Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Recalling the Federal League

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the first game ever played at Wrigley Field.  For this honor, the Chicago Cubs will be wearing the uniforms from Chicago's team of 1914.  The modern day Cub players will not be wearing the Cub uniforms from 100 years ago, but of the Chicago Whales of the old Federal League. Not many baseball fans know of the Federal League, so I will tell the story of it.

Mordecai Brown 1914 Cracker Jack
The Federal League was only around for two years, but it did have an impact on baseball beyond just the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.  The Federal League was established in 1913 and called itself as the "third major league", although the owners of the American and National Leagues dubbed it as the "outlaw league".
In order to compete with other two major leagues, the Federal League tried to lure players away by not having the reserve clause that was used in the AL and NL.  The reserve clause restricted players signing with other teams freely.  The new league's free agency rules did lure some stars such as Joe Tinker, Hal Chase, Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown and Eddie Plank.
The Indianapolis Hoosiers won the inaugural title in 1914 over the Chicago team with decent attendance.  After the season, the Federal League filed an antitrust suit over organized baseball.  The presiding judge was Kenesaw Mountain Landis.  Landis, who also was a baseball fan, stalled in making any decisions in hoping the two sides would resolve the issue on their own.  The delay by Landis also led to more financial strain on the new league and because of, it folded after the 1915 season.
Two of the Federal League teams merged with the established leagues.  The Chicago Whales, with the Cubs of the NL and the St. Louis Terriers with the St. Louis Browns of the AL.  The rest of the team received cash settlements.  However, the Baltimore ownership in a last ditch effort to keep a pro baseball team in Baltimore filed a separate anti-trust suit.  Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled baseball was exempt from the Sherman Antitrust Act because it was not an interstate commerce.
A few other sidenotes of the Fed League:  1) MLB owners became aware of Judge Landis from the lawsuit and named him the first commissioner of baseball after the Black Sox scandal of 1919.  2) The reserve clause was used in baseball until 1975 and modern day free agency began.  3) MLB never considered the Federal League as a major league and ignored all of the players' individual statistics until 1968.  and 4) the Federal League was the last league to field teams in competition with the American and National leagues.

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