Chicago White Stockings

From BR Bullpen

Chicago White Stockings

  • Dexter Park, Lake Front Park and Ogden Park: 1870
  • Union Baseball Grounds: May 8-Sept. 29, 1871
  • W-L-T: 84-17 (.832)

National Association of Base Ball Players Champions: 1870

National Association of Base Ball Players[edit]

The Chicago White Stockings were the first professional team in Chicago, IL. The team played during the 1870 and 1871 seasons before disbanding following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The seeds of a professional baseball club were sown in 1869 as a result of the famed Cincinnati Red Stockings tour of the west. Word was sent out to local businessmen that there would be a meeting held at the Briggs House on October 1st to discuss the formation of a professional team. There were some 50 of Chicago's elite businessmen. Mr. S.W. Tanner called to chair and stated the objective of the meeting: Organizing a professional base ball club. Fred Erby who had been elected Secretary said that a number of gentlemen had mentioned to him their willingness to take part in this plan. Mr. W.H. Anderson gave assurances to the group that the Board of Trade would contribute as well. Among those in attendance were Potter Palmer, a hotel and real estate tycoon, Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, industrialist and inventor George M. Pullman, J. M. Richards (president of the Chicago Board of Trade), Chicago Tribune City Editor Samuel J. Medill (brother of Joseph Medill), railroad executive J.W. Midgley, Chicago Times Editor Francis B. Wilkie, future U.S. Senator Charles B. Farwell, and David A. Gage, who had previously served as city treasurer. Mostly the meeting was spent discussing whether or not it was financially possible for the city to support a professional ball club. It would not be until a later date that a professional club would actually be formed.

The Chicago Base Ball Club was first organized on October 12th. Palmer was elected club president, while Gage was elected treasurer. Sports editor of the Chicago Tribune T.Z. Cowles became the corresponding secretary while Tom Fowley became the team’s first general and business manager. The shares were first disposed of — 600 at $25 each, $15,000 in all, on which 60 per cent was called in before the receipts began to tell against disbursements. Besides these 600 shares, which were held by 48 members, there were 150 honorary members, who payed $10 a year each and get a season ticket. By the end of the month an advertisement was placed in the New York Clipper advertising for baseball players to play for the Chicago club.

The first player signed by the new club was Jimmy Wood, who would become the team manager. Shortly before the season started Potter Palmer resigned as team president, and was replaced by Gage. By Opening Day of the 1870 season, April 29th, the roster was filled, and players were outfitted in handsome new uniforms sporting white stockings, which would quickly become the moniker by which they became famous. During its first season, the club would rotate between three ballparks: Dexter Park, Ogden Park, and Lake Front Park.

The team opened the season defeating the Union Club of St. Louis by a score of 47-1. The team would achieve a dubious distinction that year by being the first professional club to be shut out. In response to this distinction, sportswriters coined the term “Chicagoed” to refer to such an outcome. The Chicago Republican called for an overhaul of the club from top to bottom, blaming both players and management for the poor record of the former, and inefficiency on the part of the latter and also called for an immediate reorganization of the club. As a result on August 8th, Gage was ousted as President and was replaced by Norman T. Gassette. who was the majority shareholder. The team’s highlight of the season came on September 7th when it traveled to Cincinnati and defeated the Red Stockings by a score of 10-6. To show that the result was not a fluke, on October 13th when the Red Stockings arrived at Dexter Park for a rematch, the White Stockings won by a score of 16-13. The team wasone of only two clubs that year to beat the Red Stockings twice (the other was the Brooklyn Atlantics).

By the end of the month the team was in position to challenge for the pennant when the New York Mutuals came to town. At the time the Mutuals had claimed the pennant back on September 22nd when they defeated the Atlantics, who were the defending champions. In a previous meeting the White Stockings had defeated the Mutuals when the two clubs met in New York. It was believed that if the White Stockings could beat the Mutuals in a second match, then they would lay claim to the pennant. However the October 30th match between the two clubs ended in controversy. At the time the Mutuals were leading by a score of 13-12, but left the field in protest over a ruling. Because of this, the officials decided to revert the score to the end of the last completed inning and awarded the victory and the championship to Chicago. But the Mutuals refused to relinquish the pennant, claiming that the game was only an exhibition game and therefore did not count.

