Weathering Spring Training: The Chicago Federals in Shreveport, Louisiana, 1914
Someone should have told Charles H. Weeghman to be “careful of what you wish for,” because wishes sometimes come true.
Weeghman found fame and fortune in turn-of-the-century Chicago with a chain of downtown quick-lunch restaurants. Like many of his contemporaries, he itched to be involved in the world of sports, and after a few early bumps, became in 1914 perhaps the key backer in the Federal League, which was moving from small minor league to “major.” He was rich, he was ambitious, and he often thought with his heart instead of his head.
The story of Weeghman’s Horatio Alger-like rise to fame and fortune, told in newspapers across the country, was a popular feature of Federal League promotion. Charlie crafted his life story with a heavy dose of revisionism when he said he arrived in Chicago with only a few dollars in pocket and, without much help, rose to millionaire status in little more than a decade; in reality, his wife provided much of the brains of the operation.
Weeghman claimed to have an innate sense of geography when it came to selecting a good spot for a Chicago Loop restaurant and was fond of referring to this talent by saying he never picked a “dead” location. He believed this Midas touch would carry over to his Federal League venture. “I knew what I was starting when I went into this baseball thing,” he said, “and I have never (played) a dead one yet.”1
As early as 1911, Weeghman, known to Chicagoans as “Lucky Charlie,” had made it known that he was keenly interested in joining the elite group of baseball magnates, and made a bid to purchase the St. Louis National Leaguers.2 He was unsuccessful in his first attempt but his wish came true when, in 1914, he headed up the Chicago team in the Federal League, which had distinctly minor-league status in 1913 but was now thinking big. Weeghman rose from humble beginnings in Richmond, Indiana thanks to his string of restaurants, but soon learned that the economics of operating in baseball differed greatly from those of a lunch counter. Weeghman opened his baseball business much the way he would have held a grand opening for a new lunchroom in the Loop: with much planning, fanfare, and publicity, plus plenty of gladhanding. But before you can open the front doors of a restaurant for your customers, you must first train your staff. And before you can field a baseball team, they need to practice. Unfortunately, the Federals’ first spring training, which took place in Shreveport, Louisiana, would not be very grand at all. Instead, it was a soggy, muddy, and expensive misadventure. Weeghman didn’t pick a live one. This article examines the factors contributing to the Chicago Federals’ troubles during the 1914 spring training season, particularly due to geographic location and weather. The outcomes of the Chifeds’ (one of many team nicknames) 1914 spring training influenced not only the team’s fortunes, but also Weeghman’s.
Weather, an important variable in baseball history, perhaps has not been as deeply investigated as it might. In the case of the Chicago Federals, the weather was almost a tenth player and was responsible for many errors!
The primary sources for this research are newspaper archives and meteorological and climatological records. I compared newspaper accounts of spring training events with Shreveport weather records to determine the impact of environmental factors on the team’s financial losses from mid-March through early April, 1914.
(Many of the descriptions of the Chicago Federals’ activities during spring training were reported by Sam Weller of the Chicago Tribune. He traveled with Weeghman and the team on the train from Chicago to Shreveport and on the trip back to Illinois. Weller was on site for the duration of the 1914 spring training season and other newspaper accounts of the Chicago Federals appeared to have been based on his writings.)
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
First things first: where to conduct spring training? The Chicago Federals’ decision on where to hold spring training was heavily influenced by the need to produce revenue for the team and underwrite the costs of the venture. On February 12, 1914, Chifeds Secretary Charles Williams was reported to have advised president Weeghman that the team should train in Shreveport, Louisiana. The club cast another option, Mineral Springs, Texas, aside because its “…poor practice field and the small chance to play before any crowds” would be unfavorable for the bottom line.3 To say that Mineral Springs was unsuitable was an understatement given that train service ended there in 1910; by the 1940s, it was considered a ghost town.4
Weeghman was certainly aware of Secretary Williams’ fiscal concerns, but did his best to give the press, the public, Organized Baseball, the Federal League, and his players the impression that his pockets were deep and his resources almost without limit. In the midst of pulling together his club’s first spring training, Weeghman was also trying to build his North Side ballpark in time for opening day, do battle over the reserve clause’s hold on Bill “Reindeer” Killefer and others, and run his restaurant, bowling alley, and movie theatre businesses. But the decision to conduct spring training in Shreveport was, in many ways, the beginning of Lucky Charlie’s spectacular financial downfall, a collapse which only became evident several years later during his brief presidency of the Chicago Cubs. While Shreveport may have been viewed more favorably by Williams as the inaugural spring training site for the Federals, few sunny days were ahead for the franchise.
Spring training in Shreveport was fraught with numerous and costly problems for Weeghman’s team. The Chicago Federals did not know it at the time, but March 1914 would not be kind to the team’s exhibition game or training schedules. The weather in Shreveport was wetter and cooler than normal and few Louisiana baseball fans found the conditions ideal for attending a game.
