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The American League (or formally the American League of Professional Baseball Clubs) is one of two leagues that make up Major League Baseball in the United States of America 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 A.L. 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. Initially in 1903, and then annually from 1905, the regular season champions of the two leagues have met annually in the World Series. (There was also no World Series in 1994, when a strike curtailed the season with no League champion decided.) Through the 2006 season, American League teams have won 60 and lost 42 of the 102 World Series played.
With the demise of the American Association after the 1891 season, the National League expanded to become a 12-team circuit with monopoly status for the rest of the decade. The league became embroiled in internal conflicts, including a plan supported by some owners to form a "trust," wherein there would be one common ownership of all N.L. teams. In 1894, the N.L. established a $2,400 limit on annual player wages. Then, the league contracted to eight teams for the 1900 season, eliminating its teams in Baltimore, Cleveland, Louisville, and Washington. Western League President Bancroft "Ban" Johnson felt the time was right to challenge the N.L. monopoly.
The Western League renamed itself the American League on October 11, 1899, and placed teams in the abandoned Cleveland market as well as on the south side of Chicago. This was done with the approval of the National League, which did not immediately recognize the potential threat such a move would pose to its monopoly.
During the 1900 season, the rechristened A.L. was still a minor league circuit subject to the National Agreement. They ended the season as follows:
|Chicago White Stockings||82-53|
|Kansas City Blues||69-70|
|Cleveland Lake Shores||63-73|
The league declined to renew its National Agreement membership when it expired in October of 1900, and on January 28, 1901, officially declared itself a major league. It placed new teams in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston. The manager and several players from the Kansas City team were transferred to Washington. Baltimore and Washington had both been victims of the N.L. contraction. The other two cities were chosen to compete head-to-head with the older league, as in Chicago. (Only Detroit and Milwaukee remained in their original Western League franchise locations from 1893.) The new league began to hire disgruntled National League players. A roster war was on.
The older National League at first refused to recognize the new league, but reality set in as talent and money drained away to the new league. After two years of bitter contention a new version of the National Agreement was signed in 1903. This meant formal acceptance of each league by the other as an equal partner in major league baseball. During the baseball "war" however, the American League moved its Milwaukee franchise to St. Louis in 1902 and the Baltimore franchise to New York in 1903, thus competing with the N.L. in those markets as well.
The American League consisted of the same eight teams from 1903 through 1954, when the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and were rechristened the Baltimore Orioles. In 1955, the Philadelphia Athletics moved to Kansas City (the A's would move to Oakland in 1968). In 1961, the Washington Senators moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul and became the Minnesota Twins.
In 1961, the league expanded to ten teams for the first time in its history when the Los Angeles Angels and the Washington Senators joined the league, the latter replacing the original Washington Senators franchise which had just relocated to Minnesota. The Los Angeles Angels went through several name changes and are now formally known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The second Washington franchise moved to Dallas-Fort Worth in 1972 and became the Texas Rangers.
In 1969 the American League expanded to 12 teams when the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots joined the league. (The Pilots stayed just one season in Seattle before moving to Milwaukee and becoming the Milwaukee Brewers). With the addition of these teams, the league reorganized into two divisions of six teams (East and West), with the division champions meeting in the American League Championship Series, an additional round of postseason competition, for the right to advance to the World Series. Beginning with the 1994 season, the league has been divided into three divisions (East, West, and Central), with the addition of a wild card team (the team with the best record among teams finishing in second place) to enable four teams to advance to the preliminary American League Division Series.
The league adopted the designated hitter (or "DH") rule in 1973 whereby a team may choose to designate a tenth player (not a position player) to bat in place of the pitcher. Contrary to popular belief, use of the DH is not mandatory. Though maligned by some critics, use of the DH rule has spread to almost every amateur and professional league, the two most notable exceptions being the National League and Japan's Central League.
The third expansion came in 1977, when the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays joined the A.L., which thus became a 14-team league. Finally, in 1998 the Tampa Bay Devil Rays became the fifteenth team to join the American League. Concurrently, however, the Milwaukee Brewers withdrew from the league to join the National League. The simultaneous expansion and contraction kept the A.L. a 14-team league, which it remains today.