Both clubs were not alone in their claim of the championship. The Cincinnati Red Stockings also laid claim to the championship on account of the fact that they had lost fewer games than either club, never mind the fact that they had lost to both Chicago and Brooklyn. Regardless of who was champion for that year, the Chicago Tribune called on the club’s officials to disband the club. The Tribune believed that the team had accomplished what it had set out to do, defeat the mighty Red Stockings as well as all other comers, and was now at the top as champions of the baseball world. The paper wanted the club to avoid a demise like that of the Red Stockings, who had folded in early November. Like that of the Red Stockings the previous year, the White Stockings organization found itself in the red by about $3,000. But as the Chicago Tribune reported: “The stockholders have lost neither faith nor enthusiasm, and it need surprise no one, if, after the 1st of January, they announce a nine which will challenge comparison with any in the land.”

National Association[edit]

During the offseason changes were made by the White Stockings both locally and at the national level. At the local level, the team abandoned the usage of Dexter Park and Ogden Park. Dexter was abandoned due to the long commute of the fans to the ballpark, which was a 30-minute ride by rail, but an hour-long travel by horse cart. In March, the city leased a section of Lake Park to the team for the construction of a new ball park, which was located at the corner of Michigan and Randolph (currently Millennium Park occupies the spot). The new ballpark called the Union Base-Ball Grounds, was also the location where the team had played a few games the previous season. The ballpark would be known by various names: Lake Front Park, White Stocking Grounds as well as Lake Shore Park. According to the Chicago Tribune, the seating capacity for the park was 7,000.

The White Stockings were also one of the charter members of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players which met at Collier’s Rooms on March 17th. Club Secretary J.M. Thacher represented the club at the meeting. Chicago opened the season at its new ballpark on May 8th with a 14-12 win over the Cleveland Forest Citys. The club won its first seven games before losing to the New York Mutuals on June 5th by a score of 8-5 and remained in first place until June 22nd when New York took sole possession. Chicago spent most of the season battling New York, the Washington Olympics and the Philadelphia Athletics for first place. By the end of September Chicago was in first place with an 18-7 record. The season was winding down, with it looking like the team would win the inaugural league pennant when the unthinkable happened.

On October 8th, the Great Chicago Fire began, and before it was over, 3.3 square miles of the city center were wiped out. An estimated 300 lives were lost along with 17,000 structures, leaving 150,000 homeless, including the ball club and most of its players. The White Stockings lost their headquarters, equipment, uniforms, and ballpark, rendering them orphans for the remainder of the season, having to borrow uniforms from various clubs, mismatched uniforms at that. “Not two of the nine were dressed alike. … [O]ne man wore a Mutual shirt and Eckford hose; another an Atlantic shirt, Mutual pants, and Flyaway hose, and so on; each man being obliged to borrow a shirt from anyone who was willing to lend.”

The team lost two of its last three games, including the last game of the season on October 30th. Because Chicago’s ballpark had burnt down in the fire, the team played the game at Union Grounds the home field of the Brooklyn Atlantics. Chicago lost the game, 4-1, to Philadelphia, giving the club a 19-9 record. As it turned out this game was also the match game which determined the championship, but that was not deecided until about two weeks later at the league meeting. Bringing about a sad end to the Chicago White Stockings.

Manager Jimmy Wood led the team in Batting Average (.378), Runs (45) Hits (51), Doubles (10) and Triples. Outfielder Fred Treacey led the team with 4 home runs. There were only three players who played in all 28 games that year: Wood, pitcher George Zettlein and catcher Charlie Hodes. The team had a 13-4 record at home and a 6-5 road record. Their record against the best clubs of the day were as follow: Boston (3-1), New York (3-1) and Philadelphia (2-3)

The End of the White Stockings[edit]

Shortly after the season ended the Chicago Base Ball Club cancelled and surrendered its stock. At the winter meeting which was held at the Girard House in Philadelphia, PA on November 3rd, league secretary Nick Young represented the club as a proxy. It was at that meeting that Secretary Young read a letter from Thatcher. The letter first explained that “business matters” prevented his attendance. Thatcher also asked that Chicago’s ball games in November be legalized with a 15-day extension be granted. Thatcher was hoping to play on the other owners' sympathies to be given more time. However as Cleveland’s F.H. Mason pointed out, the team had three weeks between the time of the fire and the cutoff date, October 31st, to schedule the necessary games. In addition, the club had not scheduled any games at all between September 30th and October 21st. In the end, the White Stockings' request for an extension was denied.