The decision to select Shreveport as the team’s spring training site was heavily influenced by organized baseball’s prohibition against the “outlaw” Federal League using any of its fields for training or exhibitions;5 any training locations with affiliations to the two major leagues (and, one assumes, organized minor leagues) were off limits. Organized baseball had a monopoly on the most suitable and potentially profitable spring training sites, leaving only less desirable locations for the Federals. Given that Weeghman had counted on exhibition game admission fees to underwrite the ever-spiraling costs of his baseball venture, cash flow was headed in the wrong direction from the beginning.
How did this lockout impact the Chicago Federals’ income and physical well-being? Note this description of the travails that Weeghman’s squad endured in New Orleans in April.
Joe Tinker knows something about the woes of an “outlaw” since coming to New Orleans with his band of Chicago Feds. It is pretty tough to come into a town and find that organized ball has blocked the path. Joe brought his athletes down here to show the people of the south how great the Federal League is. About 400 persons looked at him and his boys on Sunday and Monday there were about 100 who paid and about fifty small boys who crawled under the fences but didn’t care about the ball game after they got in. Tinker was so disgusted and fearful some of stars might get injured on the impossible diamond that he sent Jimmy Block and his Blokes against the New Orleans Eddys and allowed the regulars to play catch at one side of the field.6
The plan? Offer Shreveport’s citizens a chance to see “major league” play in a town not especially known for its baseball heritage. Although professional baseball was organized in the city as early as 1895, the last team to play in Shreveport prior to 1914 had been the Shreveport Pirates of the Texas League, who had folded in 1910. The Chicago squad would be divided into two teams with Manager Joe Tinker’s “Regulars” (the first string) playing catcher Jimmy Block’s “Blokes” (the second string). When possible, the Chifeds would play Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown’s St. Louis Federals and also suit up against local amateur and college teams. Brown’s team, which went by a variety of nicknames including the “Sloufeds” and “Brownies,” had set up their spring training camp in Monroe, Louisiana, about a one-hour train ride from Shreveport. Mordecai’s team offered the most professional competition but, unfortunately for Weeghman’s balance sheet, the two squads played infrequently.
Another possible reason that Weeghman and Williams selected Shreveport: Lucky Charlie was angling to sign Ty Cobb, who would be participating in spring training for the Detroit Tigers in both New Orleans and Gulfport, Mississippi.
While Weeghman was certainly sincere in his desire to sign the “Georgia Peach” to the Chifeds roster, all the resulting public relations stunts only benefited Cobb’s salary negotiations with the Tigers. On several occasions, Weeghman would duck out of training camp and go to New Orleans on “business.” The nature of that “business” was never clearly stated, although writers implied that Charlie was pursuing Cobb and other possible “jumpers” to the Federal League.
TRAINS FOR TRAINING
On a snowy Sunday evening, March 8, 1914, the Chifeds departed Chicago, heading south to Shreveport. The weather wasn’t much better in Louisiana than at home, as frost was predicted. Chances are that the 65 passengers (only 28 of whom were players) on the “de luxe [sic] special” didn’t even notice. Also aboard the train was Chicago Tribune reporter Sam Weller, who documented the team’s entire spring training adventures. The planning leading up to the spring training trip was optimistic and lighthearted. As the departure date drew closer,
Secretary Williams, Manager Tinker, and Trainer “King” Brady passed the afternoon packing the ball suits and baseball paraphernalia. President Weeghman and Vice President Walker were present and saw that their own uniforms were placed in the trunk. Walker declares he intends to reduce thirty pounds and Weeghman will attempt to put on fifteen…so many friends of the two arrange for another car for the special train. Many of the rooters are taking their wives along, so the extra car will be a compartment car. This will make two compartment cars, one a combination compartment and observation, three regulation sleeping cars, one dining car, and one combination baggage and library car.7
The elaborate and luxurious excursion from Chicago to Shreveport was compared to “… a grand opera company on a continental tour.”8 Weller reported that the “Weeghman express, so far as can be learned, is as classy as any of the swell trains engaged by Charles A. Comiskey, the White Sox boss, in sending his players on the spring jaunt.” After arriving in Shreveport, Weller was impressed with the hotel and claimed that the Chifeds had the “best rooms in the house” and that “…Charles A. Comiskey never had anything on this fellow Weeghman when it comes to doing things right.”9 This is exactly what Lucky Charlie wanted to read in the paper: that he was in the same league—almost literally—as Comiskey.
The train ride itself was described as a pleasure trip, even though “war” with organized baseball loomed on the horizon. Aside from Weeghman, the team’s vice-president, William Walker, and Federals president James A. Gilmore also traveled with the team. All three magnates were accompanied by their wives.
It was a beautiful day with the mercury up in the seventies and the sun pouring inspiring rays on every one. In the men’s car the club officials and their friends, prominent members of the Chicago Athletic association, passed the time gaily at whist. So far as is known this is the first
time that whist has broken into baseball. In the parlor car on the rear the women members of the party played bridge for boxes of chocolates and white garbed waiters served them with pink punch. One had to mingle with the hard palmed fellows in the middle cars of the train to assure him that he was really on a baseball trip. There the old game of draw went along in the regular major league style, one table being filled with former stars of the American and National league, who tossed their two bit pieces into the contest with the reckless abandon of hardened veterans.10
Weller added this anecdote to the end of his report to sum up the carefree good humor enjoyed during the trip to Shreveport. As the train neared the destination, Tinker summoned his men to a meeting in the rail car explaining their practice schedule over the coming days.
