|The Continental League of 1921
From Major Leagues
by David Pietrusza
Following the Federal Leagueâ€™s absorption, baseball faced and survivedâ€”although
just barelyâ€”the challenge of the First World War. In fact, the 1918 season was shortened,
ending at Labor Day, and the World Series was barely played. Only the collapse of
Imperial Germany saved baseball for the 1919 season.
The game then emerged into the lively ball era of Babe Ruth, with increased hitting and
attendance, and as it did it was met with yet another of the short-lived, farcical rivals that
had marked the early 1910s. This time the â€œchallenge,â€� the â€œContinental League,â
€� emanated from Boston.
Championing it was George Herman â€œAndyâ€� Lawson, whom the Sporting News
characterized as â€œfamous as [aJ baseball promoter in the past.â€� Announcements
Lawson distributed described himâ€”albeit, in somewhat exaggerated termsâ€”â€œas the
father of the old United States League, which later developed into the Federal League.â€�
Others recalled him as the organizer of another recent flop called the â€œGreater Boston
Despite these claims, as we saw in the chapters covering the United States League and the
Federal League, Lawsonâ€™s name was not prominent. If he had a role to play, it must
have been a supporting part.
Assisting him in this new endeavor were James Nelson Barry and George Maynard Riley,
also of Beantown. Barry, whose residence was given as 433 Shawmut Avenue, was
moderately well-known as a promoter of New England area semipro teams. He had also
functioned as a sort of talent scout or â€œbird dogâ€� for big league clubs. Riley, of 15
Park Square, was unknown in baseball circles.
The Sporting News termed Lawson an â€œOld Friendâ€� and seemed to be taking the
announcement at least semi-seriously, reporting the circuit would be a â€œbig leagueâ€�
and â€œa real rival of the American and the National,â€� although details of how it would
obtain its players were not discussed.
On December 28, 1920, the Continental League was chartered under the laws of the State
of Massachusetts, capitalized at $60,000. Lawson held 4,000 shares of its common stock;
Barry held 3,000, and Riley owned 2,000. The following day an organizational meeting was
On December 31, Lawson announced that his league would represent not cities as had
been the traditional manner, but states (shades of the Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers and
California Angels). The Massachusetts club would operate in Boston; New York Stateâ
€™s in either Brooklyn or Buffalo; New Jerseyâ€™s in Camden; Pennsylvaniaâ€™s in
Pittsburgh; Marylandâ€™s in Baltimore; Michiganâ€™s in Detroit; Ohioâ€™s in
Cleveland; and Indianaâ€™s in Indianapolis. In no case would there be more than one team
per state. Offices of the new circuit would beat 27 School Street, opposite the Boston
Major league baseball was prosperous, and in any case was not about to be cowed by a
circuit capitalized at a mere $60,000 (although there was talk of the Maryland franchiseâ
€™s being backed by $2,000,000).
â€œLet â€˜em come along into Brooklyn,â€� challenged Robins Secretary Charles H.
Ebbets, Jr. â€œIf they have two or three million dollars to invest in grounds and a plant, they
will have everything they need except ballplayersâ€”and, of course, that is only a minor item
in getting a team of major leaguers together.
â€œI donâ€™t think there is much to get excited over in this proposition. Evidently
somebody up Boston way is having a Happy New Year.â€�
Ebbets heaped further ridicule on the Continental Leagueâ€™s choices of Camden (â
€œWhen [it] is included as one of the cities in the new league, there is no hesitation in
regarding the circuit as something as a jokeâ€�) and Indianapolis, which he recalled as a
city which won a Federal League pennant and then saw its team move to Newark.
â€œIt is difficult,â€� concluded Ebbets, â€œto consider a major league without teams in
New York, Philadelphia, Chicago or St. Louis, but they do try some odd things in baseball
now and then.â€�
The Times took care to point out further difficulties Lawson and company would be facing.
The courts had recently given grudging backing to the standard player contract. Parks were
now more expensive. After the Fedsâ€™ failure, men of wealth would be less inclined to
back a third league. â€œIt is not likely,â€� the Times reasoned, â€œthat major league club
owners will view the proposed organization with any great alarm... ."
However, restiveness was in the air within Organized Baseballâ€™s ranks. The
International League and the American Association were grumbling about breaking away
from the National Association. Controversy centered over the draft prices paid by big
league clubs for minor league players.
â€œThe Indianapolis club,â€� said Indians manager Jack Hendricks, â€œis solidly back of
any move that President Thomas Jefferson Hickey may take to lead the American
Association from the smaller ioops into a larger one.â€� Nonetheless, Lawson seemed to
make no moves to take advantage of this discontent.
