For five seasons, the National League was the preeminent professional basketball league. During the summer of 1903, C.M. Goodnow, a Massachusetts businessman, changed all of that. Goodnow traveled south to Philadelphia with an open checkbook. By the time he headed home he had signed the cream of the National League performers, including stars Harry Hough, Eddie Ferat, and Winnie Kinkaide, to play in Massachusetts.
As the five-year-old National League struggled to regroup, it was staggered by another blow when the New York Wanderers dropped out of the league to join the newly created Hudson River League. Also gone from the National League were the Burlington and Wilmington teams. The champion Camden team was back, but without all of its top players except Bill Keenan. Teams in Trenton and Conshohocken returned, as did the Millville squad, which rejoined the league after a one-year absence. To represent Philadelphia, the National League recruited St.Bridget’s, a team that had recorded a 23-0 record in minor league action during the 1902-03 season. They arrived in the National League, however, minus their best player, Joe Fogarty, who had signed to play in Massachusetts.
Nine weeks into the 1903-04 season, the league collapsed. On New Year’s Eve, Bill Morganweck announced that his Camden franchise was dropping out of the National League, and that he was taking over the Westfield franchise in the Western Massachusetts League. This move sealed the fate of the already shaky league. Three days later, the turbulent history of the National League was brought to an end when the league announced it was closing down.
With the demise of the National League, the second-year Philadelphia League blossomed. Fueled by intense intra-city rivalries, the league quickly attracted more interest than had been shown in a succession of moribund teams that had represented Philadelphia in the National League. The Jasper club, led by veteran Whitey Schwer and featuring youngsters Johnny McGraw and John Featherstone, won the championship.
Up north, early-season interest in the Western Massachusetts League (called the Massachusetts Central League in 1902-03) ran very high with four teams embroiled in a tight race for the championship. G.W. Goodnow’s Pittsfield team, loaded with former National League stars such as Harry Hough and Snake Deal dazzled packed houses with their stylish play. The league’s success, however, turned out to be short-lived. In a bizarre twist, Goodnow and Chicopee owner Robert Duggan traded squads two weeks into the season. In the process, they alienated the budding fan base in both towns. To further confuse matters, at the end of the first half of the split-season, Goodnow bought the Springfield team and transferred Harry Hough and his fellow National Leaguers there.
By early January of 1904, the early season optimism began to fade as attendance failed to meet the high salary demands of the league’s imported stars. The Western Massachusetts League began to unravel in mid-January when the players representing the Chicopee club resigned from the league to rejoin the New England League from which they had jumped the previous year. Attendance continued to plummet and the league collapsed altogether the last week in January. Springfield, with a 28-13 record was declared second half champion, before also joining the New England League.
The New England League, which had performed in relative obscurity, benefited greatly from the influx of talent from the disbanded Western Massachusetts League. Manchester had won nine of ten games to easily win the first-half title of the New England League, but the club was quickly shunted aside in the second half by the two talented teams from the disbanded Western Massachusetts League. The former Chicopee squad, featuring Harry Sheridan and Joe Lynch, signed to represent Natick. The Harry Hough-led contingent that had performed for Springfield began New England League play in Lynn, but after a few games transferred to South Framingham. The two powerful newcomers dominated play, with South Framingham emerging in first place and Natick in second. In a post-season series, South Framingham took two quick games from Natick to verify their supremacy.
The new Hudson River League began play the first week in December with teams located in Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, Peekskill and the famed New York 23rd Street Wanders still operating as a traveling team. The league, however, was poorly organized and attracted little interest before dissolving in early January.