He talked to some extent of training rules, diligence, and loyalty. “But above all, boys,” he said, “we must have harmony on the club.” When he left one of the recruits nudged another in the ribs and said; “Say, what team did this ‘Harmony’ ever play on?”11
LET THE GAMES BEGIN
The first day of practice, Tuesday, March 10, would be the warmest day experienced by the Chifeds that week. Thirty-three players took to what might loosely be described as a field for the inauguration of spring training in Shreveport. It was a sunny 72-degree day, but the makeshift diamond—actually the infield of the Louisiana State Fairgrounds horse racing track—was reportedly waterlogged by the previous week’s rain. The poorly drained wetland soils upon which the fairgrounds were built were not conducive to baseball even in dry conditions. While the team had sent down a groundskeeper from Chicago weeks before, any conditioning work done to the field was undone by rain and boggy soils.12 The playing surface was described as “hard,” “jumpy,” and even “dangerous,” and two weeks of downpours certainly didn’t help the situation.13
Tribune reporter Weller tried to shine a positive light on the situation by noting:
The practice field … has a swell concrete grand stand, used for the races, and it has a lot of other swell buildings, but a bum baseball field. A good field would be of great help to the ball team, but it is hard to see where the players will benefit much from the grand stand and buildings. The townsmen have gone to much expense to provide a regular clubhouse under the grand stand. There are six shower baths and a locker for everyone, so no one is kicking.14
The average elevation for Shreveport is 40 feet above sea level and the land surface is very flat. The city is located along the west bank of the Red River and the soils are clayey and slow to drain. Chicago’s elevation is nearly 500 feet above sea level, with most of the city situated within the Chicago Lake Plain with soils that formed from lake clay, sand, silt, and gravels.15 Although both Chicago and Shreveport are situated on landscapes formed along bodies of water, the soil that a groundskeeper would work on the glaciated shores of Lake Michigan could do little to prepare him to condition a baseball field in Louisiana.
During the first week of practice, the weather slowly improved. Day one was fraught with muddy conditions from previous rains while day two was so cold, rainy, and windy that practice had to be moved indoors to the State Fairgrounds Coliseum. All parties worried that the chilly conditions might scrub the games scheduled for the weekend.16
Being in Dixie didn’t help the Chicago Federals any Wednesday. They could have trained just as well in a Chicago Y.M.C.A. gymnasium, for when they awoke it was dark and drizzly with the wind coming down from the north as it sometimes comes off Lake Michigan. [Tinker] hustled the athletics out to the breezy fair grounds just as if the sun were pouring down baseball rays upon them, but instead of exercising on the lumpy field he led the boys to the coliseum building on the grounds where the walls shut out the cold wind.17
Luckily for Charlie’s team, the sun came out on Saturday the 14th for their first public scrimmage. Mordecai Brown’s “Sloufeds” were in town for the weekend to challenge Tinker’s “Regulars.”
It was the first real game of ball played here in four years and everybody in town was hungry for it. The weather was the best of the week, the skies being cloudless and the air balmy. The spectacle of more than fifty baseball players in action in front of the grandstand was delightful to the hungry fans and they applauded everything, even the umpires.18
The “Tinkers” and Sloufeds split their weekend series and the weather was cooperative for the time being. An unnamed “special correspondent” to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch raved about the teams’ play and the weather and wrote that,
The game was bitterly contested with features galore and, contrary to all expectations, was really a creditable exhibition. Only one error blemished the affray. Weather conditions were ideal, a real Dixie sun beaming on the athletes, while the hustling little city did itself proud in its efforts to show it welcomed the attention showered upon it by the Northerners.19
Despite the sunshine, neither team seemed to be making any financial headway during spring training in Louisiana. While Chicago and St. Louis played before sizable crowds by spring training standards that opening weekend, the Post-Dispatch noted on March 16 that the $600 split was the first real money that the Feds had taken in all spring.
Weeghman was on hand for the opening weekend and was so enthusiastic that he actually tried his hand at the bat and ball. Weller noted “This morning he [Weeghman] went to the grounds, put on his new baseball uniform, and took a hand in the practice. After watching him we are positive he couldn’t make his own team.”20 Perhaps Charlie should have been back in Chicago minding his restaurants and the construction of the Chifeds’ ballpark instead of tinkering around in Shreveport?
That weekend, rumors had Lucky Charlie slipping off to New Orleans for a clandestine meeting with Ty Cobb, something the Tigers star flatly denied.21 Although it would have been difficult for him to be in two places at the same time, Weeghman did depart for Chicago Monday March 16, and according to Weller, “…went by way of New Orleans, partly to see if any major league stars were loitering there with an idea of jumping and partly to have a feast of river shrimp.”22
The weekend crowds were long gone as the second week of spring training progressed. Monday was sunny and warm, so much so that “Bill Brennan, the chief of the Federal umpires, took advantage of the hot sun and, encased in a rubber shirt, reduced five pounds in an awkward attempt to play ball.”23 Tinker noted that Monday’s weather allowed for more training as “any three days of the last week,” and that the “temperature was above 80 and one could not have found a cloud in the sky at any time even with a field glass.”24 But the hot and humid weather would not continue. Temperatures declined through the week, with overnight lows near freezing by Friday.
