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Western League (1885–1899)

Professional baseball leagues in the central U.S. from 1885, including 1894–1900 minor predecessor of the American League

Top 3 Western League (1885–1899) related articles

Western League of Professional Baseball Clubs
Most recent season or competition:
FoundedFebruary 11, 1885
Inaugural season1885
CEOBan Johnson (1894–1900)
CountryUnited States
ContinentNorth America
White Stockings
Most titlesIndianapolis (4)

The Western League of Professional Baseball Clubs, also called the Western League, was a minor league baseball league founded on February 11, 1885, and focused in the Midwestern United States.

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 its major league status in 1901 against the older National League of 1876, which was centered in the American Northeast states.

Western League (1885–1899) Intro articles: 3


Before its most notable incarnation in November 1893, the Western League existed in various forms. The League was formed as a minor league on February 11, 1885.[1][2][3] The original clubs were located in IndianapolisKansas CityClevelandMilwaukeeToledo and Omaha/Keokuk, Iowa.[4] The season began on April 18, 1885 with the Indianapolis Hoosiers winning the first title with a record of 27–4–1.[2] The league then folded on June 15, 1885.[5]

The league was reformed on January 18, 1886 to play an 80-game schedule.[1] Denver would win the pennant on September 20, 1886 with a record of 54 wins and 26 losses.[6] 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 on October 2, 1887.[2] The league returned in February 1888 but after a partial season would dissolve on June 21, 1888. Denver had finished first with a record of 18 wins and 6 losses.[7] The league would not be heard of for over three years until it was revived in 1892. Columbus would win the title with a record of 46 wins and 26 losses. The league would shut down on July 11, 1892.[8]

The league was revived on May 17, 1893 and had planned a schedule[9] before being shut down on June 20, 1893.[1]

Reorganization and conversion to American League

In a meeting in Detroit, Michigan, on November 20, 1893, the Western League reorganized again. From this point forward, this version of the WL has continued in existence, eventually becoming the modern-day American League.

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, a 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 four of its franchises, reducing its membership from 12 to 8 teams. The franchises that were eliminated were 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 a minor league, subject to the National Agreement, and generally subordinate to the older National League of Major League Baseball, founded 1876. The NL gave permission to the new 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 NL. The Cubs (then called 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 the 1900 season.

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 NL team rosters and attempting to compete directly against the NL. The franchises in the smaller cities of Buffalo, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Minneapolis were replaced by the larger, more important urban centers of Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington for the 1901 season. The second and third of those cities already had NL teams. Next, Milwaukee moved to St. Louis in 1902. Baltimore, having fallen into disarray, was replaced by New York City in 1903, for the reason that the new league would not be totally respected and have "major league" status without a team in the nation's largest city. The American League team lineup settled on five franchises in cities that already had NL teams (Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis) and two in cities that had been recently abandoned by the NL (Cleveland and Washington), but only one in a city remaining from the former Western League lineup of 1899 (Detroit). Four of the other 1899 Western League cities now host Major League Baseball today (Kansas City, Milwaukee, and St. Paul and Minneapolis jointly), while three do not (Buffalo, Grand Rapids, and Indianapolis, but all have minor league teams). This membership list for both leagues lasted in place for nearly a half-century until the move of the Boston Braves to Milwaukee in 1952, the St. Louis Browns to Baltimore, becoming the new Baltimore Orioles in 1954, and the Philadelphia Athletics to Kansas City in 1955.

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

Another Western League

When Ban Johnson changed his league's name to the American League before the 1900 season, another "Western League" was immediately formed to function on the supporting "minor league" level.[1] This League operated from 1900 to 1937 and later from 1947 to 1958. Its franchises were located west of the Mississippi River, in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains states, as in that early part of the 20th century, it was difficult and long-enduring for teams to go on "road trips" to distant cities by the then existing railroad passenger train systems. In its post-World War II incarnation, the later Western League included clubs in Denver, Colorado (now represented in the National League by the Colorado Rockies), Des Moines, Iowa, Omaha, Nebraska, and Colorado Springs, Colorado (now all represented by teams of the Class AAA ("Triple A") Pacific Coast League).

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

Western League (1885–1899) History articles: 58

League members 1894–1900

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

Pennant winners

* There were no seasons in 1889,1890,1891, and 1893


  1. ^ a b c d "Western League versus Western Association" (PDF), 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". Retrieved October 12, 2009.
  4. ^ "1885 Western League |".
  5. ^ Madden & Stewart 2002, p. 9.
  6. ^ Madden & Stewart 2002, p. 19.
  7. ^ Madden & Stewart 2002, p. 31.
  8. ^ Madden & Stewart 2002, p. 32.
  9. ^ "Scan of May 17, 1893 article from the Evening Kansan".
  10. ^ Husman, John (2003). Baseball in Toledo. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 9780738523279.
  11. ^ "The Official Site of Minor League Baseball | Homepage".


  • 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.
  • Madden, W.C; Stewart, Patrick J. (2002). The Western League: A Baseball History, 1885 through 1999. McFarland. ISBN 9780786410033.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)