This day in baseball: Federal League founded

On March 8, 1913, John Powers founded the Federal League.  Just a year previous, Powers had the Columbian League, which had failed before a game could even be played.  The new Federal League established teams in Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Covington, Kentucky.  The league did not abide by the National Agreement, earning it the nickname the “outlaw league,” which allowed it to recruit players from established clubs.

Federal_League_logo

Federal League logo (Wikipedia)


History of Wrigley Field

Known as the “Friendly Confines,” Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois is Major League Baseball’s second oldest ballpark, behind only Boston’s Fenway Park.  The ballpark has been the host to many historic moments, from Babe Ruth’s called shot in 1932 to the 2016 World Series, in which the Cubs finally broke the 108-year-old championship curse.

Prior to moving into the ballpark now known as Wrigley, the Cubs played in West Side Park.  West Side was a double-decker park built with heavy timber, echoing the typical construction of baseball fields in the early twentieth century.  It was actually another baseball team altogether that played at the Friendly Confines in its inaugural season.

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Construction of Weeghman Park, March 1914

When it was first erected, Wrigley Field was originally dubbed Weeghman Field, named after Charles Weeghman.  The stadium was built for the Chi-Feds of the Federal League, also known as the Chicago Whales, who were owned by Mr. Weeghman.  The stadium was designed by architects Zachary T. and Charles G. Davis, who also designed the original Comiskey Park in 1910, and construction took place on Weeghman Field from March 5 (I’ve also seen as early as February and as late as March 14) through April 23, 1914, finishing up just in time for the Whales’ Opening Day.  The new ballpark only cost $250,000 to build.

When Weeghman Field was first built, it was just a one-level stadium — there was no upper deck — and it had a seating capacity of merely 14,000.  The original scoreboard was built in 1915, lasting until its replacement was erected in 1938.

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Weeghman Park, 1915

William Wrigley, Jr., the chewing gum industrialist, was a partner with Weeghman with the Whales.  As the Federal League folded, and the Whales along with it, Wrigley and Weeghman were given the option to buy the Cubs in 1915, an opportunity they took.  They moved the Cubs from West Side Park to Weeghman Field, renaming the stadium “Cubs Park.”  The Cubs played their first game in their new home on April 20, 1916, beating the Cincinnati Reds in eleven innings.  By 1919, William Wrigley bought out Weeghman’s shares in the team, and in 1926, the park became known as “Wrigley Field.”

In 1921, the newly-formed Bears of the National Football League moved to Chicago.  The Bears managed to work out a deal with William Wrigley, through which they were able to play their games at Cubs Park/Wrigley Field as well.  This agreement served as one of the motivating factors for increasing the size and the capacity of the stadium.  Zachary Davis, one of the original architects in 1914, also designed the 1922 version of Wrigley Field.  Davis expanded the size of the field by moving the grandstands towards the street so that it could also accommodate American football games.  This meant that the Cubs’ playing field was moved about sixty feet southwest, and the seating capacity of the stadium grew to approximately 20,000.  The Bears played at Wrigley Field from 1921 to 1970.

In 1927 to 1928, the upper deck was added to the stadium’s grandstands.  The architectural firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White designed this expansion, which increased the capacity of Wrigley Field to about 38,400.

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Wrigley Field during the 1935 World Series

The outfield had some bleachers, though they proved insufficient whenever the Cubs made the World Series, which happened more often in those days.  Bleachers would be added using temporary scaffolding in these situations when additional seating proved necessary.  In 1937, however, the decision was made that it was time for permanent bleachers to be added to the outfield, a project taken on by the firm Holabird and Root.  This change boosted the stadium’s capacity to approximately 40,000.  Along with this, the Cubs’ famous hand-operated scoreboard was built, and the clock was added in 1941.  Also in 1937, the famous ivy was planted along the stadium’s outfield wall.

Minor changes were made to the stadium over the years.  Some features were added, other features were removed, but for the most part, Wrigley Field has remained largely the same since 1938.  The biggest change since that time took place in 1988.

A holdout from a bygone era, Wrigley Field was the last stadium in Major League Baseball to install a lighting system.  When the lights were installed, this was done so in a way that ensured the lights fit into the feel of the rest of the stadium, rather than trying to install a modern-style system on a century-old ballpark.  The Cubs’ first night game was played August 8, 1988, though it was cut short (ending after four innings) due to rain, getting postponed until the next day.

In 2006, the bleachers were expanded yet again.  This increased the capacity of the stadium to approximately 41,000 seats. Then, after the 2007 season, the entire field was removed and replaced with a new drainage system and a bluegrass playing field.

