Tag Archives: West Side Grounds

“It is a democratic game for Americans”

7 Oct

Charles Phelps Taft, owner of the Philadelphia Phillies and brother of President William Howard Taft, told The Cincinnati Times-Star his brother’s visit to Chicago’s West Side Grounds for the September 16, 1909, Cubs-Giants game was meant to send a message to the American public:

Charles Phelps Taft

Charles Phelps Taft

“That is one of the reasons why my brother attended (the game) just after starting on his long tour around the country…He wanted to put his stamp of approval upon what he and I regard as our country’s greatest outdoor institution for pleasure.  He was as glad to shake hands with the players that day as they were to meet him.  My brother is very fond of the game for the mere sake of personal enjoyment as well as to observe its bearing on the country at large.”

President Taft at West Side Grounds

President Taft at West Side Grounds

Taft told the paper that he and the president were of the same opinion:

“Baseball…is strictly American in every particular.  It deserves  its great popularity because it is clean and wholesome.  It offers opportunity for the rich boy, the poor boy, the educated boy and the uneducated boy.  It is a democratic game for Americans.  Professional baseball has an important effect upon the young men of the country.  It offers to many of them the chance of quitting vacant lots, where unhappily, a number would otherwise become mere idlers.”

Baseball, Taft said, was aspirational:

“Once they become proficient enough as ball players to reach the big league they get an insight into the better things in life and immediately they become ambitious.  They realize then what it means to neglect education. It stimulates them to go higher and higher, and when they return to their homes then stimulate those left behind by example.

“The future of baseball is in keeping the game clean.  The players must be manly.  The day is coming when so called toughness will be a thing of the past in baseball.  The personnel of the players is improving every year and will continue to improve.

“Any game that can give the unfortunate youth of neglected training a chance to rub elbows with the boy from college on an even footing is a great game.  Both the college boy and the less fortunate boy are benefitted.  It is democracy.”

President Taft meets Giants catcher John "Chief" Meyers after the game in Chicago

President Taft meets Giants catcher John “Chief” Meyers after the game in Chicago

When asked about his personal experience playing baseball, Taft, born in 1843,said:

“Oh, no, I got old before baseball got to be so popular.”

And about the president, fourteen years his junior:

“As to whether my brother played or not—well, I don’t really know whether he ever played at Yale.  Anyway, we both like the game just as well as if we had played.”

President Taft “Not only Likes the Game, but Knows it”

5 Oct

taftbrown

President William Howard Taft,  above shaking hands with Cubs pitcher Mordecai Brown, attended the September 16, 1909 game at Chicago’s West Side Grounds.  Tickets for the game went quickly and scalpers who expected a windfall were foiled by Cubs’ management.

The Chicago Tribune said:

“Ticket scalpers who tried to dip their hands into the pockets of local baseball fans  through the opportunity offered to see President Taft at Thursday’s Cub-Giant game were foiled in a novel way by the Cub officials.  How thoroughly did not develop until (the morning after the game).”

The Cubs limited the number of tickets to three for each purchase, but “A flock of scalpers and their agents obtained a couple hundred seats in blocks of three,” but the paper said they were unable to sell most of them.

Taft attended a make-up game, necessitated by a June 9 postponement.

“(Cubs management) had no set of reserved and box seat tickets for (the make-up date).  Instead the regular set printed for the game of June 9, which was postponed, was revised for president’s day…when (scalpers) tried to hawk and dispose of them around the ‘L’ stations and elsewhere prospective buyers were seeing the date ‘June 9,’ became suspicious and would not buy.  Consequently, practically all the seats the scalpers purchased were left in their hands.”

taftcartoon

A syndicated cartoon that appeared the day before the game.

In addition to shutting down the scalpers, the paper said the Cubs went to great lengths to ensure that the game would be incident free:

“Few of those who thronged the park knew of the preparations made to insure safety not only of the nation’s chief but of every person present, nor how ‘carefully the seat reserved for President Taft was guarded from danger that might arise from the presence of any crank.

