Baseball Research Journal: Tom Loftus is the American League’s Forgotten Founding Father.

Here is the link to the long awaited article: Tom Loftus: The American League’s Forgotten Founding Father. This is my Great Grandfather Tom Loftus! I've written about him before. He's finally getting the recognition he deserves. He was widely hailed in his day as important to Major League Baseball, especially his role in helping to start the American League and in navigating through the baseball wars of 1899-1903. I'm so thankful to have lived long enough to see this day! Here are a few snippets:

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A review of newspapers of the era shows that Loftus’s life in baseball was significant and warrants the same recognition now that was afforded him by his peers and contemporary sportswriters.

Loftus was a minor- and major-league baseball player, team captain, scout, manager, league organizer, club owner, and magnate.1

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Loftus and Charles Comiskey had history in the legendary baseball town of Dubuque. Both men had played professional ball there in the late 1870s and early 1880s, before going on to play for Chris Von Der Ahe and the St. Louis Browns of the American Association.14 Both men married Dubuque women,15 and both lived and had children in Dubuque.16 Loftus lived there his entire adult life, while Comiskey would frequently visit Dubuque family and friends after moving back home to Chicago in 1891.17

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Loftus had stepped away from the big leagues after the 1891 season because of the rising mean-spiritedness in all aspects of major league baseball that would come to undermine baseball in the 1890s.

By 1898 baseball was at a crossroads that could either lead to its further demise and a baseball war or could turn the pastime around and send it into a new era of prosperity, ensuring the game’s survival for future generations. MLB no longer consisted of multiple leagues, and the struggling NL grew to a 12-city circuit with the collapse of the American Association in 1891. Club owners had become complacent with their monopoly over their industry and their players, and the quality of play on the field was more rowdy and vulgar than it had been in the prior 30 years. Fan attendance was down in NL cities, while attendance was rising in Western League cities.

The problems facing professional baseball as it neared the 20th century were complex and not always public. With back-room deals and different factions vying for power and monopolistic control of major league baseball, the stakes for the magnates who owned the clubs and controlled the leagues had never been higher.

By mid-1899 men in baseball circles, initially led by Al Spink, founder of the St. Louis Sporting News, were quietly suggesting the time was right to form a successful rival league to the NL. Their efforts would lead to the second attempt in five years to revive the American Association, which operated as a major league from 1882-1891.6

At the same time the threat of a revived American Association was rising against the NL, the powers in the Western League started to see their long-awaited chance to migrate their minor league into major-league status in direct competition with the NL. They knew the process would be difficult, fraught with risk, and would take more than one or two seasons to accomplish.7

Loftus, Johnson, and Comiskey started charting the course that resulted in the AL when they took full control of the Western League executive leadership in the fall of 1896, with Loftus and Comiskey elected to the league’s Board of Directors.12 A week after being elected to the board, the three met in the Hotel Julien in Dubuque, Iowa, to discuss their plans to develop a reputable league to rival the NL.13 They wanted a league that played clean ball for the love of the game, a league in which a mother and her children could attend a game without offense, a reputation the NL lacked.

In the summer of 1899, word came out of Chicago and Dubuque that the Western League was planning a new rival league. The announcement made such a stir in the baseball world that Johnson, Loftus, Comiskey, and the other league magnates immediately started walking back the announcement.

The storm arose when newspapers ran a story from a statement released by Johnson on July 15th from the league’s Chicago office. The Indianapolis News headline read “Rival Baseball League – President Ban Johnson Makes the First Authoritative Announcement.” The statement said, in part, “There will be another baseball organisation (sic) next year, a rival of the National League, and the Western League will be affiliated with It. In fact, it will practically be a Western League merged into a national organization. The conditions of baseball are such at present that a rival organisation is bound to spring up, and for business reasons the Western League must go in with It.”34

Johnson went on to suggest the new league circuit would include St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Detroit in the West, and New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia in the East. At the time, the Western League only had clubs in Milwaukee and Detroit. Clearly the league needed to move into more top-10 cities in the United States if they wished to declare themselves a major league.

The article went on to say that Loftus, Comiskey, Jim Manning of Kansas City, and Matt Killilea of Milwaukee would be the leading magnates identified with the new league, with Johnson as the probable league president.

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Loftus had built a solid reputation as a player’s coach and manager over his twenty-five-year professional baseball career. Although his managerial won-loss record in the Major Leagues is not impressive at 454-580,62 Loftus’s genius in the early days of building up the national game was in providing organizational structure and discipline on and off the field that led to financial success.63 As a manager, Loftus was a team coach first, a field manager second, and not uncommon in the day, the general manager of the club responsible for overall operations. Loftus was a successful businessman outside of baseball and his skill was in financially stabilizing clubs and selecting quality players who in turn bring fans into the ballpark, which provides financial capital to make the whole operation economically viable. Baseball, while a game, was a business at the major league level, and Loftus was recognized as a shrewd baseball businessman.

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On April 17, 1910, headlines around the nation announced the passing of “one of the great builders-up of our National Game.” The Chicago Daily Tribune announced to a mournful baseball world, “Tom Loftus Dies in Dubuque.” The “Great Friend of Comiskey” was 54 years old.81

Loftus left behind a legacy of deep personal friendships and mutual respect for the men who built major league baseball in its first 27 years. Highlighting his role in the baseball wars between 1899 and 1903 and the rise of the American League sheds long overdue light on the American League’s forgotten founding father.




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