Street Smart Chicago

Tale of the Whales: The Forgotten Story of Chicago’s Original North Side Ballclub

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Illustration: Zeke Danielson

By Eric Lutz

The Chicago Whales needed a win.

It was October 3, 1915, and the North Side squad was heading into the final game of the season in a dead-heat for first. They’d played 151 games, won eighty-five of them, and now everything hinged on the second game of a double-header against the Pittsburgh Rebels. Win it, and the Federal League pennant would be theirs. Lose it, and it’d go to Pittsburgh.

Joe Tinker, the Whales’ player-manager, was no stranger to important games. He’d played in a lot of them with the Chicago Cubs years earlier. But now he was in the twilight of his career, and he knew this could be his last real shot at another pennant, his last chance to reclaim glory.

They’d nearly done it earlier that afternoon, when they led the Rebels by three late in the first game. But an RBI single by Al Wickland, the former Whales centerfielder, sent the game to extras, where Pittsburgh would win off yet another Wickland crack. It would all come down to this.

Weeghman Park, the new steel-beam and concrete baseball cathedral on Clark and Addison, swelled to accommodate the some 35,000 fans in attendance. They filled all 21,000 seats of the stadium, spilled out into the aisles and even onto the field between the dugouts and foul poles, sometimes packed in ten to fifteen deep. Others watched from the rooftops across Waveland and Sheffield, while more loitered in the streets below.

To anyone looking on, it would have appeared the Federal League had finally made it. Formed in 1913, it was already struggling financially when it declared its major league status the following year. Its economic woes only worsened as they competed for fans and big-name players with the established American and National Leagues, who dubbed the new organization an “outlaw” league. But on this crisp, early autumn afternoon in Chicago, the tides would have appeared to be turning in the rebels’ favor.

Within the organizations, however, it had been clear for several months now that this season would likely be the league’s last. Teams hemorrhaged money in 1914, and conversations between Federal owners and their AL and NL counterparts had already begun. So-called “peace” talks continued throughout the 1915 campaign, and the organization’s future was mostly settled by summer’s end. The establishment would buy out the Federal League and absorb some of its players and owners into existing teams.

The Whales knew there would be no tomorrow. There would be no next year to look forward to.

All there was was now.

 

Two years earlier, Joe Tinker felt forgotten.

He’d been the Chicago Cubs’ best player, had led them to four NL pennants, back-to-back World Series wins in 1907 and 1908. He’d been the face of the club. But in 1913, he was trapped in Cincinnati—managing a losing team, far from his home in Chicago.

Tinker was purchased by the Cubs in 1902 after a few promising seasons in the minors. He was a skinny twenty-one-year-old kid from Kansas–lightning quick and scrappy, the kind of guy who’d do anything to win a game. Though a middling hitter in the majors, he would average thirty stolen bases a season during his career–an important statistic in the dead-ball era, when games were low-scoring affairs and leather was mightier than wood. In those days, the game was played between the ears, relying heavily on sacrifices and steals. Between 1901, when foul balls began counting against hitters as strikes, and the end of the era in 1919, when Babe Ruth had his twenty-nine homer season, there were thirteen occasions when the league home-run champ hit fewer than ten. Ballparks were bigger–the Cubs’ West Side Park was 560 feet to center; the Red Sox original stadium a remarkable 635 (by comparison, US Cellular Field measures 400 feet to center)–and games were played with poor-quality balls that pitchers tampered with freely. Batting averages tended to be lower, and guys like Tinker who were smart and quick were hot commodities.

Joe Tinker

That he was also one of the best defensive players of the era made him even hotter. So dominant in the field was Tinker and his double-play partner, Johnny Evers, that newspaper columnist Franklin Pierce Adams felt inspired–en route to a Cubs-Giants game in 1910–to pen “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon”–the famous poem that deemed “Tinker to Evers to Chance” the “saddest possible words,” cementing the shortstop as one of the sport’s biggest stars of the era.

