Once Upon a Time, When the Cubs were Bought by a Family

The Ricketts Family owns the Cubs. That sentence has a certain lasting ring to it. We've all followed the travails of how the Cubs ownership has transitioned from the now bankrupt Tribune company and was midwived through the gnarly fingers of real estate magnate Sam Zell, finally getting delivered into our proud new Papa's (Tom Ricketts) loving grasp. To celebrate this rite of passage, I decided to learn more about the events that took place over 90 years ago when the last dynastic family came into control of our Chicago National League franchise.

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to 1916.

January 16th, 1916 is when Charles Weeghman bought the Chicago Cubs ballclub from Charles Murphy and Charles Taft. Murphy had been the owner in the glory years of Tinker to Evers to Chance circa 1906-8. Charles Taft owned the Cincinnati Times-Star and was the half brother of US President #27, William Howard Taft (in office, 1909-1913) who was the first US President to throw out a ceremonial  ball on opening day (1910).

Weeghman was the owner of the Chicago Whales in the Federal League. The Federal league started in 1913 and was essentially a minor league circuit but in 1914 proclaimed themselves to be a third major league. The Whales won the league title in 1915 (bragging they were the best baseball team in Chicago that year, woo) but the league was put out of business after losing an anti-trust suit at the conclusion of the 1915 season. The suit was presided over by eventual Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Landis was  supposedly a trust buster (but obviously not) and that decision would lead to the owners handing over the keys to the commissioner's office when the Black Sox gambling scandal developed in 1919-20. Weeghman was permitted to buy the Cubs out of that event and with co-owner, Harry Sinclair (of Sinclair Oil) they were allowed to merge the Cubs and Whales. Thus, back to the Cubs came the Whales manager Joe Tinker and a few of the other Whales star players including outfielder Dutch Zwilling and now much older, three-finger Mordecai Brown to join/rejoin the team. Owning the Cubs had it's perks with the press back then too. As owner of the Whales, Weeghman was villified for being in it for the money but upon becoming  the Cubs owner the press portrayed him as  a sportsman who was there because of his love for the game.

Did I mention he brought to the team a new ballpark? Weeghman park was built in 1914 on vacant land purchased by Weeghman from the Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary.  Weeghman hired the architect who had built Comiskey Park, four years earlier. The new facility sported 16,000 seats. We all know how Tom Ricketts first actions were about refurbishing the facilities (the trough vs stall debate). Under Weeghman, in addition to a new ballpark he was credited with the innovation of putting another type of stall in the back of the stands, where food and beverages could be purchased. Previously, only the walking, hawking beer and peanut vendors sold to the fans. He is also credited with initiating the policy that fans could keep balls hit into the stands although it took years before that policy was woven into the fabric of baseball everywhere.

It's about the economy, stupid. Ringing a bell Mr. Zell? The deepening national recession took it's toll on the Weeghman Cubs leading to his selling of the team. To keep himself solvent, Weeghman sold more and more of his Cubs stock to one of his original minority interest partners, William Wrigley.

Wrigley started out as a scouring soap manufacturer in the 1890's but that morphed into a baking powder business. He used to give away two sticks of chewing gum with every can of baking soda as a promotion but when the gum became more popular than the powder he went into the chewing gum business. Wrigley's initial investiment in the Cubs was $50,000 and he had little involvement with the team until 1917.

As a club director, Wrigley persuaded Weeghman to go to California for spring training (not so coincidentally, Wrigley would buy Catalina Island in 1919). Wrigley believed in keeping large cash reserves and never borrow money which made his financial position strong in the context of a crumbling economy. Then came the crash of 1918 and Weeghman was deeply in debt. By December 1918, Wrigley attended his first Cubs stockholder meeting  where Weeghman resigned as club president. Team manager, Fred Mitchell became the new president and a sportswriter, Bill Veeck (Sr), became vice president and both were supported by Wrigley. Veeck ultimately became Wrigley's right hand man and team President (and it would be his son, Bill Veeck Jr,  who would be credited with planting the ivy on the Wrigley Field outfield wall in the late 1930's). By 1919, Weeghman went bankrupt and Wrigley recieved all of his stock, so Wrigley was now the largest shareholder of the team. Finally, by 1921, Wrigley took total control of the club when he purchased a large stock interest from Albert Lasker. Wrigley and Lasker had battled over many issues and eventually Lasker tired of the wrangling. Lasker has been credited as the founder of modern advertising including Sunkist Oranges.