Following the 2014 season, a $575 million project, named the 1060 project, began at the ballpark, which essentially entails a complete overhaul of the facility. The project is expected to be completed in 2019 and includes a widening of the concourse to add more concessions, the addition of a 95-foot x 42-foot HD videoboard in left field, moving the bullpens to under the bleachers in left (Cubs) and right (visiting team) fields, and the west side entrance between Clark Street and Wrigley Field now features a new plaza known as the Park at Wrigley, which allows fans to gather before games and provides a new entry into the ballpark.

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Wrigley Field today

In 2004, Wrigley Field was named an official city landmark in Chicago, and a number of its features are now legally protected.  These features include all exterior elevations and roofs, the marquee sign at Clark and Addison Streets, the centerfield scoreboard, and the ballfield itself, including the brick wall and the famous ivy.  In the face of ballparks being demolished, including Comiskey Park, and new ones being built, the people of Chicago saw this as a way to protect their beloved Wrigley Field. Wrigley Field remains the only Federal League ballpark still in existence.


Ken Burns’s Baseball: The Third Inning

3rd inning

The Third Inning of Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns explores the game during the 1910s.  This disc opens with a discussion of fan involvement, and how the setup of the field during this time period gave fans a greater amount of influence in the events of the game.  Fans often spectated standing in foul territory or directly on the field behind the outfielders, allowing them not only to yell at players more effectively, but also to potentially become physically involved in some plays.  And it wasn’t just fans rooting for their teams who sought to influence the outcome of games.  Gamblers during this time period were heavily involved in the sport.

Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics dominated the first half of the decade.  Meanwhile, the saga of Ty Cobb continues, from his 1910 race for the batting title against Nap Lajoie to Cobb’s suspension from organized baseball for beating the snot out of a fan in 1912.

Buck O’Neil, who has contributed to the commentary of the documentary series in the first two innings, was born in 1911, and now discusses his experience with baseball as a boy.  Baseball’s “gentleman’s agreement,” however, continued to exclude black players from the game, though teams at times undermined this agreement with light-skinned minority players.

The 1912 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Giants became an unusual eight-game Series when the second game was called due to “impending darkness.”  Game eight of this Series was the one in which Fred Snodgrass dropped an easy fly ball, which allowed hitter Red Sox Clyde Engle to make it all the way to second.  Engle would later score, tying the game at 2-2, and Red Sox went on to first load the bases, then score the winning run.  Poor Snodgrass joined the ranks of dubious fame with Fred Merkle as a result.

The clouds of scandal appear early with the figure of Hal Chase.  His willingness to throw games was so well-known that even fans took to chanting, “What’s the odds,” whenever Chase took the field.  Players throughout baseball expressed their own discontent with the reserve clause and the complete control of owners over their contracts.  The formation of the Federal League attempted to address this discontent in promising players the opportunity for free agency.  The new league only lasted two seasons, however, and the players found themselves still without a voice.

On this disc, we meet pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, and we see more of the progression of Branch Rickey’s baseball career.  The 1916 World Series went to the Boston Red Sox over the Brooklyn Superbas.  The 1917 Series went to the Chicago White Sox over the New York Giants, then Boston returned to win the 1918 Series, this time over the Cubs.  When World War I broke out, Major League Baseball as a whole seemingly turned a blind eye.  Some players did serve during the war, including Grover Alexander, Ty Cobb, and Christy Mathewson, and Branch Rickey joined the effort as well.

The last half hour of the Third Inning went into detail covering the 1919 Black Sox scandal.  I particularly found it fascinating that Burns managed to find a Chicago fan who had been fifteen years old at the time of the scandal.  This fan recalled his disbelief that the White Sox had managed to lose the Series, being too young to understand the world of gambling at the time.  His shock and disappointment no doubt reflected the feeling of baseball fans everywhere at the time.  Though as Buck O’Neil describes at the very end of this disc, while the scandal turned a lot of folks away from the game at the time, it wouldn’t be long before a new hero would draw them back — a man named Babe Ruth.


This day in baseball: Naming Wrigley Field

In a Chicago Tribune article on December 3, 1926, the Cubs mentioned that Weeghman Park would now be known as Wrigley Field, in honor of club owner William Wrigley, Jr. The north side ballpark was originally named after the previous owner of team, Charles H. Weeghman, who had built the steel-and-concrete ballpark for the Chicago Whales.  Weeghman had moved the Cubs to the new venue after the two teams were merged under his ownership when the Federal League team folded.

weeghman-wrigley


The Dead Ball Era

“Smoky” Joe Wood (Wikimedia Commons)

The Dead Ball Era, as the name suggests, was a period in baseball history characterized by low-scoring games and a lack of home runs.  This age in baseball began in 1900 and lasted until Babe Ruth came onto the scene as a power hitter in 1919.  Prior to Ruth, the game was more strategy-driven, featuring hit-and-run plays and base-stealing over hitting for power.  In 1908, the lowest-scoring year, teams averaged only 3.4 runs per game.  “Small ball,” as it’s known today, relied more on speed and quickness than on brute strength.  Players like “Smoky” Joe Wood, Eddie Collins, and Sam Crawford flourished during this time.