Tuesday’s scrimmage between Block’s Blokes and Shreveport’s Centenary College drew a crowd of 400, about 100 of whom were students.25 The climate was the best of the week: “The weather was perfect, being bright and hot. The college is situated in the outskirts of the city amidst a forest of pine trees, and Tinker’s Regulars were given a half holiday so they might attend the game and breathe the pine scented air.”26 Who knew that the aroma of pine trees could improve baseball performance? It must have worked as the second-string Chicago team won 8–2.
The Blokes seemed disappointed, however, that there was no “college yell” offered by the collegians; the students were most likely even more crestfallen than the Blokes after Umpire Brennan introduced them as representing “Sanitary College.”27 Brennan’s amusing gaffe was not indicative of his competence as an umpire. He played a critical role in helping shape the Federals, and his leadership as the head umpire for the entire league was invaluable. Brennan had umpired in the National League from 1903–13, and called games for the Federal League until it folded.
Meanwhile, considerably farther to the north, at the Jerome Hunting and Fishing Club situated on Trude Lake near the town of Mercer, Wisconsin, the sweet smells of conifers were also influencing the well-being of baseball men. While Weeghman’s team was tutoring the student athletes of Centenary College on the art of baseball, the health of White Sox President Charles Comiskey was also being restored by “his rest among the pines…although he was weak on his arrival at the camp, Comiskey gained and on Wednesday walked two miles through deep snow after breakfast and repeated the trip after lunch.”28
While the “Old Roman” and his cronies, the “Woodland Bards,” were being invigorated by the bracing cold and sweet smells of the north woods, Charlie Weeghman was being regaled at Bismarck Gardens in Chicago by the “Bravo El Toro Club,” a group of North Side businessmen and Chifeds rooters who planned to parade in “Mexican costumes, headed by the club’s mascot, a real bull,” on opening day at Weeghman Park.29 One can only assume that the odors wafting from the beer gardens were not nearly as healthful as the brisk Wisconsin air!
Pine trees, however, would not make up for the variable weather and field conditions in Shreveport. By the second week, players were being kept out of practice by the “grippe” as well as injuries sustained from playing on the uneven and often muddy field. On Wednesday, March 18, Tinker cancelled a planned intra-squad scrimmage due to a “crippled catching staff.”30 Hopes were for hot weather on Thursday so the team could work on its defensive skills, but rain and cold kept the players off the field.
The weather was much better in Gulfport that day, however, and over 3,000 fans paid to see Ty Cobb and the Tigers defeat the New Orleans Pelicans.31 There were no such income opportunities for Weeghman’s team. In lieu of a Thursday practice, Joe Tinker took pitchers Ad Brennan and Tom Seaton and their wives to visit a circus wintering just outside of Shreveport. The irony of the situation was not lost on the Chifeds’ manager.
The party asked Joe to pose for a picture shaking hands with the young bear. When Joe approached the little fellow the cub made an angry pass at him with claws set for action, so Tinker decided never to try to shake hands with a cub again.32
Friday arrived and the weather once more limited Tinker’s men to indoor baseball. With the “diamond too wet and the air too chilly,” indoor baseball, a popular amateur and semi-pro winter sport in Chicago, was a workable substitute for regular play.33 And if the climate wasn’t slowing down players’ conditioning, various weather-related illnesses and injuries inhibited training progress. Tinker was now dealing with both poor weather and three catchers in sick bay. Wilson, Block, and Mulvaney were described as being, “on the hummer [an early 20th century expression for being laid off from work], but took the work as medicine, and at noon said they could go out and catch a full game if the rain would let up.”34
When the 7 o’clock call was sounded in the morning a fine rain was pouring down and a wind was coming from the Dakotas, and it would have been impossible to have done any outdoor work. Tinker could have used the Coliseum building at the fair grounds, but decided it would be taking a chance of exposure, as there is no heat in the place, so he gave the boys the day off…The rain and chilly weather of yesterday were the cause of about fifteen members of the “Fed” party catching colds, and today they all are sneezing. Several of the athletes were affected, but not severely enough to keep them out of the practice. “Doc” Brady, the trainer, was busy last night and tonight making the rounds of the rooms of ailing ones and handing out pills and something warm out of a bottle.35
Plans were made for a weekend series in Monroe between the Blokes and Mordecai Brown’s Sloufeds, while the everyday players would remain in Shreveport and play against a local nine.36 Chifeds Secretary Williams also announced that Tinker’s team would be heading for New Orleans for games on April 5, 6, and 7 and then begin their trek back north via Cincinnati.37 But Saturday’s weather was not favorable for the team’s bottom line. Fewer than 200 tickets were sold for the Blokes’ game in Monroe.