“On the day before the game the entire plant was inspected by the police and building departments.  Wednesday night three watchmen spent the night in the park.  From early morning two Pinkerton men remained beneath the section of the stand in which the president’s seat was located, and from noon until the president left the grounds there were twelve detectives and secret service men directly beneath that section of the stand.

“The actual number of guardians of the president was close to 500 aside from his own immediate bodyguard.”

The paper said the security force included 50 Secret Service agents, 60 Chicago police detectives and nearly 400 uniformed officers.

The overflow crowd 0f nearly 30,000 watched the Giants behind Christy Mathewson further dash the Cubs pennant hopes with a 2 to 1 victory–over Mordecai Brown–dropping the Cubs six and a half games behind the Pittsburg Pirates.

tafttenney

President Taft meets Giants first baseman Fred Tenney after the game.

The visit by Taft–and his interest in baseball in general–was, important for the game according to The Chicago Daily News:

“The prestige which baseball gains by numbering among its admirers a President of the United States who has graced three major league diamonds during the current season is inestimable.”

Taft attended games at Washington’s American League Park and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh in addition to his Chicago trip.  His presence sent a message to the public that:

“(I)t’s leading citizen, blessed with a clear mind and a great one, approves of its favorite pastime.”

The paper said that while at the game in Chicago, “Taft for an hour and 30 minutes…ate popcorn and drank lemonade as simply as a big boy enjoying a long-expected holiday.”

And, the paper said, his interest in the game was real:

“President Taft is not a baseball fan because it is the popular pastime, but because he is one and because he not only likes the game, but knows it.  That was manifest by the closeness with which he followed each play, scarcely ever taking his eyes off the ball while it was in action.  A leading constituent might be confiding an important party secret to the presidential left eat while another citizen whose name appears often in headlines might be offering congratulations on the outcome of the battle for revision downward to the right auricle, but while both ears were absorbing messages from friends both presidential eyes were steadily watching Christy Mathewson and the Giants revise downward the standing of the Cubs.”

Taft attended games at major league ballparks 10 more times during his presidency.

“We had to take a Bath with the Cows and the Pigs”

6 Jul

Johnny Evers was another in a long line of former players who felt baseball began to decline sometime around the day they stopped playing.

In 1931, he made his case to reporter James L. Kilgallen of the International News Service.  Kilgallen, called “an editor’s dream of a reporter,” by Damon Runyon, occasionally wrote about baseball in between covering, as he said, “every conceivable type of story in this country and abroad.” He was also the father of columnist Dorothy Kilgallen.

James L. Kilgallen

James L. Kilgallen

Evers told him:

“What a cinch they have nowadays.  And look at the dough they get.  Today everything is hunky dory for the ballplayer who makes the big league grade.  Fine hotels.  Excellent grub.  Best trains.  Pullman accommodations.  Taxi’s to the ballparks.

“What a difference from the old days, why, do you know when I used to play with the Cubs we had to take a bath with the cows and the pigs in that old West Side ballpark in Chicago.  No needle shower baths for us in those days.”

Kilgallen said of the former Cubs second baseman:

“I found Evers an interesting personality.  He did not display any bitterness when he compared the game today with his time.  Rather there was a note of surprise in his conversation because of the fact he does not believe the players now in the major leagues appreciate the easy comforts they enjoy in these times and the sensational salaries they receive.

“Evers used to be a slim, nervous, crabby little player, full of the old fight when he was in his prime.  The National League never had a scrappier player and he can be pardoned for showing impatience for the ‘easy come easy go’ attitude of some of the players of today.  Evers, now a middle-aged man is still well-preserved.  He is heavier of course but he has no paunch.  The glint in his light blue eyes is not as combative as it used to be but the old, aggressive underslung jaw of his suggests there’s a lot of scrap left in the old boy yet.”

Johnny Evers

Johnny Evers

As for that “easy come easy go attitude” of current players, Evers said “With a tinge of asperity in his voice:”

“It used to be an honor to break into the big leagues.  Nowadays, however, a lot of fellows who are signed up take it as a matter of course.  They don’t seem to feel the pride in our uniforms that we used to in the old days.  Today they play for a big batting average, knowing that when they talk salaries it’s their batting average that governs their pay to a large extent.”

