This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the final season of the Federal League. It lasted all of two seasons before collapsing. Oh, there was a lawsuit (and it was major because it established baseball’s anti-trust exemption and brought Kennesaw Mountain Landis to the attention of team owners), but when it was all over to league was still gone. In memory of that long lost league, let’s take a look at the final Federal League champ. They were the Chicago Whales.
Opening day for the Whales was 10 April 1915. They were home in Weeghman Park against St. Louis and picked up a 3-1 win. In some ways it was the critical game of the season. In the final standings Chicago was 86-66 with a winning percentage of .566. St. Louis finished second 87-67 with a winning percentage of .565. In those days missed games didn’t have to be made up later in the season whether or not they impacted the pennant race or not. If Chicago lost game one their winning percentage would be .559 and St. Louis would move to .571 and take the pennant. And they tell me games in April don’t matter.
But because the season doesn’t end after one game, the Whales had to keep winning. They tallied a winning record in every month except August (12-19) and finished the season winning three of their last four games (including the last one). They were remarkably consistent. In the first half of the season they went 43-32 and 43-34 in the last half. They played at least .500 ball against every team in the league, going exactly .500 against three teams, including runner-up St. Louis. They also finished 44-32 at home and 42-34 on the road, a remarkably similar record. They finished fourth in hitting (.257), second in slugging, third in OBP, and second in total bases (by two bases). They led the league in home runs and RBIs, were second in both hits and runs. Their pitchers were third in the league in ERA, second in hits allowed, third in runs allowed, fourth in strikeouts, and third in walks allowed. In WHIP they are second. In one of my favorite stats, they are third in the FL in number of men left on base. They let ’em on, they don’t let ’em score.
The team was managed by Hall of Famer Joe Tinker. He played in 31 games, but mostly stayed in the dugout. Catcher Art Wilson hit .305 with seven home runs (second on the team), and an OPS+ of 164 (second in the league). He caught a staff that included Mordecai Brown, a Hall of Famer, who was at the end of his career. Brown went 17-8 with a 2.09 ERA (ERA+ 135), which was good for third in the league, and 95 strikeouts (tied for third on the team). The ace was George McConnell whose 25-10 record led the league in both wins and winning percentage. His 2.20 ERA was fourth in the FL with his 151 strikeouts being third. Claude Hendrix won 16 games and Mike Pendergast had 14. All four of them had more innings pitched than hits given up and more strikeouts than walks. Brown’s 1.071 WHIP led the team.
The infield (first around to third) was Fred Beck, Rollie Zeider, Jimmy Smith, and Harry Fritz. Fritz’s .250 led the infield in batting and he followed up by leading the infield in slugging and OBP. Beck’s five homers led the infield and Zeider’s 16 stolen bases were tops in the infield (if Tinker had played full-time with the same percentages he had in part time work, he would have led in batting, slugging, and OBP).
The outfield hit better. Dutch Zwilling played center and led both the team and the Feds in RBIs (94). He also led his team and finished second in the FL in homers (13). He hit .286, slugged .442, had an OBP of .366, giving him an OPS of .808 (OPS+ of 142). Les Mann and Max Flack flanked him. Mann hit .306 with a 138 OPS+, while Flack led the team with 37 stolen bases and it .314.
The bench was large for the era. Twelve men played at least 11 games for the Whales (not all were on the team at the same time). William Fischer played the most with 105 games, He was the backup catcher and hit .329 (good for second in the league) and had 50 RBIs, good for third on the team. Joining with Wilson he gave the Whales the best combo of hitting catchers in the FL. Charlie Hanford and Jack Ferrell played 70 games, Bill Jackson 50, and Tex Wisterzil got into 49 games. None of them hit .250 and only Jackson had a home run. Hanford’s ten stolen bases led the bench.
With the folding of the Feds at the end of the season, the team was gone. The players went different ways. For the Hall of Fame players Brown and Tinker (and for Zwilling too), they hung on one more year then retired. Others went to the minors, many to other major league teams where they got a shot with the National or American League. None became big stars. But, as many of you know, they did give baseball a lasting legacy. Weeghman Park was a pretty good stadium and now it was empty. The Cubs, needing new digs, moved in. It was later rechristened Wrigley Field and is still in use.