Wrigley's team in 1921 wasn't so good. The Cubs landed in 7th place just ahead of the perennial doormat Phillies who would remain woeful for decades more. The '21 Cubs finished with a record of 64-89, some 30 games behind the champion Giants. Manager Johnny Evers was replaced by catcher, "Reindeer" Bill Killefer, whose playing days ended in 1921 as well. The Cubs had acquired renown pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander in the 1918 season for cash from the Phillies and he was still their best pitcher. Wrigley had much to do with the Alexander acquisition as well. After arranging a golf meeting in Pasadena to discuss terms including the promise to pay Alexander's wife $500 per month for as much as 3 years, while Alexander was away during WWI. Wrigley kept this promise. Alexander, also known as "Old Pete", in 1921, was still the team ace at age 34 with a 15-13 record. Awesome, considering this was a 64 win team.

The starting 8 for the majority of that season wasn't much to remember. Here they are, "You're Chicago Cubs", circa 1921: Catcher Bob O'Farrell (90 games), 1B Ray Grimes (147), 2B Zeb Terry (122), 3B Charlie Deal (122), SS Charlie Hollocher (137), LF Turner Barber (90), CF George Maisel (107) and RF Max Flack (130). Several of these Cubs would retire shortly after this season (Deal, Maisel and Terry) and looking at their stats, it probably was for obvious reasons.

Opening day 1921 was at Wrigley Field on April 13th vs the Cardinals. Starting off the season with a bang, the team won 5-2. In fact, the Cubs won 6 of their first 8 games before reality set in.

Hippo Vaughn was also on the '21 Cubs. He's better known for the double no-hitter on May 2nd, 1917, where Vaughn and Fred Toney of the Reds dueled into extra innings but both pitchers had no hitters through 9 innings. Of course, the Cubs lost in 10 when Vaughn lost his no-no.

Who can forget Abraham Lincoln "Sweetbreads" Bailey pitching for the '21 Cubs? He got into 3 games for 5 innings before he got shipped off to Brooklyn where his career ended.

Hopefully, Mr. Ricketts will have a MUCH better honeymoon season.

 


I want to acknowledge an excellent book written in 1999 by Peter Golenbock, titled: Wrigleyville: A Magical History Tour of the Chicago Cubs as a major source for this article. It's well written and a recommended read.

Comments

ricketts spent the spring signing more fan autographs than the entire team combined.

i like his statement he made a few days ago about not meddling with the team's everyday operations and leaving it to the GM/manager/scouts/etc.

he also seems adamant in interviews that this is a ricketts family team, not just "his" team.

...i second that "Wrigleyville" book recommendation, too.

I'm really hoping that Ricketts, Wilken, and the depth of our farm system can turn this into a team that develops the core of the team from within and then uses it's impressive revenue to augment where needed. If that happens, the Ricketts family will be loved by Cubs fans for a long time.

Thanks for that last comment, Charlie, on the previous thread. It's why I like this site so much. I don't really need to do any homework, you guys just do it for me, out of passion.

I even like the manipulation of stats to make a point (not meant for you).

Rob G really should get some kind of award for this site for the comments (especially now that Chad seems to be gone -- that's a joke chad) and AZ Phil.

And Rob seems to have every baseball player in the MLB in some iphone contraption.

Anyway, I don't eat and sleep baseball anymore like I used to so I sure enjoy you guys bickering. I can't bicker much cuz, as I demonstrated, I'm sort of an ignoramus about stats.

I do know, however, that A Soriano can't hit his way out of a paper bag if he's lobbed a bunch of off speed stuff.

EDIT: In his defense, it better be pretty good off speed stuff but that still means he's a dead bat in the playoffs.

I do live and breathe baseball right now (it's rarely a good thing), so I have to hope that I don't go overboard when I respond to others' comments; I'm glad I didn't in this case. And, like I said, I'm with you on Fukudome as a Cub. (I'm also with you on Soriano's abilities at the plate.)

I think it's weird how the Cubs have such a twisted history with the White Sox. There's the Veeck thing of course, which has always been pronounced wrong by his own family (It should be VEEEEEEEK not veck).

But there's also the Harry Caray thing, who I'll never forget immortalizing Walt Williams on Channel 44 with, "There he goes, spitting into his helmut again. What a hairdresser he would be!"

That of course was in the days when he said stuff like, "that wouldn't be a home run in a phone booth". Which I never heard him say with the Cubs. I won't even talk about RAHHHHHHHHHHHD Carew.

such a twisted history with the White Sox
---
Considering the two teams have been around more than 100 years it's surprisingly small in terms of overlap, imho but when there is convergence it's memorable:

other than Veeck the list isn't that long, of course there is the nightmare of Ron Santo as a WSux secondbaseman

http://www.ihmcimg.com/picts05/picts05-1/sant...

and Steve Stone as a player and then as a broadcaster, thanks to Dusty and Kent Mercker (although without Stoney moving on we'd miss on the BB and Len Kasper era).

