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The American League of Professional Baseball Clubs, or simply the American League (AL), is one of two leagues that make up Major League Baseball in the United States and Canada. It developed from the Western League, a minor league based in the Great Lakes states, that eventually aspired to major league status. The league is often called the Junior Circuit because it was elevated to Major League status in 1901, 25 years after the formation of the National League (the "Senior Circuit"). The American League champion plays in the World Series against the National League champion after the end of every season. Through the 2009 season, American League teams have won 62 of the 105 World Series played since 1903, with 27 of those coming from the New York Yankees alone. The New York Yankees are currently the defending American League and World Series champions. The New York Yankees have won 40 American League titles, the most in the league's history, followed by the Oakland Athletics (15) and the Boston Red Sox (12).


Early league history

With the disappearance of the American Association after the 1891 baseball season, the National League expanded to become a twelve-team league. The National League held a monopoly on major league professional baseball for the remainder of the century. In 1894, Bancroft "Ban" Johnson became the president of the minor Western League. In 1896, he formulated the plan that would eventually see the Western League become the American League. Throughout the latter half of the 1890s, the National League considered contracting from twelve teams to eight. Johnson was determined that if this should happen, then he would be set to place new teams into the abandoned cities and thus take on the established league.

In 1900 the NL finally went through with its planned contraction, eliminating its teams in Baltimore, Cleveland, Louisville, and Washington, D.C.. Johnson thus felt the time was right to take on the established league.

The Western League renamed itself the American League on October 11, 1899, and placed teams in Cleveland and Chicago. This was done with the approval of the National League, which did not recognize the threat such a move would pose.

Despite these moves, the American League remained a minor league during the 1900 season. The league did not renew its National Agreement membership when it expired in October 1900, and on January 28, 1901, officially declared itself a major league. It placed new teams in Baltimore and Bostonmarker. The manager and several players from the Kansas City team were transferred to Washington.

The National League early on attempted to destroy the upstart league, even sabotaging the Baltimore franchise in 1902 after then manager John McGraw jumped the team and signed with the NL's New York Giants, bringing several of his star players with him. Despite this setback, the AL managed to survive the season intact and the NL sued for peace in 1903. After relocating the Baltimore franchise to New York for 1903, the two leagues settled into fifty years of peace and prosperity, with each league holding steady at eight teams.

The advent of television and other economic forces broke the half-century status quo in the 1950s, as some teams from both leagues began to transfer to other cities, and also led to the first major league expansion since the short-lived Federal League experiment of 1914-1915.

Expansion era

In 1961, the league expanded from eight to ten teams, adding franchises in Los Angeles (the Angels) and Washington, D.C. (the Senators). The latter team replaced the previous Washington Senators franchise which had moved to Minneapolis and was renamed the Minnesota Twins.

In 1969 the league expanded again, adding the Kansas City Royals and the Seattle Pilots, the former replacing the departed Athletics franchise in Kansas City. The Pilots only managed to survive one season before transferring to Milwaukee (just four days before the 1970 season started) where they became known as the Milwaukee Brewers. Also in 1969, the league, along with the National League, reorganized into two division of six teams (East and West, falling more along geographical lines than the NL's own realignment that year) and added a League Championship Series to determine the league participant in the World Series.

In 1973, the American League adopted the designated hitter rule, whereby a team may designate a tenth player to bat in place of the pitcher. This new rule parted ways with the National League, which continued to require pitchers to bat for themselves, and led to special rules governing its use during interleague play such as the World Series.

In 1977, the league expanded to fourteen teams, when the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays were enfranchised. The Toronto franchise was the AL's attempt to compete with the National League's Montreal Expos while the Mariners were added in an attempt to settle a pending $90 million lawsuit against the league by the city of Seattle over the quick departure of the Pilots in 1970.

In 1994, the league, along with the National League, reorganized again, into three divisions (East, West, and Central) and added a third round to the playoffs in the form of the League Divisional Series, with the best second-place team advancing to the playoffs as a wild-card team, in addition to the three divisional champions.

In 1998, the newly franchised Tampa Bay Devil Rays joined the East Division, but the Milwaukee Brewers left the Central Division to join the National League, which kept the league's membership at 14 teams. (Before the 1998 season, the American League and the National League each added a fifteenth team. Because of the odd number of teams, only seven games could possibly be scheduled in each league on any given day. Thus, one team in each league would have to be idle on any given day. This would have made it difficult for scheduling, in terms of travel days and the need to end the season before October. In order for MLB officials to continue primarily intraleague play, both leagues would need to carry an even number of teams, so the decision was made to move one club from the AL Central to the NL Central. Eventually, Milwaukee agreed to change leagues.)

For the first 96 years, American League teams faced their National League counterparts only in exhibition games or in the World Series. Beginning in 1997, interleague games have been played during the regular season and count in the standings. As part of the agreement instituting interleague play, the designated-hitter rule is used only in games where the American League team is the home team.

Through the 2009 season, the Yankees have won the most American League pennants (40), followed by the Athletics (14), Red Sox (12), and Tigers (10). Likewise, the Yankees have also won the most World Series (27), with the Athletics second with nine, the Red Sox third with seven and the Tigers fourth with four.


Charter franchises

There were eight charter teams in 1901, the league's first year as a major league, and these franchises comprised the league for 59 seasons, until the expansion Washington Senators began play in 1961. All eight original franchises remain in the American League, although only four remain in the original cities (Detroit, Chicago, Boston & Cleveland.) The eight original teams and their modern-day counterparts are:

Expansion, renaming, and relocation summary

Current teams

American League East

American League Central

American League West

(*)See commentary on Western League page. The Buffalo, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Minneapolis teams were replaced by teams in Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington in 1901, but it is unclear and disputed as to which team went where. It is generally believed, however, that the Minneapolis Millers of 1900 became the Baltimore Orioles of 1901 (New York Yankees) and that the Kansas City Blues of 1900 became the Washington Senators of 1901 (Minnesota Twins).

American League presidents, 1901–1999

Office eliminated in 1999. Jackie Autry, widow of Los Angeles Angels founder Gene Autry, currently holds the title of Honorary American League President.

Other leagues

Several other sports have had leagues called "American League," usually with the sport name as a qualifier, such as the "American Football League" (which eventually merged with the National Football League, adopting the latter's name for the combination). The American Hockey League is the top minor league in North American professional ice hockey.

See also


  • The National League Story, Lee Allen, Putnam, 1961.
  • The American League Story, Lee Allen, Putnam, 1962.
  • The Baseball Encyclopedia, published by MacMillan, 1968 and later.


  1. For more details, see Milwaukee Brewers#1994–98: Realignment / "We're taking this thing National".

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