History of Wrigley Field - Weeghman Park and The Federal League (1913–1915)

Weeghman Park and The Federal League (1913–1915)

The Federal League began its existence as a minor league in 1913, locating franchises in six cities, including Chicago. The Chicago franchise, known as the Chifeds, played its home games at the baseball grounds at DePaul University.

John T. Powers, founder and president of the new Federal League, had ambitions of building the new organization into a premier minor league, on par with the American Association. By the middle of the 1913 season, however, the owners had forced Powers out of his job, sensing that the Federal League had the potential to become a viable major league. Replacing him as president was James A. Gilmore, a wealthy Chicago businessman who had made his fortune in coal. Gilmore had the organizational and political skills necessary to mount a serious challenge to the established major leagues.

Gilmore brought on board two partners to control the key Chicago franchise. One was William Walker, a fish wholesaler. The other was the flamboyant Charles A. Weeghman, known as "Lucky Charlie", who had made a quick fortune in local lunch counters (a predecessor to fast food). Weeghman became the club president and the main force behind the team from that point onward, with Walker willing to remain in the background, and Gilmore tending to League issues. Weeghman made headlines by landing star shortstop Joe Tinker from the Cincinnati Reds in December 1913. The Tinker acquisition was the shot in the arm that gave the franchise the momentum to think big for the upcoming 1914 season.

Weeghman chose to relocate the franchise from DePaul to the former Seminary grounds at Clark and Addison owned by Archambault and the Cantillions. Although the major leagues threw up a number of roadblocks, including an attempt to secure rights to part of the land on the block, in late December 1913 Weeghman secured a ninety-nine year lease on the property. The lease stipulated, among other things, that improvements on the property could not exceed $70,000. Within several months, however, Weeghman would spend several times that amount in erecting his new ballpark.

Weeghman hired Zachary Taylor Davis, architect of Comiskey Park (which became the home of the White Sox in June 1910), to design the new ballpark. Weeghman wanted the park to rival the Polo Grounds in New York, but in the end the single-decked grandstand as designed bore little resemblance to it.

Work on the property didn't begin until February 23, 1914, exactly two months before the Chifeds' scheduled home opener. After the grounds had been cleared, groundbreaking ceremonies took place on March 4. Under the guidance of the Blome-Sinek company, the lead construction contractor, the park came together over the remainder of March and the first half of April. Despite a brief strike by construction workers in early April, the new park was ready for baseball by the date of the home opener on April 23, 1914.

The new ballpark, known as Weeghman Park, was a modern steel and concrete baseball plant (as stadiums were often called then). It featured a single-decked grandstand sweeping from right field behind home plate to near the left field corner. Perched on top of the grandstand roof behind home plate was a small area for the press.

A modern-day visitor to the original Weeghman Park would have difficulty recognizing the outfield aside from the familiar buildings on the opposite side of Waveland and Sheffield Avenues (which haven't changed much at all). The dimensions of the original playing field along the foul lines were quite short. The distance from home plate to the right field brick fence along Sheffield Avenue was around 300 feet at the foul line. Left field was not much better, partly because several old Seminary buildings stood between the wooden left field fence and Waveland Avenue. The left field fence also featured a large scoreboard. Like most of the parks of the day, the field was essentially angular, as it was shaped by the surrounding grid street pattern. The right and left field walls converged in a corner in deep center field, nearly 450 feet from home plate. Because of the constricted size of much of the outfield near the corners, bleachers were limited to a small jury box in right-center field. All told, Weeghman Park had a seating capacity of 14,000, but this was frequently exceeded by the many standing room only crowds of the day.

After an unusual number of home runs were hit during the Chifeds' first home series against Kansas City in April, Weeghman decided the left field wall was too cozy a target, and had the entire fence moved back some 25 feet. To do this, the front porch had to be removed from the old Seminary building beyond the wall.

Before the start of the 1915 season, Weeghman made additional changes to the outfield. Gone were the jury-box bleachers in right-center field. The old Seminary buildings beyond left field were finally demolished in March. In their place, Weeghman had wooden bleachers erected from the left-field corner to center field, raising the park's capacity to roughly 18,000. The scoreboard was relocated to center field, where it has remained in one form or another since then.

On the field, the Chifeds were renamed the Chicago Whales for the club's sophomore season. Weeghman Park was fast becoming the best place to watch baseball in Chicago, as the Whales fought their way to the Federal League pennant in one of the closest races in major league history. Additionally, fans enjoyed Weeghman's high standards for cleanliness and promotion. He was an early champion of Ladies' Day (every Friday) and in 1916 would become the first baseball owner to allow fans to keep foul balls. And as a successful restaurateur, his food was top-notch. Long before the Wrigley family entered the scene, the park was already famous for its hospitality.

Despite the exciting pennant race and generally high quality of baseball played in the Federal League, the League was hemorrhaging money. In December 1915, the League capitulated to the other major leagues and disbanded. But all was not lost for Weeghman, however. He was allowed to purchase the Cubs franchise for $500,000, and promptly moved his new club out of the dilapidated West Side Park and into his Weeghman Park for the 1916 season. The purchase was in reality a merger between the Whales and the Cubs, as a number of former Whales stars, such as Max Flack and Claude Hendrix, found themselves playing in the same park as Cubs the following season.

Read more about this topic:  History Of Wrigley Field

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