The Book About Jack Corbett and a Lot of Other Stuff – Part 1
The Name on the Base
Jack Corbett’s best friend is Jack Corbett; his ideal, Jack Corbett; his criterion, Jack Corbett; and his hero, Jack Corbett… It has been said that we must judge a man by the enemies he makes. Corbett has plenty of them, but it is safe to say that almost all of those who dislike him admire him at the same time.
— Winston-Salem Twin-City Daily Sentinel, 1916
Jack Corbett was a career minor league baseball player and manager. As the owner of a minor league team, Corbett took the baseball establishment to the Supreme Court. He played for the legendary Cap Anson, appeared in a Thomas Wolfe novel, married a minor movie star, and may have been a strongarm man for a movie theater mogul. His namesake product, the Jack Corbett Hollywood Base, appears today on every major league baseball diamond.
Corbett broke into professional baseball when he was 18 years old and played his last game when he was 30. The vast majority of his days were spent in the hot, fragrant, semi-dilapidated ballparks of the American South, playing for teams in the low minors that were near bankruptcy. He was an excellent infielder with good range and a whip for an arm. He became a reliable Class D batter but couldn’t hit a Class C curveball.
As a player-manager over parts of four seasons, Corbett won two minor league pennants. He was described as “clear-headed, a quick thinker and with a thorough knowledge of the game… ready at every minute to take advantage of the least lapse on the part of the opposing team.” He was also a world-class kicker ready to intimidate any umpire. He was loved by many and disliked by many. He was happy to humiliate or even attack his own players.
Corbett was the antecedent of Leo Durocher and Billy Martin: a scrappy, canny, annoying, in-your-face, good-field-no-hit middle infielder, a natural baseball player with a difficult personality who pursued the game’s chimeras. For Durocher and Martin, the unattainable carrot was even more success at baseball’s highest level. For Corbett, the destination was success at any level higher than the bottom of baseball’s barrel.
Corbett’s comparator as a team owner is professional football’s Al Davis, the owner of the Oakland Raiders. Davis feuded with the commissioner of the league that possessed him and sued for the right to do what is now a common practice. At the end of his life, Corbett was tagged “the eternal dissident,” a “perpetual gadfly,” a “stormy petrel,” and “baseball’s great suer.”
Jack Corbett never attained the success or celebrity of Durocher, Martin, or Davis. At the peak of his fame, he was the most popular person in Asheville, North Carolina. Corbett is now unknown to most baseball fans. He lacks even a Wikipedia entry, a courtesy afforded the most obscure and inconsequential of utility players and relief pitchers.
Yet each major leaguer who reaches base stands, literally, on Jack Corbett’s name. Does a player ever look down and think, “Jack Corbett? Who the heck was Jack Corbett?”
Jack Corbett Hollywood Base used on all Major League Baseball diamonds.
Once more baseball is here. In every city and hamlet in the land eager “fans” can hardly wait for the results of the day’s games. On every vacant lot in the United States future baseball stars are quarreling over the weighty decisions of a young umpire. With increasing popularity, the National game begins another season and there is every reason to believe that this year will eclipse all others.
– Richmond (Indiana) Palladium, April 16, 1906
Anderson, Indiana, frames a kink in the north fork of the White River, where it joins Killbuck Creek. In the alluvial deposits that line the stream beds, one finds the remnants of rocks uprooted by the glaciers of the last Ice Age. When those glaciers retreated, they left behind the silty soils of the Miami Clay Loam, a loose gray dirt that spreads out from Anderson in gentle undulations for miles and miles in each direction, creating a vast plain of farmland.
The farmers around Anderson rotated their crops: two years each of corn, wheat, and hay. The acreage would then be left in pasturage for three to four seasons. In those empty fields, a boy could take a baseball bat and scratch out a diamond in the dirt even before the last killing frost of mid-April.
Gas was discovered in the Trenton Limestone beneath Anderson in March of 1887. The town’s population doubled, then doubled again. Among those ready to relieve the boom-seekers of their Friday pay was Jim Corbett, a Pennsylvania-born “sporting man,” the son of Irish immigrants, who was well-known in the little towns north and east of Indianapolis.
“Jim was a gambler by profession, and was not ashamed of it,” The Muncie Morning News recalled. “He was known as a quiet, genial fellow, with a quick wit and dry humor that made him a most agreeable companion. As a gambler he had a reputation as one of the most proficient, and at the same time square, card men in the country.”
His second son, John Philip Corbett, later known as Jack, was born on August 2, 1887.
Jim Corbett died of pneumonia in the winter of 1894 at age 46, leaving behind his wife, Mary Catherine, and four children. Jack was 6 years old when his father died; his mother was 33. It was rumored that Jim Corbett had accumulated a fortune. Their house on Ohio Avenue was described as “elegant” and “one of the handsomest residences in the city.” Six years after Jim Corbett’s death, the family was living in a rented house on West 8th Street, a property they shared with a harness maker. Mary Corbett was supporting her family by working as a clerk selling corsets in Weslow’s department store.
Jack Corbett stood just over five feet, nine inches tall, and weighed between 160 and 170 pounds in his prime. His brown eyes were close-set. In some photographs, one eye appears to turn slightly inward, a condition that would have reduced his depth perception and hindered his hitting.
The locals later remembered that Johnny Corbett, as he was known around Anderson, began playing semi-pro baseball when he was fifteen years old.
Johnny Corbett, date unknown.
In early March of 1906, Corbett tried out unsuccessfully with the Fort Wayne Railroaders of the Class C Interstate Association. Three months later, we find the 18-year-old Corbett playing third base and acting as captain for a Sunday League semi-pro team in Alexandria, a town twelve miles due north of Anderson. Alexandria defeated Pendleton 4-0 on June 10. The following week, they took down the Marion Owls 10-9 in an eleven-inning contest as Corbett, batting third, socked a triple and scored two runs.
Word of Corbett’s work with Alexandria reached the ears of Peaches O’Neill, the new player-manager of the Class C Interstate Association’s Anderson club. Born in Anderson and destined to die there, O’Neill was a catcher, outfielder, and practicing lawyer who had enjoyed the requisite cup of coffee in the majors back in ‘04, appearing in eight games with the Cincinnati Reds. He had been named player-manager of Anderson on June 15 after purchasing a quarter of the club’s stock.
Jack Corbett broke into professional baseball with O’Neill’s team on Saturday, June 23, 1906, in a road game against Fort Wayne, the team with which he had tried out earlier in the season. Leading off and playing shortstop, he was 0-for-4, scored no runs, and recorded a putout, an assist, and an error. Anderson lost 1-8.
The following day Corbett dropped to the seventh slot in the order as Anderson faced Fort Wayne in a doubleheader. The first game, lost by Anderson 4-6, was another oh-fer for the young shortstop. In the field, he made three putouts and an error. He recovered in the second game, smacking a single and a double, scoring a run, and tallying three putouts with no errors. It wasn’t enough as Anderson again lost, 4-7.
O’Neill’s team was back in Anderson Monday morning, where they were scheduled to play the Flint Vehics. The train from Michigan arrived late, and the game was canceled.
Tuesday brought disaster for Corbett. With Anderson leading 3-1 in the top of the second, he took a grounder but overthrew first, allowing three runs to score. Flint went on to win 8-4.
The Interstate Association’s official statistics show Corbett with twelve at-bats in three games, gathering two hits for a .189 average. According to the newspaper accounts, he appeared in at least four games, three against Fort Wayne and one against Flint. His final play was probably the second-inning overthrow that resulted in three runs. Peaches O’Neill must have banished Corbett from the field before he could record an at-bat.
A few days later, Corbett was officially out, replaced at shortstop by future major leaguer Zinn Beck.
Having failed, for the first but not the last time, to stick in Class C ball, Corbett bounced back down to semi-pro. On Sunday, June 8, he appeared at shortstop for the Marion Owls in a 3-10 loss to his former team in Alexandria. Batting leadoff, he had one hit in four at-bats and stole four bases. In the third inning, Corbett was hit by a pitch, stole second and third, and scored on a double. In the field, he pulled in an unassisted double play and added three assists with no errors.
Willis Wilson McDonnell – usually spelled McDonald in the newspapers – owned the O.K. Café, a short-order lunch counter in Upland, a small town about 12 miles southeast of Marion. He played on the Upland town football team and managed the Upland Greens, a fast semi-pro baseball team.
In mid-season 1906, after a falling out with the Greens, McDonnell set out to form a new team. He took out a two-year lease on Lake Park, the ball grounds beside Winchester’s Funk Lake. His team would play in Winchester on Sundays and tour eastern Indiana during the week, taking on all comers. McDonnell persuaded 150 of Winchester’s more gullible citizens to support his endeavor with a weekly donation.
Corbett, still a few weeks shy of 19, was hired to play shortstop and to act as McDonnell’s assistant.
McDonnell unveiled his creation on July 15. In the team photo, he appears ridiculous in the top hat and tails of an impresario or a maître d’. Standing beside McDonnell is center fielder Patty Gorman. He was scheduled to go on tour with an opera company after the baseball season ended.
Right fielder Aime Delporte, a 42-year-old Belgian-born glassblower, crouches in front of McDonnell. Delporte arrived in the New World when he was 26. He took to the national pastime and became a mainstay of the eastern Indiana semi-pro circuit.
Corbett is at the far left of the front row. In the middle of the front row are catcher Charles Gunion and a pitcher named Taylor. They had, like Corbett, played with the Marion Owls. In the team photo, they still wear their Marion jerseys.
Willis McDonnell’s Winchester team, 1906. Jack Corbett is on the front row, far left.
McDonnell advertised his aggregation as “one of the fastest independent teams in the state.” The roster, he said, comprised “talented, gentlemanly players.” The men were on a straight salary. Teams visiting Winchester would receive travel expenses and 50 percent of the Lake Park gate, which comprised between 900 and 1300 fans each Sunday afternoon.
In their inaugural game, Winchester defeated Muncie’s Southside Athletic Club 1-0. The writer for the Winchester Journal deemed the score “satisfactory to the most enthusiastic fan… A game with a score like that could not but be interesting.”
