JANUARY 5, 1915 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – Did the National and American Leagues get preferential treatment? A short-lived 3rd major league sued the National and American Leagues on this date in 1915. The Federal League claimed the NL and AL created an illegal monopoly, which made it difficult for the upstart league to survive. Although the Federal League did not get a verdict in its favor, the effects of its lawsuit are felt more than 100 years later.
The lawsuit was presided over by Federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. As Leonard Koppett writes in Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, Landis was known for his hard line against monopolies. That’s not how things worked out in this situation.
The case never went to trial. Landis helped bring about a settlement whereby the American and National Leagues bought-out some of the Federal League owners who were heavy in debt. A couple Federal League owners became owners of American and National League teams.
The bottom line is the Federal League lawsuit went away. The American and National League owners got their way. A few years later major league baseball hired its first commissioner – Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
The Federal League was the last major attempt at a 3rd major league. It was put together by a group of businessmen in 1913 hoping to cash in on the popularity of baseball. The league competed against the National and American Leagues in 1914 and 1915. It signed some established stars and had decent attendance, but the established major leagues felt threatened and began to match salaries and tie the Federal League up in court.
The Federal League won the lawsuits, but the costs became a burden. Owners went heavy into debt, so FL owners tried to turn the tables on the American and National Leagues by filing the lawsuit mentioned above.
There is an interesting and lasting postscript to this story. One of the Federal League teams neither bought out nor absorbed by the National and American Leagues was the Baltimore Terrapins, so they filed their own lawsuit against the major leagues. The result was a 1922 Supreme Court decision saying Major League Baseball was primarily entertainment and therefore except from the Sherman Antitrust Act. The exception remains basically intact today, though it’s been eroded somewhat by free-agency.
And one of the most famous venues in sports owes its birth to the long-deceased league. The ballpark now known as Wrigley Field was initially built for the Chicago Whales of the Federal League.
Back to the original question; did the National and American Leagues get preferential treatment? It appears so.
Federal League Teams
Indianapolis Hoosiers (1914 only)
Newark Peppers (1915 only)
Kansas City Packers
St. Louis Terriers
Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball , by Leonard Koppett
Kenesaw Mountain Landis
Sherman Antitrust Act
The Chicago Whales & Weeghman Park