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Ban Johnson

In 1893, Charles Comiskey reĀ­turned from a scouting trip through the Western League full of plans. He shared his ideas with his drinking buddy, Cincinnati sportswriter Ban Johnson. Comiskey suggested Johnson assume control of the Western League, which was weak but had teams in valuable cities.

Hall of Famer Ban Johnson
Ban Johnson founded the American
League, but his high-handed leadership
caused friction with many
of the team owners.

Johnson's leadership proved so strong and successful that after Comiskey, Connie Mack bought into the league. When the National League contracted from 12 to eight teams in 1900, the circuit made its move. Renamed the American League, it moved into eastern territories abandoned by the NL, declared itself a major league, and began a series of player raids. When the new league opened in 1901, some 110 of the league's 185 players had NL experience.

Byron Bancroft Johnson (1864-1931) was a catcher at Marietta College in Ohio, and took a job as a sportswriter at the Cincinnati Commercial-Gazette. It was in the Queen City that he developed his friendship with then-Cincinnati Reds manager Comiskey. Though 300 pounds, Ban was an active man with great vision.

"My determination was to pattern baseball in this new league along the lines of scholastic contests, to make ability and brains and clean, honorable play, not the swinging of clenched fists, coarse oaths, riots or assaults on the umpires, decide the issue," Johnson said. He was determined to keep his league free of the "rowdyism" that pervaded the NL in the late 1800s.

John McGraw was attracted to run the Baltimore franchise in 1901, and he used every tactic of rowdy ball. Despite McGraw being a favorite in Baltimore, Johnson drove him back to the NL. The new league flourished under Johnson, and the National Agreement, signed in 1903, ended the raiding wars between the circuits and established a World Series.

Johnson felt that his founding of the league granted him dictatorial power over its operations. In the beginning it did, but as the league gained its own momentum, it took more power than one man could muster to swing the circuit to his will. Johnson almost immediately alienated his old friend Comiskey; through the years, Ban got on the wrong side of most of the league's strong-willed owners.

When the first rumor of a fix in the 1919 World Series broke, Johnson took the opportunity to insult Comiskey and became deeply involved in the investigation. The election of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis put an end to Johnson's power. After a long struggle, Ban retired in 1927. McGraw, though they never reconciled, called Johnson "a great fighter and organizer" and said the American League was "a monument to his genius."

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