The Birth of the American League

Botticelli's Birth of Venus

Botticelli’s Birth of Venus

We tend to think of the American League as having emerged from the sea like Botticelli’s Venus, fully formed on Opening Day, 1901. Yet when Ban Johnson, the league’s founder, retired in mid-1927 he declared to AL officials that his service would bring to a close “34 years as your president.” To him the name change from Western League in 1894 to American League in 1900 was mostly a semantic one. From a historian’s perspective, that was true of the decision for the 1900 playing season, for the American League continued as a minor-league member of the National Association, despite “invading” National League territories, some of them abandoned in the NL consolidation of that year from twelve teams to eight. However, by relocating Charles Comiskey’s St. Paul franchise to Chicago, and the Grand Rapids club to Cleveland, the AL was signaling its intent soon to declare itself a major league, which it did in 1901. Here is an unsigned Chicago Tribune account of the new White Stockings’  Opening Day in the newly named American League.


April 21, 1900—Out on a brand new baseball field yesterday a new Chicago baseball club opened a new baseball season. The association to which the rival ball nines belong is new to Chicago, the grandstand was new, the man who leaned against the fence the men were painting says the paint was new, and many of the players were so new that as they walked out one by one to take their turn at bat the bleachers on the east side would pathetically echo: “Who’s de guy?”

The St. Paul club of the 1899 Western League became the Chicago White Stockings of the 1900 American League

St. Paul of the 1899 Western League moved to Chicago for the 1900 American League

There was only one old thing about the whole business. Just one old touch that made the fans feel at home and that they had watching a Chicago club making a start to win the banner or whatever it is they call a pennant. That was the score. The score was the same old story. It was 4 to 5, with Chicago possessing the smaller number.

Milwaukee did it, although Mr. Comiskey’s white stockinged young men gave the Brewers a hard fight, and it was only in the last half of the tenth inning that Smith from “up by Milwaukee oudt” swatted the ball a swat that landed it over in the prairie five points off the weather bow of the Chicago man that was trying to catch it. That made it easy for Mr. Clarke, another prominent citizen of Milwaukee, to walk in from second base and, after finding the broom and deftly sweeping the sawdust off of the home plate, to reach down and gently touch the plate with the little finger of his left hand. This made the score 5 to 4 in favor of the parties from Wisconsin, and they therefore got into their bus and drove away seemingly happy.

Milwaukee 1900 Scorecard

Milwaukee 1900 Scorecard

In spite of a cold, sad sort of day and the prospects of rain almost every few minutes, over five thousand people saw the opening of the baseball season and the first game in Chicago of the American League. It was a great day for the league. Almost since it was organized six or seven years ago and was known as the Western League, it has been trying to break into Chicago. Yesterday it broke in.

The first game of the American League in Chicago was played at its new grounds at Thirty-ninth Street and Wentworth Avenue. Here is where the old Wanderers used to play cricket, and where college teams have played football, and where of late years small boys have played rounders, and disconsolate-looking goats have grazed from the thin herbage and gaudily colored wrappers from ex-tomato cans.

Yesterday all was changed. A brand new grandstand, as yet innocent of paint, stood in the southwest corner of the grounds and, on either side, long rows of bleachers reached out to touch the brand new fence. Two painters were just beginning work on the fence, and why they did not twist their necks off every time somebody hit the ball is impossible to say. No one who has not tried to paint a fence with a new baseball club opening a new game behind his back can appreciate what those painter men went through. While twisting their heads around to see whether “Dummy” Hoy would make third or die on second, they still tried to do their duty and daubed away with their paint brushes at the fence, and sometimes they painted the boards and sometimes they daubed the air and sometimes they streaked each other.

And when the hit was made that brought Chicago one ahead and made it look as though the White Stockings were going to win, the glad painters dipped their cans against their brushes and merrily painted the fence with the cans.