There would be one final club meeting, which took place on November 11th. Previously a committee had been formed to wrap up the financial details of the club and close up shop. The meeting was nothing more than a litany of financial woes: Lack of insurance on the ballpark; Back pay to the ball players and advances to the 12 ball players the team had signed for the 1872 season that could not be honored. J. M. Thatcher reported that about $1,500 had been distributed in the past three weeks, most of it towards player salaries. He also reported that there was still $2,000 in the team’s bank account which the stockholders voted to divide amongst the players. The fact that the team was able to turn a profit, considering the fact that most of the property, including records, of the club had been destroyed was pretty amazing. The club would then release all players, both current and future, from their contracts with an ad placed in the New York Clipper advertising the players' availability for the 1872 season. It would be a little more than two years before Chicago would field another professional club.

Chicago White Stockings II[edit]

On April 24, 1872, a new baseball club was formed. Initially it was called the Phoenix Base Ball Association, but a week later the name had been changed to the Chicago Base Ball Association. The organization had been capitalized at $10,000 with about a $100 shares each. Amongst the 75 stockholders were several members from the previous organization including J.M. Thatcher who was elected team secretary, and William Hulbert. Former White Stockings’ president Norman Gassette chaired the meeting to revive the White Stockings, but his interest in the team had waned since the fire last October. By the time the club returned to action in 1874, he had moved on to other things, selling his shares to Hulbert in the fall of 1876. The shares of stock were widely distributed amongst the group. George W. Gage, the elder brother of David A. Gage, held ten; Norman Gasette and two others held three shares each; Fred Erby held five; Hulbert held only one share; No one else held more than two shares.

The purpose of the association was to secure land in order to build a baseball park, and then to lease the park to local amateur clubs. The association also planned to invite the professional clubs to come play at the new park. The site for the new park was located on the south side on Clark Street between 22nd and 23rd, near the State Street carlines. The area was the location of the old Excelsior Grounds, and was currently owned by a Mr. Muhlke. When built the capacity was to seat 4,000 with a standing room of a 1,000 which was a smaller capacity than the old Lake Front Park. Called the 23rd Street Grounds, the park opened on May 25th with Chicago Athletic Club holding a series of sporting events. The park was formally opened on May 29th with a baseball game between the Baltimore Canaries and the Cleveland Forest Citys. On June 6th, George Gage was elected president, a position he would hold until his death in 1875, while Hulbert was elected to the board of directors.

Despite not fielding a team that year, the association managed to have a financially successful year, losing only $110 on revenues of $7,750, and ended the year with $390 in the bank with assets at $4,890. During the 1873 season, the association began signing players, including several from the Philadelphia White Stockings. At the time the White Stockings were in first place. After which the team went on a spectacular decline much of it caused by suspicious and suspect play. Among those who had been signed was former manager Jimmy Wood. At the end of 1873, the Association had a cash balance in excess of $8,500. The money was used to renovate the ballpark increasing the capacity to nearly 7,000 including 1,388 grandstand seats.

At the league meeting on March 2, 1874, Norman Gassette represented Chicago with league secretary Nicholas Young representing the club by proxy vote. While Chicago may have made its first appearance after an absence of about two years, the club had formally been admitted earlier. The season opened at home on May 13th with a “Chicagoed” win over the Philadelphia Athletics, 4-0. Catcher Fergy Malone, who had been named team manager, had guided the team to an 18-18 record when he was let go on August 8th. Malone was replaced by Jimmy Wood on the 24th, who in his debut as manager of the team defeated the Baltimore Canaries in 10 innings by a score of 4-3. The team played worse under Wood than it did under Ferguson, going 10-13 with an overall record of 28-31. Despite the losing record, the team was a success at the gate. Not only was the team popular at home, they were also a popular draw on the road as well.

Events were also occurring within the team as well which not only would shape the future of the team, but the future of baseball. The previous August, Hulbert had been elected club secretary. In this role he would make his presence felt, such as taking on a variety of tasks including marketing, signing players, and representing the team at league meetings. It was here that he was appointed to the rules committee. The 1875 season was essentially the same as the previous season: success at the gate, another losing season. This time the team went 30-37-2. There were however several firsts for the team: 1-0 win (vs. St. Louis Red Stockings), a no-hitter (vs. Philadelphia Athletics) and a scoreless game at the end of nine innings (vs. Hartford Dark Blues).

