Byron Bancroft Johnson
- Bats Unknown, Throws Unknown
Ban Johnson was the founding President of the American League. Nicknamed "The Czar of Baseball", he took the step of banning the Black Sox from baseball. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on December 7, 1937 by the Centennial Commission.
"Ban Johnson was to me the most unforgettable character I've ever known. ...no person in all the history of the game has done as much to perpetuate baseball as our great national pastime." Billy Evans, umpire and executive.
Minor League Operator
Ban Johnson grew up around Cincinnati, OH. He played as a catcher while attending college and on semi-pro teams until a thumb injury put an end to his playing career. After dropping from the University of Cincinnati law school in 1886, he took a job as a sportswriter with the the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette and was quickly promoted to sports editor. He gained a reputation as a highly-knowledgeable reporter, and made both powerful friends and enemies by supporting the Players League during the turbulent 1890 season. One of these friends, Charles Comiskey, recommended him for the position of President of the fledgling Western League in the fall of 1893.
The Western League had been founded in 1892 but had been forced to cease operations that July because of financial difficulties. Johnson's task would be to revive the circuit. He took to his new job with fervor, and quickly the league became amongst the most profitable in the country. By 1897, some franchises were outdrawing counterparts in the National League. When the National League jettisoned four teams after the 1899 season, Johnson jumped on the opportunity, moving one franchise from St. Paul, MN to Chicago, IL, and another from Columbus, OH to Cleveland, OH, which had been left without a team. He renamed the circuit the American League
A second Major League
After a successful first season as a minor league in 1900, Ban Johnson decided to have the American League compete head-to-head with the National League. He declared his league a major league in 1901 and enticed players to join his league by eliminating the annual salary cap which the National League had imposed on player contracts. He also moved teams eastward into Boston, MA, Philadelphia, PA, Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD. In cities where the two leagues were in direct competition, the upstart American League teams won the attendance battle handily, and by the end of 1902, the National League was reeling under the pressure, having lost a large number of its star players to its rival, in addition to lagging at the gate.
This led to the peace agreement which provided that the two leagues would respect one another's contracts. A three-man National Commission was appointed to settle disputes, which consisted of Johnson, National League President Harry Pulliam, and Cincinnati Reds owner Garry Herrmann. Herrmann was a friend of Johnson's from his days in Cincinnati, and would regularly side with Johnson over the coming years.
The Most Powerful Man in Baseball
Thanks to his control of the National Commission, Ban Johnson became the most powerful man in baseball over the next decade and a half. The American League prospered under his leadership, while the newly created World Series pitting the champions from the two leagues proved to be a tremendous success. Johnson had always been an arrogant man, and became downright dictatorial as a result of his unchecked power.
His downfall, and that of the National Commission, found its seed in a number of questionable rulings over the assignment of disputed player contracts. In one of these, in 1915, Johnson ruled that future Hall of Famer George Sisler's contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates was invalid, and assigned him to the St. Louis Browns. That gained him the undying enmity of Pittsburgh owner Barney Dreyfuss. As he lost the support of various owners, his position became more precarious. The straw that broke his back was the Black Sox Scandal. Johnson's heavy-handed attempt to resolve the matter - and get back at Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, who had joined the ranks of his enemies by then - angered the remainder of the owners, who consorted to appoint Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the first Commissioner, replacing the National Commission. Landis and Johnson, who was still American League President, clashed repeatedly over the next years, but the owners sided with the Commissionner, and Johnson saw his authority shrink visibly. He finally resigned his position on July 8, 1927.
- Joe Santry and Cindy Thomson: "Byron Bancroft Johnson", in David Jones, ed.: Deadball Stars of the American League, SABR, Potomac Books, Inc., Dulles, VA, 2006, pp. 390-392.
- Warren N. Wilbert: The Arrival of the American League: Ban Johnson and the 1901 Challenge of the National League Monopoly, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2007.