Federal League

History


The Federal League was the last major attempt to establish an independent professional baseball league in baseball in the United States in direct competition with and opposition to the established National and American Leagues in 1914 and 1915. There were a few attempts after this (notably the Mexican League in 1946-1947 and the proposed Continental League), but nothing as direct and serious as the Federal League.

The league started as an independent minor league in 1912 as the Columbia League, but changed its name to the Federal League at the start of the 1913 season, playing as what would now be known as an "independent" minor league, but was at that time thought of as an "outlaw" minor league. John T. Powers was president of the six-team league, but was replaced early in the season by James A. Gilmore, under whose leadership the league made the jump to major leagues. Most sources consider the Federal League to have been of major league quality.

As a major circuit, the Federal League consisted of 8 teams each season. In the first year, 1914, some of the teams had official nicknames and some did not, but either way, sportswriters were inclined to invent their own nicknames: "ChiFeds", "BrookFeds", etc. By the second season, most of the teams had "official" nicknames, although many writers still called many of the teams "-Feds".

The league had close pennant races both years. In 1914, Indianapolis beat out Chicago by 1 1/2 games. 1915 witnessed the tightest pennant race in Major League history, as five teams fought into the final week of the season. The eventual winner (Chicago) finished 0 (zero) games and .001 percentage point ahead of second place, and a half-game and .004 in front of the third place finisher.

During the 1914-15 offseason, Federal League owners brought an antitrust lawsuit against the American and National Leagues. The lawsuit ended up in the court of Federal Judge (and future Commissioner of Baseball) Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who allowed the case to languish while he urged both sides to negotiate. Swift action might have made a difference, but without the lawsuit going forward, the Federals found themselves in deepening financial straits.

After the 1915 season the owners of the American and National Leagues bought out half of the owners (Pittsburgh, Newark, Buffalo, and Brooklyn) of the Federal League teams. Two Federal League owners were allowed to buy struggling franchises in the established leagues: Phil Ball, owner of the St. Louis Terriers, was allowed to buy the St. Louis Browns of the AL, and Charlie Weeghman, owner of the Chicago Whales, bought the Chicago Cubs. Both owners merged their teams into the established ones. The Kansas City franchise had been declared bankrupt and taken over by the league office after the close of the regular season, and the Baltimore owners rejected the offer made to them. They had sought to buy and move an existing franchise to their city, but were rebuffed, and sued unsuccessfully.

Legacy

The short-lived nature of the Federal League left few visible remnants. The Baltimore entry sold their facility to the Baltimore Orioles of the International League, who renamed it Oriole Park and played there for nearly 30 years before it was destroyed by fire in 1944, a seemingly disastrous event that would actually begin the path toward Baltimore's return to the major leagues 10 years afterward. The Newark ballpark was also used for minor league ball for a short time. The other Federal League ballparks were demolished quickly, with the exception of Chicago's Weeghman Park, which became the home of the Chicago Cubs and was eventually renamed Wrigley Field. Marc Okkonen, in his book on the Federal League, referred to Wrigley as a "silent monument" to the failed Federal League experiment.

The other "silent monument" to the Federal League is a famous legal decision. In 1922, the Supreme Court ruled in a suit brought by the Baltimore Federal League Club (one of the teams which had not been bought out), that Major League Baseball and its constituent leagues were primarily entertainment, not conventional interstate commerce, and thus were exempt from the Sherman Antitrust Act. This exemption remains intact over 80 years later, although it has been eroded somewhat by subsequent court rulings and legislation regarding specific issues.

Of the locations of teams in the Federal League, five currently have MLB teams. Those are Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, & St. Louis. Brooklyn has a New York-Penn League team, known as the Brooklyn Cyclones (the major league Brooklyn Dodgers had moved to Los Angeles in 1958). Buffalo has an International League team, known as the Buffalo Bisons. Indianapolis also has an International League team, known as the Indianapolis Indians. Newark has a team, the Bears, in the independent Atlantic League.

Federal League Champions

1914 Indianapolis Hoosiers
1915 Chicago Whales

Federal League Teams

Baltimore Terrapins (1914-15)
Brooklyn Tip-Tops (1914-15)
Buffalo Buffeds/Blues (1914/1915) (home games played at International Fair Association Grounds)
Chicago ChiFeds/Whales (1914/1915)
Indianapolis Hoosiers (1914) / Newark Peppers (1915)
Kansas City Packers (1914-15)
Pittsburgh Rebels (1914-15)
St. Louis Terriers (1914-15)

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