In the heady entrepreneurial days of 1900, when the extremes of business competition and the vastness of trust activity seemed rampant, Ban Johnson and his confederates—most notably, Charles Comiskey—dove into the stormy waters to challenge the supremacy of the National League. Other challengers had tried in the 1880s and early 1890s to break the strangle-hold that the Spalding-controlled league had on baseball—the American Association, the Union Association, and the Players League attempted to join the upper echelons in the baseball business but had not been successful in their challenges.
The American League, according to Wilbert, was successful in their efforts of 1900, 1901, and 1902 due to divisions within the National League, league president Nicholas Young’s poor leadership, and the brash, self-confident, and well-orchestrated efforts of Johnson, as well as Comiskey, Connie Mack, and Charles Somers—all of whom recognized the opportunity to profit by aligning the American League with the older league and placing it in a position to be a business success.
Wilbert helps readers to better understand the dynamics of this move: the critical importance of relocating Western League franchises in National League cities in 1900 and the transformation of the Western League into the American League with major-league status. While much of this transformation was symbolic, by 1901 it included raiding the National League of much of its strong talent and some of its leadership. Clark Griffith’s move from the west to the south side of Chicago and Napoleon Lajoie’s leap in Philadelphia [End Page 146] from the National League to the American League and then on to Cleveland provided pillars for an emerging institution. Wilbert also handles the tempestuous relationship between Johnson and the difficult John McGraw, whose Baltimore franchise gave the conservative Johnson more headaches than all the other franchises combined.
The reader gets a good picture of Johnson and his goals, a decent understanding of New York’s central role in stabilizing the new venture, and less successful portraits of the parts played by Comiskey, Somers, and Griffith in making this venture permanent. Simply structured in a chronological fashion, each chapter is divided into two parts: the first outlines the most important events on the field, as the American League staged good races in each of its first three years, while the second part follows a chronological picture of games, play movements, and critical events in the founding of the American League and in its eventual acceptance as a partner by the National League.