The National League began its second season on shaky ground. The weak Philadelphia club dropped out and, surprisingly, so did the strong Millville team. The southern New Jersey club had been angered by a late season fine they had received for failing to appear for a game in Camden. Just prior to the start of the new season, Millville jumped to the newly organized Interstate League, which featured National League dropouts Hancock and Germantown.
With only Camden and Trenton remaining in the fold, the NBL hustled to replace the lost clubs. Three teams from the Philadelphia area, Bristol, Chester, and the Pennsylvania Bicycle Club, were added to the circuit. The most important addition, however, came with the signing of the legendary 23rd Street Wanderers of New York City. The two time national YMCA champions had become the most famous professional team of the era. At a time when the average player was less than 5’10” and seldom weighed more than 160 pounds, the New York squad boasted three powerfully built six-footers who combined physical strength with sound basketball skills. The Wanderers had a well-deserved reputation for rough play, but the New Yorkers’ success was based on their ability to move the ball well and their excellent team play. The star of the team was center John Wendelken who was unmatched in his abilities under the basket.
Surprisingly, when the season got underway, it was Trenton that raced away to eight straight victories to dominate the league. At the same time, their old antagonist, Millville was steamrollering their Interstate League opposition by lopsided margins. It was obvious that something needed to be done to help both leagues survive. In early January of 1900, Trenton newspaperman Peter Wurfflein negotiated a face-saving settlement that allowed Millville to return to the National League. Trenton was declared champion of the first half and a second season was begun.
The new season turned out to be an exciting, competitive race with Camden, New York, Millville, and Trenton all in contention until late in the season. Trenton retained the league’s best scoring duo in Harry Stout and Al Cooper. This season the youthful Stout emerged from Al Cooper’s shadow to join the ranks of the league’s best offensive players. Stout’s relationship with the Cooper brothers remained fragile, however, and hampered the team’s late season play. He feuded openly with Fred Cooper who coached the team, and his on-court relationship with Al Cooper was icy despite their effective scoring partnership. Late in the season the situation worsened, and Stout and center Gus Endbrock angrily sat out a number of games. Meanwhile, Millville, which had suffered some uncertainty after returning to the National League, gradually regained its form. With Firman Reeves and Walter Barber providing most of the offense, the South Jerseymen won eight of nine games to pull within a game of league-leading Trenton. With Endebrock and Stout still on the sidelines, Trenton was lambasted 15-3 by Millville to draw the teams into a season-ending tie for first place.
New York, handicapped by playing all of its games on the road and the midseason departure of high-scoring Sandy Shields, had to settle for third place. Camden finished fourth behind the scoring ability of combative Snake Deal and the strong defensive play of Hilly Wallace.
The National League’s second half deadlock between Millville and Trenton was decided by a single-game playoff — but only after three attempts. In the first try, Trenton lost to Millville 18-13 on a neutral court in Bristol. League president William Fogel voided the results of the contest, however, because Millville had used Hilly Wallace in the game despite the fact that he had spent the entire season on Camden’s roster. On the second try, the two clubs met in Camden, but Millville continued to vehemently protest the banishment of Wallace and walked off the court minutes before the game was scheduled to begin. The assembled (and by now angry) crowd of some 2,000 fans then moved to the box office for refunds, only to discover that Camden promoter Bill Morganweck refused to give anything but rain checks. After a great deal of haggling and shouting failed to resolve the issue, Morganweck settled the matter by locking himself in a dressing room with the money until the crowd dispensed and went home. Finally, three nights later in front of a small Camden gathering, Trenton downed Millville 22-19 to claim the National League pennant by virtue of their first place finish in both halves of the season.
For its second season, the Massachusetts League embarked on an ambitious 30-game schedule. All four towns represented the first season returned again: Hudson, Milford, two teams in Marlboro, and one of the two teams in Millbury all signed for the new season. New teams were added in Worcester and South Worcester, and a strong team from Fitchburg also joined to bring the league membership to eight clubs. What was quickly apparent within a few weeks of the beginning of the season was that the level of play had jumped immeasurably in just one year. All of the Marlboro BAA starters, except one, had lost their jobs. George Rogers, the top scorer in the league the past season, was cut loose after just one game. The restructured Marlboro squad won ten of its first twelve games to take a commanding early lead in the standings. The new entry from Fitchburg managed to win only half of its first eight games, but the talented squad then reeled off eight straight wins to challenge Marlboro BAA for the top spot in the league standings. Charlie Noonan established himself as the league’s most accurate shooter, while Anthony Conlon provided the Fitchburg men with a rugged floor leader. By mid-season Fitchburg edged in front of Marlboro BAA in the standings by a single game. Marlboro dropped 5’2” starter Charlie Doyle and replaced him with 21-year old Fatty Allard who was 5’8” and a muscular 170-pounder. Allard was a strong defender who also provided the team with a new offensive spark. The rejuvenated Marlboro BAA squad lost only two games the rest of the season to finish in first place just ahead of Fitchburg.
None of the other six teams ever mounted any serious challenge to the top-two finishers. Jack Porter still terrorized most players in the league with his ferocious play, but last year’s champion Hudson squad slipped to third place in the tougher competition. Millbury combined the best players from the two Millbury squads of last season. They also signed local star Bill Horne, a powerful six-footer and dashing Henry Martens, the best player in western Massachusetts, but still finished fourth with a mediocre 14-13 record. Milford, weakened by the defection of star center Joe Kynoch to Marlboro, could do no better than fifth place. Both South Worcester and Worcester found their first year of league play very rough going and finished near the bottom of the pack. In mid-December, the Marlboro YMCA team transferred to Webster where a talented, but inexperienced squad could win only five of twenty-two games and finish last.
MASSACHUSETTS STATE BASKETBALL LEAGUE