Tag Archives: West Side Grounds

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.

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