Tinker recognized his value to the team early in his career, and asked for a salary increase every season. In the beginning, the Cubs gladly obliged, wanting to keep their best player happy. But as time wore on, Tinker noticed more and more friction from the club when negotiation time came around. Finally, after the 1912 season, they decided he was no longer worth it. He was only thirty-one, and his numbers were still strong. But this was a different time. People simply got old younger. The life expectancy of an American male was barely fifty. The shelf life of an athlete was far less than today. To the Cubs, the ten-year veteran was no longer worth the investment, and they dealt him to Cincinnati.

Tinker felt betrayed. It wasn’t about the money for him, not really. It was about what the money symbolized: respect; loyalty; esteem. He knew what refusing to pay him really meant. It meant that, in the eyes of the organization, his best years had passed him.

As player-manager for the Reds, he was bent on proving the Cubs wrong, on showing them what a mistake they’d made. He put up some of the best numbers of his career that year: a .317 batting average, thirteen triples, fifty-seven RBIs. But certain things no longer came to him as easily as they had a couple years ago. In 110 games, he managed only ten steals–was actually caught stealing twelve times. He constantly fought with management, feeling they were treating his players poorly. By August, he was threatening to resign. The team itself was awful, finishing the season seventh out of eight teams, 37.5 games out.

He missed Chicago. He’d spent most of his adult life there, and had even opened a business in the city. He lobbied for a trade.

That fall, the Reds obliged and put him on the market. A number of teams, including the Cubs, expressed interest. But he couldn’t help being wary of their enthusiastic pursuit. Sure, they wanted him now–but what about when they didn’t want him? He demanded ridiculous things, like a $10,000 signing bonus and total control of whatever team he wound up on. Potential buyers scrambled to meet his requirements. Offers poured in from around the league: New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia. In December, Tinker announced he’d refuse to play for anyone but Chicago or Pittsburgh.

Midway through that month, as he worked toward a contract with Chicago, he received a phone call. It was Charles Weeghman, wanting to discuss with Tinker an opportunity in the league he’d just invested in–a third major to challenge the AL and NL.

“Lucky Charlie,” as he was known, was born in 1874 in Richmond, Indiana. He’d fallen in love with Chicago as a young jewelry store clerk visiting the city in 1893 for the World’s Fair, and moved there soon after, taking a ten-dollar-a-week job as a coffee boy at a restaurant in the Loop. He’d worked his way up to head waiter, eventually saving enough money to open a lunchroom of his own on Wells and Adams. Serving up quick dairy lunches to the working people of Chicago, the cafeteria was an instant success, and it wasn’t long before Weeghman was running fifteen such establishments, some serving up to 30,000 people a day.

Charles Weeghman

He’d wanted to invest in baseball for years, but his only concrete effort was a failed attempt to purchase the St. Louis Cardinals in 1911. When fellow Chicago businessman James A. Gilmore took over as president of the Federal League midway through the 1913 season, he saw his opportunity.

Tinker had heard inklings that the minor league was entertaining big league ambitions under their new leadership, but he didn’t take them very seriously. After all, there’d been attempts at a third major before. The most recent—the United States Baseball League in 1912–had failed after a month due to limited financing and bad players. But he didn’t know that this time was different. He didn’t know that Gilmore had secured big-time investors: Harry F. Sinclair, the oil magnate; Robert Ward, of Ward Baking Company. That the combined wealth of the team owners was more than $50 million.

He agreed to meet Weeghman anyway. He thought if the Cubs got wind of it, they’d raise their offer. He went to Weeghman’s home in Edgewater the next day.

There, Weeghman would ask Tinker to play for and manage the new Chicago Federal team. He’d offer him a three-year contract, $36,000 in value–far above the $3,000 a year the average player earned.

But it wouldn’t just be money Weeghman was offering him. It would’ve been opportunity. A chance to reinvent himself. A break at something new.

