A true visionary leader who, against all odds, successfully competed with the established Senior Circuit and laid the foundation for the current system and its time-honored traditions, American League founder Ban Johnson composed this original letter at the height of his biggest controversy. Opposed by owners who weren’t hand-picked by himself, the stubborn executive was ultimately felled by his disposition and repeated clashes with an unyielding Kenesaw Mountain Landis. In summary, the amazing content of this 1919 correspondence (addressed to the five owners who remained loyal to Johnson) details the matter of Carl Mays and the Yankees’ refusal to suspend him. The relic hails from the personal collection of Rollie Fingers. Content and details of impeccable provenance on our website.
Absolutely amazing historical content leaps from the pages of this three-page correspondence. To preface Johnson’s sentiments and pleas, let us provide some background information.
As the fortunes of the Boston Red Sox waned in 1919, so, too did those of pitcher Carl Mays. Struggling with a 5-10 mark as he took the mound at Chicago’s Comiskey Park on July 13, Mays could no longer control his short temper. The ChiSox unloaded for four runs in the opening inning. The rally was fueled, in part, as Eddie Collins swiped second base when Red Sox catcher Wally Schang accidentally struck Mays with his attempted throw to the keystone sack. Infuriated, Mays stormed off the mound and returned to Boston, vowing never to pitch for the Red Sox again. Less than three weeks later on July 30, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee traded Mays to the Yankees in exchange for Bob McGraw (who would never pitch for the Red Sox and didn’t resurface in the Major Leagues until 1925) and Baltimore native Allen Russell (Frazee would deal a different Baltimore native following the 1919 season to begin the most infamous “curse” in sports history). Johnson, meanwhile, demanded that Mays be suspended for walking out on his team. This sparked a definitive rift, with Boston, New York and Chicago opposing Johnson. The remaining five American League teams remained loyal, but the aforementioned three defectors threatened to jump ship and go to the National League. This marked the beginning of Johnson’s undoing and, following the appointment of Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis the following year, Johnson found himself on thin ice and could no longer tread.
The crisp pages show normal compacting folds. On the front page, a vintage stamping reads “RECEIVED AUG 7 1919.” The heading reads: “PERSONAL and CONFIDENTIAL – CHICAGO August 6, 1919.” It is addressed to the aforementioned “loyal” owners: “Messrs. Ball (St. Louis Browns), Navin (Detroit Tigers), Shibe (Philadelphia Athletics), Minor (Washington Senators) and Dunn (Cleveland Indians).” The letter reads (in full):
I passed through quite a strenuous period in New York, and I was very glad to get away from the Eastern city yesterday afternoon. I met Messrs. Ruppert and Huston at the Holland House on Sunday evening, and spent an hour and twenty-five minutes with them. Their line of talk was on a par with that which generally emanated from them at all of our meetings. It was purely selfish, and wound up in threats of intimidation and court proceedings. When it became apparent to them I would not deviate from my position, they declared the stock of the New York Club was for sale, and I could have it on five minute’s notice for six hundred thousand dollars. Colonel Ruppert explained that was the amount of their investment, and they called for no interest on the money they had put into the proposition.
Before reaching New York, I notified Huston there would be no lifting of the Mays’ suspension, and I was assailed in a most villainous manner by the New York press. They only gave the papers their version of the story, and were very careful to conceal the true facts.
In the course of my conversation with the gentlemen, Ruppert announced that on Saturday they had received a preemptory notice, signed by Stoneham, McGraw, and McQuade, telling them they could vacate the Polo Grounds, and that they had no desire to renew the lease. This was a startling disclosure, and indicated they were forced into a position where they would be required to build. They both asserted, however, they would not advance the necessary capital for a ball plant. They insisted it was quite desirable the franchise be taken off their hands. The following day they “buckled up” on the offer they had made me, and said they were going to remain in baseball. It is my judgment they should be retired from our organization. We all appreciate how impossible they are. During the period they have been identified with our organization, I have been exceedingly kind and considerate to both gentlemen, and have done all I could to advance the interests of our New York Club.
I am sure other people can be interested in the proposition, and that a satisfactory arrangement can be made with the present owners of the New York National League Club. One reason for the break is due to the fact Huston has used his influence with the New York papers in the production of scurrilous articles which have been hurtful and irritating to the owners of the National League Club. It is the desire to be separated from Huston, in my judgment, which prompted the action of Stoneham, McGraw and McQuade.
I volunteered to call a meeting of the American League to thrash out the Mays question. They had made so many statements about Detroit, Washington, and Philadelphia, relative to their dealings for the player, that I deemed absolutely false. It was for that reason I suggested the special meeting. They both asserted in the heat of anger they would not attend such a meeting, and followed this up with a declaration in the morning papers that I had suggested a special meeting, but they would not attend it. When I read this I was very glad to get away from the thought of calling our club-owners together, and I explained that in the public statement I gave out during my stay in New York. I did not meet any of the newspaper representatives, but on Monday night I gave the Associated Press and United Press the story which I mailed you, and which appeared in the New York World.
Section 20, of the Constitution, clothes me with abundant authority to deal with the Mays case. I wanted the Boston Club to handle the matter by suspending the player for his insubordination and breaking a contract. I wired Manager Barrow and asked him why the player had not been suspended, and told him the American League would act in the matter, if the Boston Club failed to punish Mays. No reply was received to that message, but in the interview with Frazee which appeared in the Boston Post, he said he had received a telegram from Barrow asking for the suspension of the player, but Frazee thinking it might embarrass him in the disposal of Mays, declined to follow the request of his manager.
The New York club-owners threatened to preserve their rights in the courts, and told me an injunction would be sought. I employed Mr. Baldwin to represent our interests, and it was his judgment the New York Club did not have a peg to stand upon in the controversy. One of the leading firms in New York was retained by Ruppert, and their attorney, Mr. Arbuckle, sought a conference immediately with Mr. Baldwin. He told Mr. Baldwin he had advised his clients it was not a case for the courts, but should be adjusted by negotiations. As well you understand, this is something we cannot permit. The player must be punished in the interests of the American League, and for the good of baseball, as a whole.
I remained in New York all of Monday, and a greater part of Tuesday, awaiting any papers they might want to serve. Ruppert and Huston made assertions and planned to do certain thing before their attorney was consulted. It is my conviction there will be no court proceedings, but we are fully prepared for such an issue.
The umpires have been instructed that Mays is under suspension, and they will not officiate in any games in which the New York Club may attempt to use him.
B. B. Johnson
This spectacular correspondence presents beautifully and conjures up memories of a maverick executive and the owners who built the very foundation of the winningest franchise in the history of American sports. For the sake of accuracy, There is a we report a small tear atop the third page. This has been partially mended with archival tape.
Accompanying is a letter of authenticity signed by Rollie Fingers in his capacity as the President of Authentic Enterprises, Inc., as this historic piece hails from Fingers’ personal collection.