A Tribute to the American League

By David Nevard
(c) 2000 BHS

I. Goodbye American League

Jan. 20, 2000 -- Today, the Ballclubs unanimously adopted a new Major League Constitution which continues the process of consolidation of the Leagues into one business entity in Major League Baseball, while maintaining full on-field competition between the two Leagues. -- Official News Release of Major League Baseball

Gene Budig, the last President of the American League, had resigned on January 8, following his National League counterpart, Len Coleman, who quit on September 15. They will both continue to collect their salaries, as "advisors". The American & National Leagues have ceased to exist, since both presidents of the leagues have resigned, and the Commissioner's office has apparently taken over most of, if not all, the old "league" functions. Just go on to majorleaguebaseball.com and try to find ANY information about the American League office.

The AL has taken its place alongside the All American Girls Baseball League, Negro Leagues, the Federal League, and the Union Association  -- defunct organizations. The name American League may live on, but only as a vestige. As Napoleon (or Talleyrand?) said of the Holy Roman Empire, "It is neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire." The American League is neither American nor a League. It will merely be a conference or division with a fancy name. It is the equivalent of the American Football Conference.

This is a tribute to our former league, the Junior Circuit. It's the league we grew up with, and though it had its foibles and occasional blunders, we defended it heartily against proponents of that hated other circuit, The League That Lets Pitchers Bat.

Ban Johnson

The American League was originally the creation of one man, Byron Bancroft "Ban" Johnson, a sportswriter from Cincinnati. He began with a reorganized Western League in 1894. It was a minor league with major ambitions. Ban's marketing strategy was to contrast his product with that of too-rowdy, too-corrupt 12-team National League, which had a monopoly on bigtime baseball. The new league would offer a clean, family-friendly style of baseball. He would gradually move into larger and larger cities, until he was ready for an outright war against the monopoly. Western League franchises leapfrogged throughout the Midwest from year-to-year (Sioux City won the first pennant), always part of Ban's Plan. After the 1899 season the NL dropped four cities, leaving the path open for Johnson. The Western League changed its name on October 11, 1899 to American League , moving a team into vacated Cleveland, and another into the NL's capital city, Chicago. Some say it was a major league from that point onward, others mark the date at 1901...

The new White Stockings, managed by Charles Comiskey, won the first AL pennant in 1900, and made money, though their attendance was well behind that of the Cubs. In 1901, the AL declared itself a major league, and invaded the East Coast, putting teams in vacated Washington & Baltimore, plus NL strongholds Boston & Philadelphia. The AL also raided the NL's rosters, taking many of its star players until the Senior Circuit sued for peace.By 1903 the American League was in New York and St. Louis, and the league took on the shape it retained for 50 years. The Junior Circuit won the first World Series, Boston beating Pittsburgh. The quality of play in the two leagues was pretty much equal from the beginning, but different league styles developed.

See some Historic AL Seasons

In the early days Baseball was ruled by a triumvirate of Johnson, the NL President, and Garry Hermann, president of the Cincinnati Reds. After the Black Sox scandal, Judge Landis was appointed Commissioner, and he successfully curbed Ban Johnson's powers. Baseball's two leagues still retained a great deal of autonomy until the 1990's. Decisions such as expansion and the DH rule were made strictly along League lines, and of course, teams from the two circuits never met except in exhibitions and the World Series.

Next... American League Originals