The man who co-authored a book with the subtitle “The Science of Baseball,” had something to say about that as well:

“And if I do say it myself, we played as good ball—if not better—than they do today.  We played more scientific ball, at any rate.”

In the end, the not “bitter” Evers was convinced that many of the players who followed in his footsteps just didn’t care that much about playing the game:

“A stool pigeon is just what a lot of fellows in uniform develop into.  This type sit on the bench month in and month out, and don’t seem to care whether they are in the lineup or not.  They’d have to keep me out of the lineup.  That’s the way we all used to be.  Fighters for our place on the team.”

“Walsh? Ed Walsh? Who’s he?”

16 Mar

On May 1, 1912, as a result of a contract dispute, press operators walked off or were locked-out, of their jobs at 10 Chicago newspapers.  The following day, drivers and newsboys walked out in sympathy, and ultimately three more unions joined.

The dispute, which at times became violent, lasted until November.

The New York Times said at one point during the strike’s first week, less than 50,000 copies of the city’s four morning newspapers—limited to just four pages each– were distributed to a metropolitan area with a population of nearly four million.

Every Chicago paper, with the exception of The Day Book, Edward Willis Scripps’ advertisement free, pro-labor publication, suffered decreases in circulation and were forced to publish smaller editions for the first weeks of the strike.

The strike also had a negative impact on two other Chicago institutions.

The New York Tribune noted that during the first two weeks of May, while most of Chicago’s papers provided a minimum amount of baseball coverage, attendance at White Sox Park (renamed Comiskey Park the following season) and West Side Grounds “dropped off 30 percent.”

Writing in The Chicago Herald-Record after that paper had again begun publishing full-sizes editions in mid-May, sportswriter Hugh Fullerton was not surprised that less baseball news resulted in smaller crowds at the ballparks:

“Various major league club owners have, during their recent years of great prosperity, declared that baseball was independent of the newspapers.  Indeed such intellectual giants as C. Webb Murphy and Charles Ebbets have practically stated that the newspapers depended upon baseball for their circulation.  Of course, printing baseball news makes circulation for newspapers; else the newspapers would not print it.

“But during the last ten days Chicago has given the club owners and object lesson in the relative values.  There has been a strike of several trades allied with the newspaper printing business which resulted in crippling ten big dailies, restricting their circulation, besides cutting down the amount of baseball news and gossip printed.  The instantaneous result must have been a shock to the baseball magnates, who thought that the game was independent of the advertising.”

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

Fullerton, like the New York paper, said the attendance decline was “at least” 30 percent.

“I scouted around the city and discovered, rather to my amazement, that the lack of baseball news was received rather as a welcome relief from a necessary evil than as a bereavement.  A score of men told me they were glad they couldn’t get the news, that their employees could attend to business and that there was less waste of time…The town, which has been wild over the sensational race of the White Sox, cooled off in an instant.  I met fans who had been rooting wildly, who inquired whether or not the team was in town.”

Fullerton’s observations led him to the “startling proof that interest in baseball largely is manufactured by the papers.”

And, if the strike were to result in a further decrease in baseball news:

“I really believe that if the newspapers were to be suppressed for a couple of months, and one was to mention Walsh, people would say, ‘Walsh?  Ed Walsh?  Who’s he?’”

Ed Walsh

Ed Walsh

While the strike continued through the entire season, circulation and baseball coverage increased in June, giving no one the opportunity to forget Chicago’s best pitcher.

Attendance at Chicago’s ballparks rebounded as well.  By season’s end, Walsh’s White Sox drew more than 600,000 fans, despite a 20-34 swoon in June and July and a fourth place finish; while 514,000 fans  came out for the third place Cubs.

Spring Training, 1900

16 Jun

There was never a dull moment during the Chicago Orphans 1900 training trip to Selma, Alabama.  New manager Tom Loftus arrived with twenty-three players from West Baden, Indiana on March 23—two more players, Jimmy Ryan and Bill Everitt would be joining the team in a few days.  The Chicago Tribune said, “Loftus is pleased with the grounds and the players are agreeably surprised at the town and hotel.”

Tom Loftus

Tom Loftus

The team was greeted in Selma with a parade and presented keys to the city; the stay in Alabama went downhill from there.