For the first 96 years of its existence, American League teams faced their National League counterparts only in exhibition games or in the World Series. Beginning in 1997, however, interleague games have been played during the regular season and count in the standings.
Through the 2006 season, the Yankees have won the most American League pennants (39), followed by the Athletics (14) and Red Sox (11). Likewise, the Yankees have also won the most World Series (26). The Athletics are second with 9, having won five while based in Philadelphia and four after their move to Oakland. The Red Sox raised their total number of titles to 6 after winning their first World Series Championship in 86 years in 2004.
Starting in 1901, the eight charter teams were the following:
- Baltimore Orioles
- Boston Americans
- Chicago White Stockings
- Cleveland Blues
- Detroit Tigers
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Philadelphia Athletics
- Washington Senators
Expansion, renaming and relocation summary
- 1902: Milwaukee Brewers move to St. Louis, renamed St. Louis Browns
- 1902: Cleveland Blues renamed to Cleveland Bronchos
- 1903: Baltimore Orioles (1901-1902) move to New York, renamed New York Highlanders
- 1903: Chicago White Stockings officially renamed to Chicago White Sox
- 1903: Cleveland Bronchos renamed to Cleveland Naps
- 1907: Boston Americans renamed to the Boston Red Sox
- 1913: New York Highlanders renamed to the New York Yankees
- 1915: Cleveland Naps renamed to the Cleveland Indians
- 1954: St. Louis Browns move to Baltimore, renamed Baltimore Orioles
- 1955: Philadelphia Athletics move to Kansas City
- 1961: Washington Senators move to Minneapolis-St. Paul, renamed Minnesota Twins
- 1961: Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators enfranchised
- 1965: Los Angeles Angels renamed California Angels
- 1968: Kansas City Athletics move to Oakland
- 1969: Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots enfranchised
- 1970: Seattle Pilots move to Milwaukee, renamed Milwaukee Brewers
- 1972: Washington Senators move to Dallas-Fort Worth, renamed Texas Rangers
- 1977: Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays enfranchised
- 1997: California Angels renamed Anaheim Angels
- 1998: Tampa Bay Devil Rays enfranchised
- 1998: Milwaukee Brewers withdraw from the American League to join the National League
- 2005: Anaheim Angels renamed Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
American League East
- Baltimore Orioles enfranchised 1894 as the Milwaukee Brewers, moved to St. Louis (1902) and to Baltimore (1954)
- Boston Red Sox enfranchised 1901*
- New York Yankees enfranchised 1901* as the Baltimore Orioles, moved to New York (1903)
- Tampa Bay Devil Rays enfranchised 1998
- Toronto Blue Jays enfranchised 1977
American League Central
- Chicago White Sox enfranchised 1894 as the Sioux City Cornhuskers, moved to St. Paul (1895) and to Chicago (1900)
- Cleveland Indians enfranchised 1894 as the Grand Rapids Rustlers, moved to Cleveland (1900)
- Detroit Tigers enfranchised 1894
- Kansas City Royals enfranchised 1969
- Minnesota Twins enfranchised 1901* as the Washington Senators, moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul (1961)
American League West
- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim enfranchised 1961
- Oakland Athletics enfranchised 1901* in Philadelphia, moved to Kansas City (1955) and to Oakland (1968)
- Seattle Mariners enfranchised 1977
- Texas Rangers enfranchised 1961 as the Washington Senators, moved to Dallas-Fort Worth (1972)
(*)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 and that the Kansas City Blues of 1900 became the Washington Senators of 1901.
AL presidents 1901-1999
- Ban Johnson 1901-1927
- Ernest Barnard 1927-1931
- Will Harridge 1931-1959
- Joe Cronin 1959-1973
- Lee MacPhail 1973-1984
- Bobby Brown 1984-1994
- Gene Budig 1994-1999
Office was eliminated in 1999, although Jackie Autry, former owner of the Angels, currently holds the title of honorary American League president.
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, the top minor league in North American professional ice hockey, is often referred to as the "American League".
- 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.