While the Hall of Famer provided the Federals with both a big name and considerable skills as a salesman for the new league, he was nearing the end of his career when he jumped to the upstart’s Chicago franchise.

1915 Federal League lawsuit case files

This article was written by SABR

The SABR Business of Baseball Committee has made available scanned documents from the original filing of the 1915 Federal League lawsuit against organized baseball. The 1915 Federal League lawsuit is a cornerstone topic for the committee because of the wide span of the case across so many business-related disciplines and the impact of the case on baseball history.

The digital archive of this U.S. District Court case, Federal League v. National League, et al., represents a truly unique collection of documents challenging the authority of organized baseball during the Deadball, pre-World War I era. The case was foundational in the sense that while no judgment was rendered, it provided the impetus for future federal cases that ultimately led to the famous, or infamous depending upon one’s perspective, ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court exempting major league baseball from federal antitrust laws.

We hope these files will help future baseball researchers better understand the scope of the case, ensure accuracy in coverage of the Federal League, and potentially foster much new research about the case and its impact on baseball.

This case — presided over by Judge Kenesaw Landis, later the first commissioner of baseball — was a precursor to the more famous cases of Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore v. National League, et al (you can read Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ opinion in the 1922 Baltimore case here), as well as Toolson v. New York Yankees and Flood v. Kuhn. You can learn more about the Federal League in this Q&A with award-winning author Daniel R. Levitt, who wrote  The Battle That Forged Modern Baseball: The Federal League Challenge and Its Legacy. Or read Justice Samuel Alito’s article from the Fall 2009 Baseball Research Journal, “The Origin of the Baseball Antitrust Exemption.”

According to a description from the National Archives and Records Adminstration (NARA):

This is the civil case in which the Federal League of Professional Baseball Clubs sued both the American League of Professional Baseball Clubs and the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, as well as various teams and owners, over the signing of players already under contract in the former league. In this anti-trust case, the Federal League claimed the American and National Leagues controlled baseball commerce. The case involved many of the leading baseball figures of the day, such as Charles Comiskey, August Herrmann, Joseph Tinker, Lee Magee, Cornelius McGillicuddy (Connie Mack), Charles Ebbets, and Charles Weeghman. Included in the records are affidavits, contracts, exhibits, petitions, notices, complaints, memorandums, and the judgment.

The description above represents only the outer layers of the onion. The scanned documents represent nearly 2,000 pages. Many of the documents were scanned using optical character recognition for simplified searching and a finding aid is available, an absolute boon to researchers. The finding aid describes the collection and is available here:

In publication, an appropriate reference and citation acknowledging SABR and the NARA collection listed below are appreciated.

Ongoing thanks to Tom Pardo, Kyle McCafferty, Eve Mangurten, and William Holderfield, who were responsible for the organizing and scanning of the case files.

Most of these documents were scanned from the National Archives repository in Chicago: The Federal League of Professional Baseball Clubs v. The National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, et. al., 1915 – 1915, General Case Files; U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois, File Unit from Record Group 21: Records of District Courts of the United States, Records Group 21; National Archives and Records Administration – Great Lakes Region (Chicago).

— Steve Weingarden


How to view the files: Each link below will allow you to download a folder that contains up to 10 PDF files of various sizes. The files correspond with the files labeled #1 through #121 in the Finding Aid. Click the blue “Download” button near the top of the page to download the entire folder to your computer. Or you can download each PDF file separately by clicking the “Download” button to the right of the file name. 

Or, to download the entire collection of 121 files (1.5 GB), click here.