Rain in Selma disrupted the team’s practice schedule and the day Jimmy Ryan arrived it was revealed that there was a conflict between the leftfielder and his manager.

The Chicago Inter Ocean said Ryan, who claimed playing left field in Chicago’s West Side Grounds the previous season had damaged his eyes, announced he would not play the “sun field” for the team in 1900.

“(Ryan) intimated there was nothing in his contract which calls upon him to play in the sun field and that he will not do it unless he is given more money.”

Ryan told the paper:

“Let some of the young fellows put on smoked glasses and try the sun field for a while.  I am a right fielder and am tired of getting the hard end of the deal.  If they want me to play in the sun field it is up to Loftus for it is worth more money.”

Loftus responded:

“I don’t understand any such talk as this.  Ryan will play where he will make the most money for the club…I am running this club just now, and the men will play where I put them.”

The dispute went on for several days and included an offer to Ryan to join Selma’s local team if he chose to quit.

Ryan wasn’t the only disgruntled player.  Clark Griffith, who won 22 games for the team in 1899 told The Tribune:

“It is only a question of time when we all have to quit, and the sooner a man quits the better off he will be, for it is a cinch he won’t have a cent, no matter how long he stays in this business.”

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

A few days later The Tribune said it appeared Griffith and utility man Charlie Dexter had quit

“Clark Griffith and Charles Dexter have announced they are no longer members of the Chicago ball team.  This morning the two men, one of whom Chicago ball cranks have relied on to bring the pennant westward, announced they will start with a week for Cape Nome to mine gold.

“Griffith has been wild all spring to go to Alaska.  Some friend offered Griffith and (Jimmy “Nixey”) Callahan $20 a day as common laborers if they would go to Cape Nome.  This morning Griffith and Dexter were talking and Griffith declared he would go in a minute if he could get someone to go with him.  Dexter accepted the chance, declared he would go, and within a few minutes the pair had deposited their diamond rings with Tim Donahue as a forfeit, each agreeing to forfeit the rings in case they failed to start for Cape Nome inside a week.  Both men are in earnest”

Loftus didn’t take Griffith’s plan seriously, but the threat highlighted the growing dissatisfaction of his star pitcher, which would be reflected in his performance during the 1900 season.  There was no report of whether Griffith and Dexter forfeited their diamond rings when they failed to leave for Alaska.

The final incident of the Orphans’ Selma trip resulted in one of the most unusual reasons for a game to be delayed.

Griffith was on the mound during the early innings of an intersquad game, Tim Donahue was at the plate when according to The Inter Ocean:

“(A) Southern Gentleman opened up with a .44.”

The Chicago Tribune said:

“Just as the game was starting a young native, inspired by a desire to show the players his ambidexterity with revolvers, crossed the bridge (over the Alabama River) firing volleys.  As he approached the park he began he began firing at will, and for ten minutes gave a wild South exhibition of cannonading inside the park.”

Once inside the park, the man fired first in the direction of the players, and then, after reloading, “at the feet” of several local children watching the game.

He then “turned his attention to the ball players.”  The Inter Ocean said:

“He began shooting across the diamond, and every man on the field made a slide on the ground toward the shelter of the grand stand in a manner which would have been a guarantee of the championship, if repeated in regular league games.”

The paper said Tim Donahue, “who was never known to slide a base, went fifteen feet on his ribs” under the stands.  While Jimmy Ryan “made a dash” for left field “which broke the sprinting record.  He was last seen crawling under a dog hole in an extreme corner of the grounds.”

The gunman was taken into custody by Selma police, and The Tribune said the playing was “nervous and erratic,” after the shooting incident, but incredibly the game continued and was completed.

Griffiths “Scrubs” defeated Donahue’s “Regulars” 13 to 12.

The Box Score

The Box Score

Things didn’t get any better for the team after they opened the 1900 season; the Orphans limped to a 65-75 sixth place finish under Loftus.  Ryan, who still often played the “sun field”, hit .277, his first sub .300 season since 1893.  Griffith, who won 20 games the previous six seasons, won just 14.  Charlie Dexter had his worst season, hitting just. 200 in 40 games and Donahue hit just .236 in his final season in Chicago.