There were some rather interesting changes that came on the business side of the team. During the season, it was revealed that Hulbert had signed four of Boston’s best players: Al Spalding, Ross Barnes, Cal McVey, and Deacon White, with Spalding being named captain and manager for the upcoming 1876 season. On September 24th, President Gage died from a stroke at the age of 53. At a stockholders meeting on October 10th, Hulbert weaseled his way into the presidency by using a proxy from Gage’s widow, and named Spalding as secretary.

The Birth of the National League[edit]

In December of 1875 representatives of four western baseball clubs gathered at the Galt House in Louisville, KY to discuss the formation of a new league. Aside from Chicago, the other three were the St. Louis Brown Stockings, Cincinnati Red Stockings and Louisville Grays. There had been rumors about the four seceders from Boston being expelled, but Hulbert, opted to prevent such a thing from happening by forming his own league. While it was said that Hulbert was never comfortable with the National Association because of its shortcomings, he did not immediately plan for its death, at least not off the bat. That would change after his failure to sign Davy Force. Hulbert wanted a league that was an improvement over the National Association: with no gambling; contracts of players that were respected, even if Hulbert himself ignored this principle when he signed the Four Seceders; Teams to have secure financial backing and to complete their season schedules.

The National League was born on February 2, 1876, and while Morgan Bulkeley of Hartford was elected its first president, Hulbert was the driving force. During the summer Hulbert reorganized the team, buying the shares in the Chicago Base Ball Association from several stockholders. On August 26th Hulbert created a new charter called the Chicago Ball Club, and by October 30th he held controlling interest in the expired association. He then set about closing it down. Meanwhile, on the field, the team won the inaugural league pennant, posting a 52-14 record. It was the city’s second pennant, but the first non-controversial one. There would be a four-year gap before Chicago won a second pennant, which came in 1880. That year, the team posted a 67-17-2 record and was managed by Cap Anson. Throughout the 1880s, the White Stockings won a total of 5 pennants. The New York Giants were the only other team to win multiple pennants while the Boston Red Stockings, Providence Grays and Detroit Wolverines won only one each.

On opening day in 1888, the team unveiled new uniforms that included black stockings. Newspapers took to calling the team the Chicago Black Stockings. Though it is mentioned at various times during the season that the team was wearing its white stocking uniforms, by late July it had abandoned the uniforms in favor of the black stockings. The white stockings uniform was re-introduced in April of 1894, bringing about the reintroduction of the “White Stockings” nickname. Though the uniforms would last until 1897, the nickname was dropped in May of 1896.

Chicago White Stockings III[edit]

Clinched Pennant: September 12, 1900, vs. Cleveland Blue Birds

In 1900, Charlie Comiskey moved the St. Paul Saints to Chicago when the Western League became the still minor league American League. The team was relegated to the south side of town. In honor of the North Side team, Comiskey renamed the team the "White Stockings". However he was only allowed to use the White Stocking name, and not the Chicago name on the uniforms. The name was still used when the American League became a major league in 1901 but by 1904, was quickly overtaken by its shortened form, White Sox.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Art Ahrens: "The Chicago White Sox of 1900" SABR
  • Jack Bales: Before They Were The Cubs, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2019
  • Michael Haupert: "Chicago Cubs team ownership history, 1876-1919", SABR Team Ownership Project Cubs
  • - 1875 Winter Meetings: The Origin of the National League
  • Jeff Laing: "The Windy City-Collar City Connection: The Curious Relationship of Chicago’s and Troy (NY)’s Professional Baseball Teams (1870–1882)", in Stuart Shea, ed.: North Side, South Side, All Around Town, The National Pastime, SABR, 2015. ISBN 978-1-93359987-8
  • Richard C. Lindberg: The White Sox Encyclopedia, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, PA, 1997
  • Brian McKenna: "Sputtering Towards Respectability: Chicago's Journey to the Big Leagues", in Stuart Shea, ed.: North Side, South Side, All Around Town, The National Pastime, SABR, 2015. ISBN 978-1-93359987-8
  • Mark Pestana: "1872 Winter Meetings: Inconsistencies and Ineligible"
  • William J. Ryczek: 1874 Winter Meetings: Nine Men Are Quite Enough


New York World: “The Organization of the Chicago club” Nov. 18, 1869