South Side Park, used by Chicago AL 1900 through June 1910

South Side Park, used by Chicago AL 1900 through June 1910

It is a high, sturdy fence that has been drawn around the new grounds, but the people who like to see a baseball game without paying the general price of admission at the gate saw the game yester­day. At one place a weak board had been pried off, and four eager faces peered through. The faces continually changed, suggesting that a variety of opinion prevailed outside as to who was entitled to look through the hole. There must have been a fight outside of that hole every five minutes, but the tide of battle never prevented at least four faces from being glued firmly in the place of the missing board. A big flat-topped building east of the ground had over twenty on the roof. A ladder leaned against the front of the building, and dark objects sat on the rungs and on the window ledges and on the chimney tops and looked like cliff dwellers in a Zuni village.

The rich black soil that had been turned up to make the new grounds had been rolled and rolled to squeeze the water out. In spite of all these efforts it still retained its peculiar adhesive qualities, and when one of Mr. Comiskey’s white stockinged young men tried to slide to a base his stockings were no longer white. Sawdust had been sowed where the players’ feet ploughed the deepest furrows, and the sawdust was all nicely turned under so that it ought to take root under such thorough cultivation.

Chicago won the AL flag in 1900 and in 1901

Chicago won the AL flag in 1900 and in 1901

A man with a hoe went around once in a while and hoed the base bags out into the light where they could be recognized or they, too, might have been ploughed under and harrowed and cultivated, and then there would have been a nice crop of base bags. As it was, the pernicious activity of the man with the hoe prevented the bags from taking root, and another man with a broom continually excavated for the home plate.

The mud did not prevent the players from winning laurels. The fans would say: “Great Scott, if he can do that well in the mud what couldn’t he do on dry land!”

The steel netting, that is always tacked in front of the grand­stand to prevent foul balls from coming through and giving the rela­tives of somebody a chance to sue for damages, was put up, but the edges of the strips were not tacked together, and sometimes a ball came through and caused alarm and commotion. Isbell sent one ball flying through the bombproof, and it lit right at the feet of a crowd of fans, but it did not explode and so no one was injured.

It was a pleasant occasion all the way through. The rain did not come and the air was not cold. The buttered popcorn man lifted up his voice in a triumphant song that seemed to express the satisfaction of the fans.

The umpire, too, seemed to catch the ecstasy of the motion, and his voice had the melody of song. Instead of howling out his decisions in coarse, harsh accents, his voice was like an organ with a tremolo stop pulled out and tied down. He would say “b-a-a-a-a-all,” and “o-n-n-n-n-e st-r-r-r-ike” until the pealing notes were echoed back from the high board fence and the painters, catching the inspiration, would paint each other’s vests.

Chicago White Sox, 1901: Frank Isbell is No. 2, Dummy Hoy No. 17

Chicago White Sox, 1901: Frank Isbell is No. 2, Dummy Hoy No. 17

This is the way the Brewers proceeded to take the White Stock­ings into camp. The score had been tied in the eighth inning by Mil­waukee. Neither team could score in the ninth, and when the tenth came on Chicago started promisingly but could not quite reach it. Then Mr. Clarke sent himself half way around the bases with a long hit out into the swamps in center field, and after Mr. Conroy had struck out, Mr. Smith sent another two-bagger out over Hoy’s head and sent him the rest of the way. That the score was tied was partly attributable to Isbell, who in the third inning dropped a little fly over first base which enabled Milwaukee to score one run, and this one run, as it afterward proved, contributed to the downfall of the White Stockings.

Chicago, in its half of the tenth, failed, although it started well, Isbell being presented with a walk to first and was advanced by a neat hit to center by Sugden. Katoll, however, fanned out. Hoy died from the effects of a foul which Smith captured, and McFarland, who was then the last chance, struck out in an effort to knock the cover off the ball.

Anderson came up for Milwaukee and flied out to McFarland. Then Mr. Clarke sent himself half way around with a hit, which Hoy either misjudged or stuck in the mud trying for it. Conroy struck out, and Mr. Smith finished the job by sending another long fly over Hoy’s territory.

President James A. Hart [of Chicago’s NL club] sat in a box and watched to see if all that has been said about the American League is true.


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