Before Wrigley Became Wrigley: The Inside Story of the First Years of the Cubs' Home Field by Sean Deveney
The centennial anniversary of Wrigley Field, the iconic home of the Chicago Cubs, was celebrated in April 2014, but many casual fans are not aware that the stadium on Chicago's north side was not built to serve as the venue for the Cubs, but rather for a competing team that was the cornerstone for an outlaw league attempting to reach major league status. Chicago's Federal League franchise remains the only championship team to play at the corner of Addision and Clark. While the Cubs have won the National League pennant during their tenure at Wrigley Field, they lost six World Series before finally winning the crown in 2016. This is a story with many actors: Joe Tinker, Charles Weeghman, Charles W. Murphy, Charles Taft, brothers Joe and Mike Cantillon, James Gilmore, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Ban Johnson, along with a cast of minor players.
Sean Deveney, a writer for The Sporting News, has done an excellent job of telling the story of how Wrigley Field came to be. It is a story of intrigue, double-dealing, and battles on and off the diamond. While the focus of Deveney's book is Weeghman Park, it is also a history of the Federal League during the turmoil between the Federal League owners and the magnates of Organized Baseball, in particular American League president Ban Johnson.
In his second book on the Chicago Cubs during the 1910s, Deveney has made use of secondary and primary sources in his research on this topic. In addition to the contemporary Chicago newspapers he also utilized newspapers from Boston, New York, Baltimore and Washington as well as many of the baseball-related magazines of the times. Deveney utilized the legal documents from the Federal League's struggles to be recognized as a major league as part of his research. He also made use of the major secondary monograph sources covering the period, including biographies of the major characters, as well as histories of Chicago and the battle between the Federal League and organized baseball.
The battle between Organized Baseball and the Federal League owners is the centerpiece of Deveney's book and he traces it back to the efforts of brothers Joe and Mike Cantillon to place an American Association franchise on the north side of Chicago. From these beginnings, he traces the involvement of Charles Weeghman, a wealthy Chicago businessman whose fortune was built on an empire of lunch rooms located within the Chicago Loop, who wanted [End Page 224] to acquire a major league baseball franchise. Because of Weeghman's involvement Chicago would become the center of the storm involving the Federal League and Organized Baseball.
The Chicago Cubs were a power in the National League during the first decade of the twentieth century, playing in the World Series four times between 1906 and 1910, winning two of those series. By 1913 the Cubs were no longer challengers for the National League pennant, but were still able to finish with winning records and in the first division. Still, the glory days of Tinker to Evers to Chance were over. Evers played his last season with the Cubs in 1913, Chance was selected by the New York Highlanders off waivers and Tinker traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 1912. Tinker took the opportunity to jump to the Federal League at the end of 1913 becoming one of the biggest names from OB to make the leap and the manager for the Chicago Chi-Feds. He would be instrumental during the next two years in the Federal League's efforts to sign players such as Walter Johnson and Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown.
The story of the Federal League's battle with Organized Baseball is a complicated one, centering around salaries, contracts, ballparks, the ten-day clause, baseball's reserve clause and a lawsuit with a decision handed down by Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Deveney does an excellent job in explaining the complex history of the Federal League that went through many ups and downs during its two-year existence. The effort to build a ballpark on Chicago's North Side was complicated by the number of individuals involved. The Cubs were ensconced on the West Side at West Side Grounds, but the park had fallen into disrepair with little prospect of upgrades. Cubs president Charles Murphy, and absentee owner, Charles Taft, failed to grasp the tenacity of Weeghman and his desire to own a major league team. Murphy made a number of questionable moves threatening the Cubs' hold on the hearts of Chicagoans and eventually found himself on the outside looking in.
The Federal League battle cost nearly everyone involved a great deal of money and time. There were a number of starts and stops as several owners in the Federal League and OB, but not American League President Ban Johnson, attempted to find a settled peace that would allow baseball to return to some semblance of normalcy. Except, normalcy would not return to baseball until the early 1920s following World War I and the Chicago Black Sox scandal.
The outcome of the Federal League war was positive for Chicago as Weeghman's ballpark on the North Side became the new, modern home of the Chicago Cubs after he purchased the team from Taft. The other owners of Federal League teams did not fare as well. For the Cubs, the move into their new ballpark [End Page 225] meant an improvement over their home on the West Side, but while the team would occasionally return to the World Series, fans of the Chicago Cubs waited until 2016 for their first World Series victory at Wrigley Field.
Before Wrigley Became Wrigley is a good read, well-written and important contribution to Wrigley Field literature, in this, the one-hundredth anniversary of Weeghman Park. It is well-documented and explores all aspects of the story. It provides an important accounting of a pivotal time in major league baseball history and relates the story of Charles Weeghman, the Chicago Cubs and the baseball stadium that would become known world-wide as Wrigley Field.