Brown’s boys showed far superior in both fielding and batting. The Blokes fumbled frequently and the game was pretty much a farce. However, a few fans were present to all the mistakes. The gateman said he sold fewer than 200 tickets. The reason for that was because the wind was coming from the northeast and felt as if it had just come off Lake Michigan.38
It was also noted that while Tinker’s men may have had a better hotel, Mordecai Brown’s team benefited in the long run from, “…what really mattered, a better ball field and training facilities.”39
Claude Hendrix, pitcher for the Blokes, decided for himself it was too cold to play baseball in Monroe, Louisiana, so he went fishing.40 Meanwhile, back in Shreveport, the weather wasn’t much better. Although Tinker’s Regulars demolished the Shreveport Athletic Club team 13–1, the “leaden skies and piercing cold tending to take the ‘pep’ out of the athletes, but all made a creditable showing despite the handicaps...The game was called in the seventh because of the cold.”41
Sunday’s weather was just as unkind as the day before. Mordecai Brown’s St. Louis squad beat Jimmy Block’s Blokes 16-10 with play so poor that most of the spectators left “in disgust” before the game was completed.42 Chicago pitcher Claude Hendrix gave up five runs in the fifth inning alone, with four outfield errors by the Blokes blamed on the sun. Certainly the players had seen little of the glary yellow orb over the previous two weeks.
There was bad pitching and horrible fielding on both sides. Fly balls were misjudged and dropped, ground balls were fumbled and kicked, and base runners were wild. Along with it all there was a chilly wind, and one shivered any time he got in the shade. About 800 persons went to see the farce, and tonight the citizens of Monroe haven’t a high opinion of the Federal league.43
Perhaps Claude Hendrix should have remained at his fishing camp, as his performance was no keeper. Another casualty of the spring training conditions was second baseman Harry Fritz, who had a fever and was unable to play. His symptoms were serious enough to require a visit from a doctor. In Fritz’s place was Fred Beck who “…played second in spite of being left handed [sic],” and catcher Bruno Block moved to first and played “…in Hal Chase style.”44
The third week of spring training started with forgettable performances on Sunday in both Shreveport and Monroe, but brighter days were in store. Monday March 23 was sunny but a bit chilly, with highs in the low 60s. Given the number of fielding errors committed by outfielders the previous day, Tinker called for practice drills centered on looking.
The feature of the afternoon practice was a search for sun fielders. Tinker had nearly all the outfielders out facing the sun, which was unusually bright, and then liners and high ones were hit to them. He concluded that the best sun fielders were “Little Aleck” Zwilling and Cadwallader Coles. The players will pick a few out of the sun every day from now on and one of the two is likely to be the right fielder when the team plays on the Chicago grounds because right field is the sun field in the new park.45
Tuesday’s game against Centenary was deemed the best so far, with the Regulars roughing up the collegians 9–0. The weather was sunny and warm and would continue that pattern through Wednesday afternoon when Centenary again fell to Tinker’s squad, 14–0. The mood that evening was lighthearted as the veterans pulled a prank on rookie pitcher Harry Swann, tricking him into participating in a dog and badger fight.46
RAINING ON THEIR PARADE
On Thursday, March 26, the rains returned to Shreveport, along with the circus. During a circus parade through the town, the clown acts were not limited to the circus employees. The Chifeds were featured as special guests of the parade, with Umpire Bill Brennan acting as barker, shouting announcements to the crowds as they lined the streets. It must have been a memorable experience. The parade included
…some burlesque stuff by the local Elks who were made up as policemen and eugenic couples. The fake “cops” had a mule patrol wagon, and when passing down Main Street they chased young Pitcher Swann, firing historic pistols at the fleeing athlete. Swann was arrested for refereeing a dog and badger fight last night and hauled off in the patrol. Manager Tinker was billed as one of the attractions for the concert that followed the circus performance both afternoon and night, but because of the downpour of rain the manager backed out. Claude Hendrix entertained the guests at the hotel for a time by popping balloons with bent pins. Every balloon was popped before the peddler could escape. Claude had so much fun out of it that he paid the man for the whole stock.47
The rain did not stop the parade or Tinker’s plans for practice. After the festivities in town were over, the team headed back to the fairgrounds for more workouts. Unfortunately, it rained even harder as the day progressed and the only option was more indoor baseball. To make things worse, the injuries continued. Between the uneven and often muddy field, and the hard and unforgiving surface of the indoor facility (better suited for exhibiting livestock), the team’s trainer had his hands full. Outfielder Cadwallader “Cad” Coles was out with what started as a bruised knee (incurred during sliding practice) that became infected; the rookie was prescribed bedrest at the hotel. The doctor later “extracted” a boil from Coles’ knee and Cad needed a cane to walk.48
Coles might have felt a little better when he learned the next day he had been traded to the Kansas City Federals (George Stovall’s team which was training in Wichita Falls, Texas); he had hoped for a deal after realizing his chances of a starting position with the Chifeds were scant.49
Catcher Jim McDonough had a “slight infection in his throwing arm” and was also sidelined.50 Unfortunately for the injured players, it would be over two decades before antibiotics would be available to treat these simple infections.
