Byron Bancroft "Ban" Johnson
(January 5, 1864 – March 28, 1931), was an American executive in
professional baseball who
served as the founder and first president of the American League (AL).
Ban Johnson in 1905.
Johnson developed the AL—a descendant of the minor league Western League
—into a "clean"
alternative to the National League
which had become notorious for its rough-and-tumble atmosphere. To
encourage a more orderly environment, Johnson strongly supported
the new league's umpires, which eventually included Hall of Famer
With the help of league owners and managers such as Charles Comiskey
, Charles Somers
and Jimmy McAleer
, Johnson lured top talent to the
AL, which soon rivaled the more established National League.
Johnson dominated the AL until the mid-1920s, when a public dispute
with Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis
in his forced resignation as league president.
The Western League
Ohio, Johnson went on to study law at Marietta College, although he did not earn
his degree. He subsequently became the sports editor of a
newspaper in Cincinnati.
During this time, Johnson befriended
Charles Comiskey, who was then manager of the Cincinnati Reds
. At the urging of Comiskey
and Reds owner John T. Brush
, Johnson was elected as president of the
Western League, a faltering minor
, at a reorganization meeting held in .
Johnson had criticized the National League for its rowdy
atmosphere, which was driving away families and women. He set about
making baseball more friendly to both. Contrary to the practice of
the time, Johnson gave his umpires
unqualified support and had little tolerance for players or
managers who failed to show them due respect. In addition, he fined
and suspended players who used foul language on the field. Soon,
the Western League was recognized as not only the strongest minor
league, but also as the most effectively managed league in all of
Formation of the American League
Johnson, however, had a bigger plan—another major league.
help of Comiskey, who had purchased the Sioux City franchise and moved it to St.
Paul in after leaving the Reds, Johnson initiated an
ambitious plan of expansion. He got his chance after the season, when
the National League dropped teams in Baltimore, Cleveland,Louisville and Washington, D.C. Johnson moved the Grand
Rapids franchise to Cleveland, where they would eventually
become the Indians.
had Comiskey move his St. Paul team to Chicago, where they
eventually became the White
The latter move was made with the blessing of the
NL, which saw Comiskey's team as a way to head off any attempt to
revive the American
. For the 1900 season, the Western League was
renamed as the American League, although it remained a minor
The 1900 season was an unqualified success, and Johnson received a
10-year contract extension. In October, he withdrew the AL from the
National Agreement (the formal understanding between the NL and the
minor leagues). The final step came on January 28, 1901, when he
declared the AL would operate as a major league. He then upped the ante
by placing teams in Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington.
Thr Buffalo Bisons were to be a member of the new American League
and their manager Franklin was told right up to Jan. 29, 1901, that
"Buffalo was in the league and not to worry," Ban Johnson
unceremoniously dumped Buffalo and placed the franchise in Boston.
It was later revealed that he not only had been negotiating
surreptitiously with Boston people for several months, but also
that he had money invested in the Boston franchise. Johnson also
had a large stake in the Washington franchise, which he kept until
A baseball power
The NL then made a critical blunder by limiting salaries to
$2,400–a low sum even by 1901 standards. Johnson, Comiskey and the
other AL owners responded by raiding NL rosters, promising
disgruntled players much higher salaries. In 1901, the AL's
St. Louis Browns
alone drew future Hall of Famers Jesse
. Eventually, over 100 players "jumped" to the new
league. After a two-year war in which the AL trounced the NL in
attendance both seasons, the NL sued for peace. Under a new
National Agreement, the AL was formally recognized as the second
major league. A three-man National Commission was set up, composed
of both league presidents and Reds owner Garry Herrmann
. Although Herrmann was nominal
president of the commission, Johnson soon dominated the body.
Johnson brooked no criticism, and made it very difficult for men he
didn't like to buy into the league. For instance, when Harry Frazee
bought the Boston Red Sox
in , Johnson tried almost from
the start to drive him out. At one point, Johnson even had
ownership interests in the Cleveland and Washington
The Frazee dispute planted the seed for Johnson's downfall.
Eventually, the league divided into two factions, with the Red Sox,
White Sox and New York Yankees
one side and the other five clubs (the Indians, Philadelphia Athletics
, St. Louis Browns
and Washington Senators
, known as the "Loyal
Five") on the other. By this time, Comiskey had become a bitter
enemy of Johnson; the two men's once warm friendship had strained
considerably. Johnson's authority eroded further that year when the
Red Sox traded Carl Mays
to the Yankees in
defiance of a Johnson order to suspend him. The Yankees got an
injunction to allow Mays to play.
The final nail in Johnson's coffin proved to be the Black Sox Scandal
. Johnson paid no
attention to Comiskey's claims that his White Sox may have been on
the take from gamblers. However, when the scandal broke after the
season, the White Sox, Red Sox and Yankees threatened to pull out
of the AL and join a new 12-team National League. The enlarged
league would include a new team in Detroit unrelated to the Tigers,
who were owned by Johnson loyalist Frank
. However, Navin was in no mood for another war and
persuaded the other five clubs to agree to appoint a new National
Commission of non-baseball men. Federal District Court Judge
Kenesaw Mountain Landis was appointed as chairman. However, Landis
would only accept an appointment as sole Commissioner of Baseball
unlimited power over the game. The owners were still reeling from
the damage to baseball's reputation due to the Black Sox Scandal,
and readily agreed to Landis' demands.
Under the circumstances, a clash between the iron-willed Johnson
and the iron-willed Landis was inevitable, and it happened prior to
the 1924 World Series
banned two New York Giants
the Series for attempting to bribe members of the Philadelphia Phillies
late in the
season. After Frankie Frisch
other Giants stars were implicated, only to be cleared by Landis,
Johnson demanded that the Series be canceled. He publicly
criticized Landis for his handling of the affair, and Landis
threatened to resign if the AL owners didn't rein Johnson in. After
the Series, the AL owners promised to remove Johnson from office if
he stepped out of line again. Johnson remained on good behavior for
two years, even getting an extension of his contract to and a raise
to $40,000 (he'd previously made $25,000).
However, in , Johnson criticized Landis for granting Ty Cobb
and Tris Speaker
an amnesty after evidence surfaced that they had fixed a game in
1919. Landis demanded that the AL choose between him and Johnson.
The AL owners were prepared to remove Johnson from office at their
annual meeting in January . However, Johnson was in ill health at
the time, and the owners decided to put him on an indefinite
sabbatical instead. Johnson tried to return in the spring and acted
as if nothing had changed. However, the situation had become
untenable, and Johnson was forced to resign at the end of the
season. He was replaced by longtime Indians general manager
died at age 67 in St. Louis, Missouri. He was elected to the Baseball
Hall of Fame in 1937 as one of its
The athletic fieldhouse at Marietta College
is named in his honor.
laid to rest at Riverside Cemetery in Spencer, Indiana.
Will Harridge, who succeeded to the AL
presidency in 1931, summed up Johnson's legacy in the following
terms: "He was the most brilliant man the game has ever known. He
was more responsible for making baseball the national game than
anyone in the history of the sport".