Sunday, April 23, 2017


In 1912, baseball promoter John T. Powers assembled an independent circuit known as the Columbian League. Though it crashed and burned before opening day, Powers was able to generate enough interest to construct a new league the following year. Considered an “outlaw" organization, the Federal League began play in 1913 as a six-team minor circuit. Powers served as president during its inaugural season, but ended up stepping aside to make way for entrepreneur James A. Gilmore. Under Gilmore’s leadership, the Federal League declared itself a major league and began to compete directly with the AL and NL.

There were plenty of major leaguers willing to make the jump to Gilmore’s circuit. Seduced by lucrative contract offers, future Hall of Famers Joe Tinker and Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown left their respective clubs behind. In the early stages of his career, fellow Cooperstown inductee Edd Roush suited up for the Feds as well. In late-June, Hal Chase--the game's premier defensive first baseman--defected from the White Sox. Attendance at games was respectable and the pennant race was tight. The Indianapolis Hoosiers waited until the last day of the season to clinch the pennant over the Chicago Feds. Heralded as the “Ty Cobb of the Federal League,” outfielder Benny Kauff—who had previously played for the New York Highlanders—carried the Hoosiers to the top with the finest effort of his career. He paced the circuit in nearly a dozen offensive categories, including batting average (.370), runs scored (120) and total bases (305--a lofty figure for the Deadball Era).

With the relative success of the 1914 campaign, several other players of note joined the Federal League, among them Cooperstown-bound hurlers Eddie Plank and Chief Bender. The 1915 season featured a slightly different assortment of clubs. The Hoosiers disappeared and the Newark Peppers made their debut. Two other teams changed their nicknames. The Chicago Feds became known as the Whales while the Buffalo Buffeds played as the Blues. The campaign saw five different teams seriously competing for top honors. Again, the pennant race came down to the last day of the season with the Chicago club emerging victorious. Benny Kauff continued to dominate offensively, winning a second consecutive batting crown. He also led the league with 55 stolen bases.

In the 1914/15 offseason, Federal League owners filed an anti-trust suit against the American and National Leagues. The case found its way to the desk of future baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. It remained in limbo as Landis tried to bring about a peaceful settlement. In the meantime, the Federals began to flounder financially. After the 1915 slate, baseball’s third “major league” disbanded. Whales owner Phil Weeghman bought the Cubs and moved the club into Weeghman Park (later known as Wrigley Field). Terriers owner Phil Ball purchased the Browns. Other owners were offered cash settlements. The Federal League was the last serious challenge to the monopoly of the American and National Leagues.     

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