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The Western League of Professional Baseball Clubs, simply called the Western League, was a minor league baseball league founded in 1893, and focused in the Midwest. In 1900, the league was renamed the American League, and declared major league status in 1901.
As described in Lee Allen's books, the Western League had been around in various forms since 1879, but had gone bankrupt. In a meeting in Detroit, on November 20, 1893, the league reorganized. This is the point from which the eventual American League can effectively date itself.
At that meeting, Ban Johnson was elected President, and would remain so until his retirement nearly 35 years later. Johnson, a Cincinnati-based newspaper reporter, had been recommended by his friend Charles Comiskey, former major league star with the St. Louis Browns in the 1880s, who was then managing the Cincinnati Reds. After the 1894 season, when Comiskey's contract with the Reds was up, he decided to take his chances at ownership. He bought the Sioux City team and transferred it to Saint Paul, Minnesota. These two men would be among the cornerstones of the American League.
After the 1899 season, the National League announced it was dropping Baltimore, Cleveland, Louisville, and Washington, D.C.. This afforded an opportunity for the Western circuit to expand into those vacated cities. In a meeting in Chicago on October 11, the Western League renamed itself the American League. It was still officially a minor league, subject to the National Agreement and generally subordinate to the National League. The NL actually gave permission to the AL to put a team in Chicago that year, and Comiskey moved his St. Paul club to the South Side. However, the new team in Chicago was subject to rules from the National League. The Cubs (then the Orphans) were allowed to draft two players each year from the AL team. Comiskey was also barred from using the name "Chicago" in all of his dealings, so he cleverly revived the old moniker "White Stockings" from the days of Cap Anson for his team. The AL also transferred the Grand Rapids team to Cleveland.
The way Allen characterizes it, the National was too absorbed in its own infighting to see what was afoot. After the 1900 season, the American League declined to renew its membership in the National Agreement, declared itself a major league, and began raiding National League rosters...and cities.
In addition to the original Western League, several 20th century minor league circuits used the same name. Its franchises were located west of the Mississippi River, and in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains states. Foremost among these was the Western League that existed from 1902-37 and 1947-58. This was then classified as an "A" league, but in today's minor league structure it would be a Class AA loop. In its post-World War II incarnation, the Western League included clubs in Denver, Colorado (now in National League); Des Moines, Iowa; Omaha, Nebraska; and Colorado Springs, Colorado; now all members of the AAA Pacific Coast League.
Franchise history 1894-1900 Edit
- Detroit Tigers - only WL charter member in its original city
- Sioux City Cornhuskers -> St. Paul Saints, 1895 -> Chicago White Sox, 1900
- Milwaukee Brewers -> St. Louis Browns, 1902 - now Baltimore Orioles
- Toledo -> Columbus, 1896 -> replaced by Buffalo, 1899
- Buffalo Bisons -> left league
- Kansas City Blues -> Washington Senators, 1901 - now Minnesota Twins
- Grand Rapids Rustlers -> Cleveland Blues (now called Cleveland Indians), 1900
- Had transferred to St. Joseph, Missouri and Omaha, Nebraska in 1898 before returning to Michigan in 1899.
- Minneapolis Millers -> sold to minor league.
There is an inconsistency in the history of these teams as shown in Wikipedia. The previous version of this page, as well as the A's page, assert the following:
However, the Yankees page contradicts the above:
- Indianapolis Indians -> Baltimore Orioles, 1901 - now New York Yankees.
An earlier version had Minneapolis->Baltimore->New York and also had Buffalo Bisons -> Boston Red Sox, 1901
The Allen books merely indicate that Buffalo, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Minneapolis were replaced by Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, not necessarily in any order. The Home Team, a history of Baltimore baseball written in the 1950s by James Bready, indicates that the Baltimore franchise of 1901 was a totally new entry, not a transfer from elsewhere. Clearly, more research is needed.
