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Was the Federal League Really a Major League?

This Sporting Life newspaper from June 1914 tells it like it is. The legal entanglements originated by the League lasted for years.

Nearly 45 years ago, five men made a decision that has colored our view of baseball history ever since. Collectively, they were known as Special Baseball Records Committee, and they were brought together because, with the imminent publication of the first edition of The Baseball Encyclopedia, “it became necessary to draw up a code of rules governing record-keeping procedures.” 

According to Appendix B of that massive, wildly successful first encyclopedia, there were 17 issues the committee had to vote on. And the first was deciding which leagues would be treated as major and thus appear in the encyclopedia.

The committee chose six leagues for this exalted status. The National League (beginning in 1876) and the American League (1901) were easy. Not easy: the big-time American Association, which competed with the National League from 1882 through 1891. The AA was (and is) widely regarded as being inferior to the National League, but it had a lot of good players.

The other three supposed major leagues were terribly short-lived: the Union Association (1884) and the Players’ League (1890) lasted for just one season apiece and the Federal League for two (1914-1915).

Frankly, nobody talks much about the Union Association or the Players’ League, probably because few people care much about 19th century baseball. Who won the National League pennant in 1896? I know a lot of people who are crazy about baseball history. But while nearly all of them know the Chicago Cubs won the pennant in 1906, I’ll bet only two or three of know the NL’s original Baltimore Orioles took the flag in ’96.

This Official baseball was manufactured for use by the short-lived Federal League.

The Federal League is different. By 1914, the inaugural season, modern playing rules were in place. The league’s teams played, for the most part, in cities that today host Major League franchises. They played 154-game schedules, just like the American and National leagues with which the Federal League was expressly designed to compete. Just last year, a fantastic book, The Battle That Forged Baseball: The Federal League Challenge and Its Legacy, was published.

We’ll probably have to wait awhile for a similar treatise on the Union Association.

So did the Special Baseball Records Committee get it right? Was the Federal League really a Major League?

To answer that question, we have to come to some sort of agreement regarding what makes a Major League. I believe that Bill James once addressed this issue, and (because he’s Bill James) came up with a list of a dozen or more things we expect from a Major League. At the risk of omission, though, I’m not going to hunt for James’s list. Because, roughly speaking, I think we can agree that we’ve got a Major League if (a) there are teams playing a set and lengthy schedule, and (b) these teams are populated largely by the sport’s best players.

Ah, but how do we define “best players”? 

That can be as tricky as we like, but in this case we’ve got an easy way to compare the players in the Federal League to those in the contemporary American and National leagues. The Federal League lasted for only two seasons. When the circuit folded, its players suddenly became available to the 16 clubs in the other big leagues. If the Federal League players were roughly on par with those in the American and National Leagues, we would expect somewhere between a third and a fourth of them to find jobs in the existing Major Leagues—assuming, of course, there was a completely free flow of talent.

But perhaps the flow wasn’t free. And perhaps AL and NL clubs didn’t see the point in replacing their scrubeenies with the Federal League’s scrubeenies.

So let’s instead look at the Federal League’s stars. If that league was legitimately Major, we would expect the Federal League’s stars to not only find homes in the Majors, we would expect them to maintain their status as stars. Or at least come close.

What actually happened to the Federal League’s stars? With the help of Baseball-Reference.com, I made a list of the 10 Federal Leaguers who compiled the most Wins Above Replacement (WAR) during the league’s two seasons.

Those 10 stars totaled 70 WAR over 1914 and ‘15. If they were on a par with the stars of the other Major Leagues, we might expect them to roughly approximate that number over the next two years. Oh, except we should assume some regression to the mean, and we might also guess that there was some prejudice against Federal League players. So let’s be exceptionally conservative, and instead guess that Federal League stars might be just half as valuable over the next two seasons: 35 Wins Above Replacement in 1916 and ‘17.

This Sporting Life newspaper from June 1914 tells it like it is. The legal entanglements originated by the League lasted for years.

