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. Johnson and the new association’s eight team owners promised better working conditions and higher pay to those players who chose to join the fledgling league, prompting many of the senior circuit’s top stars to leave their former National League clubs. Led by player/manager John McGraw, the Baltimore Orioles served as one of the newly-formed league’s eight teams for two years, before Johnson insisted at a 1903 peace summit to unite the two leagues under similar rules that an American League franchise be established in New York. Johnson eventually succeeded in getting all but one of the 16 major league owners to support his proposal, with the lone dissenter being John T. Bush of the New York Giants. Johnson arranged for Frank Farrell and Bill Devery to purchase the struggling Baltimore Orioles and subsequently move them to Manhattan. Meanwhile, Bush and McGraw displayed their mutual displeasure by joining forces just a few miles away, with Bush hiring McGraw to be his team’s new manager.
Farrell and Devery wasted little time in securing a piece of land situated on Broadway, between 165th and 168th streets. They then constructed a ballpark that they named Hilltop Park, since it sat on one of the highest points in Manhattan. The stadium’s location also prompted the nickname Highlanders to be affixed to the team.
Before the Highlanders played their first game, the team’s owners also secured the services of several former National League stars. Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Keeler, who batted .424 for Brooklyn in 1897, took his talents across town. Star pitchers Jack Chesbro and Jesse Tannehill both left Pittsburgh to don a New York uniform. And Hall of Fame hurler Clark Griffith left Chicago to serve as the team’s player/manager.
The New York Highlanders took the field for their first game on April 22, 1903, losing to the Senators in Washington by a score of 3-1. However, they earned their initial victory the very next day, defeating the Senators 7-2. The team made its home debut against the Senators one week later, coming out on top again, this time by a 6-2 margin.
The Highlanders ended up making their first season a successful one, finishing the campaign in fourth place, with a very respectable record of 72-62. Nevertheless, with the more-established New York Giants setting up residence just a few miles away, the team found it difficult to draw fans to the ballpark, attracting only 211,808 customers to the stadium in their inaugural season. Keeler served as the team’s hitting star, finishing first with a .313 batting average and 95 runs scored. Meanwhile, Chesbro led the pitching staff with a record of 21-15, 33 complete games, and 325 innings pitched, while also compiling an ERA of 2.77.By Bob_Cohen
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- Baltimore Orioles, Ban Johnson, Bill Devery, Clark Griffith, Frank Farrell, Hilltop Park, Jack Chesbro, Jesse Tannehill, John McGraw, New York Highlanders, New York Yankees, Washington Senators, Willie Keeler