When Feds sought to evict Cubs from park, Part 2

Second of 2 posts


In 1878, the Cubs, then known as the White Stockings, began to play their home games at Lake Front Park, just a few minutes' walk from the heart of downtown Chicago.

On land leased from the city, the team had constructed a playing field with extremely short distances to the fences: 186 feet down the left field line, 196 to right and 300 to straightaway center.

It was surrounded by grand stands and a building that doubled as a club house and the team's offices.

After 1882, when they won their third straight National League pennant, the "Whites" doubled the park's seating capacity, built 18 private boxes on top of the grand stand and erected a 6-foot-high fence around the facility.

The improvements cost about $10,000, equivalent to $271,594 in 2021, according to the Department of Labor's online inflation calculator.

Harper's Weekly, in its edition of May 12, 1883, declared:

"The grounds of the Chicago Base Ball Club, indisputably the finest in the world in respect of seating accommodations and conveniences."


But the owners of property to the west of the park objected to the team's presence, arguing that the land belonged not to the city but to the federal government, which had decreed it should remain a public space, with no buildings on it.

The owners, led by John Stafford, brought their complaint to the City Council, "but as all the Aldermen had passes and so many free tickets as they wanted no attention was paid to the remonstrance," according to the Chicago Tribune.

The owners then contacted federal authorities, who were more receptive. They filed a request with the U.S. District Court, seeking an injunction to evict the Whites, demolish the buildings and eradicate the playing field.


A hearing was scheduled in U.S. District Court for Monday, May 27, 1884, just 2 days before the Whites were to make their season debut at home, following a 20-game road trip.

The attorney for the team did not make the hearing, however. A representative of his law firm said the attorney had learned of the hearing only after leaving the city on business and would not return until Saturday. He asked Judge Henry Williams Blodgett to postpone the hearing for a week.

Richard Stanley Tuthill, the U.S. District Attorney, represented the United States. He said he would accept a postponement, provided that the team agreed not to play any games in the interim.

Blodgett declined to invoke that condition, paving the way for the Whites to hold their home opener as scheduled 2 days later.


Several more delays followed, during which the Whites contacted the Attorney General of United States, Benjamin Harris Brewster, and offered to vacate Lake Front Park for good after the season was over. Brewster supported the proposal, but referred the matter to Tuthill, the district attorney, for a final decision on it.

By the time the hearing finally took place, on Tuesday, June 24, the Whites had played 11 additional games at the park, the last just the previous afternoon.



"The arguments took nearly the whole day," the Tribune reported in its June 25 edition.

Blodgett asked Tuthill, representing the government, on whose direction he was appearing. The Attorney General, said Tuthill.

"Mr. Culver, attorney for the ball club, wanted the correspondence read, it being understood, though he didn't say so, that the Attorney-General had said something about a stipulation under which the ball club could remain until the close of the present season.

"Mr. Tuthill, however, denied that there were any 'supplemental instructions.' "



Tuthill then read an affidavit setting out the facts of the case from John Stafford, the property owner who had asked the federal government to intervene.

"He also read a second affidavit of Mr. Stafford, which embodied a letter from the President of the Union Base-Ball Club, stating that its grounds were open to the Chicago Club if the latter were obliged to vacate the Lake-Front."


The Union Association had begun play just the previous month, with the Chicago team hosting games at a park on the city's South Side.

Its home opener had been on May 2. After a game on Aug. 1, the team played 13 games on the road, then relocated to Pittsburgh for 5 home games there. It played 12 more on the road, was the home team for a game at Baltimore on Sept. 17, was the visitor for a game at Baltimore the next day and then disbanded, having won 41 games and lost 50.

Two games on Oct. 19 ended the association's only season.



Tuthill then presented the government's primary argument: that the city did not, and never had, the authority to issue a license to the Whites or anyone else to use the land: "that the club was a trespasser, and should be ousted."

Culver countered that the team had used the land without objection since 1878 "and that it was not equitable for the Government, at the instance of any individual, by mandatory injunction -- a summary process -- to eject the club at this time in the midst of a season."


There was a third attorney in the courtroom. His last name was Winston, and he was corporation counsel for the city.

He argued that the federal government had no standing in matters pertaining to the streets and public grounds of the land in dispute.

Tuthill, in response, said the federal government's 1839 dedication of the land for public use gave it a clear right to take legal action.



"I think I will dispose of this question now," Blodgett said after hearing the arguments presented by all sides. "I shall consider the bill properly filed by the United States Government and that the court has jurisdiction in the premises.

"The City of Chicago, it is admitted, has allowed the defendant, the base-ball company, to take possession of a portion of the premises thus dedicated as public ground and erect sheds and structures upon it which certainly are and must be considered the eye of the law buildings; and the premises cannot be said to be free or clear of building in the light of what the defendant, the base-ball club, has done in the premises.

"The city has assumed jurisdiction to lease or permit these premises to be occupied by the base-ball club. The inception of the present right of occupation must have occurred in 1878, and has continued with, perhaps, successive renewals from year to year from 1878 to the present time, which at the close of the present season, would make seven consecutive seasons that the premises have been occupied by this defendant for the purpose of its base-ball games.



"The proof shows that the base-ball club has made its arrangements for the season's business much upon the same principle that the proprietor of a theatre might make his arrangements for his season's campaign -- arranging for different games during the coming season, and to pay their performers for the purpose of having these games played at intervals; and I have no doubt that serious inconvenience, if not lost, will accrue to the base-ball club if they are now prohibited from occupying the premises during the season.