The actual figure was 8.4 WAR and nearly all of that was because of just one player, a questionable character named Benny Kauff. They called him “the Ty Cobb of the Federal League,” and he really did hit like Ty Cobb—as long as he was in the Federal League. In 1914 and ‘15, he batted .370 and .342, won batting titles, and also claimed stolen-base crowns with 75 and 55.

This wire photo from April 30, 1915 shows Benny Kauff, nicknamed “The Ty Cobb” of the Federal League.

In 1916, still only 26 years old, Kauff joined the New York Giants. And though Kauff played well for the Giants, he was hardly great. After batting .357/.447/.523 in his two seasons with the Federal League’s Indianapolis Hoosiers and Brooklyn Tip-Tops, Kauff fell to just .286/.364/.398 in his first two seasons with the Giants.

Sure, Kauff was facing tougher pitchers, but that’s sort of the point. He was the Federal League’s best player by a lot. After which, he became merely a good player in the National League.

Of course, bad things do happen to good players. We need some basis of comparison. So I ran the same study for the American and National leagues. And to be sure, the stars were better in years one and two than for years three and four for various reasons. 

In 1915 (year two), Honus Wagner still ranked as one of the NL’s biggest stars at age 41. Two years later, he hardly played. Cubs outfielder Vic Saier played brilliantly in 1914 and ‘15. But he suffered a debilitating leg injury in the second half of the ‘15 season, and missed nearly all of the ‘17 season with a broken leg.

In baseball, bad things happen to good players. But even with those bad things, the real Major League stars of 1914 and ‘15 generally played quite well in 1916 and ‘17, too. 

• In years one and two, the top American Leaguers totaled 106 Wins Above Replacement; in years three and four, they dropped to 79 WAR.

• In years one and two, the top National Leaguers totaled 85 Wins Above Replacement; in years three and four, they dropped to 69 WAR.

It was a 26 percent drop for the American Leaguers, and 19 percent for the National Leaguers. And the Federal League stars? Their Wins Above Replacement dropped 88 percent. And without Kauff it would have been 99.6 percent.

There are a hundred other ways to compare the talent in the Federal League to that in the other leagues, but we would always come up with the same answer: the best of the Federal League players, with the exception of Kauff, were barely good enough to play in the real Major Leagues at all.

The Federal League’s inability to attract baseball’s biggest stars wasn’t for lack of trying. The Feds offered significant financial inducements to a number of top players, some of whom actually accepted those offers. Washington’s Walter Johnson, the game’s greatest pitcher, signed a three-year contract with Chicago’s Federal League club. But, as happened in a number of other cases, Johnson was lured back to the Senators by a combination of financial blandishments and psychological pressure. In the end, what few stars the Federal League did boast—Joe Tinker, and pitchers Eddie Plank, Chief Bender, and Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown—were well past their primes and did little to win games or attract fans.

Walter Johnson flirted with the Federal League but as this cartoon suggests, he remained loyal to the Major Leagues and played his entire career with the Washington Nationals

All four of those ex-stars would eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame. But just one Federal Leaguer would make it, and that because of what he did after his Fed career. Edd Roush played briefly for the Chicago White Sox in 1913, then joined the Federal League’s Indianapolis franchise in 1914. When that club moved to Newark in 1915, Roush went with it. And when the Federal League folded, the New York Giants purchased the rights to Roush’s contract. Halfway through the ‘16 season, a struggling Roush was traded to the Reds, with whom he became a big star and won a couple of batting titles.

Roush wasn’t the Federal League’s only legacy. Charles Weeghman built a ballpark for his Federal League team in Chicago and called it Weeghman Park. When the Federals folded, Weeghman took control of the National League’s Chicago Cubs, and moved his new team into his ballpark. That ballpark would eventually become known as Wrigley Field and, of course, the Cubs still play there.

In 1922, a lawsuit filed back in 1916 by the Federal League’s Baltimore franchise wound up in the United States Supreme Court. In its ruling against Baltimore, the Supreme Court established that organized baseball was not commerce, and thus not interstate commerce, and thus not subject to the antitrust provisions of the Sherman Act. This would have, and still has, far-ranging impact on Major League Baseball’s ability to essentially operate as a monopoly.

