Western League (original)

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For other uses, see Western League (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with Western Association.
Western League of Professional Baseball Clubs
Most recent season or competition:
Sport Baseball
Founded February 11, 1885
CEO Ban Johnson (1894–1900)
Inaugural season 1885
Country United States
Continent North America
Ceased 1900
Last champion(s) White Stockings
Most titles Indianapolis (4)

The Western League of Professional Baseball Clubs, simply called the Western League, was a minor league baseball league originally founded on February 11, 1885, and focused in the Midwest.

After several failures and reorganizations, the most notable version of the league was organized by Ban Johnson on November 20, 1893. In 1900, the league was renamed the American League, and declared major league status in 1901.


Before its most notable incarnation in November 1893, the Western League existed in various forms. The league was originally formed as a minor league on February 11, 1885.[1][2][3] The original clubs were located in IndianapolisKansas CityClevelandMilwaukeeToledo and Omaha. The Indianapolis Hoosiers won the first title with a record of 27–4–1.[2]

The league failed at the end of the 1885 season, but it was reformed again before the 1886 season.[1] In 1887, the league was dominated by Topeka's Golden Giants, a high-priced collection of major leaguers, including Bug Holliday, Jim Conway, Perry Werden and Jimmy Macullar, which won the title by 15½ games.[2] The league failed yet again after playing a partial 1888 season, then was reformed again for the 1892 and 1893 seasons before folding again on June 20, 1893.[1]

Reorganization and conversion to American League[edit]

In a meeting in Detroit, Michigan, on November 20, 1893, the Western League reorganized again. From this point forward, this version of the league has continued in existence (eventually to become the American League).

At that meeting, Ban Johnson was elected President, and would remain so until his retirement nearly thirty-five 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. This afforded an opportunity for the Western circuit to expand into those vacated cities. In a meeting in Chicago on October 11, 1899, 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 of Major League Baseball. The NL 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 for 1900.

After the 1900 season, the American League declined to renew its membership in the National Agreement and declared itself a major league. It began raiding National League rosters and attempting to compete directly against the NL. The franchises in Buffalo, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Minneapolis were replaced by Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington for the 1901 season. With the move of Milwaukee to St. Louis in 1902, and Baltimore to New York in 1903, the American League lineup settled on five franchises in cities already occupied by the National League (Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis) and two in cities recently abandoned by the National League (Cleveland and Washington), but only one in a city remaining from the Western League lineup of 1899 (Detroit). Four of the other 1899 Western League cities now host Major League baseball (Kansas City, Milwaukee, and St. Paul and Minneapolis jointly), while three do not (Buffalo, Grand Rapids, and Indianapolis).

The American League's claim to major league status was initially disputed, but had to be recognized after the Boston Red Sox defeated the National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates in the first World Series in 1903.

Another Western League[edit]

When Ban Johnson changed his league's name to the American League before the 1900 season, another "Western League" was immediately formed.[1] This league operated from 1900 to 1937 and from 1947 to 1958. Its franchises were located west of the Mississippi River, in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains states. 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).

Several other 20th century minor league circuits have also used the same name.

League members 1894–1900[edit]

Had transferred to St. Joseph, Missouri and Omaha, Nebraska in 1898 before returning to Michigan in 1899.

Disputes in league history[edit]

There is an inconsistency in the history of certain teams as shown in various sources.[specify]

  • [[Indianapolis Indians, sometimes called Hoosiers, four players on the 1900 Indianapolis roster (outfielders Phil Geier and Socks Seybold, pitcher Billy Milligan, and catcher Doc Powers, were on the 1901 Philadelphia Athletics roster according to Baseball Reference)]] → Philadelphia Athletics, 1901 → Kansas City Athletics, 1955 → Oakland Athletics, 1968,

However, some sources' information contradicts the above:

  • Indianapolis Indians → Baltimore Orioles, 1901 → New York Highlanders (renamed New York Yankees, 1913)[6]

Other sources have: Minneapolis → Baltimore → New York

The Allen books merely indicate that Buffalo, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Minneapolis were replaced by Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, simply listing the cities each time in alphabetical 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.

Transition to American League[edit]

The Minneapolis Millers are indicated to have been abandoned by the American League following the 1900 season. Stew Thornley points 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.[7]

Minneapolis owner C. H. Saulpaugh, Indianapolis owner W. H. Watkins, and Kansas City owner James Manning opposed the move of the American League into eastern cities. Only Manning appears to have been eventually swayed, and agreed to move his franchise.[8] The Indianapolis club jumped to the 1901 incarnation of the American Association that the National League formed but never got off the ground.[9]

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."[10] This likely alludes to them joining a new minor league that was planned to play in cities left behind by the American League.[11]

As late as November 23, 1900 Buffalo was to be given a one-year contract to remain a member of the AL.[12] By January, enthusiasm for a Boston club meant the AL would either go to 10 teams or have to drop one.[13] 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."[7]

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. Philadelphia in 1901 had four players from Indianapolis of 1900. The rosters of Boston and Baltimore do not seem to share any similarity to the rosters of 1900 Minneapolis and Buffalo.[14] 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 and Boston as new teams. Indianapolis transferred four players and ownership to Philadelphia[15]

This research[which?] 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. Indianapolis transferred ownership to Philadelphia under Benjamin Shibe and Connie Mack, also cited in "Connie Mack" (a biography). Baltimore and Boston seem to have been created anew with new ownership. Total Baseball agrees with this assessment 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.

Buffalo continued to play as a minor league franchise continuously until 1970; the current Bisons incarnation is a revival that dates to 1979.

Pennant winners[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Western League versus Western Association", SABR Minor League Newsletter, June 2002, retrieved October 12, 2009 
  2. ^ a b c Madden, W.C.; Stewart, Patrick (2002). The Western League: A Baseball History, 1885 through 1999. ISBN 0-7864-1003-5. 
  3. ^ "Baseball Chronology - 1885". TheBasebeballLibrary.com. Retrieved October 12, 2009. 
  4. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=pPa6LCWS6u8C&pg=PA10&lpg=PA10&dq=western+league+toledo+team+1894&source=web&ots=PYKOtd6B17&sig=hZp1SzrVUcd4oPND3ux3cDF7_BE&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=5&ct=result
  5. ^ http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/milb/history/top100.jsp?idx=59
  6. ^ "Yankees Timeline 1903-1925". New York Yankees. Retrieved July 21, 2008. 
  7. ^ a b "Seeks to snare Duffy of Boston". Chicago Daily Tribune. January 29, 1901. p. 9. 
  8. ^ "Manning to put club here". The Washington Post. November 12, 1900. p. 8. 
  9. ^ "Teams at league park". The Washington Post. January 6, 1901. p. 8. 
  10. ^ "Watkins shows his hand". Chicago Daily. January 16, 1901. p. 8. 
  11. ^ "Johnson returns in pacific mood". Chicago Daily. December 23, 1900. p. 17. 
  12. ^ "Baseball for Baltimore". New York Times. November 23, 1900. p. 8. 
  13. ^ "Circuit of ten clubs". Chicago Daily Tribune. January 13, 1901. p. 18. 
  14. ^ "New baseball faces". Chicago Daily. April 8, 1900. p. 18. 
  15. ^ "Lineup of the rival leagues". Chicago Daily. March 31, 1901. p. 17. 


  • 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.