The National League approached its fourth season with three major problems. New York was ready to jump to another league, Philadelphia remained a doormat, and Trenton remained a source of continuing resentment.
New York’s two-year National League record of 39-18 and one championship was made all the more remarkable because the Wanderers had played every single game on the road, in an era when the visiting club seldom won. Faced with a third season on the road, the Wanderers hoped to join a new circuit that featured a combination of New York state teams including Yonkers, Kingston, Troy, Catskill, Newburgh, and Poughkeepsie. When the new league failed to materialize, the champions announced they would play as an independent team rather than return to the National League.
Philadelphia’s inability to feature a quality team was another major obstacle to the National League’s stability. The league depended on the city for much of its energy, finances, player talent, and very important newspaper coverage. Because of the league’s inability to produce a viable Philadelphia team, the minor league Interstate League, with its neighborhood-supported club organizations, remained more popular within the city.
Trenton’s relationship with the other league members had been an uneasy one from the beginning. The New Jersey squad’s proven superiority on the court was equally matched by their attitude of superiority in league meetings. No matter what the issue, they seemed to be at odds with the rest of the league, For example, Trenton antagonized the membership by refusing to play in a postseason tournament to help the lowly Philadelphia club pay off some of its debts. This so infuriated the other teams that during the summer they discussed dissolving the league and reforming it without the Trenton team. The futility of operating without Trenton, the league’s strongest franchise, was obvious; it nevertheless indicated the depth of animosity in the other owners.
After a summer of discontent, everything remained largely the same when the new season got underway in November of 1901. New York returned to the fold, still playing all of its games on the road. Trenton continued to antagonize everyone, and Philadelphia entered another dreadful team. A change did occur in the nature of competition, however, when New York started the season poorly and never gained any momentum. With the defending champions in a season-long slump, a new pair of contenders, Bristol and Camden, rose to challenge the perennially powerful Trenton club for the top spot in the National League.
Charlie Klein, “Sleepy Bill” Everingham, and Harry Hough gave Bristol three of the league’s top six scorers. Klein was the consummate battler and one of the most accurate set-shooters in basketball. Everingham matched up well with the better centers in the league, and enjoyed particular success against New York’s John Wendelken the league’s premier man in the middle. Hough, the youngest member of the squad, in his second National League season, blossomed into a star performer. Deceptively fragile looking, the 5’7″, 145-pound Hough gave as good as he got in the rough and tumble combat of early professional basketball. He was an outstanding shooter who served as the team’s designated foul shooter and an accomplished dribbler. His speed and uncanny ability to control the heavy, sometimes lopsided ball were the keys to his success in a professional career that would span twenty-two seasons. Behind the development of its young stars, Bristol moved from a fourth place finish one year into the top spot the next.
Camden’s Bill Morganweck also continued to build with young talent. He signed two outstanding youngsters from the Interstate League. Bill Keenan moved in at center and Winnie Kinkaide at guard, and the two rookies quickly showed the promise that would make them two of the biggest stars of the decade. In another key move, Morganweck convinced erratic star Snake Deal to rejoin the club. Morganweck, who had signed Deal, feuded with him, and then released him during two previous seasons, signed him for the third time. Deal responded with his best season as a pro, as he lead the league in scoring and helped push Camden to a second place finish, just two games behind Bristol.
Trenton finished strongly, but had to settle for a disappointing third place, despite the usual steady play of Al Cooper and Harry Stout. Millville tried to reclaim its former prominence by rebuilding the team. Younger players were given additional court time, but Millville had to settle for fourth place. New York, handicapped by the retirement of Kid Abadie, slumped badly from the previous year’s championship form and finished fifth. AS usual, Philadelphia settled for last place.
During the summer of 1901, the two Lowell-based teams broke away from the three-year old Massachusetts League to organize a new league, which they brazenly called the Massachusetts League, forcing the established league to change its name to the Massachusetts Central League. In addition the new league recruited the players off the Hudson squad to relocate to South Framingham and added a team in Maynard and two Boston teams, Somerville and Cambridge. Somerville lasted just one game before dropping out of the league, but Cambridge proved to be one of the league’s best teams.
The breakup between the Lowell squads and the Worcester-based teams did not end the acrimony between the two groups. The struggle between the two organizations would go on for years with serious repercussions for all concerned.
With the Lowell contingent out of the picture, the remaining teams in Millbury, Webster and South Worcester, and Worcester regrouped as the Massachusetts Central League. They admitted a new team in Woonsocket, Rhode Island and began play in mid-November of 1901. Serious problems emerged almost immediately. The South Worcester and new Woonsocket teams were both dreadful. The South Worcester team dropped out of the league just a few days after New Year’s 1902. The Rhode Island team, winless in eleven games, dropped out just a week later. The remaining three teams struggled on under constant pressure from the Massachusetts League, which continued to lure players away from the older circuit. The impossibility of operating with just three teams quickly became apparent and with attendance rapidly dwindling, the Massachusetts Central League collapsed at the end of January.
The upstart Massachusetts League, meanwhile, was enjoying a banner season. South Framingham led by speedy scoring ace, Henry Martens and jackhammer defender Jack Porter finished in first place with a fine 27-7 record. Cambridge, with Joe Lynch as their top scorer and the tall Sheridan brothers, Bill and Henry, anchoring the defense, captured second place. The Lowell Burkes finished third behind the stellar defensive play of Bill Kelliher and Jack O’Neil. Neither the Lowell PAC nor Maynard were ever a factor in the race.