That is perhaps the Federal League’s biggest legacy. But we must also consider the legacy created by the Special Baseball Records Committee. Ever since 1969, with the publication of The Baseball Encyclopedia, the Federal League has been treated in the record books as a Major League, right alongside its two 20th-century counterparts. In all the encyclopedias since, both in print and on the Web, unsuspecting baseball fans have been led to believe that the Federal League was roughly on par with the American League and the National League.

So how and why did the Records Committee come to this conclusion?

Well, there was a precedent for it. During the league’s existence, Francis Richter’s Official American League Base Ball Guide—which covered all of organized baseball, along with the Federal League—seemed to take the league at its word. In the 1916 guide, Richter (or one of his underlings) even wrote, “No better ball was furnished by any league anywhere, or at any time.” 

In 1940, The Sporting News began publishing the annual Baseball Register. For some years, the Register included the records of a few old-time stars. And when someone had played in the Federal League, those stats were included in his Major League totals.

So one might excuse the Records Committee for simply bowing to convention. I don’t. Its job was to collect evidence, weigh that evidence, and make some difficult decisions. In this case, either the members didn’t collect and weigh the evidence or they did but ignored it. Either way, I cannot excuse them.

Today there is no panel charged with these matters. The Baseball Encyclopedia no longer exists, nor are there any other records that come with Major League Baseball’s exclusive imprimatur. Nothing is official. But someone somewhere should strike a blow for common sense and strike everything that happened in the Federal League from the Major League records. This was a major league only on paper. On the field, it was but a pale imitation.

 

 

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This is half-test, half an invitation to discuss the quality of the Federal League...

robneyer

posted 04.04.2013

1) The inclusion of the Federal League as a major league is indeed dubious, but it offends me much less than the suggestion that the Union Association was a major league. Suggesting that the Federal League was a major league is a little bit like suggesting that your puppy should have the same rights to protection by the law that a human being has. Suggesting that the Union Association has the same status is like granting those rights to spiders and fleas.

2) Just playing devil's advocate, a potential flaw in your method is that it ASSUMES that virtually all of the best players were in the major leagues at that time. I suspect that this is much less true than you BELIEVE it to be true. In 1925, almost all of the best players in baseball were in the major leagues--but in 1912, 1914, 1918, this is MUCH less true. In the teens there were still a great many of the best players in baseball permanently trapped in the minor leagues. Thus, it could be argued that the Federal League's elevation of THOSE players to major league status was not a pretense that minor league players were major leaguers, but was in fact a recognition of reality--that these players were just as good as the guys who claimed to be major leaguers, but were in fact not necessarily better than the other guys. And, conversely, returning those players to minor league status is--to the extent that this argument is true--NOT a proof that they were not CAPABLE of playing major league ball.

3) Extending and explaining that point. . .in modern baseball, major league teams have the power to bring to the major leagues any player that they think should be in the major leagues, generally speaking. But in 1915 this is not true. In 1915 minor league operators had REAL rights to the players that they owned. If a minor league team did not agree to sell a player to a higher level team, he stayed in the minor leagues--regardless of how good a player he was. The Federal League--the "Outlaw" League--allowed those "trapped" players an avenue to escape their snares.

4) Also, Scouting in this era was EXTREMELY haphazard, extremely arbitrary. Somebody can correct me if this is not true, but I think that Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson were both RELEASED by minor league operators just a few years before this. Tris Speaker went to a tryout camp run by John McGraw and the New York Giants in the spring of 1906, worked out with them for about a week and was cut. There are many similar stories of outstanding players in this era released by minor league teams. Many of the best players in baseball in this era never reached the major leagues because the scouts in that era very often just didn't have any idea what they were doing, and didn't know a good ballplayer when they saw one.