He would’ve told the ballplayer that the league’s pockets were deeper than he may have grown accustomed to in his dealings with the National League. He would’ve told him he’d have complete control of the new team. He’d have told him that, most importantly, this wasn’t something they were giving him–it was something he was owed.

Tinker would have reservations. What if the league failed?

Weeghman would tell him about his father, who’d immigrated to America from Germany in search of new opportunity. He hadn’t had any guarantees, either. But he did it anyway because success can only come from risk. He would tell Tinker he could offer him a lot: money, freedom, a break at something new. But he couldn’t offer him guarantees.

“If that’s what you’re looking for,” Weeghman would have said, “then perhaps you are better suited for the National League.”

In the days that followed, Tinker drew closer to a contract with the Cubs. But he couldn’t stop thinking about Weeghman’s offer. How he’d been treated in the past couple years, after all he’d done for the team, the game. He deserved more. More money, more freedom–be able to say what he wanted to say without anyone saying no. And what if all that was worth more than the security of the National League?

Just before Christmas, a few days before Gilmore would declare their major league status, Tinker called Weeghman.

“Alright, Charlie,” he said. “Let’s play ball.”

 

Immediately, the Federal League came under fire from the establishment.

They were called “rebels,” “outlaws,” a “menace to the game.” But they stood their ground, enticing more big-name players to jump.

Weeghman commissioned Zachary Taylor Davis, who’d designed Comiskey Park in 1910, to build the squad a stadium on the North Side, while Tinker made his roster.

They were dissatisfied big leaguers.

They were fading stars looking for a chance at redemption.

They were rookies looking for a chance.

What they’d find, however, was that starting new wouldn’t be easy.

In March of 1914, the team headed to Shreveport, Louisiana for spring training. They’d chosen the location under promise of warm weather and big money from Southern baseball fans excited to see a major league team, even if only in exhibition. But when they arrived, it was cold and rainy. They played in empty stadiums, generating very little revenue. Poor field conditions made Tinker wary of using his starters, for fear of injury. And back in Chicago, a bricklayers strike threatened to delay construction of the new stadium and potentially push back the home opener.

Joe Tinker began wondering if he’d made a mistake.

One day, a representative from the Philadelphia Phillies came to Shreveport, intending to reclaim two pitchers who’d defected to the Chi-Feds–Ad Brennan and Tom Seaton.

He thought his plan had worked when they told him to meet them at the Hotel Youree, where the team was staying. But they had tipped Tinker off, and when the Phillies representative arrived, he was greeted in the lobby by the entire Chicago team.

This wasn’t the first time an establishment team had tried to take back a player. Hall of Famer Walter Johnson had intended to jump to the Whales, but a representative from his team–the Washington Senators–went to the pitcher’s house to convince him to stay.

Joe Tinker stepped forward. Everyone in the lobby encircled the two men. All were silent, waiting. Finally, the Phillies man spoke:

“You have a crowd around you, I see.”

“Yes,” Tinker replied. “And we’ll have a crowd around us all season, too.”

The two men glared at one another. Tinker focused all his frustration–with organized baseball, with the spring–on the man from the National League team. The Phillies representative broke the gaze, and surveyed the crowd: a hundred or so people, some of them guests, some of them players. He turned back to Tinker and relaxed his shoulders.

“I’d hoped to talk with Seaton and Brennan in private,” he said. The two men stood at the ready. “But it looks as if they’re satisfied and want to stay.” He nodded at them, at Tinker, and then retreated.

The team broke into laughter. They slapped Tinker on the back, celebrating the Federal League’s first victory in what sportswriters were already calling the Baseball War. Tinker knew what the team was feeling because he felt it, too. As bad as things were going, it was still better than what they’d left.

Things began to improve. The team dominated their exhibition games, dispatching the Southern minor league teams by scores of 13-0, 5-0. Weeghman paid $10,000 to union bosses in Chicago to call off their strike and go back to work on the stadium, adding 350 workers to the project to make up for lost time.

By April 23, both the team and its stadium were ready.