The Adventures of George Borchers

7 Feb

George Bernard “Chief” Borchers was a West Coast phenom.  The Sacramento native was so good as a 16-year-old in 1885 that the town’s two professional teams battled for his services.  After pitching half the season for one club, The Sacramento Record-Union said:

“George Borchers, heretofore pitcher for the Alta Baseball Club, has resigned his position in that club and will hereafter pitch for the Unions.”

Box score for Borchers' first start for the Sacramento Unions (July 26, 1885) after jumping the Sacramento Altas.  Borchers beat his former team 3 to 0.

Box score for Borchers’ first start for the Sacramento Unions (July 26, 1885) after jumping the Sacramento Altas. Borchers beat his former team 3 to 0.

He played for the California League’s Sacramento Altas in 1886 and the Oakland Greenhood & Morans in the same league in 1887. The Sporting Life said of him:

“Borchers is possessed of Herculean strength, great endurance, and is a heavy batsman.”

The Sacramento Bee said Borchers “would soon rank as one of best pitchers on the coast,” if he got “command of the ball and his temper.”

Before the 1888 season the 19-year-old became the subject of a bidding war.  He pitched several games against the New York Giants during John Montgomery Ward’s barnstorming/honeymoon tour of the West Coast in the winter of 1887.

Ward told New York reporters that Borchers was the best pitcher in the California League.  The Sporting Life called him “Ward’s especial favorite,” and “Ward’s find.”  By January The Boston Post said he turned down an offer from the Beaneaters, The San Francisco Chronicle said he rejected the Detroit Wolverines, and The Philadelphia Times said “(Athletics Manager Bill) Sharsig is hopeful to sign Borchers.”  The Times also said Ward’s Giants had made an offer but:

“The young man wanted a mortgage on Central Park and a large chunk of Coney Island.”

The San Francisco Chronicle said Borchers came from a wealthy family (his father owned a brewery) and were “opposed to his playing ball.”

Whatever the reason, Borchers opened the 1888 season with the Greenhood & Morans.  He pitched at least four games for Oakland before it was announced on May 2 that the 19-year-old had signed a major league contract.  The  Chronicle said:

“The baseball world was thrown into a state of excitement yesterday when the press dispatches made the unexpected announcement that George Borchers prize pitcher of the Greenhood & Moran club, had been signed to pitch for the Chicagos.”

The paper said when White Stockings President Al Spalding sent a telegram to Borchers asking his terms, the pitcher, “treated the telegram as more of a joke than anything else, and in the spirit of fun telegraphed back” asking for $3000, with a $500 advance.

“He never dreamed of receiving a favorable answer, and his surprise can well be imagined when a few hours later the answer came accepting his terms.”

Despite being what The Chronicle claimed was the “largest salary ever paid to a California player in the East,” Borchers immediately regretted the agreement:

“He says he does not feel much like leaving here and would like to back out if he could, but, knowing that he is legally bound by his act, he will of course stand by it.”

The pitcher arrived in Chicago on May 13 to great fanfare.  The Chicago Tribune said “if he equals the reports of his ability that precede him, the team will be as nearly invincible as it is possible for a baseball organization to be.”

Caricature of Borchers from The Chicago Tribune--1888

Caricature of Borchers from The Chicago Tribune–1888

White Stockings shortstop Ned Williamson, who batted against Borchers on a West Coast trip, compared him to another California pitcher who made his big league debut at age 19:

“He pitched more like Charley Sweeney than any other man I ever saw, and Sweeney was as good as any that ever stepped in the box.”

Borchers made his debut on May 18.  The Chicago Inter Ocean said:

“Another wonder has been discovered and the Chicago Ball Club has it.  The wonder is George Borchers, the California pitcher.  He was put in the box to pitch for the Chicagos yesterday against the Bostons in the closing game of the series.  The result is manifest in the score—13 to 0…Borchers was made the hero of the hour.  He has come to stay, and his work yesterday is a guarantee of his ability to keep his place.”