The Federals were not the only Chicago team bearing the heavy costs of unfavorable weather. The Cubs, training in Tampa, were likewise hampered by the unseasonable conditions and the deleterious effects on the players’ health and the team’s bottom line. Even when traveling, the Cubs couldn’t evade the foul weather; that Friday’s game “was doubtful unless the local ball yard has unusual capacity for absorbing moisture.”51
Rain greeted the Cubs at Louisville, making practice in the open impossible. O’Day gave the athletes a rest, but had them at work early today in the big stock pavilion. Indications are that the rain may force the postponement of this afternoon’s game, and a contest tomorrow is exceedingly doubtful. Since leaving Tampa the Cubs have not found good weather, and there is fear in camp that the team will be forced to start the season out of condition. The annual spring trip of exhibition games through a part of the country that is not warm is responsible. In an effort to pick up some coin and pay expenses of the trip, the ownership flirts with the danger of getting the men out of shape. O’Day is bossing the squad, the regulars of which are veterans, and they need hot weather.52
In April, the rain followed the Cubs from Kentucky to Indiana. At Indianapolis, “…Tommy Leach had the athletes out in the heavy going and they worked a strenuous two hours in the mud.”53
In fact, one Chicago paper applauded the Federals’ decision to conduct spring training in Louisiana versus the more northern locations chosen by the Cubs in April.
Instead of hiking his men north through the arctic zone just before the season opens, [Tinker] is taking them through the south, and will give them a final pointing for the initial dash. Good health is prevalent among the athletes, and they should remain at top form with the help of warm weather.54
Apparently the newspaper had somehow forgotten the woeful weather endured by Tinker’s men in March.
While the Cubs and Federals were faced with unfavorable weather, the White Sox managed to get through nearly the entire spring training season before canceling a game due to weather.55 Then again, they spent most of their pre-season time in Paso Robles, California.
The weather and injuries, however, did not dissuade Manager Tinker from planning a “double workout” on Friday. Tinker had lined up two exhibition games for the weekend, one with the Regulars facing Mordecai Brown’s St. Louis Federals in Shreveport on Saturday and another pitting the Blokes against a “squad of second string men” in Marshall, Texas, on Sunday.56 But like so many best laid plans, the double practice and game against the Sloufeds were not to be. Despite warm temperatures, heavy rains from the previous day had “…left the diamond too sticky to work on,” so work was limited to the grassy areas along the edges of the race track infield where there was room for “…batting, sprinting, and perspiring.”57 Pitchers were working on “…hook curves and spitters off on a dry spot at the side of the race track.”58
Catcher Jimmy Block was apparently not satisfied with simply working up a sweat in practice; he later went into the clubhouse and “climbed into a bake oven constructed by Trainer Brady and boiled out several more pounds.”59 Block was not alone in his quest to “boil off” his excess weight. Tinker noted “three or four other athletes who still are carrying some superfluous flesh around” and had “all the fat boys out in the far grass of left field at the afternoon session.”60 Later in the day, Tinker received a telegram from Brown informing him that the Sloufeds would not be coming to town, thereby cancelling the game. In its place, an intra-squad scrimmage between the Regulars and Blokes was slated for Saturday.
The weather gods were apparently not informed about Tinker’s grand plans for the weekend, and the rains returned to Shreveport with a vengeance. The headline for Weller’s story on March 29 read, “Tinker’s Chifeds Hit Rainy Season.”61 The exhibition game between the Regulars and Blokes and scheduled practice sessions were called off due to the rain, leading to another lost opportunity for “…the few dollars that might have been taken by the gate.”62
Shreveport is having a rainy season and the ballplayers will be lucky if they get on the diamond by Tuesday. Everything was soaked and floating this morning, because the rain had been coming down all night. The clay around the edge of the diamond here is as sticky as mucilage, and one dares not tread upon it until the sun has had a couple of days at it.63
Despite the inclement conditions, there was optimism. Exhibition games were being booked along the route back home to Chicago. The weather may have inhibited the paying public from the games and hindered the players’ conditioning, but Weller concluded his report of the day’s events with this upbeat sentiment:
With another week of good warm weather, which is quite likely, the Feds will return north for the opening of the season in excellent condition. In fact, they are ready to go at top speed right now.64
The final week of spring training in Shreveport was like the first week: a mix of sunshine, rain, and turmoil. On Sunday, March 29, in Marshall, Texas, the
Blokes played in dry conditions before 1,000 fans,65 defeating the Marshall Independents 10–1. The sun was also shining back in Shreveport, leading to lamentations that if only the game between the Sloufeds and Regulars had been scheduled for Sunday, they would have been able to play and likely drawn a sizeable crowd. It was hot and sunny for a change so Tinker took advantage of the conditions and for the first time in days conducted infield practice.66
Any dark clouds looming on the horizon were less related to the weather than to the ongoing “war” between the Federal League and Organized Baseball. Weeghman and Federal League President James Gilmore had their hands full with lawsuits over players who had “jumped” from the Organized Baseball teams to the Federal side (including the landmark Killefer case) and trades and contract battles within the FL itself. While juggling these issues, Charlie Weeghman was also trying to manage his nonbaseball enterprises, construct his new ballpark, and keep his family happy and gainfully employed. Lucky Charlie couldn’t control the weather, but it was becoming clearer that he would have trouble keeping his head above water in other aspects of his life as well.
