|Most recent season or competition:
|Founded||February 11, 1885|
|CEO||Ban Johnson (1894-1900)|
|Most titles||Indianapolis (4)|
After several failures and reorganizations, the most notable version of the league was organized by Ban Johnson on November 20, 1893. In 1900, the league was renamed the American League, and declared its major league status in 1901 against the older National League of 1876, which was centered in the American Northeast states.
Before its most notable incarnation in November 1893, the Western League existed in various forms. The League was formed as a minor league on February 11, 1885. The original clubs were located in Indianapolis, Kansas City, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Toledo and Omaha/Keokuk, Iowa. The Indianapolis Hoosiers won the first title with a record of 27-4-1.
The league failed at the end of the 1885 season, but it was reformed again before the 1886 season. In 1887, the league was dominated by Topeka's Golden Giants, a high-priced collection of major leaguers, including Bug Holliday, Jim Conway, Perry Werden and Jimmy Macullar, which won the title by 15½ games. The league failed again after playing a partial 1888 season, then was reformed again for the 1892 and 1893 seasons before folding temporarily again on June 20, 1893.
In a meeting in Detroit, Michigan, on November 20, 1893, the Western League reorganized again. From this point forward, this version of the WL has continued in existence, eventually becoming the modern-day American League.
At that meeting, Ban Johnson was elected President, and would remain so until his retirement nearly 35 years later. Johnson, a Cincinnati-based newspaper reporter, had been recommended by his friend Charles Comiskey, a former major league star with the St. Louis Browns in the 1880s, who was then managing the Cincinnati Reds. After the 1894 season, when Comiskey's contract with the Reds was up, he decided to take his chances at ownership. He bought the Sioux City team and transferred it to Saint Paul, Minnesota. These two men would be among the cornerstones of the American League.
After the 1899 season, the National League announced it was dropping four of its franchises, reducing its membership from 12 to 8 teams, eliminated were: Baltimore, Cleveland, Louisville and Washington. This afforded an opportunity for the Western circuit to expand into those vacated cities. In a meeting in Chicago on October 11, 1899, the Western League renamed itself the American League. It was still a minor league, subject to the National Agreement, and generally subordinate to the older National League of Major League Baseball, founded 1876. The NL gave permission to the new AL to put a team in Chicago that year, and Comiskey moved his St. Paul club to the South Side. However, the new team in Chicago was subject to rules from the NL. The Cubs (then called the Orphans) were allowed to draft two players each year from the AL team. Comiskey was also barred from using the name "Chicago" in all of his dealings, so he cleverly revived the old moniker "White Stockings" from the days of Cap Anson for his team. The AL also transferred the Grand Rapids team to Cleveland for the 1900 season.
After the 1900 season, the American League declined to renew its membership in the "National Agreement" and declared itself a "major league". It began raiding NL team rosters and attempting to compete directly against the NL. The franchises in smaller cities of Buffalo, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Minneapolis were replaced by larger, more important urban centers of Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington for the 1901 season, of which the middle two already had NL teams, followed by the move of Milwaukee to St. Louis in 1902. Baltimore, having fallen into disarray, was replaced by New York City in 1903, for the reason that the new league would not be totally respected and have "major league" status without a team in the nation's largest city. The American League team lineup settled on five franchises in cities that already had NL teams (Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis) and two in cities that had been recently abandoned by the NL (Cleveland and Washington), but only one in a city remaining from the former Western League lineup of 1899 (Detroit). Four of the other 1899 Western League cities now host Major League Baseball today (Kansas City, Milwaukee, and St. Paul and Minneapolis jointly), while three do not (Buffalo, Grand Rapids, and Indianapolis, but all have minor league teams). This membership list for both leagues lasted in place for nearly a half-century until the move of the Boston Braves to Milwaukee in 1952, the St. Louis Browns to Baltimore becoming the new Baltimore Orioles in 1954 and the Philadelphia Athletics to Kansas City in 1955.
The American League's claim to major league status was disputed, but had to be recognized after the Boston Red Sox defeated the NL champion Pittsburgh Pirates in the first World Series held in late 1903.
When Ban Johnson changed his league's name to the American League before the 1900 season, another "Western League" was immediately formed to function on the supporting "minor league" level. This League operated from 1900 to 1937 and later from 1947 to 1958. Its franchises were located west of the Mississippi River, in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains states, as in that early part of the 20th century, it was difficult and long-enduring for teams to go on "road trips" to distant cities by the then existing railroad passenger train systems. In its post-World War II incarnation, the later Western League included clubs in Denver, Colorado (now represented in the National League by the Colorado Rockies), Des Moines, Iowa, Omaha, Nebraska, and Colorado Springs, Colorado (now all represented by teams of the Class AAA ("Triple A") Pacific Coast League).
Several other 20th century minor league circuits have also used the same name.