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Absolutely amazing historical content leaps from the pages of this three-page correspondence.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.