of flat-screens to be had—future Hall of Famers such as Napoleon Lajoie, Ed Delahanty and Jimmy Collins would make the jump. These moves were followed by ugly legal injunctions which aimed to prevent some of the defectors from playing in states common to both the AL and NL, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Massachusetts. Johnson would be forced to go so far as to broker trades to keep star players in the circuit.

The AL survived mostly intact going into 1902, with just the Brewers insolvent enough to warrant a franchise shift (to St. Louis, where they would spend the next fifty years as the Browns). However, the fledgling league would face its toughest test that summer when the Baltimore Orioles, facing money trouble of their own, sold out to John Mahon, an operative for the NL’s New York Giants. Once Mahon had controlling shares in the team, he sold them to Giant owner Andrew Freedman, who with Reds owner John T. Brush promptly released the better players from their contracts and signed them over to their squads. The AL would take control of the team, and eventually relocate it to New York City. The franchise shift that would create the Highlanders (and later Yankees) was the last MLB would see for half a century.

January 10, 1903. Having suffered devastating losses and with falling attendance, the National League waved a white flag and recognized the American League as its equal. A meeting was held at Cincinnati’s St. Nicholas Hotel, and a peace treaty between the rival leagues was signed to halt any further player raids.

Pittsburgh Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss was a key player in the peace treaty that would make up Major League Baseball as we know it today. But he wasn’t done yet—the little matter of a championship between his first-place NL franchise and the upstart league’s best would need to be settled. And so, he and Boston Pilgrim owner Henry Killea struck a deal to play a best-of-nine series at the end of that season. On October 1, 1903, Game One of the first modern-era World Series was played in front of more than 16,000 fans in Boston. They would watch the home team fall that day (Boston’s Cy Young was tagged early and often, and the Pilgrims/Red Sox were down by seven runs before getting on the board), but would celebrate a 5 games to 3 victory two weeks later.

The World Series concept did not immediately take. The Giants still held a grudge, and upon winning the 1904 pennant, refused to play Boston for the title. However, a severe outcry from the public at large changed their hearts, and when they repeated as pennant winners in 1905, they agreed to meet the Philadelphia Athletics for the title. But not without wearing specially made uniforms with the words “World Champions” stitched across the chest—this was a John McGraw-managed team, after all…

And now, to address the hoax…

Albert Spalding

Albert Spalding

By 1905, enough of the above information had been lost or forgotten to warrant Albert Spalding’s formation of a committee intended to discover baseball’s true origins. This was done in response to a Henry Chadwick article declaring baseball to have descended from British bat-and-ball games. Not wanting to believe in such heresies, the uber-patriotic Spalding made a public call for information about the American game of baseball. And he got precisely what he was looking for—a letter from seventy-one year old Abner Graves, who claimed to see West Point cadet Abner Doubleday drawing up a baseball diamond at a cow pasture in upstate New York. No matter that Graves’ credentials were suspect, or neither that Spalding nor his committee members ever took the time to meet with Mr. Graves in person; on December 30, 1907, the Mills Commission (as Spalding’s committee would be called) declared that “the first scheme for playing baseball, according to the best evidence obtainable to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, New York, in 1839.”

In the years that have followed, much has been made of the connection between Doubleday, Cooperstown and baseball. No matter that Doubleday, a highly decorated Civil War general who left behind extensive writings upon his death in 1893, never mentioned anything about baseball, or could be placed in Cooperstown during the year 1839. No matter that Abner Graves spent his final days in a Denver, Colorado asylum after murdering his wife. No evidence–just the words of a madman–were all it took to make Cooperstown, New York—not Hoboken, Cincinnati, Brooklyn, Madison Square, Fort Wayne, or any other location later documented as a prehistoric checkpoint of the game—the epicenter for baseball in America.

For more information…

Much of the information contained in thus seriescomes from David Nemec’s “The Great Encyclopedia of 19th Century Major League Baseball.” Other sources used include Wikipedia, www.19cbaseball.com, Baseball Almanac, SABR, Ethan Lewis’s “A Structure to Last Forever: The Player’s League and the Brotherhood War of 1890,” and www.projectballpark.org.

Be sure to also check out Jason’s book, “Rowdies” available on Amazon.com

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2 Responses to A History of Major League Baseball, Part VI: The American League

  1. --Rick says:

    Well done. Interesting, informative, factual and fun. Thank you.

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