The following Wednesday found McDonnell’s team in Farmland, from which they again traveled home with a victory. Our man at the Journal, who would have thoroughly enjoyed the 1968 season, said, “It was an interesting game from start to finish as the score 2-0 in favor of Winchester testifies.”
Over the last two weeks of July, the team compiled a 4-2 record. They were perfect in their home park but lost road games to Portland 0-10 and to Muncie 12-15.
After the game in Muncie, McDonnell’s team was rumored to have disbanded. Some players had not been paid and approached the Muncie management in hopes of jumping sides. McDonnell was found to have left town without paying his bills. The reports of the team’s demise were premature: the next day, McDonnell paid off his players and his bills, and the club continued to schedule games.
The Winchester crew arrived in Geneva on August 14 for a game against the local team. The players had just taken the field when a stray spark from a Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad engine ignited a fire in a hay barn. Everyone at the game – spectators, players, and the umpire – hightailed it to the scene and organized a bucket brigade.
The fire threatened to consume the entire north end of Geneva. “It was only by the hardest kind of work by the bucket brigade that the flames were checked,” the Muncie Star Press reported. Two large barns and a residence were destroyed, and several houses were badly damaged. The Star Press judged the Winchester team’s contribution more than adequate: “The visitors from Randolph County certainly did themselves proud as fire fighters, although they did not get a chance to show their mettle on the diamond.”
On August 27, Winchester completed a three-game sweep of Union City to give McDonnell’s team a 13-4 record. It was downhill from there as they lost five of their next six games, including three losses to the Portland team that had earlier defeated them 0-10. Winchester’s final game was played at Lake Park on Sunday, September 9: a 1-2 loss to the Indianapolis Metropolitans that left McDonnell’s crew with a 14-9 record.
After the game, McDonnell abandoned his team, telling the players that business matters elsewhere required his attention. He left 19-year-old Jack Corbett in charge. The team was busted, the players were unpaid, and McDonnell had debts all over Winchester.
Monday morning, as the other players departed for their homes, Corbett went around Winchester and tried to pry one last weekly donation from the team’s subscribers. Any money he collected was turned over to the club’s treasurer. Corbett caught the cars to Anderson that evening. “He was kind enough to send a note back,” the Muncie Evening Press recounted, “saying that he had enough to take him home, with 25 cents to the good.”
Who is it in these latter days
Still plays and plays and plays and plays?
Who tried the stage to elevate
But found, alas, he was too late?
— Baltimore News, 1897
Adrian Constantine Anson was born in Marshalltown, Iowa, a town founded by his father on the southwest bank of the Iowa River, slightly east of the state’s center. The senior Anson became, like Jack Corbett’s father, a man of substance, though his wealth was gained through more conventional means of business and commerce.
The young Anson was tall, blond, fair-skinned, and muscular. People in Marshalltown called him “Swede.” Six years after the close of the Civil War, at age 19, he began playing professional baseball with the National Association’s Rockford, Illinois, franchise. His youth and pink cheeks earned him the nickname “Baby.” He played for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1872 through 1875, serving a brief stint as player-manager in his final season.
In 1876 Anson joined the White Stockings, the Chicago franchise of the new National League of Professional Baseball Clubs. With Anson batting .356, the White Stockings took the league’s first pennant. Anson split time between third base, catcher, and the outfield until mid-way through the 1879 season when he was named Chicago’s player-manager at the age of 27. Anson installed himself at first base, where he remained for 19 years, becoming a titanic figure in the baseball universe.
Anson helped define the modern game. As a major league player, he recorded a career batting average of over .300, accumulated around 3000 hits (the exact number is disputed as the definitions of “major league” and “hit” have changed significantly since Anson’s day), tallied over 2000 runs-batted-in, and struck out only 330 times in over 10,000 at-bats.
Anson’s White Stockings won five National League pennants, earning him the title of “Captain” or “Cap,” the name by which he is best known today.
As a manager, Anson was an early advocate of spring training, the pitching rotation, the use of signals between the pitcher and catcher, base stealing, the hit-and-run play, the shifting of fielders to counter a batter’s strength, and the platoon system. He led his players through workouts that promoted complete cardiovascular fitness and demanded that his men behave respectably. He was an authoritarian manager, disliked by many players but popular with a public that valued pennants over personality.
As early as 1887, when Anson was a 35-year-old player-manager leading a team of twenty-somethings, Chicago’s sports writers began referring to the White Stockings as “Anson’s Colts.” The name stuck, and from 1890 until Anson left the club, the franchise was officially known as the Chicago Colts. The White Stockings name was later appropriated by the American League’s Chicago White Sox.
Anson learned that he could use his physical stature and booming voice to intimidate umpires. He became known as the King of Kickers, complaining and arguing after every adverse call. The endeavor became a hobby for Anson; a sport-within-a-sport played for his own amusement.
After an 1889 Saturday afternoon game in Cleveland, whose Spiders were enjoying their first season in the National League, Anson’s home-town Chicago Tribune reported his antics under the headline ANSON RIDICULED FOR HIS BLUSTER: “Cleveland has never before witnessed an out and out exhibition of kicking upon Ansonian principles, and the town is just at present trembling between indignation and astonishment at the physical demonstration… The Sunday Press of Cleveland stands shocked at Anson’s conduct, which it characterizes as ‘simply awful.’ Says the Plaindealer: ‘Anson must be losing what mind he ever had. There is method and sense in kicking on close plays. Such kicks affect the feature and pay for themselves. Kicks at umpires make them careful on succeeding plays. But in this game Anson blustered and bullied without purpose. He kicked on open plays, balls, strikes, and everything each inning… Even his own men were deriding him during the game. It was awful.’”
Most photographs of Anson in his playing days show a man with a mustache worthy of a Hessian colonel. When he pruned the shrubbery in 1895, the news made headlines on sports pages around the country.
“The mustache is gone,” columnist O.P. Caylor wrote. “The mustache was only a moderate elongated tuft of hair the color of a yellow dog, but it was national, because it grew on the upper lip of a national character – on the upper lip of the greatest, grandest, oldest and nearest immortal baseball player on the earth. It grew upon that flexible upper lip which during the last 25 years has by its movements and the words which came from beneath made miserable the lives of a multitude of umpires. What sarcasm that mustache in its day and generation roofed! What words of irony and sharp retort it looked down upon as they flew out at the luckless victims!”
The 45-year-old Anson, now known as “Pop,” was finally forced out of the Chicago franchise after a disappointing 1897 season. He finished up his professional baseball career the following year, managing the New York Giants for twenty-two games. He retired from the game one week after Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders stormed San Juan Hill. One writer called Anson “the embodiment of the entire history of the game of baseball.”
The game’s history includes Anson’s role in the creation of professional baseball’s color line. On multiple occasions, Anson threatened to withhold his players from exhibition games against teams that sent Black players to the diamond. He may not have been the first to place his bat in foul territory and draw a line in the sand, but he is the one whose actions are the most disappointing when compared to his stature as a player and manager.
The amount of influence wielded by Anson – whether the color line could have existed without Anson’s support – is a matter of modern speculation. But Sol White, a Black player who was a contemporary of Anson’s, laid the blame squarely on the captain’s cleats.
In his Official Base Ball Guide, printed in 1907, White wrote, “His repugnant feeling, shown at every opportunity, toward colored ball players, was a source of comment through every league in the country, and his opposition, with his great popularity and power in base ball circles, hastened the exclusion of the black man from the white leagues.”
Anson’s racial attitudes were clearly evident in his autobiography, A Ball Player’s Career, published in 1900. Anson repeatedly referred to Clarence Duval, a diminutive Black teenager who served as the White Stockings’ mascot, as a “coon” and a “darkey.” Duval was, Anson wrote, “a no account n—–.”
“The fact remains,” Anson biographer David Fleitz wrote, “that Adrian Anson stood, loudly and proudly, on the wrong side of history.”
After leaving the major leagues, Anson’s most valuable asset was his name. He dabbled in a variety of schemes as he attempted to translate his fame into dollars. He toyed with acquiring a major- or minor league franchise, opened a combination pool hall and bowling alley, and appeared on the Vaudeville circuit.
In the 1905 Chicago city election, Anson joined the Democratic ticket as he sought the office of city clerk, a job for which he was unqualified but that carried an annual salary of $6000. The city’s streetcar system had degraded into a poorly-regulated morass of privately-owned lines, and the “traction question” – whether all lines should be consolidated under municipal ownership – was foremost in the voters’ minds. Anson, however, concentrated his campaign on the issue of “race suicide.”
Race suicide was the belief that the white, native-born, largely Protestant population of the country was allowing itself to be overwhelmed by – well, by everyone else. The solution was to maintain a higher birth rate than the competition. President Theodore Roosevelt brought race suicide to national attention in 1902 when he declared that someone who deliberately avoids creating children “is in effect a criminal against the race, and should be an object of contemptuous abhorrence by all healthy people.”
Anson let Chicago voters know that the Democratic candidates for mayor, city treasurer, city attorney, and city clerk had, between them, fathered 20 children. “A showing like that ought to satisfy President Roosevelt,” he concluded smugly.
The editorial board of the Chicago Eagle was not impressed with Candidate Anson. “The idea of expecting the people to go wild over the candidacy of a played out professional ballplayer for City Clerk is rich,” the paper printed a few days before the election. “He never did a day’s work in his life.”
Anson’s name recognition was sufficient to put him into office. Afterward, it was found that Anson had failed to pay the city’s annual $10 license fee on the 41 pool tables in his establishment. He was $410 in arrears, resulting in the comical scenario of Anson ordering himself to write a check to himself.
The semi-pro craze swept Chicago in the mid-1900s. There was money to be made by building a little ballpark, assembling a fast team to play in it, and charging fans a quarter to watch the show. By 1906, semi-pro teams were playing in West End Park, Northwest Park, South Chicago Park, Gunther Park, Rogers Park, White Eagle Park, Artesian Park, Ashland Park, Gainer and Koehler Park, and New Washington Park.
Sanborn fire insurance map of Gunther Park, 1905. The field and grandstand were typical for Chicago’s semi-pro parks. Distances from home plate to the fence were approximately 200’ down the right field line, 350’ to left, and 400’ to the center field corner. The tract is now occupied by Chase Park.