Upon further research, the Minneapolis Millers are indicated to have been abandoned by the American League following the 1900 season. Stew Thornley and Ross Berstein point out that the American League saw bigger markets in the east and wanted to cash in on the former National League territory. Therefore, the Minneapolis franchise is thought to be abandoned and new franchises were added in place of Minneapolis and other abandoned cities. Some teams were indeed transferred, as was the case with the Kansas City team.
In the Chicago Tribune, January 29, 1901, it is reported that the American League voted to drop Indianapolis, Minneapolis, and Buffalo, and award new franchises to new backers in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston. The article goes on to report that these were the only franchise decisions at that meeting, "Manning's Kansas City franchise having been transferred to Washington at a previous meeting." (Seeks to snare Duffy of Boston, Chicago Daily Tribue, Jan. 29, 1901, pg. 9.)
Minneapolis owner C. H. Saulpaugh, Indianapolis owner W. H. Watkins and Kansas City owner James Manning opposed the move of the American Legaue into eastern cities. Only Manning appears to have been eventually swayed, and agreed to move his franchise. (Manning to put club here, The Washington Post, Nov. 12, 1900, pg. 8) The Indianapolis club jumped to the 1901 incarnation of the American Association that the National League formed but never got off the ground. (Teams at league park, The Washington Post, Jan. 6, 1901, pg. 8)
Saulpaugh sold his Minneapolis club, the lease on its ballpark Nicollet Park, and the American League players, to A. B. Beal. The Jan. 16 Chicago Daily Tribune calls them "the Western league franchise." (Watkins shows his hand, Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 16, 1901, pg. 8) This likely alludes to them joing a new minor league that was planned to play in cities left behind by the American League. (Johnson returns in pacific mood, Chicago Daily, Dec. 23, 1900, pg. 17)
As late as November 23, 1900 Buffalo was to be given a one-year contract to remain a memeber of the AL. (Baseball for Baltimore, New York Times, Nov. 23, 1900, pg. 8) By January, enthusiasm for a Boston club meant the AL would either go to 10 teams or have to drop one. (Circuit of ten clubs, Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 13, 1901, pg. 18) Buffalo lost out but President Franklin of Buffalo was satisfied with the "agreement that the American leaguers would permit him to keep his team intact so far as they were concerned. They promised not sign any of his players if he went into another league." (Seeks to snare Duffy of Boston, Chicago Daily Tribue, Jan. 29, 1901, pg. 9.)
The player rosters from opening day 1900 compared to the rosters of 1901 seem to bear this scenario out. Washington in 1901 had several players from Kansas City of 1900. The rosters of Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia do not seem to share any similarity to the rosters of 1900 Minneapolis, Buffalo, and Indianapolis.(New baseball faces, Chicago Daily, Apr. 8, 1900, pg. 18) A preseason analysis by the Chicago Daily acknowledges the Washington Club is built around a nucleus from Manning's old Kansas City club, but treats Baltimore, Boston and Philadelphia as new teams. (Lineup of the rival leagues, Chicago Daily, Mar. 31, 1901, pg. 17)
This research indicates that Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Cleveland, held their clubs steady from 1900 to 1901. Kansas City moved to Washington under the same ownership by Manning. Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston seem to have been created anew with new ownership. Total Baseball agrees with this assesment in their team histories, although they treat Washington as a new club with many players and Manning, taken from Kansas City, rather than calling them a transferred club.
Western League pennant winnersEdit
- 1894 Sioux City 
- 1895 Indianapolis 
- 1896 Minneapolis
- 1897 Indianapolis
- 1898 Kansas City 
- 1899 Indianapolis
- 1900 Chicago (American League)
- The National League Story, Lee Allen, Putnam, 1961.
- The American League Story, Lee Allen, Putnam, 1962.
- On to Nicollet, Stew Thornley, Nodin Press, 1988.
- Batter-Up!, Ross Bernstein, Nodin Press, 2002.
- ProQuest Historical Newspapers
- Total Baseball, 8th edition, John Thorn, Phil Birnbaum, Bill Deane, and Rob Neyer, SportClassic Press, 2004.