The American League was founded by a few men, but two are largely given most, if not all, of the credit: Charles Comiskey and Byron Bancroft “Ban” Johnson. Despite what history tells us, there was a third gentleman who deserves just as much credit; and if Comiskey and Johnson were alive today, they would most likely concur – Tom Loftus. The three men spearheaded the idea of taking on the National League at a time when several leagues were trying to make a “go” of it. The Players League, the American Association and the Western League were the most noteworthy. With the exception of the Players League which lasted just over a year, all other comers were regarded as “minor” leagues, that is until the American League was hatched. In fact, the National League agreed to recognize the American League as a “major” instead of a minor league. But there was a lot of work to be done. Johnson, who wanted to create a league that would play a more fan-friendly style of baseball instead of the rough-and-tumble National League, needed help. Comiskey and Loftus also wanted to create something bigger than the lightly regarded circuits they were working with. So, with Johnson in tow, the three went about their business and worked on securing teams in cities with large populations. Instead of building teams in places like St. Paul, Minnesota or Dubuque, Iowa or other cities where filling the stands with thousands of people on a nightly basis would be a huge challenge, the triumvirate went about establishing teams (with the permission of the National League) in such places as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Chicago to name a few. Loftus was there every step of the way. He owned teams, managed the 1903 Washington Senators and actually led the American League contingent when both leagues sat down to establish rules that would be played in both leagues such as no designated hitter, a pitcher’s mound that was the same height in all parks and abolishing the rule in which a foul ball never counted as a strike. But Tom also grew tired of the game and the grind it presented and walked away shortly after the inaugural season of 1903. He was approached a few times thereafter to take control of a team or, in some cases, manage a team. But Tom, who had a terrific reputation as a manager, turned down all offers and stayed home in Dubuque. And it was that decision that played a huge and negative role in his legacy as one of the American League founders. Both Comiskey and Johnson were enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Loftus, well, he is barely mentioned anywhere in the annals of baseball history. On this edition of Sports’ Forgotten Heroes, John Pregler, a member of the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) joins to talk about Loftus. Pregler just published an in-depth article about Loftus for SABR’s Baseball Research Journal and shares what he wrote and more.
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