By Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.
To understand a team it is essential to know its origins. Everything about the Cubs is tied with Wrigley Field. Although it’s hard to believe, the Cubs actually existed before Wrigley Field. Interestingly the Cubs started out in their inaugural season in 1876 as the Chicago White Stockings. They played as the White Stockings from 1876 to 1890. During that period they played at four different parks: 23rd Street Grounds, Lake Front Park, Lake Front Park II, and West Side Park I. In 1891 the White Stockings changed their name to the Chicago Colts in honor of their player/manager Adrian “Cap” Anson.
What I found interesting is that Baseball Reference lists the team in 1890 as the Chicago Colts while Baseball Almanac as lists the 1890 as the Chicago White Stockings. Still, during that time of name transition the organization played as the Colts at South Side Park and West Side Park II. Between 1898—1901 the organization was known as the Chicago Orphans. The team was referred to as the Orphans after Anson was fired. Finally, in 1902 the name of the team was settled with the Cubs. The Cubs played at West Side Park II until 1916.
The period between 1902 and 1915 was easily the organization’s most prosperous period. The second West Side Park was the site where the team won the most games in a season in MLB history (116 in 1906), the famed Tinker to Evers to Chance combo played, and, most significantly, last won the World Series (1908). Thus, I thought it would appropriate to get to know the park they played in before Wrigley.
The website Chicagology provides the best description of the West Side II, which I recommend reading in full detail. However, for the sake of brevity, the following is a list of facts about the ballpark:
- Opened in May 1893 where the team split games between South Side Park until permanently moving for the 1894 season.
- Located at the block bounded by Taylor, Wood, Polk, and Lincoln (now Wolcott) Streets.
- Home plate was located at the intersection of Polk and Lincoln.
- Known as West Side “Grounds” but during its day was known as West Side “Park.”
- Similar to Wrigley Field, flats were located across the street from Wood Street that would eventually provide rooftop seating.
- Dimensions: Left Field – 340 ft., Center Field – 442 ft., Right Field – 316 ft.
- The University of Illinois Chicago Medical Center is now located on the block.
By 1910, West Side Park II began to become run down as owner Charles Murphy refused to maintain the integrity of the ballpark. Cubs became the third most popular team in Chicago behind the Chicago White Sox of the American League and the Chicago Whales of the Federal League. The Whales were owned by Charles Weeghman and were located on the city’s North Side playing at Weeghman Park. When the Federal League folded at the conclusion of the 1915 season, Weeghman bought a large interest in the Cubs and moved them to Weeghman Park (which is now Wrigley Field) for the 1916 season, thus closing West Side Park II and beginning the rich tradition of Cubs baseball on the North Side.
The closing of West Side Park left Chicago Cubs fans longing for their old ballpark. In response Ring Lardner gave the park a proper eulogy in The Chicago Tribune:
Elegy Written In A West Side Ball Yard
By Ring Lardner
The whistles sound the knell of parting day,
The toilers travel slowly home to tea.
I’ve got to write a parody on Gray
Though it be painful both to you and me.
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
Save for chattering of the laboring folk
Returning to their hovels for the night.
All’s still at Taylor, Lincoln, Wood, and Polk.
Beneath this aged roof, this grandstand’s shade,
Where peanut shucks lie in a mold’ring heap,
Where show the stains of pop and lemonade,
The Cub bugs used to cheer and groan and weep.
The adverse guess of Mr. William Klem,
The miscalled strikes of Eason and of Orth,
No more shall rouse the fire of hate in them:
They yield to their successors over north.
Where Anson used to hit ‘em on the pick,
Where Lange was wont to grab ‘em off the grass,
Where Dahlen used to kick and kick,
Where Danny Friend was worked for many a pass.
Where games were won by Callahan and Griff.
Where long home runs were knocked by Danny Green:
Where, later, Bill Maloney used to whiff,
Where Ruelbach used to wound ‘em in the bean.
Where Artie Hofman pulled his circus stunts,
Where Sheckard dove and caught ‘em on his brow,
Where “Schlitz” was banished from the field (just once),
Where Heine started many a healthy row.
Where Joe got courage to go on the stage,
Where Brownie did his own and others’ toil,
Where Evers used to brew his boiling rage,
Where Chance cussed John McGraw and Larry Doyle.
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble bleats,
The moles, untroubled, now dig up the turf,
And gnats and roaches occupy the seats
That other bugs once filled, to help out Murf.
“To help out Murf? And who was he?” you say.
I answer with a melancholy sigh:
“Approach and read (if you can read) the lay
Graved on the door we used to enter by:”
He was the one real Fox of modern time;
He had competitors all licked a mile.
He gave to baseball all he had—a dime
He gained from it (‘twas all he wished)—his pile.
No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode.
Let him enjoy his well deserved repose At 6157 Sheridan Road.
(The poem, originally appeared in The Chicago Tribune, April 20, 1916, was a parody of Thomas Gray’s “Elegy in a Country Graveyard.”)
I recommend checking out Deadbaseball.com and its excellent pictorial of what rests on the grounds today.