Weeghman being allowed to purchase the Cubs and merge his Federal League Champion Whales and the Cubs contributed to the Cubs winning the pennant in 1918. The only other Fed team that merged with an MLB outfit was the St. Louis Terriers, which was merged with the St. Louis Browns when Terriers owner Phil Ball was permitted to buy the Browns and Sportsman's Park (Sportsman's Park was owned by the Browns, and the Cardinals were the tenant) as part of the MLB-FL settlement. Players on the six other Fed League teams were sold off piecemeal to the higest bidder.

Recent comments

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  • Manny Rondon faced 13 batters ... and got 10 to K. Not a bad day's work.

    Eric S 7 hours 18 min ago view
  • With several other Cubs hitters bailing out on curves today I think overall it wasn't being seen well. It for sure looked silly but a good breaking pitch coming at you and then breaking down isn't the easiest thing to see and has made many hitters look silly. Also Soler should have more walks this year but for quite a few called strikes that were actual balls and even the called strike he bailed on was borderline.

    johann 10 hours 16 min ago view
  • it's not like we're talking about a guy who's never had issues with pitch selection and seeing the ball over here. we're talking about a guy who has some rather legendary swing-and-misses at breaking stuff who's been exploited low. going forward it's worth paying attention to seeing if he can be exploited inside, too. he seriously bailed out of the box on a called strike. sure it was a good curve, but he obviously didn't see that well at all.

    crunch 10 hours 28 min ago view
  • It would seem like he is figuring it out now and it's really coming together. Really happy for him. Joe was really protecting him from the 3rd time through the order, but as you allude to, he is earning trust to go deeper.

    Wondering if has potential to become a #3 pitcher? His current stats certainly support it.

    The E-Man 10 hours 37 min ago view
  • That doesn't count b/c CRUNCH didn't see it on his 60" HDTV 5 times in replay.

    I have seen many players "bail out" when the ball looked like it was gonna hit them.

    Especially with the advent of the splitter and pitchers that can really get the ball to dance. Marmol, Sutter, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe, Smoltz, Arrietta...

    These guys have made the best bail out only for the ball to come over the plate and be called a strike.

    No shame in that. The same way players whiff hard enough to cause them to drill a hole in the ground from spinning.

    The E-Man 10 hours 42 min ago view
  • a 60" TV with slow-motion replay and multiple looks on that replay helps...a lot...

    it's one thing to shy away like he did the 2nd time, it's another to bail out of the box on a called strike. that happened in the 1st one he pulled away from. he misjudged that one by a foot or so...

    crunch 11 hours 1 min ago view
  • Good Hendricks sure is fun to watch. He was hitting all his corners today and the Phillies couldn't do anything with his changeup.

    johann 11 hours 37 min ago view
  • Bryant and I believe Zobrist both did that too.

    johann 11 hours 54 min ago view
  • Soler BB acumen and plate awareness is excellent. Not unusual for even the best players to react as if they were about to hit them, "even though they weren't that close" from your vantage point sitting on your deck, or wherever.

    The E-Man 11 hours 56 min ago view
  • soler vs inside breaking balls is scary.

    he's had 2 inside curve balls today where he reacted as if they were about to hit him even though they weren't that close...one he bailed out of the box on, it was a called strike.

    crunch 12 hours 14 min ago view
  • j.urias optioned back to AAA...guess we wont be seeing him in the LAD series.

    crunch 12 hours 21 min ago view
  • so is him actually getting 2 hits in a game (2 doubles!)...first time he's even been on base 2 times in a game since 9 games ago on his 3/4, 1bb day.

    im ready for him to at least look like a 2-slot hitter since he's gonna be slotted there no matter what he does.

    crunch 13 hours 17 min ago view
  • That Heyward move to avoid Bryant's ball hit at him was a thing of beauty too.

    johann 13 hours 35 min ago view
  • 9 pitches in and this game already rules.

    HR, double...bryant's turn (who came out to a Kris Kross song for some horrible, horrible reason).

    ...2 run inning...zoobrest hitting streak at 14.

    crunch 13 hours 39 min ago view
  • First time I saw Herrera was yesterday. He took like 100 pitches, fouled off a ton off Lester.

    Very nice young player and perfect leadoff guy.

    The E-Man 14 hours 49 min ago view
  • Obviously not Phil. But he mentioned this on Wednesday.

    "Dominican Summer League (DSL) Opening Day is Saturday June 4th, so probably about 8-10 pitchers and position players presently at EXST in Mesa will be sent to the Cubs Dominican Academy (probably sometime this week) and be assigned to either DSL Cubs #1 or DSL Cubs #2."

    In the comments here: http://www.thecubreporter.com/05242016/cub-power-d...

    QuietMan 15 hours 28 min ago view