Many baseball fields of the age were much larger than modern ballparks.  Chicago’s West Side Grounds, for example, measured 560 feet to the center field fence.  Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston measured 635 feet to the center field fence.  By comparison, most ballparks today don’t measure much more than the requisite 400 feet to dead center, which makes a huge difference for a player’s ability to swing for the fences.

Huntington Avenue Grounds (Wikimedia Commons)

The state of the baseball throughout the game also contributed to the lack of home runs.  The same ball was used throughout the game — unlike today, when even a tiny smudge on a ball calls for a new replacement.  As the game would go on, the ball would become dirtier and dirtier, making it more difficult for hitters to see and hit.  No doubt the extra dirt also contributed to the dynamics of the baseball’s movement.

Speaking of which, during the Dead Ball Era, pitcher could still legally throw a spitball.  “Doctoring” the baseball in this way would alter the physics of the flight of the pitch, causing it to break or move in unexpected ways and making it more difficult to hit.  Naturally, pitchers took advantage of this concession.  And it wasn’t just the spitball: the emery ball, shine ball, mud ball, so on and so forth.  Got any creative ideas for defacing a baseball?  Give it a whirl and see what it does!  The umpires won’t stop you.

On top of low-scoring contests, during these years, professional baseball also experienced turbulence through the births of baseball organizations outside of the National League.  In 1900, the American League, which had been a minor league prior to this year, declared itself a Major League.  Refusing to continuing recognition of the terms of the National Agreement, the AL now moved teams into cities already claimed by the NL, such as Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore.  By 1902, the NL realized it would be better off accepting the American League, rather than fighting against it.  A three-man National Commission was created to resolve the disagreements between the two leagues.  Major League Baseball prospered and the World Series was born.

The birth of the Federal League in 1913 threatened this new-found prosperity.  It launched an anti-trust lawsuit against the AL and the NL, which drained the two leagues of resources.  Like the AL before it, the FL moved into already-established Major League territory, seeking to carve out its own place in Major League Baseball.  In the end, however, the level of play in the FL did not match that of the other two leagues, and FL teams merged into the other Major Leagues.

The outbreak of World War I also proved detrimental to baseball.  Baseball became viewed as a frivolous, non-essential activity, and seasons were shortened due to the wartime atmosphere.  Attendance at ballgames dropped and the leagues lost money.  The resulting drop in player salaries made them more susceptible to the promises of gambling, and created an environment in which things like the Black Sox scandal could take place.

The end of the Dead Ball Era came with the end of the factors that contributed to its existence in the first place.  The elimination of the spitball in 1920 had a profound effect on players’ ability to hit the ball, as pitches became less lively.  The death of Ray Chapman in August 1920 changed the rule about the same baseball being used throughout a game, and clean baseballs became a staple in order to ensure the safety of players.  Naturally, clean baseballs were also easier to hit.

Additionally, the rise of Babe Ruth as a power hitter resulted in a change of attitudes in baseball.  Ruth proved that a man could be successful in baseball by hitting home runs, and that the game was no longer restricted to “small ball” play.  From 1900 until Ruth’s emergence, there were 13 seasons in which the league leader in home runs collected fewer than ten dingers.  In 1919, Ruth hit 29 home runs — a league record.  Other players followed his lead, and baseball scores steadily increased as the years went on.

Frankly, the title “Dead Ball Era” seems a bit unfair to me.  In today’s game, fans have come to expect home runs.  If a player isn’t at least collecting extra-base hits on a regular basis, he receives little or no recognition.  However, it seems that a game driven by strategy would be much more captivating than the slug fests of today’s contests.  Bunting, the hit-and-run, and base stealing would have their due as meaningful parts of the artistry of a baseball game.  Baseball would be more like a chess match and less of a display of muscle and power.  Furthermore, because they were so rare during the Dead Ball Era, home runs, when they did happen, were surround by a greater sense of excitement than they are today.

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“1900-1919: The Dead Ball Era.”  Historic Baseball: Bringing Baseball History to Center Field.  Web.  Accessed 24 February 2014.  http://www.historicbaseball.com/fea/era_deadball.html

“Deadball Era.”  Baseball Reference.  Sports Reference, LLC, 2013.  Web.  Accessed 24 February 2014.  http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Deadball_Era

“The Faces and Voices of Baseball’s Deadball Era.”  World News, Inc., 2014.  Web.  Accessed 24 February 2014.  http://wn.com/dead-ball_era

Hannon, Tom.  “The Dead Ball Era.”  The Baseball Page, 2012.  Web.  Accessed 24 February 2014.  http://www.thebaseballpage.com/history/dead-ball-era