More than 21,000 fans were in attendance to watch the team open their home season against the Kansas City Packers, who they’d beat 3-2 in their first game. It was a cold, sunny day, the wind gusting polar off the lake. The crowd was excited but curious, not knowing what to expect from their new home team.

They were dominant.

Claude Hendrix, the former Pirates ace, pitched all nine innings and gave up one run. On offense, catcher Art Wilson led the effort with two home runs, one of which sailed out of the park and onto Waveland Avenue.

At game’s end, they’d won 9-1.

 

By June, Chicago was first in the Federal League–a position they’d hold, with little variation, through late September.

It reminded Joe Tinker of his best years with the Cubs, when things came easy to him. He was playing almost every day, hitting a touch below .260 but with an on-base percentage well into the threes. He was stealing bases–not the forty-one he’d racked up as a springy twenty-three-year-old, but almost twice as many as he had the year before with the Reds. He felt good on the field. And entering the final week of the season in first place, the pennant seemed a virtual lock.

But in baseball, things can change quickly. It’s all about when you get hot.

And the Indianapolis Hoosiers got hot at just the right time. They closed out their season with a seven-game win streak, all of them blowouts. Chicago, meanwhile, lost three of their final four games. They had one more game left, but it meant nothing–they’d finish a game-and-a-half back at best.

Tinker felt robbed. They’d played great ball: Hendrix had gone 29-10 with a league-best 1.69 ERA; outfielder Dutch Zwilling was at the top of the league in almost every category – a .313 average with ninety-five RBIs, twenty-one stolen bases and a league high sixteen homers, not to mention a.962 fielding percentage.

Tinker watched that final game from the dugout. In his place at short was Jimmy Smith, who’d made his debut with the Whales late in the season.

The kid was good, there was no denying it. Nothing got past him on defense, and he contributed three hits and a run to the team’s 8-3 win.

Like Tinker, “Greenfield Jimmy” had a cocky grace about him on the field. He was boyishly handsome, his face creased where his smile cracked, a look about him that said everything and everyone in this world belonged to him.

Seeing it on the face of the kid who could someday replace him, Tinker hated that look. Smith was young now and thought it would always be this easy. But someday he’d learn, just as Tinker would: every summer eventually ends.

 

A cloud hung over the league that offseason.

Publicly, the outlaw owners remained defiant, filing an antitrust lawsuit against organized baseball and using the terminology of war when speaking to the press.

“Baseball is merely a side issue with every owner in our league,” Weeghman told the Tribune that October. “Every one of us has large business interests which ensure a much larger income than is required to foot the expenses of our ball teams. We could continue this year, next year, and the year after, even if we were to lose money every season.”

But behind closed doors, the Federal League owners were meeting regularly with their American and National League counterparts. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who’d later become the first commissioner of Major League Baseball, allowed the antitrust suit to sit in purgatory while the Federal League bled money in legal fees, the owners’ patience wearing. They were already in deeper than they thought they’d be. Weeghman had originally planned to invest $50,000. By the end of that first season, he was in more than $400,000.

Many of the players began to distrust the ownership. Before winter set in, a rumor had already emerged that Weeghman was trying to buy the Cubs.

Disgruntled, Tinker would have telephoned Weeghman.

“Is it true?” he might’ve asked.

Weeghman would pause.

“No, it’s not true. Not yet.”

“What does that mean, not yet?”

“Don’t worry about it. Everything will be fine.”

“This is your team, Charlie.”

I am my team, Joe,” he’d reply. Tinker would be silent on the other end. Weeghman would say: “Take care, Joe,” and hang up.

 

Jimmy Smith

By the time the 1915 season started, Tinker was feeling his age. He felt old, his legs wooden. He decided he’d play less, focus on managing while his understudy Smith handled shortstop.

He knew the Federal League could fold at any point. And he didn’t know if there’d be a future in baseball for him after that. If this was to be his last season, he wanted to go out on a win. He’d get that pennant–even if it meant playing a younger guy in his place.

