The American League experienced its inaugural season in 1901, with league president Ban Johnson and his financier friends forming the junior circuit to provide competition to the more established National League. Although the two leagues eventually learned to coexist peacefully, a considerable amount of animosity existed initially between the two coalitions, with Johnson and the A.L. owners refusing to honor National League contracts. Promising better working conditions and higher pay to those players who chose to join its ranks, the fledgling league lured away from the senior circuit many of the game’s top players, including Cy Young, Clark Griffith, Napoleon Lajoie, Jimmy Collins, and Hugh Duffy. Aiding the American League in its efforts was the fact that the N.L. found itself bitterly divided into two factions, one led by New York’s Andrew Freedman, and the other headed by Chicago’s Al Spalding. Unable to put aside their differences long enough to elect a new president, the owners found it impossible to mount an effective defense against the threat they faced from the upstart league.
The American League opened for business in late April, with the eight-team circuit comprised of the Washington Senators, Cleveland Blues, Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Athletics, Chicago White Sox, and Boston Americans. The cities of Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston also served as home to National League clubs at the time. The Chicago White Sox captured the first A.L. pennant, finishing four games ahead of second-place Boston, with a record of 83-53. Boston’s Cy Young was the junior circuit’s dominant pitcher, leading all A.L. hurlers with a record of 33-10, a 1.62 ERA, and 158 strikeouts. Meanwhile, Napoleon Lajoie was the league’s top offensive performer. Playing for the Philadelphia Athletics, who finished in fourth place, nine games behind the pennant-winning White Sox, Lajoie won the Triple Crown by leading the league with 14 home runs, 125 runs batted in, and a .426 batting average. He also topped the circuit with 145 runs scored, 232 hits, and a .643 slugging percentage. Although Lajoie’s numbers were aided immeasurably by the fact that he found himself essentially playing under expansion conditions and without the foul-strike rule (which the American League didn’t implement until 1903), the Philadelphia second baseman nonetheless posted a slugging percentage that exceeded that of the league runner-up by 120 points, and a batting average that placed him 86 points ahead of league runner-up Mike Donlin. In fact, Lajoie’s .426 batting average remains the highest since the start of the 20th century.
Some of the highlights from the American League’s inaugural season follow:
• The first game in American League history is played on April 24 at the Chicago Cricket Club. The final score is Chicago 6, Cleveland 2.
• Chicago takes the first American League pennant.
• Philadelphia’s Napoleon Lajoie sets a 20th-century record when he bats a league-leading .426 en route to winning the Triple Crown.
• Connie Mack manages the fledgling Philadelphia A's and will be their only manager until 1951.
• Roscoe Miller of the Detroit Tigers sets a rookie record when he pitches 35 complete games and throws 332 innings.
• Trailing 13-4 in the ninth inning of their first game in the American League, the Tigers rally to beat Milwaukee 14-13.
• The White Sox collect 23 hits in a game off Cleveland's Bock Baker -- all singles.
• Philadelphia's Chick Fraser hits an American League record 31 batters.
• On May 23, Nap Lajoie is the first player to be intentionally walked with the bases full.
• The modern infield-fly rule is adopted.
- Al Spalding, American League, Andrew Freedman, Baltimore Orioles, Ban Johnson, Bock Baker, Boston Americans, Chicago White Sox, Chick Fraser, Clark Griffith, Cleveland Blues, Connie Mack, Cy Young, Detroit Tigers, Hugh Duffy, Jimmy Collins, Mike Donlin, Milwaukee Brewers, Nap Lajoie, Philadelphia Athletics, Roscoe Miller, Washington Senators