THE CHAMPIONSHIP OF CADDO PARISH
On Monday, March 30, Tinker announced that spring training would conclude with a three-game championship series between Tinker’s Regulars and Block’s Blokes before the team left Shreveport for New Orleans. The winners would be crowned the kings of Caddo Parish and members of the winning team would receive one dollar “providing they agree to spend that dollar in Shreveport before leaving for New Orleans.”67
With all that money at stake, the series promises to be the hottest thing that has taken place here since the training began. Jimmy Block, the Milwaukee inkeeper [sic], will manage the Blokes, and he has promised to set all his players up with a shrimp supper if they get the money. Tinker will handle the regulars and it will be cigars for all if they cop. The townsmen are interested in the affair, just as the fans of New York get wrought up over the world series [sic] every fall, and the betting promises to be brisk. A quarter admission is to be charged spectators, and out of this money the winners are to get their bit. If there isn’t enough gate money in the series, Charley Weeghman will have to wire some down from Chicago.68
Tinker’s squads headed straight for the practice fields on Monday. That morning it was hot and sunny and they held a practice game. Unfortunately, that afternoon, the rains returned and play was suspended. While the men were preparing for their one-dollar contest, it was announced that several exhibition games were being planned at stops along the way back home to Chicago. One game was slated for New Orleans on either April 8 or 9, with two contests in Knoxville, Tennessee set for April 10 and 11.69 At one point a game was penciled in for Memphis, but since the rail route did not pass directly through, a stop would have required additional logistics. The plans were scrapped.
Nearly three inches of rain fell on Shreveport on Tuesday, March 31. Thunder and lightning accompanied the downpours and streets were flooded.
There was danger of being drowned if one ventured out of doors today, so the Chicago “Feds” did their training in the card room and dining hall of the hotel. At least seventeen separate and distinct showers hit the town during the day and made rivers of the streets. It simply poured.70
Another storm of sorts was brewing in Shreveport that day. Rumors were flying that William “Effingham Willie” Shettsline, secretary of the Philadelphia Phillies, was in town to convince Chifeds pitchers Tom Seaton and Ad Brennan to return to the City of Brotherly Love and remind them that they “belong to the Phillies because of the reserve clause in their 1913 contracts.”71 Neither player would return to the Philadelphia squad in 1914, however; Seaton was traded to the Brooklyn Tip Tops Federal team while Brennan spent the season with the Chifeds. But there was good news from Chicago—“The final rivet connecting the steel girders at the Chifed park was driven at noon yesterday and it is expected the structure will soon be under cover.”72
On Wednesday, April 1, 1914, it was April Fools’ on the Blokes as Tinker’s Regulars captured the first game of the championship of Caddo Parish. The hot and sunny weather was a welcome respite and if the rain stayed away, the series would end on Thursday. But the previous rains had left the field in miserable condition. Catcher Block committed an error as he attempted to catch a foul ball, winding up mired in a mud hole. Weller reported that Block could have “taken it with ease, but in going after it the path led right through a pond six inches deep…he staggered bewilderingly through the water and it slowed him up just enough to miss the ball.”73
The championship of Caddo Parish went to Tinker’s Regulars on Thursday, April 2, when they blanked Block’s Blokes for the second consecutive day. Each Regular received his one-dollar bonus, to be spent in Shreveport before the team departed for New Orleans on Friday. Thursday was a rare good weather day and practice was held in the afternoon. Sam Weller reported “No ball player ever saw better weather for training than has existed here for the last two days. It was terribly sunny and hot both days and many of the boys are sorry the stay here is to end.”74
The Regulars may have won the Caddo Parish championship, but the weather really dominated the Chifeds’ spring training. March 1914 saw above-average precipitation and below-normal temperatures for most of Louisiana.75 In Shreveport, it rained for 12 out of 21 days, which either resulted in the cancellations of exhibition games for the paying public or forced the Chifeds to alter their practice plans, relegating them to indoor baseball in the fairground’s Coliseum. Thunderstorms occurred during five of the 12 days and 3.45 inches of rain fell over one 24-hour period (March 30–31). Temperatures fluctuated wildly; it was either very hot or unseasonably cold. The daytime highs ranged from the low 80s to the 40s. Killing frosts were reported on March 22 and 23, whereas the average late frost date for the area was March 10.76
Although the effects of the El Niño weather phenomenon were not understood in 1914, analysis indicates such a weather pattern. An El Niño develops in the equatorial Pacific Ocean when mean water temperatures depart from normal for three consecutive months.77 For the southern U.S., this usually results in above average rainfall, which is exactly what the Chifeds experienced during their stay in Shreveport.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) identified 1914–15 as El Niño years based on a review of the historic meteorological records.78 Recent climate studies indicate that cooler and wetter conditions in Shreveport are related to El Niño-related oscillations in the Pacific Ocean.79 It is very likely, therefore, that the Chifeds experienced a developing El Niño. Unfortunately for Charlie Weeghman, he didn’t take climate into consideration when agreeing to send his team to Louisiana. If only the Weather Channel had been invented 68 years earlier, Weeghman might have actually made some money!