Jimmy Callahan, a former pitcher for the Colts and White Sox, had a team at Logan Square Park. Jimmy Ryan, another old Colt, hosted a team in Lawndale Park. The Leland Giants, one of the best Black teams in the country, played in Auburn Park.
Anson announced in 1906 that he was jumping into the semi-pro business with “a crack team” called the White Citys, but the project failed to manifest itself until the following year.
On February 14, 1907, Anson leased the land for his new baseball plant. The tract was on the city’s South Side, bounded by 60th Street, 61st Street, Champlain Avenue, and St. Lawrence Avenue. It was owned by the estate of Dr. A.B. MacChesney, whose son, Nathan W. MacChesney, would in 1927 draft the Standard Form, Chicago Restrictive Covenant that codified neighborhood segregation for decades to come.
Sanborn fire insurance map showing the property that became Anson’s Park (outlined in red), 1895. The tract is bounded by 60th Street (north), 61st Street (south), Champlain Avenue (east), and St. Lawrence Avenue (west). The building on the tract’s northern half is the Great Eastern Hotel.
During the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, the Great Eastern Hotel had graced the tract’s northern half, along 60th Street between Champlain and St. Lawrence. The hotel was abandoned after the fair and burned down five years later. Across 60th Street sprawled the greenery of Washington Park, where a flock of grazing sheep kept the lawns well-trimmed.
The ghost of the old Washington Park Driving Club racetrack hovered on the other side of 61st Street. The track closed in 1905. The following year the grandstand was demolished, and the infield – which hosted a golf course – was plowed under. The club’s 80 acres were subdivided to create a new neighborhood called the Washington Park Addition. St. Lawrence Avenue was extended north across the development from 63rd Street to 61st.
On Anson’s side of 61st Street, St. Lawrence was an unimproved passage owned by the MacChesneys. It was probably included in the land leased for the ballpark and was available for development. One resident dismissed St. Lawrence as “the alley east of Rhodes Avenue.”
A rudimentary baseball field already occupied Anson’s tract. It was being used by Hyde Park Academy’s baseball team, which was left diamondless by Anson’s arrival. The high school’s football, cricket, and soccer squads were likewise displaced. Anson announced plans for a massive upgrade, including a large wooden grandstand.
The lot’s dimensions were nearly identical to those of the tract that hosted Gunther Park, whose fences were about 200 feet from home plate down the right field line and 350 feet from home in left. Anson’s ballpark was usually described as being located at “61st Street and St. Lawrence Avenue,” suggesting that the grandstand was built near that corner. Distances to the right and left field fences, then, would have been similar to those at Gunther Park.
A group of 85 neighborhood residents, branding themselves the Washington Park Improvement Association, were unhappy with Anson’s project. They claimed to have nothing against the national pastime “but didn’t want it in their own yards.”
On February 17, a small paragraph buried at the bottom of page 28 in the Chicago Inter Ocean newspaper announced that the neighborhood group was “planning to wage war” against Anson and his proposed ballpark. “The members of the association threaten injunction proceedings if the captain tries to carry out his plan.”
A committee brandishing “a big petition of property owners” confronted Mayor E.F. Dunne in his office the next day. Dunne promised to hold a public hearing before signing off on the building permit that Anson would need to construct his wooden grandstand. But as soon as the citizens exited, Dunne sent a note to Anson’s desk in the city clerk’s office and told him to immediately file for the permit. The mayor endorsed the application with his signature, and the building permit was granted ten minutes after the citizens’ committee ended their meeting with Dunne.
There was one small problem. Section 1074 of the Chicago building code, entitled Grand Stands – Frame – Within the Fire Limits – Frontage Consents, stated that anyone seeking a permit to build a wooden grandstand “shall first obtain the consent in writing of the owners of a majority of the frontage on both sides of the street or streets on each side of the block or square in which it is desired to erect such a grand stand.”
When Anson was granted the permit to build his wooden grandstand, he did not possess the required frontage consents, and it was impossible for him to ever obtain them. Along 60th Street, Anson’s lease fronted the city-owned Washington Park. The park commissioners refused to provide consent, saying they lacked the authority to do so. Without a frontage consent from the owners of the public park, Anson could not legally receive his building permit. Nevertheless, Anson filed a statement claiming the consent of the commissioners.
How Anson planned to finesse the lack of frontage consents is a mystery. He probably thought that the problem could be solved using methods that had always worked for him before: a mélange of intimidation, obfuscation, political favoritism, and back-slapping, all glazed over by an aura of celebrity. None of it worked this time, to the captain’s consternation.
The day that Anson received his building permit, he sent a letter to his daughter, Adele, and her husband, Carroll E. Cherry, disclosing the details of his new project. Writing on the city clerk’s stationery, with each line climbing a gentle slope from left to right, he opened with some good news: “Inclosed you will find check for three hundred dollars which is the amount you wished me to let you have, making five hundred in all. I hope this will keep the loan sharks from selling the furniture.”
Letter from Cap Anson to Adele and Carroll Cherry, February 18, 1907
He then brought Adele and Cherry up-to-date on the building permit. Referring to the paragraph in the Inter Ocean that announced the neighborhood association’s displeasure, Anson indicated that he had filed for the permit before the residents had a chance to stop him: “I took out my license for the Anson ball park to day owing to a squib in the paper that said the people out there were going to enjoin the city from issuing the license. The price was fifty dollars.” The actual price of the permit was $26, but Anson may have slipped someone at City Hall a couple of sawbucks to ensure the timely processing of his application.
After discussing a tournament taking place in his pool hall, Anson turned back to his grandstand: “I closed contract with builder and lumber man to furnish lumber and labor. I think I pay about eleven hundred every month for the next six or seven months. The stands cost seven thousand five hundred dollars and will seat five thousand people.” It was an enormous outlay, each monthly payment being equal to almost $35,000 in today’s money.
At the time of her engagement, Adele was described in the Chicago society pages as “a decided blonde.” A later witness said she was “large, blond, and affable.” Carroll Cherry was a bland-faced fellow fond of bowler hats. He had previously been employed by his brother in a printing company. When Cap Anson’s father, Henry Anson, died in 1905, an estate worth $100,000 was left to Cap and his brother Sturgis. Cherry was named executor of the estate. In January of 1907, Sturgis Anson sued Cherry, alleging a dozen counts of financial malfeasance and misappropriation of funds.
With his payments to the contractor about to begin and the semi-pro baseball season not opening until late April, Anson was in a classic cash-flow crunch. Though Cherry was already swimming in hot water over his handling of Henry Anson’s estate, his father-in-law proceeded to press him to finagle a few more shekels from the pile: “Carroll you had better hurry and help me earn enough money so I can pay. How soon is there any chance to get hold of any money advanced to the estate. Or can we sell anything and get hold of a little money.”
Anson closed on a gambler’s note of cautious optimism. “I think it will work out all right. Any how I think I am taking long chances.”
Though he had neither a proper ballpark nor a team to put in it, Anson immediately challenged the Chicago White Sox to an exhibition game. White Sox owner Charles Comiskey took up the gauntlet and agreed that he and Anson would play first base for their respective teams. Anson admitted that he was not quite in playing shape. “I will have to get out and take off fifty or sixty pounds to reduce to the proper weight,” he said, “but that will be an easy matter.”
Anson’s finances took a huge blow during the last week of February. He went to the Chicago Democratic Convention seeking the nomination for either city clerk or city treasurer. He came away with nothing. No matter who won the general election, Anson would be out of a job, and his $6000 salary, when the new city clerk took over on April 15.
Barely sprung from the box and already facing trouble from the ballpark’s neighbors, Anson’s project caught a second snag when his application to join the Park Owners Association was rejected. The POA comprised ten park-based semi-pro teams and ten traveling teams that rotated around the circuit. The organization scheduled games (two games each week on Saturday and Sunday), set ticket prices (25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children), and provided umpires. The best semi-pro teams in the area belonged to the POA. Membership was imperative if Anson hoped to draw enough fans to turn a profit.
In 1907 the POA was not a league in the traditional sense. The member teams were independent clubs. The association’s goal was to facilitate an efficient revenue stream. Whether a park operator profited from that revenue was a function of his business acumen, a quantity that history demonstrated was deficient in Cap Anson.
Anson’s application was opposed by John M. Schorling, a son-in-law of Charles Comiskey. Schorling operated Auburn Park, home of the Leland Giants. He would later become part owner of the Giants along with future Hall of Fame pitcher Rube Foster. Schorling probably had philosophical differences with Anson regarding race issues, but in this case, the matter was the peculiarly unique Chicagoan brand of business politics.
Schorling’s Auburn Park was, like Anson’s, on the South Side of Chicago. He was in danger of losing his lease on the land beneath Auburn Park and might need to relocate to the North Side near Jimmy Callahan’s Logan Square Park. Schorling wanted Anson to approach Callahan, his friend and former teammate, and illicit a promise to support Schorling’s northern migration. Until that happened, Schorling would withhold his support of Anson’s application.
Undeterred, Anson began to build his team. His first recruit was Walter Eckersall, a native lad who would one day die of cirrhosis.
Eckersall attended high school at Chicago’s Hyde Park Academy, where he played football on the field that in 1907 became Anson’s Park. He stayed in town for college and quarterbacked Alonzo Stagg’s University of Chicago football team to a national championship in 1905. A record 27,000 fans packed into Marshall Field to watch the Maroons defeat Michigan 2-0 in the Game of the Century, the first of many Games of the Century to grace society in the next 94 years.
The Maroons’ pair of points came in the third quarter when Michigan’s Bill Clark fielded an Eckersall punt deep in his own end zone and attempted to run it out. He made it a yard beyond the goal line but was thrown back and tackled for a safety. Clark never recovered from the emotional consequences of his poor decision. He shot himself through the heart in 1932.
The Hyde Park Academy football team in 1902, with Walter Eckersall at quarterback, practicing on the field that later became Anson’s Park.