5) I once did a study in which I attempted to measure the quality of play in a league by certain "internal indicators" of the league's quality--in other words, not cross-league performance, as you looked at in your study,, but internal performance. There are certain characteristics of higher-level baseball. For example, fielding percentages are higher in higher-level leagues. The Double Plays to Errors ratio is higher in a "good" league than in a "weak" league, and one can confirm this by any reasonable comparison of league to league, such as comparing major league teams to AAA, AAA teams to Double A, Double A to High A, High A to Low A...or by comparing the best college leagues to the second-level college leagues, or the second-level college leagues to the third-level college leagues, college baseball to high school baseball, etc. The better the league, the higher the double-plays-to-errors ratio. There are many other things like that--for example, wild pitches, passed balls and balks are more common at lower levels of play. At very low levels of play, pitchers hit just as well as (perhaps better than) other players. As the quality of play increases, the offensive contribution of pitchers relative to other players decreases--thus, the relative offensive contribution of pitchers can be used as an indicator of the quality of the league. As I recall, I had about 30 such indicators of the quality of the league in my study.

That study suggested that the quality of play in the Federal League was not only as good as the other leagues; it was actually better. . ..a tiny bit better, but better. I'm not sayng that I absolutely BELIEVE that, but. . that's what the study showed. The study showed that the quality of play in the major leagues was dramatically better in 1925 than in 1915, which I believe to be true, but it also showed that, in 1915, the Federal League was at essentially the same level as the other leagues.

Bill James

posted 04.04.2013

Rob makes some good points here, but the Federal League was considered a major league long before the Special Records committee weighed in on the subject. I have to defer to Francis Richter, the greatest baseball writer of his times. The Federal League was considered to be a third major league by most contemporary sources, it was generally considered to be a third major by legitimate sources like The Sporting News in its record books in the decades after the Fed's demise, and I see no good reason to change that nearly 100 years after the fact.

Don Zminda

posted 04.04.2013

I agree with most of the argument you put forth, and would similarly conclude that the caliber of play of the Federal League was inferior to that of the AL and NL. Your argument logically and properly brings you to this conclusion.

However, I would think the term "major league", as I use it, refers as much to the behavior of the management of the league as it does to the caliber of the players. Since 1986, all leagues have either behaved as major leagues or behaved as minor leagues. The FL behaved like a minor league in 1913, and like a major league in 1914 and 1915. As a matter of being consistent with the history of time, I think the Records Committee made the right call.

I also want to second Rob's note about the book The Battle That Forged Baseball: The Federal League Challenge and Its Legacy, which was written by Dan Levitt.

Mark Armour

posted 04.04.2013

Bill: I read that article about league strength and cited it with great admiration. But considering what the Federal League players would later do, I think your method might be leading us slightly astray in this case. Seems like comparing talent and performance is the single most effective way to judge league strength.

Don: Responded via e-mail, but I'll just mention again that there's no statute of limitations on facts, and will suggest that we have easy access to facts that Richter perhaps did not.

Mark: The USFL and the WFL "behaved" like major football leagues, but we do not generally consider them as major leagues, on par with the NFL. Why? Because we have judged that their talent was not up to snuff. Which seems perfectly fair to me.

Thanks to all for joining in.

robneyer

posted 04.04.2013

Speaking to Bill's comment, I do not think the minor leagues of the 1910s had as much power as you ascribe to them. There was a major-minor league draft at the time, and almost all leagues played within the confines of this system. You have written well about the IL of the early 1920s, but this was the exception and not reflective of how the minor leagues generally operated at the time.

That said, I do think that the major leagues did not always have the best players, because they did not have as much knowledge as to who the best players were. Teams were signing guys based on newspaper reports or who happened to be playing nearby at the time. The literature of the era is filled with players being signed based on someone watching them play catch on the sandlots.

Babe Ruth went from playing against local orphans to being a top flight star in, what, two years?

Mark Armour

posted 04.04.2013

To call the Federal League a major league works with the narrative established for the story of the antitrust case. If we talk about the league as a minor league the story loses a little of the flair. I am not saying this is right but it may be part of the reason this designation hasn't been changed. That and nobody really cares that much.