The Whales beefed up their pitching rotation, adding former Cubs’ gunslingers “Three Finger” Mordecai Brown and George McConnell to the squad. They got Tex Wisterzil, the best third baseman in the Federal League.

But the talent didn’t translate into wins.

By June, they were toward the bottom of the league, struggling to stay above .500.

Smith, brilliant in his three-game cameo for the team at the end of the previous year, struggled as an everyday player. He contributed little offensively, hitting just .207 and stealing a mere four bases. He had trouble defensively, too—had a fielding percentage below .900 and was on his way to a league-high seventy errors.

Still, the Whales kept close, never falling more than five-and-a-half games back, while Tinker and his team waited for a hot streak.

Finally, in September, it came.

After bobbing through the standings during the dog days that summer, they went on a run. Swept a four-game series against the Baltimore Terrapins, won another four in a row against the Buffalo Blues and the Newark Pepper, their rival the previous season when they’d played as Indianapolis. Swept a three-gamer against the Brooklyn Tip-Tops.

Smith had been traded to Baltimore for shortstop Mickey Doolan, who tightened up the team’s infield and stole more bases in just a few games than his predecessor had in ninety-seven that year.

By the end of the month, the Whales were a game and a half back, heading into their final series against the first place Pittsburgh Rebels. Five teams had fought bitterly into the last stretch of season. But now only the Whales, the Rebels and the Terriers of St. Louis remained in the hunt, all within striking distance of one another, each a break or two away from winning it all.

 

October 3. Late afternoon. The sky paling to the color of concrete.

The Whales and the Rebels took the field for the second time that day.

Whoever won would get the pennant. Whoever lost would finish third.

The three teams locked in this battle had played a differing number of games–there’d been several rain-outs that year, and not all of them had been made up. The pennant would be decided by win/loss percentage.

This was long before night games were played, so both teams knew it was likely that this second game of the double-header would be cut short, that the pennant would be decided by fewer than the full nine innings.

It was an imperfect system in an imperfect league.

But baseball is defined by imperfection.

Its games are played on idiosyncratic stages, each park unique in every characteristic but the diamond itself—ninety feet from base to base, sixty from slab to dish. Its games, too, are singular: nine innings might take two hours one day and nearly four the next.

It was fitting, then, that it would come down to this, that it would end this way–a lopsided season ending in an abbreviated game.

 

Bill Bailey took the mound for the Whales.

A tall left-hander from Arkansas, he’d been sent to Chicago just a couple weeks earlier as part of a trade, having played most of the past two seasons with the Baltimore Terrapins.

He’d jumped to the Federal League in 1914 after six disappointing seasons with the St. Louis Browns. He delivered his share of strikeouts, but struggled with his control. By the time he left the National League, he barely saw the mound.

He went 7-9 with Baltimore the previous season, though his 3.08 ERA was his best in five years. Most of 1915, though, had been a disappointment. He was 8-20, with an ERA well over four. He didn’t know what would happen to him after the Federal League folded, if he’d have a team to play for next season. This could very well be his last game in the majors. He’d have to make it count.

On the other side, there was Elmer Knetzer.

He’d won the first game of the day for the Rebels, coming in for the last few innings and shutting down a Whales offense that had, until that point, been strong. Rebel Oakes, the namesake of the Pittsburgh squad as well as its player-manager, decided to ride him into the second game as well.

Neither pitcher allowed much.

Through five innings, the only player to reach second base for either team was the Whales’ Doolan, who’d been stranded there in the third frame after singling and stealing.

Bailey had allowed only three base-runners on two singles and a walk, and the lefty had picked two of them off at first. He retired the Pittsburgh hitters in order in the top of the sixth, and the Whales came up to bat.

The sun was setting over Weeghman Park. A chilly October wind wheezed through the stands, through the dugout. The Whales needed runs. Tinker wanted them this inning.

All his life, there’d been time. A win tided him over until next season—temporarily appeased his appetite. Losses just made him hungrier.