The signing was a marketing ploy. Eckersall was a nationally-famous athlete that people would pay a quarter to see. He was exceptionally fast and a great football player, said to be the best punter in the country, but on the baseball field he was nothing special. Playing left field for the University of Chicago team in 1906, he batted .250 with a .893 fielding average. Anson planned to plant Eckersall at shortstop, front-and-center, where the fans could adore his greatness.
More substantially, Anson signed Louis Gertenrich to be the Colt’s on-field captain. Gertenrich had previously captained the Rogers Park team. He had the reputation of being the best semi-pro player in Chicago. He broke into professional ball in 1894, when he was 19, played in the high minor leagues, and had a couple of drops of coffee in the big show: two games with Milwaukee in 1901 and a game with Pittsburgh in 1903.
Gertenrich was the son of a successful candy maker and was rumored to be wealthy. But in 1907, he was working for the city as a code inspector. He had an office in City Hall and would have been well-acquainted with Anson. One imagines the two former major leaguers, one sixty pounds beyond his prime, the other still in playing trim, leaving the building together at noon and catching the trolley down to Anson’s Billiards on East Madison (“Finest Billiard and Pool Room in the World”) where they enjoyed Capt. Anson’s Home Plate Buffet. And all the while talking about baseball and how much better the game was “before they put in the infield fly rule.”
Newspaper advertisement for Anson’s pool room and bowling alley, 1907.
With two solid hires in his pocket and little else, Anson was ready for business. “Despite the association’s attitude,” he told reporters, “I am going ahead and making up my team, and I guess Eckersall, Gertenrich and myself can get together a good one.”
Anson then dutifully pulled the requisite strings of Callahan and Schorling; his admission to the Park Owners Association was approved on March 12. The Tribune announced the news, saying, “The veteran cap’n, who began playing ball before several of the park owners began shouting for the milk bottle, is now on equal terms as a ‘magnate’ with Jimmy Callahan, Jimmy Ryan, and the others.”
Meanwhile, the property owners were marshaling their forces. The residents around Anson’s proposed park knew they had been given the double-cross by Mayor Dunne in favor of his city clerk, who they characterized as the mayor’s “henchman.” A meeting to air their grievances was held on the evening of March 16 in Washington Park Hospital. “There was no attempt to disguise the fact that with few exceptions, the men who attended the meeting are not fond of Mayor Dunne,” the Tribune reported.
Anson was present at the meeting but was not allowed to speak. His most vocal support came from a saloon keeper named Billy McCarthy, who owned an establishment two blocks from the proposed ballpark at 61st and Cottage Grove. According to the Tribune, McCarthy “showed up as an ally of ‘The Cap,’ and, metaphorically speaking, shook his fist at the opponents of the ball park.” He was repeatedly called to order by the committee chairman “and finally was declared ineligible to participate in the debate.”
The committee resolved to seek an injunction to halt construction of the grandstand. Anson saw himself as the aggrieved party. “I don’t think I have had a fair shake,” he said after the meeting. “If they go into the courts, I will fight.”
Before visiting the courtroom, the property owners took their beef to Building Commissioner Peter Bartzen. He was, like Anson, a Dunne loyalist with an office in City Hall. After hearing the residents out, Bartzen sent a policeman down to Anson’s construction site with orders to stop the hammering. He then kicked the can down the bureaucratic road to Assistant Corporation Counsel William Barge, who declared that the permit was valid. Saws and hammers again became active on the South Side.
With the bit in their teeth, the Washington Park Improvement Association went before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Lockwood Honoré, who imposed a temporary injunction against Anson. A deputy sheriff brandishing the judge’s order appeared on Anson’s diamond, and the hammers and saws were silenced once more.
The residents met again on April Fools’ night. Summoning the specter of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow – or perhaps an errant sheep from Washington Park – they alleged that Anson’s grandstand was a “fire trap” that endangered the entire neighborhood.
The captain fell back on the favorite tool of Chicago politicians: bribery. Anson offered J.J. Mann, the secretary of the residents’ association, a free season’s pass to his still-chimeric ballpark in exchange for Mann’s help in greasing the wheels. “We always take care of our friends,” Anson assured the secretary. A pass to watch baseball in a park that Mann didn’t want was about all Anson could pull from the kitty given his cash-flow constraints, and the secretary declined the offer.
On April 2, Chicago’s citizens, living and dead, went to the polls and voted early and often. Mayor Dunne and the Democrats were defeated by Postmaster Fred Busse and the Republicans. If Anson had any political levers left at his disposal, he would have to pull them before the new administration took over on April 15. He would find few friends among the incoming Republicans.
Anson finally caught a break, or so it seemed at the time. On April 10, Judge Honoré dissolved the injunction that had halted work on the grandstand. Chicago’s fire marshal testified that the wooden grandstand would increase the chance of a neighborhood-threatening fire “remotely.” A pair of insurance men said that the grandstand’s presence would not impact insurance rates.
The next day Anson attended the opening day game of his old National League club, the former White Stockings and Colts, now known as the Cubs. Still a celebrity within the circle of Chicago baseball, Anson presented each Cub with a gold-handled umbrella, courtesy of the Chicago Board of Trade, then threw out the first pitch. In those days, the ball was thrown from the comfort of a box seat. Anson was unable to get the ball to his intended target, and the umpire had to pick it up off the ground. “Anson’s arm has clearly gone back on him,” an observer noted.
The relief provided by the injunction’s dissolution proved fleeting. The day after the Cubs’ opener, the residents’ committee returned to the office of Building Commissioner Bartzen and again demanded that he revoke Anson’s permit, citing his lack of frontage consents. Bartzen was confused by their request. “I thought this case was decided,” he told them, referring to the now-dissolved injunction.
Bartzen contacted Judge Honoré and learned that his ruling had resolved only the question of the grandstand being a fire trap. The issue of frontage consents remained up in the air. Bartzen revoked Anson’s permit, saying, “I do not believe a majority of the frontage consents has been obtained. The south park commissioners inform me that they have not given their consent and their consent is necessary.”
When Anson learned of Bartzen’s ruling, he was in his city clerk’s office, packing up in preparation for vacating City Hall. He hot-footed it to Bartzen’s office with his attorney in tow where, in the words of the Chicago Inter Ocean, “they found Mr. Bartzen superintending the transportation of the relics of his own power to his home.”
Anson’s lawyer, Herbert E. Bradley, was a real estate investor who specialized in mining law. He later became a big game hunter. In 1921, Bradley took his wife and six-year-old daughter on an expedition to the Belgian Congo, where he killed five gorillas and sampled their meat. Entering Bartzen’s office, Bradley launched a too-vigorous legal attack on the commissioner’s permit revocation. Bartzen threatened to throw him into the hallway, declaring, “I would rather fight than eat.”
Anson tried to calm the waters by appealing to Bartzen’s political principles. “We’re both Democrats,” he pleaded. “Those people out there are all Republicans. Why, you couldn’t get a square meal out of them.”
“I don’t care what they are,” Bartzen shot back. “I am not granting a permit to anyone because he is a Democrat. You’ve got to comply with the ordinances to do business with me. You haven’t sufficient frontage consent, and you’ve got to get it before I’ll let you build your stand.”
Anson and Bradley exited, vowing to take their fight back to the courts. The encounter had enlivened what the Inter Ocean alliteratively labeled “the last sad days of the dying Dunne administration.”
Anson and his lawyers again visited the courtroom of Judge Lockwood Honoré. They requested an injunction to stop Bartzen from interfering in the construction of the grandstand. Judge Honoré refused to enjoin the order, declaring that Anson lacked any standing in his court.
The inauguration of Fred Busse took place on Monday evening, April 15. The next day a new ensemble of Republican bureaucrats invaded City Hall. Anson, with admirable persistence, showed up in the building commissioner’s office and filed for a new permit. Bartzen had been replaced by Joseph Downey, an ardent Cubs fan and a good friend of Cubs owner Charles Murphy. Anson evidently thought that his status as the greatest player in the history of Chicago baseball would give him an in with Downey.
Downey, like his predecessor Bartzen, kicked the can to the corporation counsel’s office. The opinion came back from Corporation Counsel Edward J. Brundage that Anson lacked the necessary frontage consents. Downey turned down Anson’s application.
Anson was in a squeeze play. His city salary had ended. He had probably shelled out at least two, perhaps three, of the $1160 payments to his contractor. His first home game was less than two weeks away on April 28. And he had no grandstand, no permit to build a grandstand, and no frontage consents. There was only one path around Section 1074 of the building code: replace his partially-completed wooden grandstand with a steel grandstand.
It was a brave, revolutionary, and expensive solution. Major league baseball’s first concrete-and-steel ballpark, Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, was still on the drawing board. Both the Cubs and White Sox played before wooden grandstands. The Chicago building code contained no ordinances that specifically addressed steel grandstands – or the need for frontage consents before constructing one – probably because no one had ever before wanted to build one in Chicago.
Though steel grandstands were rare, Anson had access to a fine example at Dellwood Park in Joliet. When the new baseball field opened there in May 1905, the Joliet Herald News reported that the steel grandstand held “about 1,800 people.” The crowd at a 1906 game reached 3000, which included, the Herald News said, a filled grandstand, overflowed bleachers, and a crowd that “stood, sat, or laid on the ground all the way from third base around to first behind the catcher.”
Anson wasted no time. He turned up in Joliet the day after Downey turned down his application for a new permit. Under the headline “CAP” ANSON VISITS JOLIET, the Herald News told its readers that Anson came to town on the evening of April 17 to inspect the Dellwood Park grandstand: “He intends to model the one he will put up on the south side in Chicago after the local one.”
While Cap Anson was trying to get his ballpark built, Lou Gertenrich was assembling the team that would play in it. Dubbed “Anson’s Colts,” a throwback to the captain’s days as a major league manager of young men, the roster included four former Rogers Park players: center fielder Gertenrich, left fielder Henry Butcher, third baseman Hugh Cook, who had previously captained the Purdue baseball team, and catcher Howard “Howdy” Cassiboine.
Catcher Mike Sampson, who replaced Cassiboine early in the season, had played with the semi-pro Streator Reds. Second baseman Walter Rooney, a former member of the University of Chicago baseball team, had also played on the Streator Reds. Like Rooney and Walter Eckersall, pitcher Jimmy Sullivan had played at the University of Chicago. First baseman Al Weinberger had starred with Northwestern. Jimmy Clark was a strikeout artist who had pitched for the Chicago Heights semi-pro team in ’06.