The Chicago Tribune was more subdued than The Inter Ocean:

“(Borchers) has an easy delivery. Good curves and great speed, but his command of the ball remains to be determined.  Yesterday he was wild.  Three wild pitches were charged to him, and with a less active and reliable man than (Tom) Daly behind the bat more would have been recorded.  Those that got by Daly were extremely wild.  Still he was effective.”

The game, played in the rain at West Side Park, in what The Chicago Daily News called “practically a swamp,” was called after five innings.

The papers couldn’t agree on the attendance either–The Inter Ocean said it was 3000, The Tribune, 1500 and The Daily News 2000.

Borchers allowed just three hits and beat Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn in his first major league game.

Things went downhill from there; the rest of Borchers’ story on Monday.

Charles Murphy’s Last Stand

16 Jul

The National League had almost completely rid themselves of Charles Webb Murphy in 1914; the owner who had ongoing feuds with nearly every other league magnate, league officials, umpires, and many of his own players, had sold his interest in the Chicago Cubs to his financial benefactor Charles Phelps Taft.

Murphy returned to his home in Wilmington, Ohio; his only connection to the National League was his part ownership of the Baker Bowl, the home of the Philadelphia Phillies.  Murphy’s other ballpark ownership stake was in Chicago’s West Side Grounds, but that investment had lost most of its value after Taft sold the Cubs to Charles Weeghman, who moved the team to his ballpark on the North Side.  The Cubs former home field was used for amateur and semi-pro games, even  Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, but the park was not making Murphy money.

William Wrigley Jr., and his brothers were minority investors in the team in 1916, but Weeghman began struggling financially almost as soon as he bought the team, and the Wrigley brothers began buying Weeghman’s stock.

Charles Weeghman

Charles Weeghman

Between the 1918 and ’19 seasons the Wrigley’s acquired controlling interest in the Cubs.  (Some recent sources say Wrigley did not have controlling interest until 1921, but numerous contemporaneous sources said the Wrigley family had control of the team before the 1919 season began).

William Wrigley Jr.

William Wrigley Jr.

In February of 1919 Joe Vila, sports editor of The New York Sun wrote a story that said the Cubs were moving out of Weeghman Park and back to the West Side Grounds:

“National League men are gratified to learn that there will be a change of ball parks in Chicago, probably before the championship season opens on April 23.  The Cubs who have occupied the grounds of the defunct Chicago fed on the North Side since 1916, are preparing to return to their old home, West Side Park, which still is the property of Charles Webb Murphy and, presumably Charles P Taft.  The North Side plant never could accommodate more than 18,000 spectators, sitting and standing, whereas as many as 30,000 attended games at West Side Park in the days when Frank Chance had a world’s championship ball club.  Last fall the Cubs played their world’s title games with the Red Sox in Chicago at the home of the White Sox for the reason that the former Chifed arena was too small.”

Vila said Murphy saw an opportunity in the new ownership arrangement:

“Naturally, with an eye to business, Murphy promptly suggested to the Wrigley’s, who control the Cubs stock, the transfer of the Cubs…The Wrigley’s, who know little or nothing about practical baseball methods, regard Murphy as an oracle and there isn’t  a doubt that they will accept his suggestion.”

westsidegrounds

The Grandstand at West Side Grounds

It’s unclear whether the move, for which Vila said “there isn’t a doubt,” was ever even a possibility; it seems just as likely it was a story planted by Murphy.  Vila’s description of the ousted Cubs owner would suggest, at the very least, that Murphy had a sympathetic ear with The Sun sports editor:

“Murphy is one of the smartest men in baseball…When Murphy was president and of the Cubs the club didn’t have a losing year financially…In other words the Cubs under Murphy were tremendously successful.”

Vila also blames the Horace Fogel incident for all of “Murphy’s unpopularity that led to his retirement,” Not mentioning Murphy’s numerous feuds.

The Wrigley’s did not end up accepting Murphy’s suggestion, and the team remained at Weeghman Field, renamed Cubs Park before the 1920 season, and finally Wrigley Field before the 1926 season.

Murphy’s last stand having failed, he had his ballpark torn down in 1920.

It wasn’t until 1927 that the seating capacity at Wrigley Field finally surpassed that of the west Side Grounds.