When Baseball was King

CH. 2- Birth of the American League & Formation of Major League Baseball

The Beginning of the American League  (1900- 1904)

I will begin my summary of Major League Baseball’s early years with the key 4-5 year period that occurred at the turn of the 20th century.

The National League dates back well into the 1870s, and the oldest professional sports team in North America- the Atlanta Braves franchise- can be traced all the way back to 1866 as the Cincinnati Red Stockings.

1901 is a monumental season in Baseball history.  The American League was formerly a minor league called the Western League.  In 1900 it changed its name to the ‘American League’ and began the transition of becoming a top-level League with the intention of gaining equal status with the National League.  After one transitional year between minor and major league, the American League gained recognition as a Major League in 1901.  

Due to this development of a second top-level baseball league, fans wanted to see the Champions of the 2 Major Leagues face off versus one-another.

It’s important to separate this key 4-year period and not lump it in with all the baseball history that came next.  During these 4 seasons the American League and National League were at war with each other over player contracts and popularity.  The Leagues mostly existed in the same cities so the competition and rivalry was especially fierce. Both threatened to put the other out-of-business.

The American League winner challenged the National League winner in all 4 seasons to a so-called ‘World Series’, but only once in 1903 did the National League Champion accept the challenge.

It was in the A.L.’s best interest to play a World Series to prove to the fans they were on par with the senior league. The N.L. believed they were superior to the new major league and wanted the A.L. to essentially go away.  They saw nothing to be gained from their Champion playing in a ‘World Series’.

When the Pittsburg Pirates accepted the Boston Americans challenge to play the 1st ever World Series in 1903, and lost the series 5 games to 3, this was an unmitigated disaster for the National League.  No longer would they be able to tell fans they were clearly the superior League and try to diminish the importance of the A.L.


It would be a great analogy to compare the infancy of the American League, from 1900-1904, to the American Football League in the early 1960s.  From 1960-1965 the upstart AFL was at war with the NFL over players contracts and popularity. During this time the NFL wanted to squash the AFL.

However, a merger-agreement occurred between the AFL and NFL in 1966 which changed the relationship of the leagues from bitter-rivals to co-operative partners.  The full merger of the two leagues happened in 1970, which is viewed as the beginning of the modern National Football League.  Now, the American Football League’s history is recognized as ‘official NFL history’, including those early seasons before the merger-agreement/ SuperBowl 1.

This brief but critical 4 year period of baseball history should not be lumped in with baseball history beginning in 1905.  During this time the 2 Leagues were at war and not co-operative partners.  Similarly to football in the year of SuperBowl 1 (1966), the 2 Leagues began a legendary partnership in 1905 that enforced a World Series and has shaped the history of the sport until present day.


Major Franchise Changes During 1901-1904

Additionally during this unique 4-year period of baseball history there were a few franchise changes and relocations that turned out to be historically important:

After their first 2 seasons in Baltimore, the original Orioles relocate to New York and become the Highlanders in 1903. Pretty soon after they would develop a new nickname- the Yankees.

In 1903 the Chicago Orphans decided it was time for a new nickname- they became the ‘Cubs’.

In 1902 the original Milwaukee Brewers relocated to St. Louis, becoming the ‘Browns’, and invaded the territory of the National League’s Cardinals. The Browns would last for more than 50 years in St. Louis before moving to Baltimore and becoming the Orioles.


Thanks for reading and please share!

*Note: I have put this project on hold- documenting the various eras within the pre-modern time period of Major League Baseball's history (1900-1968). On the surface, it seems like MLB changed very little from 1901 through 1960, however, there is a ton of information that will show that there was major change in MLB happening at various key points and years. 

I'd like to resume this essay, however, there's more pressing work to do currently. I need help making TCS a success. Likes, shares, visits, kind words, written opinions under articles, and of course, money would all help and be greatly appreciated. 

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