The Colts played their first game on Saturday, April 20, as the visiting team in Rogers Park. Walter Eckersall had been penciled in as the starting shortstop. But when the Colts took the field, the gap between second and third was filled by 19-year-old Jack Corbett.
Boys like Jack Corbett grew up with an innate knowledge of Cap Anson the way boys of later generations knew the names Ruth, Robinson, Mantle, Mays, Musial, DiMaggio, and Williams before they left the hospital of their birth. The year Corbett was born, Anson led the National League with a .347 batting average. Cap managed his last major league game a month before Corbett turned 11. For years after his retirement, the midwestern newspapers routinely carried nostalgic accounts of Anson’s days on the diamond.
Playing in Chicago for the legendary Captain was a fantasy for thousands of midwestern boys. Whoever occupied the chunk of Miami Clay Loam designated as first base – “this is first, second’s that rock over there, somebody make an X where third is” – was Cap Anson for the afternoon. But the circumstance that plucked Johnny Corbett off the scratchy infields of eastern Indiana and deposited him on the diamonds of Chicago remains a mystery.
In the months between the 1885 and 1886 seasons, Anson starred in a touring play called A Runaway Colt, a farce written by Charles H. Hoyt, who died insane in 1900. “The story tells of a young college graduate, the son of a minister, who becomes a noted pitcher of the college club. He then wishes to become a professional, but is opposed by his parents, runs away from home, and under an assumed name becomes one of Anson’s ‘Colts,’” a reviewer explained.
In the screenplay based on the book you are reading, Johnny Corbett reads of Cap Anson’s plans for a baseball team and vows to play for his hero. He tells his mother that he is off to Chicago to seek fame and fortune with the greatest player in baseball’s short history. Tears and harsh words ensue until James Corbett enters the cramped country kitchen (for the sake of a feel-good narrative, we will resurrect pater Corbett and replace his pinstriped gambler’s coat with the somber vestments of a Midwestern minister). The good pastor takes his son out beside the barn and forks over the coins for a one-way ticket to Union Station along with some tough-love fatherly advice: “Don’t come back until you make good.”
Johnny Corbett shows up at the under-construction Anson’s Park where the Colts are practicing, introduces himself as “Jack,” pulls a battered glove from his back pocket, and convinces Gertenrich to hit him a few grounders. Gertenrich insists that the youngster is “wasting your time and everyone else’s.”
With Anson watching from a distance, Corbett proceeds to wow the players with his foul-line-to-foul-line range and whip-like arm, scooping up everything Gertenrich sends his way and firing the balls to first base, where they pop into Weinberger’s mitt.
When Corbett trots from the diamond he is greeted by Cap Anson himself, who hands the youngster a brand-new jersey with Anson emblazoned across the front in Old English script. “Welcome to Chicago,” Anson beams down at his new disciple. And who can say that it didn’t happen that way?
Corbett’s connection to the Colts may have been third baseman Hugh Cook, Lou Gertenrich’s teammate on the Rogers Park team. Cook was an Indiana boy, born and buried in Kewanna. Like any good ballplayer, he would have had his ear to the baseball grapevine, always aware of the talent circulating in the sticks. When Eckersall became unavailable – he was a busy boy with many irons in the fire, including politics, journalism, semi-pro football, and booze – Cook may have passed Corbett’s name on to Gertenrich.
Batting third in the Colts’ first game, Corbett made no hits but scored a run as the Colts were corralled 3-4. In the field, he had one putout, two assists, and an error.
Before committing to the expensive steel structure, Anson made a pair of desperate, late-inning moves to salvage the in-progress wooden grandstand. On the Monday following the Colts’ first game, Anson and Bradley, Esq, appeared before the park commissioners and pleaded for their frontage consent. The commissioners chose to remain neutral in the matter, in effect dooming Anson to defeat.
The next day Anson was back in Judge Honoré’s courtroom. He again sought to enjoin the city from stopping work on the wooden grandstand. He maintained that, back in February, then-Commissioner Bartzen had granted the permit. And, once granted, the city had no right to revoke it. The fact that Anson had misrepresented his frontage consents – claiming that the park commissioners had given their consent when they had not – mattered little within Anson’s worldview.
It was a true Hail Mary, but the argument failed to sway the judge. “I’m sorry that I cannot assist in this laudable enterprise,” Judge Honoré ruled, “but the law on the subject seems clear.”
Anson remained defiant. “I will erect my park at any cost,” he said. The price for erecting a 2000-seat steel grandstand would be $10,000, significantly more than his original estimate for the 5000-seat wooden stands. Anson had envisioned the Colts as a money-making scheme. Now he was neck-deep in debt without a lifeline in sight. But walking away from the project would be even worse. He claimed that he would lose $50,000 in net profits if the grandstand wasn’t constructed. Anson was vastly overstating his potential profits but completing the park and bringing in some revenue was the only path out of his financial morass.
The Colts were scheduled to play the traveling team from Kankakee on Sunday, April 28, in Anson’s Park. On Saturday afternoon Officer Reaty of the Woodlawn police station was walking his beat when he heard hammering in the vicinity of the ballpark. Upon investigating, he found Anson directing the construction of temporary wooden bleachers. Officer Reaty asked to see Anson’s construction permit, which he did not have. Anson jumped on the trolley for City Hall – open on Saturdays to better serve the taxpayers – and received a permit to complete the temporary bleachers.
The next day Anson’s Colts defeated Kankakee 4-2. Corbett again appeared at shortstop, where he made three assists. Batting third, he made two hits and scored a run.
The park’s first game was poorly-attended, a portent of future troubles. Anson possessed an overblown belief in the power of his own name. He thought that a team owned by Cap Anson, playing in Anson’s Park, wearing jerseys with Anson across the front would be sufficient inducement for Chicago’s citizens to fill his pockets with quarters. It was not to be.
Anson’s legal struggles, reliably reported in the Tribune and Inter Ocean, did not help his image. He came across as a poor businessman who chose the wrong site for his ballpark, lied about the frontage consents, then tried to extricate himself from the problem by bullying his neighbors. The neighborhood support that semi-pro teams relied on for survival did not exist, and the Colts, a solid if unspectacular combination, were not good enough to draw fans from around the city.
Many fans would have paid to see Anson himself take the field, even a 60-pounds-overweight version of the former first baseman. But the owner, when he attended his team’s early-season 1907 games, sat on the bench in a suit and bowler hat beside Carroll Cherry, who had been booted from his role as the executor of Henry Anson’s estate, and named the Colts’ business manager.
The basics of Chicago’s city code eluded Anson. Perhaps he felt that the rules did not apply to a man of his stature. It was found that his ballpark lacked a Public Place of Amusement License, yet another tax imposed on the honest or dishonest entrepreneur. Even the owners of the flat-topped buildings surrounding the Cubs’ West Side Park, where people gathered in the afternoons to watch the games, were required to buy amusement licenses.
Lacking the appropriate permissions, Anson’s Park hosted no games in the second week of the season. The Colts lost to the Normals in Normal Park on Saturday and were on the sidelines for Sunday.
Anson dealt with the amusement license by giving Mayor Busse a personal tour of his ballpark, describing the “fireproof grandstand” that would someday replace the temporary bleachers and no doubt regaling the former postmaster with tall tales of pennants won and lost. Dutifully impressed, Busse promised that Anson would receive his license and that the city would not interfere with the upcoming weekend’s games.
For the first time, on May 11 and 12, Anson’s Park hosted two games in a single weekend. Corbett was a non-factor in Saturday’s 5-9 loss to the Oak Leas, batting second and recording no hits, runs, or assists, with only a single putout beside his name. He bounced back the next day, smacking a double and scoring two runs as the Colts defeated the Marquettes 7-4.
The previous October, the American League’s White Sox had upset the National League’s Cubs – featuring the immortal Tinker, Evers, and Chance – in the World Series. Charles Comiskey formally celebrated the victory over his cross-town rivals on Tuesday, May 14, with a banner-raising ceremony at South Side Park.
Mayor Busse began the day by naming a special commission to investigate Chicago’s air pollution problem. Under the headline WAR DECLARED ON SMOKE, the Trib optimistically predicted that “Grimy Chicago, second only to Pittsburgh in its destruction of health and clean linen, will soon be a thing of the past.”
Busse, accompanied by Chief of Police George Shippy, then descended the steps of City Hall and climbed into a gaily-decorated automobile along with Charles Comiskey. The trio led a parade that snaked its way south to Comiskey’s ballpark. “Everybody from Mayor Busse down to the lowest scrubman in the building was out in the parade,” the Trib’s Sy Sanborn reported. “Every automobile and nearly every horse drawn craft in Chicago seemed to have been impressed into service.”
The VIPs and politicians were followed by the real heroes: the Chicago White Sox players. The semi-professionals sent a strong contingent. Riverview Park’s motor coach carried the team owners, fourteen uniformed players, seven umpires, and twenty fans and assorted friends. Jimmy Callahan packed his Logan Squares into a pair of automobiles. More cars conveyed the Spaldings, Artesians, Anson’s Colts, West Ends, Lawndales, Fortunes, Topazes, Roxburys, and Clover Leafs. Teams that were unable to hire automobiles tagged along in street cars. The Stockyards Boys, a wild delegation of more than thirty cowboy-hatted horsemen, brought up the rear.
In South Side Park, a full house of over 15,000 fans awaited the arrival of the procession beneath a blanket of black clouds. The lead car shot through the gate at 2:40 PM and led the parade in a lap around the ballpark. Ten full minutes were required for the entire contingent to enter the grounds. The crowd cheered its collective head off as the occupants of the vehicles waved White Sox flags and pennants. Even the semi-pro players received a share of the adulation. After completing their circuit, the cars and coaches pulled out of line and parked all over the field, in the dirt and grass that had been softened by recent rains.