Ron

posted 04.04.2013

one would have to go a long way to convince me that the top of of the pcl & aa weren't as good as the bottom of the al & nl in 1915.
there really was no serious distinction between leagues & levels around 1910.
the sizes of cities drove the attendance, which pushed salaries.
the level of play, ehh.
really.
there was not an indianopolis player, in 1910, jumping up & down, saying 'yay, i'm going to the new york giants.'
he was thinking that i am going to get paid more.
excluding the top three salaries, on each team, (arbitrary, but to make a point) of all al/nl teams, the pcl paid more in 1935.
sorry, but that is as far as my research has stretched.

ksw

posted 04.04.2013

Bill: I agree that the AL and NL likely did not have nearly as high a level of talent in 1915 relative to all baseball talent as in 1925 and later, but if anything, that means Rob's method makes a stronger, not a weaker, point. If the AL and NL are not as strong relative to other minor leagues, shouldn't it be easier for former Federal League players to play well in those later seasons?

Geoff Buchan

posted 04.05.2013

First of all Rob, thanks for the generous comment on my book.

It seems to me that there are really three criteria that define a major league, and the Federal League easily qualifies under all three. Perhaps most importantly, was it recognized as a major league at the time? In 1914 in 1915 the Federal League was pretty much universally accepted as a major league by the press, the public, and baseball insiders (other than perhaps Ban Johnson who hated all things Federal League). And while the league attendance overall fell short the established majors, I don’t think there’s any question that the Chifeds, for example, outdrew the Cubs. I have found several references to games in Baltimore where the FL team drew more than 5,000 fans, while on the same day the International League team, which topped the standings early in the season, drew less than 100.

Second, did the league have ultimate control over its players. In other words, was it subject to the major league-minor league draft? The highest, class AA, leagues at the time railed against the draft, which gave the major leagues the right to draft their players. Many fans in these cities felt that their city should be major league, and the elimination of the draft would be the main step to being recognized as such. In fact, during the Federal League war the owners of the class AA franchises pleaded for the elimination of the draft; the Buffalo and Baltimore International League franchises, for example, claimed that the local sportswriters had told them they would be treated as quasi-major versus the local FL franchise if the draft was abolished.

Third, and related to the first, is the reaction of the established leagues. Did they view the new league as a clear and present threat, or did they complacently ignore it. With respect to the FL, there is no question that after the Chifeds signed Joe Tinker in late December 1913 and went after other star players, Organized Baseball was panicky and in full battle mode against the upstarts.

I’ll add a fourth criterion—there is certainly some minimal threshold of player ability that must be met. And while the FL was clearly a notch below the majors, in my mind it was well above any minimal threshold. Certainly in evaluating player abilities and contributions, one must adjust for the league level. But to my way of thinking this is no different than making adjustments for 1918 or 1944 and ’45. Moreover, ignoring the anomaly of the Union Association, relative to a long-term major league player ability average, the FL was likely on par with the NL of 1877 and ’78 (as Frank Vaccaro has pointed out, the International Association was equal to or better than the NL in those years—the NL in 1878 was a six-team league in Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Providence), the American Association in 1882, ’90 and '91, and probably the major leagues during the war years already mentioned. Stated another way, I think the FL was equivalent to the early years of the AFL or ABA.

Dan Levitt

posted 04.05.2013

The argument is presented quite articulately, but it is not a particularly new argument. In fact, I believe it's an argument I've heard about the American League circa 1901-1902, and about both the NL and AL, circa WW2, about the NL circa 1877-78, and I have the same trouble with them, both pro and con.

Was the FL 1914-1915 as good as the NL and AL 1914-1915? I doubt it. But how much worse was it? Was it better than the PCL? The EL or the AA of those same years? Was it as much worse than the two other leagues as the AL was compared to the NL in 1901? Was the NL of 1876 as good as the NA of 1875? Was it even as good as the IA in 1878? We can play these games forever (and indeed we probably shall), and it does no harm.

Can the difference in quality between the leagues be quantified? If so, how much worse was the FL, and should we retroactively revoke its major league status? If we were to do that, should we make the same comparison for every league between 1871 and today, and make the same judgments?

Should we consider whether the NL and AL of 1944 as good as the NAL and NNL of that same year; the Negro leagues suffered fewer losses in manpower than did the white majors, and could arguably have been the top leagues of '44 in terms of talent and performance.

