Muscle Sport Magazine

Baseball’s Federal League (1913-1915)

Wikipedia Commons/Labeled For Reuse

The first incarnation of the United States Football League (a reboot is scheduled for spring 2022) is not unlike baseball’s Federal League, which toiled for three seasons before the United States entered World War One. It began as a minor league in 1913, but then declaring itself the third major league following the National and American Leagues. The Feds did not recognize some of the restrictions that the MLB leagues did (such as the reserve clause) and were dubbed the ‘outlaw league.’

The owners of the teams (six in 1913; eight in 1914 and 1915) tried to lure big names by offering larger contracts than what their counterparts in MLB were paying. This caused salaries to jump up, with a prime example being Walter Johnson. “The Big Train” signed a multi-year deal with the Chicago Whales and Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith visited Johnson at his home and convinced him to stay in the nation’s capital with a lucrative counter-offer.

Some players did make the jump, such as Eddie Plank, Chief bender, Jack Quinn, Doc Crandall (the first to be recognized as a full time relief pitcher) and Hal Chase. Managers included Bill Bradley, Mordecai “Three Fingers” Brown and Joe Tinker.

The Federal League filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the NL and AL following the 1914 season and none other than Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis (the future first MLB commissioner) was assigned the case. His strategy was to stretch the calendar dates out and encourage the parties to negotiate and come to an agreement, but that, in turn, was the death knell for the Feds. They were having financial issues and playing another season in 1915 and not having a decision in the case was the last straw.

A few of the teams were sold to owners of MLB teams and a few Federal League owners purchased MLB teams that were struggling. The teams were merged and perhaps the Feds’ greatest legacy is Wrigley Field, known at the time as Weegham Park. The landscape of the north side of Chicago was changed forever when the ballpark was built for the Whales and eventually housed the Cubs after Whales owner Charles Weegham was one of the Fed owners to buy into MLB.

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