Comiskey, Mayor Busse, and Chief Shippy unfurled an enormous purple and gold silk banner that proclaimed the White Sox world champions. The flag’s length was greater than the depth of the outfield bleachers. They held it aloft and marched up to the grandstand as Big Bill Thompson, a former county commissioner and a future mayor and Al Capone crony, called for nine cheers: three for Comiskey, three for Busse, and three for the White Sox players. As the cheers echoed through South Side Park, the Stockyards Boys galloped through the gate and thundered around the field.
After the requisite speeches, Comiskey, Busse, and Shippy carried the banner back to center field, where they were joined by the White Sox players. The still-mounted Stockyards Boys surrounded them in a half-ellipse of men and horseflesh as the players prepared to raise the banner to the top of the flagstaff that rose from behind the center field bleachers. The banner was attached to the halyard, and the players heaved like a crew of flannel-clad pirates hoisting the fore topgallant staysail.
White Sox players hoist the World Series banner in South Side Park, May 14, 1907, surrounded by the Stockyards Boys. From the Chicago Tribune.
The stately pine flagpole, which had already endured seven seasons of Chicago’s winds and winters, was implanted several yards behind the bleachers. To heighten the visual impact, the event’s organizers decided that the heaving should be done from center field rather than from below the staff, where the players would not be visible. The physical force exerted by the players, therefore, was more horizontal than vertical. The tail of the banner had not cleared the ground when the pole snapped. It tottered, threatening the lives of the bleacherites who had congratulated themselves on selecting a ringside seat for the spectacle, then fell harmlessly to the side. It was a sure sign, if one was needed, that God is a Cubs fan.
While the banner was being hastily secured to a liquor advertisement in right field, White Sox pitcher Nick Altrock lightened the mood by commandeering a horse and leading the Stockyards Boys on a merry chase, finally being brought to bay in front of the grandstand.
The festivities over, Altrock dismounted the horse and climbed the mound where he prepared to pitch to the Washington Senators. The cars were herded out the gate, though several large autos remained parked along the outfield fence. Altrock faced four batters, one reaching base when the batted ball hit a rut left by a departing auto and caromed away from the fielder. As the teams exchanged places between innings, the clouds opened. The park was deluged, ending the game.
The cars that had remained on the field were hopelessly mired in the muck. A team of dray horses was called in to extract them, leaving behind a month’s work for Groundskeeper Reuter. Sy Sanborn summarized the celebration: “Chicago, always doing something notable, had broken another world’s record by pulling off a pennant raising without raising a pennant or playing a ball game.”
The afternoon’s festivities must have been the highlight, thus far, of young Jack Corbett’s career. He wasn’t in Indiana anymore.
Corbett began the season batting third, then moved up to the two-hole. The May 18 game against the Oak Leas found Corbett batting cleanup. He responded by bagging two hits and two runs in a Colts win. The next day he added two more hits in a loss to the River Forests.
Corbett’s batting average is impossible to calculate with precision. Box scores are available for 44 of the 46 games in which Corbett played, but none of the tables list at-bats. We can approximate his batting average, though, by making an educated guess of 3.5 at-bats per game. By this estimation, Corbett was batting a respectable .286 after the game against the River Forests.
Corbett was not a power hitter. But throughout his career, Corbett’s bat carried enough pop to earn him frequent stays in the meat of the order. In an era when almost all home runs were of the inside-the-park variety, Corbett’s speed and ability to make contact made him an excellent choice for batting third, fourth, or fifth.
Decoration Day, May 30, fell on a Thursday in 1907. President Roosevelt spent the afternoon playing baseball in a farmer’s field outside Akron while Vice President Charles W. Fairbanks watched from the comfort of a fence rail. Schools and businesses all over Chicago closed down, and the semi-pro parks opened up for business. Jimmy Callahan’s Logan Squares booked the Leland Giants for a morning game and, in the afternoon, played the All Havanas, a Cuban team based in Chicago. Callahan’s bunch lost both contests but drew large crowds eager to see the best teams on the circuit.
The Colts had to settle for a single game against the Pirates, a traveling team with a middling record. Corbett had an oh-fer, which ended his days as a cleanup hitter. He dropped down to the five spot, where he remained for most games until late in the season.
On Sunday, June 2, Corbett missed his only game of the season. He was replaced at shortstop by Kid Puls, an Anderson boy who had briefly handled the third base chores for Willis McDonnell’s Winchester team in 1906. Anson and Gertenrich were evidently giving Puls a tryout, probably at Corbett’s recommendation. He performed well, bagging two hits, a run, three putouts, and three assists, then vanished from the box scores.
Anson’s Park had lived in limbo since the season started. The spectators were still seated on temporary wooden bleachers as Anson dragged his feet in making the arrangements for the construction of the permanent steel grandstand. On June 5, he announced that the contract for the grandstand had been finalized. The new structure would seat 2000 fans, a sharp reduction from the 5000 originally envisioned, and cost $2500 more. And the captain had to return to City Hall and shell out another $26 for a new building permit. Anson hoped for his park to be completed before the Fourth of July crowds arrived.
That Saturday, the Colts lost to the All Havanas in a 12-inning game played in Anson’s Park. Corbett starred in the field with three putouts, five assists, and no errors. A week later, the Colts beat the Leland Giants. Rube Foster, the Giants’ star pitcher, took a break from his mound duties to play right field.
Anson had either softened in his opposition to playing against non-whites or had yielded to economic necessity. The Black and Cuban teams were great draws, always bringing fans of quality baseball to the parks. At this point in his life, Anson probably valued money more than principle.
The June 15 game against the Giants marked the first appearance of Walter Eckersall in a Colts uniform. Anson had originally planned to plant his star attraction at shortstop. But when the game commenced, Corbett stood at short, and Eckersall was a lonely figure in right field. “Eckie” played well, rapping a double and scoring two runs. Although stolen bases were not recorded in the box score, the Trib reported that “Eckersall distinguished himself with his sensational base stealing.”
After beating the Leland Giants, Anson applied to the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues for protection under the National Agreement. The most salient feature of the Agreement, signed in 1903, was the right of reservation: a player was perpetually bound to the club that owned his contract. Joining the National Agreement would protect Anson’s roster from poaching by major and minor league teams.
“Cap is a firm believer in the theory that his team can wallop anything from the world’s champion White Sox and the Cubs, through the American Association, Three I League, Gulf States, and P.O.M. leagues, and that for this reason his team should be taken in and receive the same protection as those that he is confident he can beat,” the Inter Ocean explained.
It was a ridiculous request, obviously made for publicity purposes. The National Agreement existed between leagues, not individual teams. And the Colts’ thoroughly mediocre semi-pro record, 7-6 after the Giants game, hardly put them on the same footing with the professional teams.
Cap Anson was, independent of whatever faults he possessed, a good baseball man. It had once been said that “Anson could take nine cigar signs and win the pennant.” Given appropriate funding and his celebrity status, he could have assembled a team comprising the best talent in the Midwest, drawing in players from the high minor leagues or even the majors. There were no salary limits in semi-pro ball and no reserve clauses. Players took the field for whoever gave them the most money. But Anson could not pay the salaries required to attract a top-flight team.
Colts third baseman Hugh Cook earned $15 each week for playing two games, a bit less than $70 per month, a fact revealed to the world by his hometown paper. One of Cook’s Kewanna neighbors, Roy Cannon, was paid more than twice that, $150 per month, to pitch for the Pretoria Distillers of the Class B Three-I League. Even Class D players earned more than Anson could pay.
The talent pool from which Anson extracted players was the same pot at which Jimmy Callahan, Jimmy Ryan, and the other park magnates slaked their thirst. As a result, Anson’s Colts were not much better or worse than the other park-based teams.
For players like Corbett and future big leaguer Henry Butcher, Anson’s Colts was the stepping-off point for their baseball careers. But for the older players, semi-pro was a side gig. Cook, with a degree in mechanical engineering, designed machines in a tractor factory. Gertenrich had his city job. Walter Rooney was finishing up a law degree. Corbett was an outlier on the roster, a hot young commodity from the sticks. He might fall on his face, or he might kick some life into an otherwise mediocre aggregation. He at least befitted the title of Colt.
Jack Corbett was probably paid about the same as Hugh Cook, $15 each week, maybe a little less due to his inexperience. It wasn’t a great deal of money. A union hod carrier in Chicago made $16.80 each week. But a nineteen-year-old single guy without attachments could make it work.
Corbett would have had plenty of time to devote to his passion: baseball. Time to play baseball, practice baseball, think about baseball, and tap the baseball brains of Gertenrich, Cook, Rooney, and maybe even Anson. On weekdays he could sit in the stand at the Cubs’ West Side Park and watch shortstop Joe Tinker and second baseman Johnny Evers scoop up grounders and fire them to Frank Chance at first. Or Corbett could take the cars up to South Side Park and cheer for White Sox shortstop George Davis, a future Hall of Famer who would die in a mental institution suffering from syphilis.
For a young man on a budget, inexpensive entertainment could be found a 10-minute walk from Anson’s Park at the White City Amusement Park. The park had been constructed in 1905 on a 14-acre cornfield at 63rd and South Park. The 10-cent admission price opened a world of wonders for the visitor’s enjoyment, including such now-dubious attractions as a small city manned by performers with dwarfism and a building full of premature babies in incubators.
The Chicago Aero Club’s aerodrome was a couple of blocks south of White City at South Park and 65th. Beginning May 25 and continuing for two weeks, the aeronauts held balloon and dirigible races every afternoon at 3PM. Corbett and the other players would have been drawn to the excitement generated by the delicate machines and their pilots.
The “rubber cows,” as the early dirigibles were known, comprised a silk bag filled with hydrogen. A spindly spruce frame dangling below the bag held the pilot, a small motor that turned a propeller made of canvas stretched over spruce supports, and a rudimentary rudder made of spruce and muslin. The pilot controlled the airship’s pitch by moving fore and aft along the narrow lattice. Pilots often packed an extra rudder since they tended to snag on trees and telegraph lines. The airships lacked an internal structure. Though always referred to as “dirigibles,” they would today be classified as blimps.
The airship races often featured Horace B. Wild, whose dirigible, Eagle, had been floating around Chicago for at least a year. Wild appeared at state and county fairs all over the Midwest. He and Corbett would cross paths again three years later.
