he Federal League was the last major attempt to establishing a third major league. The league competed with the American and National Leagues during the 1914 and 1915 seasons. Though the league was short-lived, its impact on baseball was felt then and is still being felt now.
During its existence as a major league, it had some harsh effects on the other 2 major leagues as well as the minor leagues. Ballplayers loved the idea of the new league as it caused salaries to rise. Team owners, who were for the most part notoriously cheap, had to open up their pocketbooks to keep key players from "jumping" to the other league.
After the 1915 season, representatives from all three major leagues met to broker a "peace" agreement. The agreement led to the Federal League being disbanded and some of the owners of the Federal League teams to be compensated. The compensation was not equal with some owners being allowed to buy exisiting American or National League teams, some owners receiving substantial monetary settlements, and other owners were offered nominal cash payments.
Not all of the Federal League owners were satisfied with the agreement and later sued Organized Baseball. This led to the famous Supreme Court decision that now allows major league baseball, the only major organized sport in the country to have anti-trust exempt status.
Below is a brief description of each Federal League season. Click on the year for more information about that season.
The beginnings of the Federal League started in 1913. Investors trying to cash in on the popularity of baseball created a new league of professional ballplayers and called it the Columbia League. The league had 6 teams but was not considered a major league. The league avoided offering contracts to players who had already signed with another team by going after free agents only. Most of the teams were located in Mid-West.
With some economic success during the 1913 season, the owners decided to turn the Federal League into a major league. So after the 1913 season, the league made plans to expand to the East coast, built some brand new major league ballparks, and actively pursued established major league ballplayers.
There were some stars who had jumped from the National and American leagues that played in the Federal League like Joe Tinker, Three Finger Brown, and Hal Chase, but the Feds also had some exciting young players of their own, like Benny Kauf, Dutch Zwilling, and Edd Roush.
With the Federal League now calling themselves a major league, the 1914 season was an exciting one. The pennant race was not decided until the final week fo the season with Indianapolis beating out the Chicago Whales by 1 1/2 games.
After the season, the Federal League enticed more stars from the other 2 leagues and even signed Washington Senator ace Walter Johnson.
As part of the Federal League strategy, they filed an anti-trust lawsuit against Organized Baseball. At the heart of the matter was Organized Baseball's reserve clause.
The 1915 season saw the tightest pennant race ever in major league baseball. Again the race was not decided until the final week. Due to some earlier rainouts in the season, not all the teams played the same number of games. Because of this, the Chicago Whales won the pennant by one-thousandth of a percentage point over St. Louis, and four-thousandths of a percentage point over third place Pittsburgh.
After the 1915 season, representatives from all three major leagues got together and brokered a peace settlement. The Federal League would be disbanded and the Federal League owners would be compensated in a variety of ways. Not all of the owners were pleased, and the Baltimore franchise sued Organized Baseball in a case that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court found for the defense, claiming that baseball was a game and not interstate commerce, subject to the principles of free trade. This meant that the Baltimore owners lost their case but more importantly gave Organized Baseball exemption from anti-trust legislation.