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This Day in Yankees History: New York Gets an American League Team- August 25, 1902

A sporting young group of American Leaguers!
A sporting young group of American Leaguers!

It is nearly impossible to go further back in Yankees history than today's anniversary. 110 years ago today, American League president Ban Johnson announced that he planned to have a team in New York for the next season.

A former reporter for the Cincinnati Commercial-Gazette, Johnson was elected president of the Class A Western League in 1893, and after spending six years in the position, he decided that a market existed for another major league. Johnson saw the National League as a place for drunkards, gamblers, and misogynists. He wanted to establish a more family-friendly league to give the NL competition it had not really seen in about ten years since the days of the American Association. To do so, Johnson compelled NL stars like Nap Lajoie and Cy Young to join the newly- christened "American League" for a better salary, and he altered his league's team locations.

By 1902, the AL had teams in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Washington, and the NL cities of Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. The AL outdrew the NL with 2,206,454 fans even without having a team in the country's biggest city. However, Johnson strongly desired to have an AL team in New York City. Unfortunately, the fact that two NL teams already existed in the City and had claims on certain areas made the process very tedious. Johnson also needed a spot to open up in the league.

Baltimore had great ties to baseball thanks to some tremendous teams in the NL during the 1890s. The AL version of the team was new, but it had several players who were on those Oriole teams, like Wilbert Robinson and player-manager John McGraw. These Orioles were not very good though, and Johnson did not like McGraw's abrasive personality. Johnson felt that McGraw's fights with umpires and temper sent the wrong image of what he wanted the AL to represent, and after a particularly bad dispute with an umpire, McGraw was indefinitely suspended. Instead, McGraw resigned and continued secret negotiations to manage the NL's New York Giants. The Orioles completely fell apart after this change as they finished last in both the standings and attendance, Oriole greats were released, and the team transferred majority ownership to Johnson and the AL.

Johnson now had the opportunity to pursue the American League New York City team he desired, and Baltimore's collapse made the decision very easy. It is important to note that this shift was not a franchise move--the New York City team would replace the Orioles with a new owner and mostly new players. Thus, the Yankees really should not be connected at all with the 1901-02 Orioles.

On August 25, 1902, Johnson made his search official. Cincinnati Reds manager Joe Kelley made the media aware of the plans, stating, "I have approached players in the American League and some of them have told me they have signed to play in New York on an American League team... That the Baltimore club franchise is to be transferred to New York seems the surest thing in baseball these days." New York City would have an AL team, and oh, what a team it would have.


News story.

Appel, Marty. Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.