On January 4, 1921, â€œAndyâ€� Lawson was officially named president of the
mysterious new circuit. Along with this news, came another of what would soon be a whole
series of conflicting news releases concerning prospective franchises. Now missing was any
mention of a Pennsylvania franchise. In its place was the possibility of one for â€œthe
Province of Toronto, with a team at Toronto.â€�
Lawson was off and rolling in any case. There would be no salary limits on Continental
League clubs, and Lawson extended a fantastic offer to financially hard-pressed Red Sox
owner Harry H. Frazee to purchase Fenway Park. He added nonchalantly: â€œIn the event
of the Red Sox not accepting the offer to sell, a park will be built in Boston.â€�
Other names now emerged. Fred Lundy was awarded the Boston franchise, although it was
said he was a mere agent for others. The Indiana slot was given over to Indianapolisâ€™
Donald Jones; the New Jersey franchise to Philadelphiaâ€™s Charles H. Mack.
On January 9 the New York Times reported that Lawson was surveying the New York
metropolitan area for possible playing sites. Old Federal League locations at Newark
(Harrison Park) and Brooklyn (Washington Park) were examined, although Lawson
indicated that either city might be replaced as its stateâ€™s prospective representativeâ€”
Newark by Camden; Brooklyn by far-off Buffalo. In fact, the possibility of any Garden
State club now seemed iffy.
In terms of player personnel Lawson indicated that the Continental League (which the
Times alternately termed the â€œContinental Baseball Associationâ€�) had already signed
several â€œprominentâ€� players, as well as some umpires, although he would not reveal
their identities. Players would be engaged for one season onlyâ€”i.e., there would be no
reserve clause. Despite rumors to the contrary, players involved in the recent Black Sox
scandal were not being considered.
The Times was intrigued and amused by another of Lawsonâ€™s ideas, that he would be
engaging â€œNegro or Cubanâ€� talent, primarily for his Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and
New Jersey squads. The paper noted that such a move would â€œensure him the 135th
Street and Lenox Avenue [Harlem] vote quite solidly.â€� Lawson himself commented that
both Philadelphia and Boston contained large black populations, hinting that these could be
a significant percentage of his gate. â€œHe asserted,â€� reported the Times, â€œthat there
were at least 100 [black] ball players in this country who were the equal in playing skill of
the average sound player in the two major leagues. . . .â€œ It was not a popular opinion for
the time, but it was, of course, true.
Regarding franchises, Lawson claimed that three of the eight possible clubs had already
been assigned, the aforementioned Indianapolis and Boston teams, plus Toronto. Lawson
piously hoped to have as many players from the state or province that each club
represented as possible. He also hoped to buy existing clubs and or stadiums if they were
available. Capital for the new circuit, Lawson maintained, was now at the $75,000 level.
Lawsonâ€™s next stop was Philadelphia. From the City of Brotherly Love, he announced
that the Continental Leagueâ€™s season would commence on May 1 and end just after
Labor Day. Franchises would now be awarded to Massachusetts (Boston), Indiana
(Indianapolis), New York (Brooklyn), New Jersey (Newark), Pennsylvania (either
Philadelphia or Pittsburgh), Maryland (Baltimore), Ohio (Cleveland) and either Ontario
(Toronto) or Michigan (Detroit).
Aside from the daily shifting of franchises, other statements by Lawson were guaranteed to
raise eyebrows. Each C.L. club would be affiliated with the American Federation of Labor,
and, of course, there would be no reserve clause, â€œas the Continental does not recognize
Lawson continued his campaign to obtain the former Federal League stadia, firing off a
telegram to Cincinnati Reds President Garry Herrmann (the former National Commission
Chairman), ordering him to â€œcut the stringsâ€� on the Newark and Brooklyn fields. â
€œOtherwise,â€� the promoter threatened, â€œI shall immediately sign four American
League players who wish to jump to the Continental League.â€�
Still in Philadelphia a few days later, Lawson contradicted himself once more. Now he
stated that he would indeed sign the disgraced (but still not tried in a court of law) Black
Other announcements were to come, but were not calculated to inspire the baseball public.
Minor league catcher Harry Oâ€™Donnell (an Athletics property) was dickering with the
Continentalsâ€” amazingly, it was said he could virtually name his price. Former Red Sox
and Buffeds infielder Clyde â€œHackâ€� Engle was negotiating to become pilot of the C.
L. Boston team. Darby, Pennsylvania, resident Eddie Bohon was attempting to secure the
More interesting was Lawsonâ€™s continuing ffirtation with black talent. The Chicago
American Giants were mentioned as a prospective franchise, although that club was already
a member of Rube Fosterâ€™s new National Association of Colored Professional Base
Ball Clubs. Two other black teams, the obscure Boston Tigers and the Knoxville Giants,
were also mentioned as possible C.L. members.
By early February two more franchises were formally awarded: to shoe manufacturer
Warren L. Patterson in Buffalo (this meant Brooklyn was out of the running) and to Captain
Raymond C. Warner in Philadelphia (this spelled finis for Pittsburgh).
Therefore, shortly Lawson was on the move again, heading for Pittsburgh, Cleveland and
either Cincinnati or Chicago to line up backers. Again he was hinting of black participation,
boasting that four Negro clubs were knocking on his door.
As Opening Day approached less and less was heard of Andy Lawson and his Continental
League. By late April, he popped up announcing that play would not begin on May 1, but
would instead start on May 20.
It never did.