Friday, March 27, 2020

A brief nonsense history of the Federal League

The Federal League was one of the few non-defunct leagues in baseball history and its goal was to find a way past Major League Baseball's reserve clause. It didn't follow the National Agreement of player payment, so the outlaw league, which lasted just two seasons (1914 and 1915) could pay huge salaries to players it tried to recruit from the two established major leagues.

Inaugural champion

The Indianapolis Hoosiers won the league's first championship, winning their final seven games to finish a game and a half ahead of the second-place Chicago Chi-Feds. In the season's final game, Katsy Keifer, making his only career appearance, tossed a complete game in a 4-2 win over the St. Louis Terriers.

Keifer (photo aged 11,000 years)

Indianapolis' manager was Bill Phillips, who a year later would manage the FL's Newark Pepper.

Not Peppers, but Pepper.

Almost 100 years later, I managed to find the South Carolina Beach Pepper.


That Chicago team, managed by former Cubs' Hall of Famer Joe Tinker (who was also a part-time infielder) had a backup catcher named Bruno Block. That's a perfect name for a catcher. 

It was that century's Sal Fasano.

Bruno, who put together a .198/.274/.255 batting line, and his Chicago teammates weren't known for their offense, but rather an excellent pitching staff that led the FL in several categories. The Chi-Feds had a league-leading ERA of 2.44, anchored by Claude Hendrix, who led all pitchers in ERA, wins and complete games.

Dan Sherman was also a part of that staff, though Sherman started, lasted 1/3 of an inning & took the loss in his only appearance - a 5-4 Kansas City Packers victory on June 4. The two runs Sherman allowed were unearned and Block made three errors that day. I'd like to believe that began a feud between the two that lasted for decades.


- Fake 1914 newspaper headline

Millville's Second Finest

How did I begin writing about the Federal League besides a possible acid flashback? Millville High School, of course.

The former home of Angels' great Mike Trout was also where Pittsburgh Rebels infielder Steve Yerkes played his prep ball. In limited playing time for the Rebels, Yerkes put together a .338/.386/.493 slash line in '14, then hit .288/.337/.371 in '15.

The third-best player in Millville High history was Andy Lapihuska, who had a 7 ERA for the Phillies from 1942-43, and who in 1951 knocked over this wheelbarrow.

The second and last champion

The Chicago Whales not only hold the distinction of playing in Wrigley Field before it was Wrigley Field (it was called Weegham Park), but won the league title in 1915.

Hall of Famer Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown was the anchor of an excellent Whales' staff (that also included Hendrix). Brown and the Whales actually finished in a virtual tie with the Terriers for the league title, but won the tie-breaker based on a doubleheader split with Pittsburgh on the final day of the season.

At the bottom of the league standings were the Baltimore Terrapins, who finished 47-107, thanks to a dreadful pitching staff that included Tommy Vereker.

Who is Tommy Vereker? Not sure.

The rest of the Federal League Question Marks

Baltimore actually went a respectable 9-13 against the Whales, which included a three-game home sweep in early-May. I think we'll all remember that series for Hack Simmons' tying, pinch-hit, three-run home run in the sixth in game three.

The Grovers

There were three Grovers in Federal League history, so let's talk briefly about each of them.

Grover Land - catcher, Brooklyn Tip-Tops 1914-15. At first I thought this sounded like a failed amusement park devoted to the Sesame Street character, but it actually sounds more like a place where you can bring the family, and for an affordable price just look at guys named Grover.

Grover Gilmore - outfielder, Kansas City '14-15. "Look kids, it's Grover Gilmore!", for example.

Grover Hartley - catcher, St. Louis '14-15. Went 3-for-5 with 2 RBIs in a 15-8 loss to Indianapolis on October 5, 1914.

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