Horace B. Wild flying the Eagle over Chicago in 1906. The pilot controlled the airship’s pitch by moving fore or aft along the narrow frame below the gas bag. From the Chicago History Museum.
Photographer George R. Lawrence, who had a studio at 63rd and Yale, was an enthusiastic follower of the aviators’ activities. Lawrence combined his profession with his love of flight to become a pioneer in the field of aerial photography. In 1906, after the San Francisco earthquake and fire, he used kites to send a camera aloft over the bay and snapped a 160-degree panorama of the still-smoldering devastation. The photo became world-famous, and the reproductions earned Lawrence over $15,000, the equivalent of nearly half a million dollars today. Lawrence later started an airplane company, though his designs failed to find success.
Walter Eckersall joined the Colts on June 15. First baseman Al Weinberger made his final appearance with the team on June 30. Sometime between those two dates, Anson herded his Colts into George Lawrence’s studio for a team portrait.
Photograph of Anson’s Colts taken by George R. Lawrence between June 15 and June 30, 1907. A print was sold at auction by Christie’s for $500 after being misidentified as “the 1908 Anson Colts, winners of the semi-pro Chicago City League.”
Anson, 55 years old, stands in the back, towering over his players. To the right of Anson is 22-year-old Al Weinberger, who had starred at center for the Northwestern basketball team. On his WWII draft registration, Weinberger would record his height as six-foot-three. The top of Anson’s head is concealed by his bowler hat, but his shoulders are clearly above Weinberger’s. If Weinberger is six-foot-three, then Anson must be at least six-foot-four, possibly six-foot-five.
Looking diminutive at the far right of the back row is center fielder Louis Gertenrich, 32 years old, the old man among the players. On the far left stands 21-year-old pitcher Jimmy Sullivan, a recent graduate of the University of Chicago. His senior quote in the 1907 Cap and Gown: “Not related to John L., but I can lick any guy in Cook County.”
Left fielder and future big leaguer Henry Butcher, not yet 21, sits in front of Gertenrich on the far right of the middle row. To his left is Walter Rooney, the 27-year-old second baseman who will soon be practicing law. Carroll Cherry, Anson’s son-in-law, sits in the middle of the row, appearing vacuous and out of place. Walter Eckersall, to the left of Cherry, shrinks beneath the weight of the massive Ansonian fist that rests on his shoulder. He will turn 24 on June 17; the photograph may have been taken on his birthday. On the far right sits third baseman Hugh Cook, 25 years old, taking a break from his career as a mechanical engineer.
Jack Corbett strikes a punkish pose, sitting on the floor to the far right. His spikes, shiny and surely sharpened, dig into Mr. Lawrence’s already-frayed rug. At 19 years and ten months, he is the youngest of the position players. Catcher Mike Sampson, 21 years old, is next to Corbett. The spikes on his barely-laced shoes are almost worn away.
The histories of pitchers Jack Houston (back row, to the left of Anson), Jimmy Clark (front row, far left), and Billy Wayland (beside Clark) remain elusive.
In 2017 a 13×10.75-inch print of the photograph, “mounted on board and framed,” was auctioned off by Christie’s for $500. At the time of the sale, the photograph was incorrectly identified as “the 1908 Anson Colts, winners of the semi-pro Chicago City League.” Anson’s team was not a member of the Chicago City League in 1908, and most of the players pictured were not members of the 1908 team.
Corbett found his footing in mid-June, and his name began to appear in the newspapers. On Saturday, June 22, the Colts beat Gertenrich’s old Rogers Park team. Corbett knocked a single and a double, scored two runs, and made a putout and six assists, including two Corbett-to-Rooney-to-Weinberger double plays. “Corbett and Rooney played fine ball on the infield,” the Trib noted.
The young shortstop turned in another solid game the following day. In a 10-inning loss to the Elgin Nationals, he had a double and two singles, scored two runs, and made three putouts and seven assists with no errors. His batting average was now a solid .343.
Anson’s steel grandstand finally saw the seats of paying customers on Saturday, June 29, as the Colts defeated the Oak Leas 11-3. The diamond had been reworked, contributing to seven errors by the Oak Leas. Corbett committed the Colts’ only miscue. On Sunday, the Colts downed the Spaldings 9-2 in Al Weinberger’s final appearance, with Corbett bagging three hits and scoring two runs.
Notice in the Chicago Inter Ocean, June 30, 1907, advertising the weekend’s games at Anson’s Park. The notice includes directions for taking the train or streetcars to the park.
Following the game against the Spaldings, Corbett’s estimated batting average was an excellent .353. After that, his average steadily declined as an increasing sample size caused the inexorable regression to the mean. His final 1907 average, .266, was nearly identical to his career minor league average.
Anson’s Colts celebrated the Fourth of July, which fell on a Wednesday, with a split doubleheader against Jimmy Callahan’s Logan Squares. In the morning, the two teams squared off on the northwest side in the Squares’ home park. The Colts lost 5-6. Taking exception to a call, Cap Anson came off the bench in his bowler hat to give the crowd a master’s class in kicking. Umpire Conley, unintimidated by the great captain, tossed Anson from the park.
After the game ended, the players boarded the southbound cars for Anson’s Park to complete the bottom half of the twin bill. The second game featured Jimmy Callahan himself on the mound. The former major leaguer, 33 years old, earned a ten-inning, 2-1 complete-game victory. It was not a good day at the plate for Corbett. He collected one hit at Logan Square and an oh-fer at Anson’s Park.
The Illinois Industrial School for Girls had operated in Evanston since 1877. “On the first of November we announced our readiness to receive, gratuitously, all the destitute, homeless, and dependent girls who were sound in mind and body of whatever nationality or creed, and guaranteed to give them instruction in all branches of domestic labor, and, as soon as practicable, lucrative trades, also instruction in the common English branches,” wrote Mrs. Louise Rockwood Warner, the institution’s first president, when the school opened its gates.
Despite its grand name and lofty intentions, the Illinois Industrial School for Girls was an orphanage where, a 1906 investigation revealed, “the girls receive no industrial training whatever, other than such as might be gleaned from doing household work in the institution.”
By 1907 the school was busted. The monthly deficit, attributed to “extravagance and incompetency,” exceeded $500. The 125 orphan girls who lived at the school, ages 5 to 15, were in danger of being sent to the Cook County almshouse. To raise money for the school, the society ladies of Chicago organized a Civic Ball Game: Anson’s Colts and the Gunthers would square off at West Side Park, home of the Cubs, on Wednesday afternoon, July 17.
The winning team would take home the Busse Cup, a silver trophy donated by Mayor Busse. The cup was created by the Mandel Brothers’ silver shop and was displayed in their store window during the week leading up to the event. “It stands a foot high on its ebony base,” the Inter Ocean reported, suggesting that the trophy was perhaps unimpressive by modern standards. On the day of the game, the cup was carried to West Side Park on the front seat of a Hebard bandwagon, with a band in the rearward seats blowing heroic marches.
In June 1907, a Tennessee minister declared that “Hell is a place of strong drink, tobacco, baseball, theaters, and peekaboo shirtwaists.” All were present, in varying degrees, at the Busse Cup game.
The peekaboo shirtwaist was a blouse made of a light material inset with coarsely crocheted lace that created holes adequate for access by a mosquito. Some designs featured sleeves that extended only to the elbows. The blouse left everything to the imagination, but Late Victorian gentlemen were aghast at the fantasies the shirtwaists incited in their own minds. The peekaboo shirtwaist was banned in many offices, and several state legislatures considered outlawing them. A popular joke ran, “I was talking to a peekaboo shirtwaist girl, and I was so embarrassed, I couldn’t look her in the face.”
With afternoon temperatures in the high 70s, the crowd at West Side Park was full of peekaboo shirtwaists. Prominent among the wearers were eight chorus girls, borrowed from a local theater, who were selling scorecards. The writer for the Inter Ocean, a staunch Republican rag, could hardly contain himself: “With broad hats, spreading smiles, peekaboo waists, and manners that were calculated to increase the sale of the score cards, they waylaid the charitably inclined at the gates and pursued them to their shaded seats in the grandstand, urging them to buy.”
One scorecard seller accosted Cap Anson, who posed for a photograph in the act of purchase. He fished a dollar bill out of his pocket – an extraordinary sum for a scorecard – and was immediately surrounded by the entire chorus line. Anson extricated himself from the flouncy scrum without further investment.
Cap Anson surrounded by chorus girls selling scorecards, July 17, 1907. From the Chicago Inter Ocean.
The Inter Ocean’s man surveyed the scene as over 3000 spectators, most members of Chicago Society, filled the grandstand: “There were white dresses and spotted dresses and pink dresses, and every kind of dress that ought to be worn to a ballgame played in the interests of charity, and there were green hats and red hats and hats with unknown varieties of seaweed on them, and parasols, and opera glasses, and an abiding, sustaining sense that they were there for charitable reasons.”
While the Inter Ocean’s reporter was fixated on the ladies in the crowd, the Trib’s man reported that more than 100 boys from the orphanages in Glendale and Allandale were also on hand and “shouted themselves hoarse over the game.”
Anson acted as the celebrity umpire, a role that hindered his proclivity to kick over balls and strikes.
Some of the semi-pro players were unable to attend the weekday afternoon game, being stuck in their real jobs. Corbett seems to have been loaned to the Gunthers to fill out their squad. No one bothered to file a box score to confirm the lineups, but the Trib’s reporter praised “the shortstop work of Corbett” as one of “the features of the Gunthers’ playing.”
Jack Corbett was on a team owned by the great Cap Anson. He was playing in a major league ballpark, being cheered by small boys and girls in peekaboo blouses. He was scooping up grounders from the same dirt as Cubs shortstop Joe Tinker. He was still two weeks from his twentieth birthday.
Corbett surely envisioned a bright future for himself as a baseball player. He no doubt assumed that, after a couple of seasons in the minors, he would return to West Side Park. Corbett to Evers to Chance had a nice ring to it. But the Civic Ball Game was the last time that Corbett would roam a major league park as a player.
