City without a team, Part 1

By almost any measurement, the Cubs had a bad season in 2022.

But at least they had a season, unlike a century and a half earlier, in 1872.



The "Chicago Base Ball Club." was created in the fall of 1869, when 50 well-to-do city business men gathered at a downtown hotel and declared their intent to "get together a professional baseball nine; a nine which should play ball and nothing else, a nine which should beat the world."

Specifically, they wanted to defeat the Cincinnati Red Stockings, who had humiliated several amateur teams in a series of games played in Chicago earlier in the year.

For many years, Chicagoans viewed the meat-packing city on the Ohio River as their chief rival for supremacy in "the West" and refused to be bested by "Porkopolis" in any endeavor, including baseball.


Soon called the White Stockings, the new team achieved its objective in less than a year.

On Sept. 7, 1870, they triumphed over the Red Stockings, 10-6 -- at Cincinnati, no less.

"The mission of the White Stockings has been accomplished," the Chicago Tribune declared the next day. ""The organization was effected with a direct view to beating the Red Stockings, and they have done it.

"The white is above the red, and Chicago can crow over Cincinnati to her heart's content. The way it happened was the simplest in the world. The Red Stockings were fairly outplayed and badly beaten."


In a rematch at Chicago on Oct. 13, the Whites prevailed again, scoring 8 runs in the top of the ninth inning, then holding on to win, 16-13.

"It has been done again," said the Tribune, "this time in a manner which leaves no doubt as to whether Chicago has been successful in her efforts to wrest the base ball supremacy from Cincinnati."

"Too much praise cannot be awarded the pluck and skill evinced by the White Stockings."



Not long after the Red Stockings completed their season, their 2 top players, George and Harry Wright, departed to play for a team in Boston. Cincinnati's management then folded the team.

The Tribune urged the White Stockings to do the same:

This is the best of all times to disband.

"If it is now disbanded, time nor man can rob it of its honors. Now is the time to die.

"Had Napoleon died before he went to Russia, his glory would never have been dimmed by defeat, exile, and imprisonment. The misfortune of greatness is, that it does not know the proper time to quit.

"The inglorious disbandment of the Red Stockings should admonish the White Stockings to avoid a demise under similar circumstances a year hence.

"Our boys have the belt; let them die and the belt buried with them, and thus escape the humiliation of seeing it worn by their conquerors."



One can only imagine the reactions of the White Stockings' management and players. The Tribune never published a response from anyone associated with the team.

The Whites did not disband. In 1871, they became a charter member of the National Association, the sports' first true league, and were tied for first place, with an 18-7 record, on Sept. 29.

The team was about to embark on its final Eastern trip when the Great Chicago Fire began on Oct. 8 and destroyed much of the city. As Glenn Stout notes in his magisterial book, "The Cubs", "The White Stockings were among the fire's victims. Virtually all tangible evidence of the ball club went up in smoke, including their ballpark, club office, and records."



The Whites did not play again until Oct. 21, at Troy, N.Y., where it beat the Haymakers, 11-5.

But in a rematch 2 days later, the Whites were beaten, 12-19. The made their record 19-8, to 20-7 for Philadelphia.

The Whites and Athletics had split 4 games, each team winning and losing once at home.

They agreed to play a fifth game on Oct. 30, at New York.



The Tribune's 4-page edition that morning made no mention of the game to be played in the afternoon.

Here is the entirety of its coverage the next day, on the last of its six pages, tucked beneath an extended account of a meeting of the city's Common Council:



Base Ball.

New York, Oct. 30 -- The deciding game of the champion [sic] series between the Athletics, of Philadelphia, and the White Stockings, of Chicago was played this afternoon on the Union Grounds, resulting in favor of the Athletics by a score of 4 to 1, as follows:


The line score appeared next. Beneath it, the report concluded:

"This gives the championship of the United States to the Athletics."


The Philadelphia Inquirer provided only slightly more information.

After noting that the Athletics played without 3 of their regulars, and the Whites without 1, the story continued:

"The game was devoid of interest except from one circumstance, that it promised to end in the White Stockings being unable to score at all. The run they made in the last inning was through an error."



The victory over the Whites gave Philadelphia a record of 21-7. The Whites stood at 19-9; Boston, 20-10.

