As any baseball fan, Chicagoan, or news junkie knows, today is the 100th anniversary of the first baseball game played at venerable Wrigley Field. And although the Chicago Cubs plan an elaborate ceremony to mark this momentous event before today’s game against their age-old rival Arizona Diamondbacks—whose home state was barely into its Terrible Twos when “Play ball!” first echoed through Wrigley—we should keep in mind that this is not fully a Cubs moment.
April 23, 1914, at Wrigley Field—then known as Weeghman Park, after its builder and Chicago Federals owner, Charles Weeghman—marked Opening Day for the Chicago Federals of the upstart Federal League. A World War I–era version of the ABA or WHA, the Federal League's owners threw “big” money at such underpaid Major League stars as Eddie Plank, Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown and the soon-to-be-infamous Hal Chase to form a third major league. (The new league actually signed the Majors’ greatest pitcher, Walter Johnson, on the dotted line, but his long-time Washington Senators’ employer, Clark Griffith, made Walter a counteroffer he couldn’t refuse.) Rosters were rounded out with Major League castoffs and career minor leaguers, commencing a two-year salary war with the Senior and Junior Circuits that ended when the Federal League ran out of money and folded after the 1915 season.
On this day a century ago, the hometown Federals, player-managed by long-time Cubs hero, Joe Tinker, crushed the Kansas City Packers, 9-1, on the strength of two Art Wilson home runs. Not quite the darlings of the North Side, the Federals drew 21,000 fans, whereas the long-established Cubs played to a mere 1,200 the next day at West Side Park.
Cubs’ attendance records for this season are spotty, and the following day is the first home attendance reported for 1914; actually, the Cubs drew only 202,000 fans for the entire season, although that likely far exceeded their new rivals.
Now, the Cubs didn’t actually play their first game in Wrigley Field until 1916, when Weeghman—along with William Wrigley Jr. (in Costanza-ese: the gum guy)—bought the team and moved the Cubbies into his park. Wrigley soon acquired majority control of the Cubs—although Weeghman Park didn’t officially become “Wrigley Field” until 1926, and the only ivy to be found was when the Brooklyn Dodgers and their infielder, Ivy Olson, came to town.
So let’s give a little 21st-century love to the Chicago Federals. Okay, a straw-hatted go-getter like Weeghman still was too lazy to come up with a team nickname, but his players hustled enough to finish just 1.5 games behind the champion Indianapolis Hoosiers (the league had no playoff—one of many problems that doomed it to a quick death).
Incidentally, the Federals were renamed the Chicago Whales for the 1915 season, although no one is really sure why a Windy City team would be named that. Chicago hadn’t seen a whale since the late Cretaceous, when North America lay bisected by a huge inland sea. Despite Weeghman’s continued laxity in naming his team, however, the Whales won the 1915 championship by finishing .001 percentage points ahead of the fearsomely dubbed St. Louis Terriers.
So, in commemorating the centennial of Elwood Blues’ last known address, let’s also doff a cap to Wrigley Field’s first inhabitants and most recent champion (honk if you attended the parade): the Chicago Federals.
These are the saddest of all possible tales
Tinker to Farrell to Beck
Trio of Federals, didn’t last to be Whales
Tinker and Farrell and Beck
Ruthlessly hitting more homers than George Herman
Burning up Chicago’s infield like Atlanta by General Sherman
Oh, how they’d have sounded coming from Chris Berman
Tinker to Farrell to Beck…