Ban Johnson and a Boston Red Sox birthday


On January 28th of 1901 the Boston Red Sox (Americans) came into existence along with seven other teams to form a new entity called the American League of Professional Baseball Clubs or AL for short. Forever after referred to as “The Junior Circuit.”

The original eight teams were comprised – in order of their final standings – The Chicago White Sox, Boston Americans, Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, Washington Senators, Cleveland Blues and last place Milwaukee Brewers. Notice the New York Yankees (Highlanders) had not yet located to New York City.

That first Red Sox team had Cy Young leading the pitching staff with 33 wins and Buck Freeman leading the batsmen with a .339 average to go with 12 home runs and 114 RBI. Future Hall of Fame member, Jimmy Collins, who like Freeman, was a member of the 1900 Braves was also on the new entry. Collins also served duty as player-manager – not unique to baseball in those formative years.

More from Red Sox History

The Red Sox played at the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds and a marker sits at Northeastern University that commemorates the historic site.

What kind of hubris formed a new league? Say hello to Ban Johnson.

Johnson formed the AL by simple declaration. Designating the selected teams “major league” and tossing down the gauntlet to the National League, which had made one critical decision that provided a base of players for the AL – limiting salaries at $2,400.

Johnson had formed a powerful Western League that provided a nice incubator for talent, developing strong teams and making the game a bit more respectable. Johnson was a strong backer of insuring clean games, a less rebellious atmosphere and staunchly supporting umpires who were often the target of unruly fans and players in the NL.

With the cap on salaries came opportunity and the initial rosters of the AL teams contained 111 players who had experience in the NL. That represented almost 65% of the new players. Many of those without “major league” experience were still quite talented since many leagues – even in the lower classifications – had players who could move up a notch or two in the baseball food chain and not miss a beat.

Johnson was for years called “The most powerful man in baseball,” but circumstance can change things dramatically.

The first issue was an old friend of Boston fans – Harry Frazee. Frazee was not handpicked by Johnson, who had ties with the owners of the other teams. The sale to Frazee took place without Johnson being involved and the iron fist of Johnson was beginning to rust. Frazee and Johnson were baseball oil and water and conflict/feud continued until Frazee sold out in 1923.

A second issue was Johnson’s dictatorial methods with the prime example being John McGraw leaving the AL and returning to the NL. Johnson intensely disliked McGraw’s approach to the game and the result was obvious after several public and private confrontations.

Enter the Black Sox and the demise of influence for Ban Johnson as the final issue that diminished and eventually ended the reign of Johnson.

Baseball brought in Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as Commissioner of Baseball. Two personalities with strong and differing opinions on the operation of baseball and one eventually would have to go. That was Johnson.

Johnson, with all his flaws, was one of the forming powers of baseball as we know it today. A member of the Hall of Fame and a man baseball certainly needed at the time.