By the way, I believe that you missed one of the other major effects of the FL's existence: Babe Ruth’s major league career started much earlier than it would have without the Federal League war. Had it not been for the Feds, Ruth might have stayed in the EL/IL for a number of years after 1915; his contract was sold to the Red Sox because it was feared he'd be signed by the Feds. Imagine Ruth playing for the Orioles all the way through 1919. Would we have had the Big Bang if he had not been in Boston for Ed Barrow had put him in the outfield part-time in 1918?

Patrick Rock

posted 04.05.2013

Good work as always, Rob. A few comments:
1) You've compared the Federal League with the other major leagues. But if it wasn't a major league, then that makes it a minor league. How does it compare with the leading minor leagues, not just in playing standards, but in terms of infrastructure and attendances?
2) Are we more lenient with new leagues, and should we be? Does the 1901 American League look completely like a major league? How about the 1876 National League?
3) I don't know the answer to this question, and I'm not sure anyone does. Do we know more about the Federal League than, say, Francis Richter? We've got better ways to organise the written evidence, but he talked to people who were there, people whose words have been lost forever.
4) A pragmatic point: hardly anyone cares about the minor leagues of 100 years ago. If we downgrade the Federal League, then it literally loses its place in history.
5) I am not sure that the NFL is an appropriate metaphor. My understanding of pro football is that its record book has been controlled by the NFL, who operate on a purely political level. Their merger deal with the AFL involved accepting the AFL's history. But earlier, when the NFL merged with the AAFC, the NFL had a stronger bargaining position, so the AAFC's history was downgraded- even though the AAFC's Cleveland Browns became the best NFL team immediately after the merger. The Sporting News, in the days when they did books, seemed to treat the USFL as comparable to the NFL. But the NFL Fact and Record Book never will.
6) One last bit of Federal League trivia. For many years the career home run leaders in each of the three major leagues were Hank Aaron (733), Babe Ruth (708) and Dutch Zwilling (29). Coincidentally, for many years, baseball's A-Z ran from Aaron to Zwilling. (Sadly, Aaron has now lost these distinctions to Barry Bonds and David Aardsma respectively.)

Pete Ridges

posted 04.06.2013

A lot of great comments, many of which I can't (or don't care to) argue with. There is one thing that does bother me, though, and that's the deification of Francis Richter. Yes, he wrote a lot of wonderful things about baseball. He also wrote this, about the 1919 World Series: "Any man who knows anything at all about base ball and base ball players knows absolutely that both the game and its exemplars are absolutely honest so far as its public presentation is concerned, and any man who insinuates that the 1919 World's Series was not honorably played by every participant therein not only does not know what he is talking about, but is a menace to the game quite as much as the gamblers would be if they had the ghost of a chance to get in their nefarious work."

So please, my friends, spare me the notion that Francis Richter was right about everything. Richter's opinion counts for something, but the facts on the ground count for a lot more. Or should, anyway.

robneyer

posted 04.06.2013

I have no statistical arguments to make, but I think there's a certain degree of semantics in play in terms of how we define the Major Leagues. For example, what if we did not have expansion take place in 1962-62 and in subsequent decades? Would we still insist that the Major Leagues had the best players even though inevitably many great performers would have been forced to continue performing at a "minor league" level? We always assume that the best talent makes it to the Major Leagues, but that certainly wasn't true during the period in which the color line was in place--and certainly not true when the Pacific Coast League and American Association were full of talented players. Often, great players had to wait far longer to make it to the big leagues because of the limited number of roster spots available, or in some cases players nwilling to accept a subpar big league salary compared to the deal they might have in the PCL, etc. After all, look at some of the monster seasons that players like DiMaggio and Williams had in the minor leagues, then duplicated in the majors? If baseball had not arbitrarily limited the number of franchises, they might have compiled those stats in the majors. In terms of Rob's point, I think the proper question should be whether the Federal League had the best talent from the time period. Maybe not. But if that's a basis for removing Federal League records from big league totals, perhaps we should also ask whether any records achieved in a high level non-major league, i.e., the PCL or AA, should be made part of the current Major League record books? I know it will never happen, but I appreciate the discussion.

