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.