- The Federal League of Baseball Clubs: The History of an Outlaw Major League, 1914—1915
"Major" status is one of the most closely guarded designations in professional baseball. The sport's history has been marked by repeated challenges to the monopolies of existing major leagues. The story of the Federal League of Base Ball Clubs, told admirably by Robert Peyton Wiggins, stands as one of the most important instances of contestation over the configuration of major league baseball in the United States. Though it lasted for just two seasons as an upstart major circuit, the Federal League left a considerable impact on the modern baseball world. Two markers of the Federal League's brief run remain centerpieces of the sport nearly one hundred years after its demise. What is now known as Chicago's Wrigley Field was initially constructed in 1914 as Weeghman Park to host the city's Federal League entry. Looming even larger than Chicago's iconic ballpark is the 1922 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore vs. National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, which found exempt from antitrust law the entrenched major league teams that ultimately squashed the Federal League's challenge. The unique antitrust status affirmed in 1922 continues to shape the terrain of power struggles within the baseball business to this day.
Wiggins draws from a rich array of published sources, most notably the sporting press. One of the most compelling features of the book is the way in which he uses his source base to construct fascinating biographical sketches of many of the Federal League's key figures, in addition to offering a detailed narrative of the circuit's history both on and [End Page 187] off the diamond. Furthermore, Wiggins nicely outlines the ways in which the baseball press formed a key battleground in the struggle over the Federal League's challenge. Particularly important was the division between two national publications, Sporting Life and The Sporting News. The former, published by Francis C. Richter, treated the Federal League as a legitimate major circuit and a valuable balance to the monopoly power of the American and National Leagues. The latter, under the editorship of J.G. Taylor Spink, "served as the unofficial mouthpiece for the two established major leagues" (p.5).
Scholars of baseball's economic and labor history will especially benefit from Wiggins's book. The Federal League's challenge to the American and National Leagues' monopoly resulted in a marked increase in player salaries that, as Wiggins notes, were subsequently rolled back once the rival league acquiesced to the power of the entrenched majors. One of the most interesting storylines that Wiggins pursues in his examination of the Federal League's impact on player salaries across the major leagues is that of the Players' Fraternity. Led by Dave Fultz, a lawyer and former major league player, the Fraternity formed in 1912 to organize ballplayers around salary demands and a range of workplace issues. The Federal League's challenge to the make-up of "organized baseball" presented an ideal context for the Fraternity to win concessions from American and National League team owners. Indeed, the years of the Federal League's operation marked a brief moment of increased economic power for major league ballplayers. As Wiggins details, with the dissolution of the Federal League the Players' Fraternity no longer held enough bargaining power to sustain its position in the industry, and was soon systematically dismantled at the hands of major league team owners.
Readers interested in placing the Federal League within the broader context of early twentieth-century history and culture may be disappointed with the lack of analysis of such matters in this book. Wiggins makes it clear from the beginning that he takes as his subject the day-to-day history of the League, leaving it up to his "readers to make their own judgment as to [its] legitimacy and...