Tom Goldstein

posted 04.06.2013

One historical note:
TSN did NOT consider the Federal League a “major” league for a long time. As late as 1981, its publication Daguerrotypes listed the records of Mordecai Brown, Edd Roush, and Joe Tinker, excluding their Federal League records from their major league totals with the explanation that the NL and AL did not consider the FL to be a major league. It should be pointed out that TSN was the de facto propaganda arm of the National League and, 66 years after the FL war was over, was simply cleaving to official party line as declared in 1914/15.
And one argument:
I must take some exception to Rob’s attempt to discredit Francis Richter. He cites Richter’s defense of the honesty of the 1919 Series as proof that he wasn’t right about everything.
My first exception to that is this: Richter was wrong about the Black Sox, but then so was nearly everyone else at that time; he was on a pretty crowded bandwagon. It also does not mean that he was wrong about the FL; if we all assumed he was absolutely correct about everything, we would not be having this debate.
My second exception is that there are also a lot of writers who argued most vociferously (and for a long time) that Pete Rose was (to varying degrees) an innocent man, and they made up a significantly smaller percentage of the general population ob baseball writers/commentators than were mistaken about '19. I believe that it would be unfair to discredit the rest of their body of work and opinion for because they were wrong in that situation.

Patrick Rock

posted 04.07.2013

Responding to Patrick Rock ... Your note about "Daguerrotypes" is interesting, and I appreciate it. However, as I pointed out in the article, *another* Sporting News publication *did* treat the Federal League as a major league. Which sort of contradicts your point about TSN simply cleaving to a line. As for Richter, well of course I didn't suggest that he's always wrong. I simply was pointing out that he wasn't always right, and his strong statement about the Federal League should be considered in that light.

robneyer

posted 04.07.2013

My reference to Daguerrotypes was made because TSN really did call the Feds a minor league starting as soon as the war began, and this was in keeping the National League (Albert Spalding’s) policy. I cannot pinpoint the source at this moment, but I remember that it was mentioned years ago in another article about the Federal League that the Sporting Life supported the Feds, and TSN took pains to disparage it, and that it acted according to official policy of OB. Whether TSN did so consistently throughout its history I do not know. I do know that they made that judgment in 1914, and that they made the same on in Daguerrotypes of 1981. I would imagine that there are occasional inconsistencies or even reversals in policy; I'm just going on the bits that I know for certain.

TSN's Baseball Records Book as well as Daguerrotypes were pretty specific about excluding FL records; they usually had notes in the preface of each book. Not a big deal, but I was honestly surprised when it was mentioned that TSN had ever agreed with the assessment of the FL as a major league.

I did not think you were attacking Francis Richter with your remark, but I did consider it a bit of bad logic. Of course Richter was wrong on any number of occasions. And he probably erred if he estimated that the FL was the absolute equal of the two established leagues. But my question is: at what point do we consider a league "major", and at what point do we not? If we truly want to examine the case for or against the FL, we should be prepared to do so for other leagues: The UA and FL for exclusion, as well as the 19th-century NA and IA for inclusion.

While we're on the topic, if we can accept that the American League of 1901 was absolutely a major league, then we have a benchmark, and perhaps can try to judge the worthiness of a league by how it stacks up against the 1901 AL, or the 1877 NL. All we need now are a set of reasonable metrics and definitions of "major league" for comparison between the different leagues and eras, and I think we have a whole new SABR committee just waiting to be formed.

Patrick Rock

posted 04.08.2013

2 thoughts. The major leagues were not above blackballing players who went against their wishes and signed with a rival league. Obviously a few players were let in, but I think it is reasonable to assume that some players - thought likely not among the best - were not good enough to overcome this stigma and latch on with an NL or AL team.
Also, Scott Simkus has written a book called Outsider Baseball in which he tries to develop a method for measuring the differences in league quality with a crude method of counting the effectiveness of the players. It is Jamesian in its simplicity, but it seems to create a decent approximation to start with. That might be worth looking at to see what he concluded regarding the Federal League as a major league (I don't recall what he found).

Kerry Waller

posted 04.23.2014