The Early Years
by David Lee Poremba
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Ignoring the reserve clause in National League contracts, which tied players to one team for life, Ban Johnson stocked his new league with major league players by offering higher salaries. National League clubs enforced a salary maximum of $2,400 for their players, making it easier to lure stars such as Cy Young, John McGraw, Willie Keeler, Napoleon Lajoie, Ed Delahanty, and others away. Connie Mack, the manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, signed Lajoie by offering him a $6,000 contract. Over 100 National League players jumped to the American League.
The junior circuit, backed by solidarity and the insistence of fair, clean play, outdrew the National League in attendance. Johnson insisted on presenting to the paying public a better brand of baseball. He denounced rowdy behavior and drunkenness on and off the field and strongly supported his umpires' decisions. In 1902, he moved the Milwaukee club to St. Louis, and now directly competing in four cities, once again outdrew the National League; overall attendance for the eight-team league was 2,228,000 over a 136-game schedule, compared to 1,684,000 for the National League. After the 1902 season, the National League owners favored a return to the dual major league structure similar to the one they had with the American Association during the 1880s. The National Agreement of 1903 stated that both circuits were separate but equal major leagues, had common playing rules, mutually accommodating schedules, and recognized each league's territories and player contracts. This last stipulation restored the reserve clause to the detriment of the players. The American League got to keep all of the players who jumped, was allowed to move the Baltimore club to New York, and agreed not to place a franchise in Pittsburgh (which would have been the Detroit club). The Agreement set up a three-member National Commission to govern the game. The three members were the National League President Harry Pulliam, Ban Johnson, and Cincinnati Reds owner Garry Hermann.
Peace prevailed in baseball. Buoyed by rising attendance and increased media coverage, no franchise changes occurred over the next 50 years. Attendance rose from 4.7 million in 1903 to 10 million in 1911. The prosperity spurred the construction, from 1909 to 1911, of new steel and concrete stadiums large enough to hold all these new fans.
The game of baseball was one of strategy, centered on bunts, hit-and-run tactics, and base stealing. The game was more scientific, and every run counted for much. Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit dominated the pennant races during the first two decades of the league's existence. Each year the pennant races were tight, being decided in the last month of the season.
In 1910, the cork-centered baseball was introduced and the game became livelier. Babe Ruth came on the scene and introduced a whole new style of play with the home run. Starting in 1920, the game would change forever.
Here in these photographs are the managers and players of the eight-team league that shed its regionalism and called itself American. There are superstars, journeymen ballplayers, and those men of even lesser talents pictured here in all the glory of their time.
From The American League by David Lee Poremba.
Copyright © 2000 by David Lee Poremba. Excerpted with permission.