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Western League (original)

For other uses, see Western League (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with Western Association.

Western League of Professional Baseball Clubs
Most recent season or competition:
Sport Baseball
Founded February 11, 1885
CEO Ban Johnson (1894–1900)
Inaugural season 1885
Country United States
Continent North America
Ceased 1900
Last champion(s) White Stockings
Most titles Indianapolis (4)

The Western League of Professional Baseball Clubs, simply called the Western League, was a minor league baseball league originally founded on February 11, 1885, and focused in the Midwest.

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 major league status in 1901.


Before its most notable incarnation in November 1893, the Western League existed in various forms. The league was originally formed as a minor league on February 11, 1885.[1][2][3] The original clubs were located in IndianapolisKansas CityClevelandMilwaukeeToledo and Omaha. The Indianapolis Hoosiers won the first title with a record of 27–4–1.[2]

The league failed at the end of the 1885 season, but it was reformed again before the 1886 season.[1] 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.[2] The league failed yet again after playing a partial 1888 season, then was reformed again for the 1892 and 1893 seasons before folding again 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 league has continued in existence (eventually to become the American League).

At that meeting, Ban Johnson was elected President, and would remain so until his retirement nearly thirty-five years later. Johnson, a Cincinnati-based newspaper reporter, had been recommended by his friend Charles Comiskey, 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 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 officially a minor league, subject to the National Agreement, and generally subordinate to the National League of Major League Baseball. The NL gave permission to the 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 National League. The Cubs (then 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 1900.

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 National League rosters and attempting to compete directly against the NL. The franchises in Buffalo, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Minneapolis were replaced by Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington for the 1901 season. With the move of Milwaukee to St. Louis in 1902, and Baltimore to New York in 1903, the American League lineup settled on five franchises in cities already occupied by the National League (Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis) and two in cities recently abandoned by the National League (Cleveland and Washington), but only one in a city remaining from the Western League lineup of 1899 (Detroit). Four of the other 1899 Western League cities now host Major League baseball (Kansas City, Milwaukee, and St. Paul and Minneapolis jointly), while three do not (Buffalo, Grand Rapids, and Indianapolis).

The American League's claim to major league status was initially disputed, but had to be recognized after the Boston Red Sox defeated the National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates in the first World Series in 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.[1] This league operated from 1900 to 1937 and from 1947 to 1958. Its franchises were located west of the Mississippi River, in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains states. In its post-World War II incarnation, the Western League included clubs in: Denver, Colorado (now in National League); Des Moines, Iowa; Omaha, Nebraska; and Colorado Springs, Colorado (now all members of the AAA Pacific Coast League).

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

League members 1894–1900

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

Pennant winners


  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. ^
  5. ^


  • 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.