How much does anybody know about the Federal League? What is now known as Wrigley Field was built for Chicago’s entry into the league, but other than that, I doubt that most people know anything at all about it. If you want to learn a few things, I invite you to stick around for a few more paragraphs.
The Federal League played competitive baseball for two seasons, 1914 and 1915. They called themselves a major league, on a par with the National and American Leagues, and they also raided some of the talent from those leagues. Unlike the other two leagues–which used a “reserve clause” to keep player salaries down–the Federals allowed their players to become free agents, which made the new league an appealing option for some of the game’s established stars.
The Chicago team did not have an official nickname for the league’s first season, and they became known as the “Federals” and later as the Chi-Feds. For the 1915 season they became known as the Whales. They were owned by Charles Weeghman, who had made a fortune by serving lunches in diners around the city.
The 1915 Whales and their main rivals, the St. Louis Terriers (interesting names, really) finished the season in what would be considered a tie in today’s world. The Whales were 86-66, while the Terriers were 87-67. The reason why the Terriers played two more games than the Whales did is unclear to this writer. Nevertheless, both teams finished 20 games over .500, and our modern sensibilities would expect a one-game playoff to be played–in prime time, of course–to determine who the winner would be.
In 1915, there was no TV and no radio, and the league championship was thus decided by the fact that the Whales had a .566 winning percentage, while the Terriers had a .565 mark. It was the first–and heretofore the only–time that a baseball team on the North side of Chicago could call themselves “Champions.”
The National and American Leagues considered the Federal League an “outlaw” league, and they refused to engage the Federal League in a post-season playoff of any kind. In addition, they were actively engaged in litigation that was meant to drive the Federals out of existence altogether. And at this they succeeded, encouraged by the go-slow approach to the case taken by the judge presiding over the case, one Kennesaw Mountain Landis.
If that name sounds familiar, it’s because the judge later became the first commissioner of baseball (consisting of the two leagues that he helped to spare, and not the league that he helped to destroy). No, he didn’t just arise from nowhere in the wake of the Black Sox scandal from the 1919 World Series. The commissioner’s office was created for him, no doubt by the owners who were indebted to him for helping to rid them of a pesky, if short-lived, competitor.
Weeghman was allowed to buy the Cubs franchise after the Federal League went under, and he promptly moved the Cubs from the West Side Grounds up north, to the park where the Federals and the Whales had played previously. And no champions have played on the North side of Chicago since. But all that will change in the next few years, right?