But for his Whales, there was no time but now.

1915 Chicago Whales

Doolan led off with a rope to left field. Bailey came up next and sacrificed him over. He then advanced to third when the second baseman Rollie Zeider grounded out.

Two outs and a runner on third. Max Flack, who’d had a promising rookie season in 1914 and emerged as one of the Whales’ best players this season, came to the plate.

He was hitting .314, had stolen thirty-seven bases. He’d hit forty-four RBIs.

He took the first pitch for a strike, and watched two more sail outside for balls. Then, Knetzer hurled a big breaking ball toward the shoulder of Flack. He turned away from the pitch. By the time it reached the plate, though, it had curved down into the strike zone, catching the inside corner of the plate for strike two.

Weeghman watched from his box. He’d built this club, the stadium they played in—had a lot invested financially and emotionally. He wanted a run. He wanted it with an intensity he’d felt toward little else in sports in years. And he realized why. It was because a win—not just a tally in a win column but that feeling of true victory—couldn’t be bought. He had enough money to buy almost anything else he wanted—he’d officially own the Cubs once the season ended—but this was out of his control.

Knetzer took the sign from his catcher, nodded and went into his wind-up. Doolan watched the ball spin from the pitcher’s hand and for a moment there it was: the white hide of it stained tan with dirt, the seams like deep scars running the length of it, paused there against the deepening purple of the sky. He reared back and swung, seeing the ball so clearly he could pick the very stitch the wood of his bat would collide with first.

Contact was full and the ball soared high into the evening. It went up, up, up, leveling off and falling forward into the gap in left-center.

The crowd erupted.

Doolan scored easily while the Rebels scrambled after the ball. Flack made a big turn around first and jogged into second for an easy double.

Dutch Zwilling was up next. On the first pitch, he took Knetzer to right field with a screamer down the line. The stadium got even louder as the double sent Flack home to make the score 2-0.

Knetzer pounded the ball methodically into the palm of his glove, trying to regain composure. He felt the weight of the innings he’d pitched in the previous game. His arm felt like a cooked noodle. He tried to concentrate, but the noise of the crowd was oppressive, unrelenting.

The catcher Art Wilson came to the plate. Knetzer stretched his arm and took the sign from his catcher. He kicked and pitched. A strike. He tried to relax. Took the sign. Nodded. Kicked and pitched.

Wilson hit the ball on the handle of his bat, sending a blooper over second base. Rebel Oakes sprinted toward it, but it dropped before him. A single. Zwilling, who was running with the pitch, beat the throw home for another insurance run.

By the time Les Mann flied out to right field to end the inning, Knetzer had been pulled and the Whales had a 3-0 lead. Dusk was falling hard.

 

When the Whales got back onto the field for the top of the seventh, the umpire called the managers over. The game would have to be cut short due to nightfall. The Rebels would get last wraps, but it’d be too dark to play beyond that.

The Whales were three outs away from the Federal League pennant.

Bailey kicked dirt from the slab. Kneaded the ball in his hands. He surveyed the stadium. It had become a beautiful fall evening. Fans were bundled in their wools, their faces animated by excitement. It seemed to him that all of Chicago was watching.

Bailey and his catcher Wilson shared a glance—Wilson winked and put on his mask, got into his crouch.

The first two batters went down easily—struck out one and got the other to ground out to Doolan.

Now Rebel Oakes came to the plate. The game could end on any pitch.

Bailey kicked, turned and threw.

Ball. Oakes had watched it miss up and outside. He stepped away from the plate, took a dry cut. Stepped back into the batter’s box, sat into his stance.

Wilson called for a curve. Bailey nodded and went to the plate with it.

Ball. Low and away. There were two outs, the pennant practically in their hands. But it had been a two-out rally that gave the Whales the lead in the first place. Things in baseball could change quickly.

He looked to Wilson for the sign. Fastball. Inside corner. He nodded and took a breath.

