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Rube Foster - Related Biography: Baseball Executive Ban Johnson

league american cincinnati president

Byron Bancroft "Ban" Johnson is known as the founder of baseball's American League. He defined the role of baseball executive during the 1890s and early 1900s and earned the title "the Czar of Baseball" during his term on the National Commission, from 1903 to 1920. He was president of the American League from 1901 to 1927.

Born January 5, 1864, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of a school administrator, Johnson played baseball at Marietta College. He entered the University of Cincinnati Law School but did not complete his degree, instead becoming a sportswriter and then sports editor for the Cincinnati Commercial-Gazette.

Johnson and his close friend Charlie Comiskey, manager of the Cincinnati Reds, talked often of ways to improve baseball, and in 1894 Johnson was hired as president of the Western League on Comiskey's recommendation. After Comiskey left the Reds, he joined Johnson, and the two began expanding the league's teams and changed its name to the American League (AL) in 1900. One year later, the league had major status, and by 1903 its teams were competing with the National League (NL) in the World Series.

Johnson was known as a shrewd, imaginative, vain, stubborn, hard-driving executive with rigorous standards. He persuaded millionaires to finance his teams, brought order to rowdy play on the field, garnered respect for umpires, appointed managers, traded players, arranged travel schedules, and brought publicity and respectability to baseball through such tactics as having President William Howard Taft throw out the ball on opening day.

However, in time Johnson's iron rule sat poorly with American League owners. The infamous "Chicago Black Sox" scandal, in which players were accused of gambling fixes in 1919, led to an investigation and the resulting abolition of the National Commission. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was appointed Commissioner of Baseball, and although Johnson remained president of the American League, his power was limited. He resigned from the league in 1927 in ill health and died from complications of diabetes in 1931. He was named to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937.

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