"They have occupied them six or seven seasons, and the city has been allowed without complaint from the United States, and without complaint from the abutting owners of the ground, to permit these parties to occupy the ground.

"It therefore seems to me it would be a great hardship at this time to impose unnecessarily on these parties a loss of their season's campaign because the United States and certain property-holders at this late day arouse themselves to the conviction that they must assert their rights or perhaps they may lose by the non-user.

"No harm can come now to the United States as complainant, and no special harm to these abutting-property owners that I can see, to allow these parties to use the grounds for the present season; and, therefore, I shall have to deny an injunction as against the base-ball club for the use of the ground during the season."



But Blodgett was not through making his ruling:

"I think, however, that for the ensuing season -- for the future -- it is but right that an injunction should issue restraining the city from making any further lease or giving any further permit either to this organization or any other organization or persons to occupy these premises, and also restraining the present organization in possession and its successors from using the ground another season and after the close of the present season.

"I suppose their season closes on the 1st of November. The injunction ought to restrain them from using the premises after the 31st of October or on the 1st of November.

"This, it seems to me, is as far as a court of equity should go. A court of equity cannot, and does not as a general rule, attempt to undo that which as been done. . . .

"I think there is no case made for a mandatory injunction here, and, therefore, will simply grant an injunction as I have indicated restraining the city from making any further lease or permit either to these parties or any other person or persons until the further order of the court, and restraining the base-ball club after the close of their present season."



The Tribune's story about the hearing concluded with this paragraph:

"The injunction went into effect at once, but the formal order will not be prepared and entered until today.

"The base-ball people were pleased at the outcome."


In fact, Blodgett's ruling was not entered into the court records officially until July 17, more than 3 weeks later.

The Tribune noted:

"The decision establishes the fact that the city has no power to use the public ground for private purposes. Any attempt on the part of the Council or others to occupy the ground hereafter will be promptly met by Mr. John F. Stafford, who instigated the present suit in behalf of the abutting owners."



The afternoon of June 24, the day of the hearing, the Whites won the rubber game of a 3-game series at Lake Front Park against the Boston Beaneaters, 13-6.

They were idle the next day, then closed out the month by splitting 4 games against Providence.

They played 45 more games at home, including their last 17 of the year. They went 13-4 in that season-ending home stand, capped by 9 straight wins.


Their final game at Lake Front Park was on Saturday, Oct. 11, against Philadelphia.

With about 1,200 looking on, the Whites scored 4 runs in the first inning and 4 in the seventh to take a 12-3 lead. The Quakers scored twice in the eighth, but the game was called on account of darkness before the Whites finished batting. Under the rules of the day, the score reverted to 12-3.

All 9 Whites made at least 1 hit. Four of them made 2. King Kelly made 4, including a home run. Ned Williamson hit his 27th homer, a single-season record. The Whites hit 142 as a team. No other team hit more than 39.


Despite the late-season winning streak, the Whites only tied with the New York Gothams (now, Giants) for fourth place, both finishing 62-50. Providence went 84-28 to win the pennant by 10.5 games over Boston, 19.5 over Buffalo and 22 over the Whites and Gothams.

In their 7 seasons at Lake Front Park, the Whites were 225-86, a .723 winning percentage. That would result in a 117-45 record if maintained over a full, modern, 162-game season.



The Whites began the 1885 season with an absurd 24-game road trip. Remarkably, they went 18-6.

On Saturday, June 6, they played their first game at the newly constructed West Side Park, hosting the St. Louis Maroons.

The contest "attracted one of the largest audiences ever assembled at a ball-field in this city," the Tribune reported, "the turn-stiles showing the registry of 10,237 people.

"The grand-stand was packed, as were also the open stands, and in addition 500 chairs which President Spalding had ordered sent to the ground were sold, and 2,000 people stood upon the bicycle track upon each side of the diamond. . . .

"Every housetop and window commanding a view of the grounds was occupied by spectators, and at rough estimate fully 2,000 people must have witnessed the game this way.

"The east end of the grounds was filled with carriages, and quite a number of vehicles for want of room were compelled to stand outside on Congress, Throop and Loomis streets."


The Whites shut out the Maroons until the ninth inning as they won, 9-2.

After a day off, they beat the Maroons 3 more times and moved into first place. The sweep increased their winning streak to 8 games. It eventually reached 18.

The Whites stayed on top of the standings the rest of the way, finishing 87-25, 2 games ahead of the Giants (85-27) and 49 ahead of the last-place Maroons (36-72).

They went 42-14 at home -- and nobody sued to force them to move elsewhere.



West Side Park remained their home until midway through 1891, when the team now known as the Colts played there only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

On Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays, they played at South Side Park, which they had been home to the Chicago Pirates in 1890, the only season of the rival Players League.

In 1892, the Colts played all games on the

South Side. In 1893, they played Sunday games there, but all others at a new park back on the West Side.

The West Side Grounds then remained their home, as the Colts, Orphans and Cubs, through 1915.

And in 1916, they moved one last time, to the North Side and Weeghman Park -- later, Cubs Park, and, since 1926, Wrigley Field.

In all those years, at all those parks, they have not had to fend off eviction sought by the United States government.

FanPosts are written by readers of Bleed Cubbie Blue, and as such do not reflect the views of SB Nation or Vox Media, nor is the content endorsed by SB Nation, Vox Media or Al Yellon, managing editor of Bleed Cubbie Blue or reviewed prior to posting.