JANUARY 9, 1903 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK • Here’s an “I didn’t know that” story. On this day in baseball history the owners of the Baltimore Orioles sold the team to New Yorkers Frank Farrell and Bill Devery who moved the franchise to New York City.
The team was called the Highlanders because they played in one of the highest spots in upper Manhattan on, what is now, the Columbia University campus. The team didn’t become known as the Yankees until 1913. So, No, the New York Yankees, the most storied franchise in professional sports, was not an original member of the American League.
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Here’s how it evolved, according to several sources including Leonard Koppett, author of, Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, a good read by the way. The National League (NL) had been in business for a quarter century when Ban Johnson began shaking things up in 1900. He ran a minor league called the Western League. He wanted it to be “major” and compete with the National League. Should the leagues be adversaries or work something out?
The National League was torn. It had a monopoly on professional baseball as the only “major” league. It also knew expanding the major leagues would spread the gospel of baseball. And A. G. Spaulding, a major player in the National League, would sell more sports equipment – his real passion.
Ban Johnson forced the action in 1900 by changing the Western League’s name to the American League (AL). He declared it a “major” league in 1901. The NL and AL worked things out by agreeing to a uniform set of rules, not stealing each other’s players, etc., and began the 1901 season as dual major leagues.
The National League’s New York Giants didn’t want competition from the upstart American League. For two years, it got its way. Instead of putting a team in New York City the American League put a team in Baltimore for its inaugural season and called it the Orioles. Upon the sale of the Orioles to Farrell and Devery (referenced above) the National League could keep the American League out of New York City no longer. A franchise that would become the most prominent in sports, the Yankees, was put in place.
Today’s Baltimore Orioles are a different franchise all together, though, also one of the league’s originals [I know, this is like trying to keep score in an extra-inning game]. It started out as the Milwaukee Brewers (no connection to the current Brewers), but moved to Missouri after one season (1902) and became the St. Louis Browns. The Browns left St. Louis for Maryland in 1954 and changed its name to the Orioles – the Orioles that call The Ballpark at Camden Yards home today.
The New York Times, January 10, 1903