The American Baseball League was founded in 1901, and along with the National League, makes up Major League Baseball in the United States and Canada. Developing from the minor Western League, it grew to form a challenge to the established National League. The winning teams from the two Leagues meet annually in the World Series, an event which American League teams have won 61 out of 103 times.
The Yankees are top of the American League teams with 39 pennants and, with 26 victories to their name, have won the World Series the highest number of times. The Athletics follow them with 14 pennants.
The American League is distinguished from the other Major Leagues in that it is the only one to use the designated hitter rule. This means that a tenth player may be picked to bat in the pitcher’s place.
The origins of the American League go back to 1894 when Bancroft Johnson became president of the Western League. The Western League was a minor league with no clubs in the National League, but Johnson had ambitions to see it grow.
Late in the 1980’s the National League started considering whether to reduce the number of teams in its league to eight. Johnson began thinking about how this could work to his advantage, stepping in and introducing teams to cities that had been cut out of the league. These new teams would enable him to take on the National League.
As the National League made the decision to cut down on teams, the Western League renamed itself the American League, and as Baltimore, Cleveland, Louisville and Washington D.C were eliminated from the National League, Johnson stepped in and placed new teams in Cleveland and Chicago.
This was done without opposition from the National League who couldn’t foresee Johnson’s plans. A year after, in 1901, the American League established new teams in Baltimore and Boston and declared itself a Major League, after failing to renew its National Agreement membership.
Reaching Major League status marked them as a threat to the National League, who began an attempt to destroy the newly established league. In 1902 Baltimore manager, John McCraw, left to join the National League side, New York Giants, and with the departure of many key players who followed him, brought an end to the Baltimore Franchise.
Feeling it was time to bring an end to the tension, however, in 1903 the National League sued for peace, and as the Baltimore franchise moved to New York a period of peace between the two leagues was established.
This period also saw the two leagues come together to form the World Series, seeing the winners of each League coming together to compete. The American League team, Boston Pilgrims, came away victorious in the first World Series, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3 in the eight match series.
A period of expansion followed in the second half of the 20th century with many new sides joining the American League. In 1961 Los Angeles and the Washington Senators were introduced, Washington replacing the relocated Minnesota Twins.
The Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots were added in 1969, although the Seattle Pilots didn’t last long, becoming the Milwaukee Brewers only one season later. The year also saw the American League split its teams into two divisions, east and west.
The League Championship Series was introduced to decide the team that would go on to play against the National League in the World Series. A best of series decided the winner, changed in 1985 to the best of seven. Only two teams in the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers, have never appeared in the League Championship Series.
With more expansion the league grew to fourteen teams in 1977, adding the Seattle Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays. The Mariners were added in an attempt to resolve a lawsuit against the league which resulted after the Seattle Pilots departed after a season.
In 1998 the Milwaukee Brewers became the first team in the 20th century to change leagues when they moved to the National League, and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were added, bringing the total number of teams of fourteen.
A further division split came in 1994 with the introduction of a central division alongside the east and west. A League Divisional Series was also added, with the three division winners and a wild card team competing in a best of five series, to decide the World Series participant.
In 1997 Interleague games began, seeing the two rival leagues meet on a more regular basis.
American League Teams
American League East
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays
American Central League
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals
American League West
Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim