The Federal League of Base Ball Clubs

This article was written by Vern Luse

This article was published in the Road Trips: SABR Convention Journal Articles


This article was originally published in “Baseball in Cleveland,” the 1990 SABR convention journal.

 

In the spring of 1913, the Organized Base Ball monopoly seemed to have very successfully driven the “outlaw” organizations to cover. An eastern-based United States League was in the process of organization, but with little financial backing, and appeared— rightly—to have little future stability. In fact, no club would play more than two of the scheduled games before the league wilted into the dust This league may still be “operating”—it was never formally disbanded!

Appearances are often deceiving, for, on March 8, 1913, John T. Powers called a meeting of interested baseball investors in Indianapolis; a new Federal League of Base Ball Clubs was formed, with Powers as President. Powers had been the president of the 1912 Columbian League, and was said to be connected with the USL Pittsburgh franchise which was reputed to have gained a profit before the US League fell apart.

Franchises were issued to Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis (each home of at least one major league team) and Indianapolis, which was an American Association franchise. Two more franchises were to be placed by President Powers, with Detroit the most favored location.

Problems arose immediately at Cincinnati (site of a 1912 USL franchise). Many bills had been left unpaid at time of disbandment, and the National League team—the Reds—was opposing the location of a new ball park within the city by political action. An alternate site was chosen across the Ohio River at Covington, Kentucky, where the ball park could actually be placed closer to the city center of Cincinnati than the existing Reds’ field. Organized Base Ball had turned down Covington as a location for a Blue Grass League (Class D) franchise earlier in 1913, and had even “thrown out” the Blue Grass League, apparently for its temerity in suggesting competition for August Herrmann’s beloved Reds.

Each team was required to be incorporated (and capitalized at a minimum value of $100,000). A forfeit of $5,000 per team was required of each team. The league, incorporated under Indiana law, elected as officers M.R. Bromley (Cleveland) vice president; James A. Ross (Indianapolis) Secretary; and John A. George (Indianapolis) Treasurer. The Board of Managers was William T. McCullough (Pittsburgh); Michael Kenney (St. Louis); Charles X. Zimmerman (Cleveland); John A. Spinney (Cincinnati); Ross, George and John S. Powell (Indianapolis); and Charles L. Sherlock (Chicago).

In an effort to keep clear of Organized Ball, the Federal League declared that it had no intention of trying to secure players from either the major or minor leagues, but would recruit its players from leagues not under the National Agreement.

With the season due to start soon after May 1, each new team began to sign their field managers—Chicago’s announcement of the signing of Burt Keeley leading the pack. Sam Leever signed up with Covington, “Deacon” Philippe resumed his USL post as manager in Pittsburgh and “Whoa Bill” Phillips, a former Indianapolis star pitcher, agreed to take the Indianapolis post. When Jack O’Connor agreed to terms in St. Louis, all teams but Cleveland had hired managers. The management in Cleveland, a conservative group with Luna ball park already in hand, announced that they were going to appoint old Cy Young as manager—but only when all other clubs had posted full forfeits. Young signed formally on April 24.

With the short time between signing their manager and the May 3 opening of the schedule, it was not surprising that several of the Cleveland players were never in later Federal lineups—they were local amateurs, some(probably) playing under pseudonyms. Luckily for Cleveland, and for their Covington opposition, the opener resulted in a 6-6, ten-inning tie. By the next day, both teams presented complete nines of true professionals, and the quality of the game improved, with a 4-1 Cleveland victory, followed, on May 5, by a 5-2 Covington triumph. In the series finale, on May 6, Covington eked out a ninth-inning run to produce a 2-1 win.

May 6 was also opening day at Pittsburgh and St. Louis. Both Indianapolis and Pittsburgh had well-organized teams and presented lineups which were indicative of their alignment for the rest of the season. Foreshadowing season-long results, the “Hoosier Feds” defeated the “Filipinos” 9 to 5. At St. Louis Manager Jack O’Connor was the best known man on his team, owing to his long career in the big leagues. He was also the St. Louis manager who had allowed Lajoie his famous eight-for-eight season-ending day to “beat out” Ty Cobb for the Chalmers automobile. The Chicago team was well organized, and with a complement of “permanent” players, while O’Connor had to recruit heavily from the local Trolley League for many of his players. Though the Trolley League was very strong, its players were just not up to Federal League play, so St. Louis opened with a 7-4 loss.

Chicago continued its good work throughout the month of May, leading on May 31 with a 14-8 record, while the amateurish Cleveland “Youngsters” (officially Green Sox) brought up the rear at 8-14.

Both Covington and Indianapolis had opened on the road, but each announced the attendance at their opening game— Covington, 6,000, and Indianapolis, 7,000. On May 11, their first at-home Sunday game, the Hoosier-Feds drew 18,507 to their new park—Riverside. Thanks to provision for auto parking on the grounds, over 200 auto parties were in the crowd.

On May 16, one of the eeriest no-hit games of baseball history was pitched by “Chief Raymer (Rehmer) of St. Louis. Actually, in the fourth inning, third baseman Warren, of Pittsburgh, singled “and then was declared out for batting out of turn.” This was Pittsburgh’s only hit. Rehmer/Raymer was from Belleville, Illinois, an across-the-river suburb of St. Louis, and had previously played in the Trolley League. The Illinois littoral was littered with German settlements, including Belleville and Germantown, the village associated with “Red” Schoendienst. Thus, although the name was spelled Raymer in most boxes and game write ups, I feel very confident Rehmer was the proper spelling of this name. Conceding to the majority, we have spelled it Raymer in the statistics.

At Covington, May 28, Indianapolis introduced a new first baseman, O’Day. By the time O’Day had played four games, and the Hoosier Feds had returned to Indianapolis, O’Day had been recognized as a career minor leaguer, “Biddie” Dolan. Dolan finished out the season as the outstanding Indianapolis player, and played on the 1914 Federal League (major league) team.

June was the month of decision for the Federal League. Although the Federal League had been termed “independent” in most sources, the teams had carefully refrained from signing contracted Organized Base Ball players. The OB people proved to have less restraint, and, on June 15, signed pitcher Ben Taylor (7- 3) and shortstop James Scott (.336) of the Indianapolis team.

Outfielder Charles H. “Silk” Kavanaugh (.488) and several other Chicago players were reputed to have jumped the Federal League, and the major leagues and American Association announced open warfare against the “outlaws.” Kavanaugh may have declined to leave Chicago because he was in the midst of a record hitting streak. Beginning May 11, and continuous until the second game on June 26, Kavanaugh hit in 37 consecutive games. During the streak, he had 66 hits in 140 times at bat, a .471 percentage. Kavanaugh’s streak-stopper was only five innings, and he had only one official at-bat in the game.

After the initial enthusiasm, the Covington team had been having trouble drawing paying crowds. Handicapped by a very small ballpark, games tended to be slugging matches. So short were the fences that “home run posts” had to be set so that balls out of the park outside the posts were only two-base hits. As the season wore on, the home run posts crept closer together, reflecting the greater skills of the hitters in the league. Finally, Covington backers announced their desire to give up their franchise; Toledo, Baltimore and Kansas City became the cities which were expected to replace Covington. Thus, although Covington’ s team had a winning record (21-20) it played its last game June 26, after which it became the Kansas City Packers.

The month of June was excellent for two teams: Indianapolis and Cleveland. By month’s end, Indianapolis was leading Chicago by four full games, and Cleveland had achieved fourth place with a winning record. Pittsburgh had only a 5-22 won-lost record and had grabbed a firm hold on last place.

July was another good month for both Indianapolis and Cleveland. On July 31, Cleveland was in second place. Pittsburgh, with a winning record in July, was still in last place, while Kansas City, in spite of playing in a brand-new ball park, was sinking rapidly toward last place. Meanwhile, Chicago and St. Louis were converging toward a battle for third and fourth place at or near .500.

One reason for the showing of the Chicago team had been erased July 5; the entire management team of the club resigned, and a new set of officers headed by President James A. Gilmore took over. Field Manager Bert Keeley received a vote of confidence and was retained.

August 2 saw an important league meeting, during which President Powers was placed on vacation and Gilmore, of Chicago, appointed acting president. Powers had been effective in organizing and starting up the league, but, as time went on, had made some bad, and arrogant, decisions which had agitated most of the money-men in the league. Under Gilmore, the Federal League promised to fight the raids by Organized Base Ball on a man-for-man basis.

August proved to be the last month of the “race” for the first Federal League pennant. Indianapolis, already with a substantial lead, played nearly .800 ball to completely swamp second-place Cleveland. Their success also caused the release of Samuel Leever (Covington, then Kansas City manager) on August 11, and his replacement by Hugo Swartling. Swartling, with a group of Steubenville (Interstate League) players, had joined Kansas City after the breakup of their league in mid-July. Swartling, a first baseman as well as Steubenville manager, was injured on August 12, but finished out the season as bench manager.

After the close of the season, plans were made for a series of exhibition games in Indianapolis, matching the Hoosier Fed champions against an All-Star aggregation of Federal League players. President Krause, of Indianapolis’ team, announced that all gate receipts would be divided between the opposing teams.

As so often happens, though, not until September 21 did the weather allow playing of even the first game. On that date, it was decided to play two games, both of which were won by the Hoosier Feds.

The appended statistics are based on 100 of games played by Federal League teams. Newspapers are the only source for these games. In those cases in which local box scores have differed from telegraph boxes in other cities, the local box—subject to check against the game account, if any—has been used in these compilations.

A research project of this magnitude is much greater than a one-man job, even over a two-year period. Ray Nemec worked his way through several of the Chicago newspapers looking for just one which had printed the AB column. Bob Tiemann supplied copies of all the St Louis boxes, as did Bill Carle the Kansas City boxes. Two Indianapolis newspapers, the Cincinnati Enquirer (Kentucky edition), the Pittsburgh Post and the Cleveland Plain Dealer were secured through Interlibrary loan, by either the Parkersburg, West Virginia, public library or the San Diego County Library, LaMesa branch.

Actually, there were four games played during the championship season which are not included in these statistics. These included two tie games, the first game played in Kansas City’s new stadium (apparently without ground rules) and the 4-1 victory of Indianapolis over Pittsburgh of June 3. This last decision was thrown out by President Powers; the controversy over the Powers action may very well have been influential in the relieving of President Powers at the league meeting August 2. Indianapolis feeling was expressed in the June 7 Star:

POWERS HAS STARTED SOMETHING

“President Powers of the Federal League sprung something on us Thursday night when he declared Monday’s game between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh thrown out of the standings because an umpire made a bum decision at first base. This is indeed something new in baseball. A lot of games have been protested and thrown out of the standings because of technicalities violated by the umpires, but never before has a league hired an umpire and then because he erred in judgment as to whether a base runner was safe or out, thrown the game out of the standings. It’s a bad move.

“There are a lot of bum decisions. Any umpire will admit that he kicks one once in awhile. The best of them do it. There are errors made everywhere and every day and if President Powers is going to throw out every game of ball on which there was a questionable decision then he’s going to be a busy man the rest of the season and the Federal League is also going to have a lot of postponed games to play over before winding up the 1913 schedule. The writer saw the game in question and fully agrees that Umpire Franklin made a very punk decision, favoring the Indianapolis Club in the game with Pittsburgh, but that decision doesn’t justify Powers in throwing the game out of the standings and giving Pittsburgh another shot at it It’s very bush.”

A final, and most important, acknowledgement. Ray Nemec, of Naperville, Illinois, typed up the alphabetized batting and pitching statistics of the Federal League on his special small-type IBM machine. He also reduced the fielding averages to a size which could easily be copied through some “Xerox” process. I stand in his debt for a job well done!

(Editor’s note: E. Vernon Luse, Jr. wrote this article in 1988. Mr. Luse, 1988 recipient of the Bob Davids Award, passed away in 1989. Space limitations preclude us from printing the 11 pages of the 1913 Federal League statistics that accompanied the original version of the article. The statistics did not appear in the convention journal.)

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