The lefty went into his wind-up: reared backward like a catapult about to launch, drew his hands up over his head, kicked and turned until he nearly faced centerfield, and then uncoiled, whipping the ball ferociously toward Wilson’s mitt.

Oakes swung and connected. The sonorous crack of wood against ball sent a shiver through the pitcher as he finished his follow-through.

But he looked up. The ball was climbing quickly but wasn’t progressing forward. A pop-up.

Tinker’s fists clenched in the dugout. Weeghman edged forward in his seat in the owner’s box.

Zwilling ambled over and waited below it. The ball reached the crest of its parabola, hung up there for a moment as if taking in the view and began its fall back to earth. Zwilling raised his gloved hand to the sky. Caught it.

The Whales erupted from the dugout, ran to each other in embrace. The fans rushed the field, carrying cushions from the stadium chairs with them and throwing them in jubilation. The players grabbed the cushions and threw them back at their excited fans. One sailed just past the head of the mayor and his wife, who were both in attendance. It must have been loud, but Tinker experienced it as a kind of serenity, seeing the game now for what it was.

It didn’t care about age or money or what you’d done before or what you thought you deserved.

It was a game where a guy like Bailey—who no one would remember—could be at the low point of a thankless career, but on a given day pitch a masterpiece.

It was a game where a future Hall of Famer like Tinker—one of the best players of his generation—would serve his team better from the dugout than in the gap between second and third base.

The Whales had finished 86-66, a statistical tie for first with St. Louis but with a winning percentage of .566, slivering out the Terriers’ .565. The last pennant felt to Tinker like a gift.

 

The Federal League would end after the season.

Joe Tinker would play a handful of games for the Cubs in 1916 before officially retiring at the end of the year. He’d be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1946, along with his teammate Mordecai Brown. In 1948, after a long struggle with diabetes, he’d die in Orlando, where he was spending his retirement as a scout and occasional minor league manager. On his deathbed, he’d say: “Guess I won’t be able to pitch for a couple weeks.”

Weeghman would take over as owner of the Cubs in 1916 and move them from the West Side to his North Side field, taking many of his players from the Whales with him.

In 1920, his wife would divorce him for infidelity—a big deal in an era when only one in a thousand marriages ended by anything other than death.

Then, in 1921, he’d hold the first state-wide rally of the KKK at his farm in Lake Zurich.

His reputation would deteriorate.

His baseball ventures would drain him of his wealth, and soon his restaurants would fall from popularity. Gradually, he’d sell his stock in the Cubs–and Weeghman Park–to William Wrigley Jr. By 1923, Weeghman would be entirely out of the picture.

He’d die of a stroke fifteen years later, his fortune gone.

The Federal League would become a footnote in baseball history, a trivia question—the last real attempt at a third major league. It’d leave some artifacts behind: a handful of records, a line on a few Hall of Famers’ resumes, ironic memorabilia found online bearing the Whales logo–a big C with a whale swimming through the negative space. Its existence would be felt indirectly in its influence on the MLB—modern major leaguers owe their massive paychecks, in part, to the salary increases organized baseball enacted to prevent its players from jumping to the outlaw league.

But perhaps the greatest symbol of the failed major league is its one stadium that still stands. On summer days, on the North Side of Chicago, it still swells with fans for a game that has changed very little now almost a hundred years later, a game whose spoils are only borrowed. Time behind and ahead of them, surrendered to something they’ll never control, they watch anxiously still—hoping, waiting, for a break.

 

Author’s Note
This is a “true” story. Which is to say, ninety-six percent of it consists of verifiable facts, another 2.6 percent is made up of educated guesses, and a last small sliver of it is simply made up. Included among the final four percent: sensory details, conversations between Weeghman and Tinker, and all instances where I go into someone’s head and say what they were thinking. It’s partly a narrative device, and partly a way of filling in the gaps left by historical records.

Know this: All the interesting and important parts of this story are historically accurate to the best of my abilities. That means information about the league, players and era, including all dates and statistics, are factual.

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