In a new approach for Pop Culture References, I’ll now be debuting new Entertainment and Sports Legends Revealed posts here before eventually putting them on legendsrevealed.com later on, just like how I do it on CBR, only with more than just Movie and TV Legends here.
FOOTBALL/BASEBALL LEGEND: The first league to call itself the National Football League was made up on professional baseball players.
Obviously, history is littered with famous players who played both professional football and baseball, with Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders being the most prominent examples (John Elway never really even gave professional baseball a chance, even though he clearly could have been a professional baseball player. He was drafted by the New York Yankees and performed well in the one Minor League season he played before giving up baseball for good to concentrate on his soon-to-be Hall of Fame football career), but what’s funny is that the first league to call itself the National Football League was actually made up OF professional baseball players primarily!
It all started when the American League was formed in 1901, a rival organization to the then dominant National League. The National League’s previous major rival was the American Association. When that folded in 1891, the National League absorbed four teams from the American Association, but in 1899, after eight years as a 12-team league, it went down to eight teams again. As you might imagine, that was the perfect time for a new rival league to strike, as there were now three prominent cities (Baltimore, Cleveland and Washington) that did not have professional baseball teams, so the American League (using the Minor League Western League as the source of the players and owners) launched with franchises in those three cities plus three cities with National League teams – Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia (the fourth city to lose a National League team, Louisville, never got a professional team again), plus Milwaukee and Detroit.
Philadelphia Athletics owner Ben Shibe was willing to pay much more for players than Philadelphia Phillies owner John Rogers, so Shibe was able to sign a bunch of prominent Phillies, but the courts forced him to return the players to the Phillies. At that point, while Rogers and Shibe naturally didn’t like each other a lot, they realized that there was money to be made working together, and in 1903, the National League and American League began to play a World Series against each other upon signing a National Agreement that said that they’ll work with each other and not against each other.
Before that point, though, Rogers and Shibe were ALREADY working with each other to form a professional football league to try to make some money during the baseball offseason. In 1902, they launched the National Football League, with teams named the Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Athletics, and the players on the teams consisting mostly of whichever players from those baseball teams wanted to make some extra money, including Athletics star pitcher, Rube Waddell. However, they also brought in key semi-professional football players, as well, to round out the rosters. The football players likely were the key additions, with the baseball players mostly being just sort of filling in as they could.
The two teams needed a third team from Pittsburgh to lend some authority to their new league, since Pittsburgh was a much more prominent football town (there had been many semi-professional football leagues by this point in time, with the Ohio League being the most prominent, which is why Canton, Ohio is the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame). Dave Berry became the owner and head of the third team, the Pittsburgh Stars, which was LIKELY co-owned by Rogers and Shibe, but both of those men insisted they did not own it and Berry bought into the league on his own (that seems highly unlikely). Since Berry was an impartial third party, he was made the commissioner of the league.
Baseball icon Christy Mathewson played fullback for the Pittsburgh Stars.
The teams played an uninspired single season, with a controversial championship game between the Stars and the Athletics that ended in a tie. The game was controversial because there wasn’t enough of an audience for the game to actually be PLAYED. The Athletics refused to play unless it got the $2000 it was promised (which was going to have been based on the non-existent paid attendance). Ultimately, the owner of Carnegie Steel just paid the $2000 himself because he really wanted to see the game. It ended in a tie.
The follow-up was won by the Stars. The Athletics then beat the Phillies for second place and the “Best team in Philly” title. The Athletics then decided that their loss to the Stars was an exhibition and that since they had the best record in the league once you took away that loss, they were the champions. Berry, being the commissioner of the league, ruled that the Stars were the champions. Real nonsense stuff.
The league did not return for a second season (although a revival was attempted in 1917, just a few years before the ACTUAL National Football League debuted).
The legend is…
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