1920-1921

Eastern Basketball League president Bill Scheffer saw the culmination of ten years of work in October of 1920 when the representatives of four professional leagues signed an agreement to form a National Commission. Thomas Breslin, of the Pennsylvania State Basketball League, was elected president and Scheffer was elected treasurer. Each league posted a $200 good faith bond that they would honor the three-part agreement to standardize rules, eliminate signings of players under contract to another team, and participate in a post-season World Series to determine a single professional champion. The meeting between old antagonists was remarkably harmonious. Everyone agreed the new Commission was an excellent concept and vital to the game’s future. Unfortunately teams began abusing the agreement almost immediately, and by midseason it was shattered. The fatal flaw in the pact was the lack of control that league officials exercised over their members. Financially most of the organizations were fragile. If a team defied the league president on a particular issue, there was little he could do about it. Expelling the violator, especially if it was a popular club, could trigger the collapse of the entire league.

The EBL shuffled franchises, with Bridgeport and De Neri dropping out to be replaced by Philadelphia and Newark, New Jersey, but neither new team was a factor at any time during the season. The defending champion Camden Skeeters returned with their starting five intact and added valuable Lou Sugarman, but the Skeeters were frustrated in their quest for another championship despite leading the league with twenty-nine victories. The Eastern League’s split-season format left them out of the playoffs when they finished in second place, a single game behind the winners of both halves.
The first-half ended in a dead heat between Reading and Trenton. Bruising center Horse Haggerty led Reading’s traditionally stingy defense while Frank Boyle and Ernie Reich provided just enough scoring to keep the Bears’ frequently sputtering offense from stalling. Trenton featured New York City veterans Eddie White, George Norman, local favorite Maurice Tome, plus two freshly minted hometown products, Tom Barlow and Teddy Kearns. Barlow was a fiercely competitive performer with a volatile temper that would make him almost as famous as he was for his considerable skill as a player. His distain of referees became legendary and many refused to officiate games in which he played. Early in his first EBL season, he slugged famed referee Herman Baetzel and drew a one-month suspension. Before the start of the second half, Germantown beefed up its roster, which until then had consisted of the brilliant Nat Holman and little else. They signed George Glasco, a young speedster, and Stretch Meehan, a 6’7″, 235-pound behemoth to control the taps and provide rebounding muscle. Only Reading’s 6’4″ Horse Haggerty could compete physically with Meehan, while the rest of the league centers were totally overwhelmed. With a stronger supporting cast, Holman was turned loose to exhibit his superb scoring abilities and led Germantown to 16 victories in 20 games and the second-half title. In a single game playoff for the first-half title, the Reading Bears surprised the favorite Trenton Bengals 27-19 on a neutral court in Philadelphia. The Bears happiness was short-lived, however, when Germantown thrashed them in two straight championship games 30-14 and 30-25 to capture the EBL title.

Johnny Beckman’s scoring and playmaking dominated the Pennsylvania State Basketball League statistically, but his teammates offered little support and Nanticoke finished fourth in the first half race behind better balanced teams in Pittston, Scranton, and Wilkes-Barre. Pittston controlled the race comfortably until they lost five of their last six games and allowed Wilkes-Barre to tie for first place. Garry Schmeelk and Chris Leonard salvaged the situation, however, by leading Pittston to two straight wins over Wilkes-Barre in a playoff for the first-half title. Nanticoke surged back into prominence in the second half race by signing Soup Campbell and Horse Haggerty to complement Johnny Beckman, and finished tied with Scranton for the second-half title. Disaster struck when both Campbell and Haggerty failed to show up for the single-game playoff, forcing a Nanticoke forfeit. The results of the championship playoffs between Scranton and Pittston were decided before either team took to the court because Scranton signed Nat Holman and Stretch Meehan for the series. Pittston countered with the signing of veteran cager Eddie White, but it was too little and they were steamrolled by Scranton in two straight games, 37-33 and 30-22.

The New York State Basketball League enjoyed a banner season. The defending champion Albany Senators club took first-half honors handily. Barney Sedran and Marty Freidman remained the heart of the Senators. The remainder of the well-disciplined squad included Harry Riconda, Ray Kennedy, and Leo Duval with Jack Nugent in reserve. In the second half, however, they played poorly at the outset, but rallied with ten straight victories to finish in a second-half tie with Utica. Dick Leary, the veteran captain of the Utica team, performed at his best but the better-balanced Albany team took the playoff and with it the overall league crown.

The Massachusetts-based Interstate League remained the stepchild operation of the four professional leagues, with the star players performing only when not in conflict with Eastern or New York State. The playoff series for the championship featured all-star talent however. Thompsonville’s impressive lineup included Johnny Beckman, Dutch Dehnert, Swede Grimstead, and Chief Muller going against Easthampton’s Barney Sedran, Marty Friedman, and Honey Russell. Sedran, with 11 points, and Friedman with 14 points, were instrumental in leading Easthampton to the league title with a 35-25 win in the fifth and deciding game of the series.

A post-season tournament, sanctioned by the Pennsylvania League and the New York State League was scheduled to determine a pro basketball champion. The Eastern Basketball League was not invited to participate even though the EBL was generally considered to be the most powerful pro league in the country. Like previous attempts at inter-league playoffs, this version was hindered by the considerable differences in play between the two leagues. The PSL game was played on a court totally enclosed by a rope cage. The NYSL teams played without a cage and shot at an open basket without any backboard.  The NYSL also had a “two man rule” that allowed only two players to “dig” for the ball at any one time. Scranton won the best of five games series three games to two. The contests drew capacity crowds in both cities.

CONNECTICUT STATE BASKETBALL LEAGUE

EASTERN BASKETBALL LEAGUE

INTERSTATE (MASSACHUSETTS) BASKETBALL LEAGUE

NEW YORK STATE BASKETBALL LEAGUE

PENNSYLVANIA STATE BASKETBALL LEAGUE

WORLD SERIES

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