All teams had agreed that the season end on Oct. 31, but the Whites scheduled a game for 2 days later against Troy. They lost, 13-9, but it didn't matter, as the league voided the game.

It declared Philadelphia the champion and Boston the runnerup, relegating the Whites to third.


The Whites had a higher winning percentage than the Red Stockings, .679 to .667, but the league awarded the higher finish to Boston on the basis of it having won 3 of 5 schedule games against 5 opposing teams, while the Whites had done so in only 4 series.

The Whites had not been able to play 2 remaining against Cleveland, a team that had defeated in 2 of 3 games, or 3 more games against Keokuk, which they had beaten twice.

Boston also was 2-0 against Keokuk, as well as 2-2 against New York.

No one seemed to care that the Whites had won 3 of 4 head-to-head meetings with the Red Stockings.


None of the 6 other teams won more games than they lost, as Washington wound up fourth at 15-15.

The bottom 4 teams -- Troy, Cleveland, Fort Wayne and Rockford -- were a combined 34-67, but the Whites had lost once each to Troy and Cleveland. Victories in those 2 games would have earned them a share of first place.

No doubt the author of the Tribune's editorial a year earlier urging that the Whites disband felt vindicated. Ignoring his advice, the Whites had failed to "escape the humiliation of seeing it worn by their conquerors."



On Nov. 13, the Tribune reported on a meeting of the stockholders of the Chicago Base Ball Club, held 2 days earlier.

"The Secretary of the Club, J. M. Thacher, stated that the records, books, accounts, etc., of the club had been destroyed by fire, and it was impossible for him to present anything like an accurate report of the condition of the club's affairs.

"From recollection mainly he reported that about $1,500 had been disbursed since the fire, principally to members of the nine, on salary account; that there was no about $2,000 in the treasury; that the grounds had been insured in the Commercial, of Chicago, for $4,000, of which about 10 percent would probably be paid.

"He also stated that $800 had been advanced to McGeary on his next year's contract, and $50 to Cuthbert, and suggested that some action be taken with reference to these matters."



The story concluded:


The subject of retaining the club organization and securing players for next year was broached, but no action was taken, it being deemed essential that the stockholders should be advised of the present condition of affairs before taking any steps for the future.

It would seem as though Chicago would, for next year, have enough on its hands in the care of its destitute and in the work of rebuilding, without any further dabbling in professional base ball.

Even if it were possible -- which it is not -- to reconcile with our present position of alms-takers from the entire world, the maintenance of an expensive professional nine, we have no grounds on which to play our games, and to fit up grounds will cost from four to five thousand dollars.

The year 1872 will be a season of work in Chicago -- hard, unceasing work for everybody, and we shall have little time to devote to an amusement, the enjoyment of which takes an entire afternoon.

There will be no afternoons to spare, for some time to come, in Chicago. Base ball is a luxury, which we can dispense with for at least one year, and there should be no further steps toward the reorganization of the White Stocking nine.



On Nov. 26, the "Games and Pastimes" column at the top of page 2 of the Tribune began with this headline:

The White Stockings No More

The top item in the column began:




At a recent meeting of the stockholders of the Chicago Base Ball Club . . . it was by resolution declared that the stock of that club is canceled and surrendered, and a committee was appointed to wind up all the affairs of the club . . .


This was the end of the story:



It is said that certain parties -- mainly those most hostile to the management of the late Chicago Club -- still cling to the idea of getting up a professional nine for 1872, in Chicago, and that, provided suitable grounds can be secured, steps will at once be taken for the engagement of players.

As a private speculation, whereby the parties interested hope to make a few dollars out of the gate receipts with visiting clubs, we have nothing to say; but it should be remembered that such a scheme is purely individual, and in no way represents the honor and credit of base ball in Chicago.

As a city, Chicago had dropped base ball for a time, but there is no law against the formation of a one-horse professional nine, for purposes wholly mercenary.

It is not probable that the public would take much interest in such a speculation, nor that it would yield any considerable profit in a legitimate way, but if the organizers of the professional nine for 1872 think differently, or have other objects in view, nobody hinders them from proceeding with their little game.


Nearly 2 1/2 years would pass before the White Stockings played another game, a 4-0 win over the Athletics in Chicago on May 13, 1874.

But that doesn't mean there were no National Association games in Chicago in 1872 or 1873!


TOMORROW: Visitors from the East

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