CONCLUSION: CHECKING OUT
Weeghman’s Federals left their Shreveport spring training grounds Friday evening, April 2, 1914, on a train bound for New Orleans. Before they departed, the Hotel Youree manager presented a bill for over $4,800 for the 25-night stay at his inn, and, not surprisingly, encouraged the team to come back and stay with them again next year.80 Although it is difficult to determine exactly how many fans paid to see the Chifeds play, a very generous attendance figure for the entire spring training season would be 6,000. Using twenty-five cents as the average ticket price, the entire gate would have totaled $1,500. To erode the bottom line further, as many as 2,500 of those customers attended games between the Chicago and St. Louis Federal League teams, meaning that not all of the proceeds landed in Weeghman’s coffers. As much as $625 of the $1,500 could have ended up with Mordecai Brown, leaving as little as $875 in admissions collected by Tinker’s team.
Even calculating earnings using one of the highest ticket prices at the time ($1.00), the best that Weeghman could have received in receipts for the entire spring training gate would have been approximately $3,500, still $1,300 less than the team’s hotel bill. Considering that the hotel charge was only one part of the expenses and did not include the “de luxe” train transportation, salaries, fairgrounds rental, room and board in other cities, or any other incidentals, Lucky Charlie’s pockets were getting shallower all the time.
Tinker and his men boarded the train for New Orleans, but the poor weather and economic conditions followed them through Louisiana and into Gulfport, Mississippi. Only about 400 fans turned out to watch the Regulars/Blokes exhibition at Tulane University in New Orleans. The two practice games planned for Gulfport were both cancelled due to rain and chilly temperatures. According to one report, “The Feds didn’t take in much more than enough to pay for a crawfish dinner.”81
Incredible as it may seem, the ball game booked here today for the Chicago “Feds” was called off on account of cold weather. It wasn’t any bluff, either, for the wind was whizzing down from the north at terrific pace, and it was cloudy. The athletes went to the grounds, put on their suits, and indulged in a brief but vigorous workout, but Manager Tinker was afraid to take the chance of playing a game lest his men stiffen up by staying out too long. About 200 spectators gathered, in spite of the chilly blasts. The southerners among them came out without overcoats, because down here they hate to admit that it ever gets cold.82
The sun reappeared in Knoxville, but the air still had a “tinge of frost to it” when the Federals played a few more exhibitions then headed to Covington, Kentucky, before finally arriving back home in Illinois.83 Storm clouds of another type, however, followed Weeghman and his team to Knoxville. While eating popcorn and watching the Regulars and Blokes play in Tennessee, Lucky Charlie was informed that the Federals had lost the Killefer reserve clause case and “Reindeer” Bill would not wear a Chifeds uniform.84
The poor weather conditions during spring training were a harbinger of things to come for the Chicago Federals and, in fact, the young Federal League itself. More legal troubles loomed on the horizon for Federal teams as they fought with organized baseball over players’ contracts. Although Weeghman’s club captured the 1915 Federal League pennant, the league folded under the weight of these and other financial issues at the conclusion of that season.
Charles Weeghman’s investment in the Federal League brought him fame and an entry into the social circle of Chicago’s sporting elite, but at a heavy cost. The one-time millionaire saw his fortunes evaporate through his years in baseball as president of the Chicago Federals (1914–15) and later the Cubs (1916–19). In baseball, he was accused of spending too freely on talent, on frippery, and on celebrations. His lunch-counter businesses suffered during World War I and the Influenza outbreak of 1918. When he died in 1938, his millions were long gone; his last occupation was as a greeter at a New Jersey supper club.
It all seems to have begun to fall apart during spring training 1914. One might venture to say that when it came to baseball, Lucky Charlie Weeghman did not weather well.
The author would like to thank Dr. Stuart Foster, Professor of Geography in the Department of Geography and Geology at Western Kentucky University (WKU) and Climatologist for the State of Kentucky for his assistance with the meteorological data for this article, and Kevin Cary, GIS Coordinator at WKU, for his cartographic contributions. Thanks also go to the attendees of the 2010 SABR “Boiling Out” conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, for their comments and suggestions on this research.
MARGARET M. GRIPSHOVER, PH.D., an assistant professor of cultural geography in the Department of Geography and Geology at Western Kentucky University, in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is a member of the Grantland Rice–Fred Russell Tennessee SABR chapter. She has previously contributed a chapter on “Wrigleyville” to "Northsiders: Essays on the History and Culture of the Chicago Cubs" (McFarland, 2008) and an article on dog fighting and baseball for the BRJ. Dr. Gripshover is currently writing a book on Charles H. Weeghman, onetime owner of the Chicago Federals and the Chicago Cubs.
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