Anson’s Colts won the day, 7-1. After the final out, Anson led his team up to the grandstand – presumably with Corbett in tow – for the presentation of the trophy. Mayor Busse had been scheduled to present his namesake cup but, unable to attend, Busse delegated Corporation Counsel Edward J. Brundage to appear in his place.
It’s doubtful that Anson saw the humor in accepting the cup from a man whose department had helped deny him his wooden grandstand. Brundage delivered a brief lecture in which he graciously encouraged Anson’s Colts “to honor the name you bear as your distinguished captain has honored himself on the field.” Anson promised that his players would always adhere to a high standard. The afternoon of Civic Baseball ended, having raised $4000 for the orphanage.
Anson’s celebrity persona – the great man, the Epitome of Baseball – continued to diverge from the persona of Anson the Businessman.
With his grandstand finally completed, Anson brought in 17 painters to colorize the ballpark. Whether by oversight or because he was unwilling to pay the 50 cents per hour union scale, Anson hired a non-union crew.
The Associated Building Trades Council placed Anson on the “unfair” list and threatened him with a general strike. Forty union workmen were employed in putting the finishing touches on Anson’s Park, including carpenters, electricians, and general laborers. The entire lot was willing to walk off the job. Anson capitulated immediately. The painters were fired, along with all other non-union workmen. The captain issued an order barring all non-union tradesmen from his park.
Semi-Pro Field Day was held at Callahan’s Logan Park on the third Sunday in July, pitting Chicago’s semi-pro players in feats of strength and ability. Anson’s Colts were well-represented by Walter Eckersall and Louis Gertenrich. Eckersall placed second in the 100-yard dash, first in the “running to first base” competition, and second in the “running around the bases” contest. Gertenrich placed third in “running around the bases,” not bad for a 32-year-old, and won the fungo hitting contest by whacking a fly ball 438 feet. Following Field Day, the Colts returned to Anson’s Park, where they lost to the River Forests 6-8 in ten innings.
The semi-pro teams did not belong to a proper league and had no official standings, but the Joliet Herald News attempted an informal “power ranking” after the July 21 games. The Normals were deemed the best club, with a record of 21-9. Next came the West Ends (18-8), Leland Giants (17-8), Jimmy Callahan’s Logan Squares (“an even record throughout the year”), Gunthers (23-13), Jimmy Ryan’s Lawndales (17-9), and the South Chicagos (13-8).
Anson’s Colts were far down the list at eighth. The Herald News credited the Colts as having “broken even in twenty-six games,” though the results published in the newspapers each Sunday and Monday morning indicate a record of 14 wins against 12 losses. The Colts were an average semi-pro team at best, a long toss from the crack outfit, ready to take on the Cubs and White Sox, that was advertised by Anson.
Saturday, July 27, was a banner day in the history of Chicago sports: in an afternoon game against the Artesians, Cap Anson squeezed into a baseball uniform and stood in the third base coach’s box for the first time since 1898. It was a near-desperate attempt to attract fans. True desperation would arrive in 1908 when Anson took to the field as a uniformed manager and inserted himself into the lineup at first base.
Cap Anson coaching third base at Anson’s Park, 1908, as a batter runs to first. A portion of the steel grandstand is visible in the background.
Anson kicking in 1908. He is easily the tallest person in the group. The first base side of Anson Park’s steel grandstand is visible in the background.
The Colts responded to Anson’s hands-on coaching by beating the Artesians 8-7. Corbett had three hits, one a double, and scored four runs. Eckersall had three hits and scored a run. “The hitting of Eckersall and Corbett was the feature,” the Trib reported. In the field, Corbett had two putouts, three assists, no errors, and helped turn two double plays. Corbett was holding his own, and more, with Chicago’s semi-pro players.
Corbett’s hitting against the Artesians earned him a trip back up the order to the cleanup role for the games played the first weekend in August. In Saturday’s game against the Lawndales, played the day after Corbett turned 20, the teams were tied in the top of the twelfth inning. An error by pitcher Jimmy Clark, a sacrifice, an error by Corbett – his second of the day – a sac fly, and a single gave the Lawndales two runs. The Colts were unable to score in the bottom of the inning, and the game ended 2-4. At the plate, Corbett contributed one hit and scored no runs.
On Sunday, Corbett collected another oh-fer and scored no runs. The rest of the Colts tallied 15 of the former and 10 of the latter as they trounced the White Rocks 10-3. At shortstop, Corbett booted two.
Following his poor performances in the field and at the plate, Corbett returned to the five spot in the order and moved to second base. Eckersall transferred from right field to shortstop, the position Anson had always intended for his featured player. Rooney and Cook alternated at third.
The August 10 game, played in Anson’s Park against the West Ends, was tied 3-3 in the bottom ninth. With one out and no one on base, Corbett sent a routine grounder to short. The West End fielder scooped up the ball and fired it so far over the first baseman’s head that Corbett was able to make third. The next batter, catcher Mike Sampson, poled a long fly and Corbett trotted home with the winning run. At second, he contributed a pair of putouts and four assists with no errors.
The Colts then beat the Oak Leas 5-4 to close one of five two-win weekends recorded by the club that season. Corbett had a hit and a run, five putouts, including an unassisted double play, two assists, and an error.
The August 11 win against the Oak Leas was the high-water mark of the Colts’ season. They had won eight of their last ten games, giving them a 19-13 record. The following week the Colts lost to the River Forests and Spaldings with Corbett at second base.
Rube Foster and the Leland Giants appeared in Anson’s Park on Saturday, August 24. Foster handled the Colts easily, giving up one run on three hits, striking out five, and walking one as the Giants took a 7-1 win. Corbett, like all but two of his teammates, had no hits. Foster was a major league talent and would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981. His treatment of the Colts is an indicator of the gulf that divided Anson’s team from the real professionals.
The next day Corbett moved to first base, displacing James Kiely, who had previously displaced Weinberger. Kiely, batting eighth, was struggling at the plate. Corbett brought a bit more pop to the position, and the shift allowed Anson to get both Rooney and Cook on the field. With Corbett at first, Rooney at second, Eckersall at short, and Cook at third, the Colts may have had the fastest infield in semi-pro Chicago.
Playing first base for the initial time that season in the Sunday game against the Pirates, the flexible Corbett had nine putouts, with a double-play assist, and committed no errors. At the plate, though, it was another oh-fer. The Colts lost 5-10, their fourth loss in a row. Corbett remained at first the following weekend as the Colts beat the Normals but lost to the South Chicagos.
Businessman Anson pulled another stunt at the end of August, one that served only to garner the captain more negative publicity. He sent the city an invoice for $2505.85, claiming that Chicago owed him the difference in cost between his originally-planned 5000-seat wooden grandstand and the more expensive 2000-seat steel grandstand. The request had no chance of success. Anson’s motive could only have been to cause someone at City Hall a few fleeting moments of consternation. His best-case scenario was to ruin a random bureaucrat’s day.
The request was rejected by Corporation Counsel Brundage, the man who had handed Anson the Busse Cup and urged Anson’s Colts “to honor the name you bear.” But Building Commissioner Downey graciously consented to refund the $26 that Anson had paid for the original permit to build the wooden grandstand.
Labor Day brought moderate temperatures to Chicago, with a high of 76 degrees. It was a pleasant respite from the previous day when the mercury climbed to 92. “Yesterday was the hottest Sept. 1 that has ever been known in Chicago since the local bureau began to inform the citizens of their miseries,” the Inter Ocean reported.
The Labor Day parade, a showcase of union strength for over a decade, was canceled by Federation of Labor President John Fitzpatrick. He urged workers to spend the day with their families in a “safe and sane celebration” instead of in the drunken revelry that usually accompanied the procession.
Not all union men passed the day in rest, though. An organizer boarded each streetcar and demanded that the driver and conductor show their union cards. If either was a non-union man, he would be verbally assaulted, and his passengers would be ordered from the car. The harassment was especially sharp on lines that served the northwest side, where 3000 socialists had gathered for their annual picnic. Any driver or conductor who consented to join the brotherhood was rewarded with a pocketful of cheap cigars.
A pair of Labor Day games marked the return of Jack Corbett to the shortstop position, with Eckersall again banished to right field. Over the seven games Eckersall spent at short, he averaged two putouts, two assists, and 0.3 errors. For the games Corbett played at short in 1907, he averaged two putouts, three assists, and 0.6 errors. Corbett’s advantage in assists suggests that he was covering more ground than Eckersall. He made more errors than Eckie, but he was accepting more chances, chasing down balls that lesser fielders would allow to roll through unchallenged.
Though Eckersall had the edge in pure speed, Corbett was Anson’s best shortstop. And as much as the captain may have wanted to showcase Eckersall, he was too good of a baseball man to leave an inferior player at such an important position.
While the socialists were redistributing their Borodinsky bread, the Colts were riding the union-staffed streetcars to Normal Park, where they took the morning game 5-1. Then they climbed back onto the cars for the trip to Gunther Park, where they lost 2-3. In the latter game, Corbett demonstrated his talent at shortstop, snagging four putouts and two assists with one error. The Labor Day results left Anson’s Colts barely above .500 with a 21-19 record.
The game against the Gunthers saw the first appearance of pitcher Eddie Stack, who would later spend parts of five seasons in the majors. Stack became a workhorse for the Colts, pitching in six of their final eight games and compiling a 2-3 record with one no-decision.
On Sunday, September 15, the Colts boarded the train for Streator, 78 miles southwest of Chicago, for a game against the Streator Reds. Whatever hype machine Anson possessed had been working overtime. “Anson’s Colts are undoubtedly the biggest baseball card of the year,” the Streator Times told its readers, “and you’ll have to be there early to get a seat.”
The game was proceeded by a series of field day events. “This was originally planned for the Reds alone,” the Times explained, “but they magnanimously permitted the Colts to enter, and the visitors ungraciously took three of the four pieces of the pie.”
Gertenrich won the fungo hitting and “quickest time to first after a bunt” contests. Hugh Cook took the “accurate throwing” event in which players attempted to strike second base with a ball tossed from home plate. A Streator outfielder won the long throw event by heaving the ball from center field and striking the wall in front of the grandstand.
Anson was introduced to the crowd and received a round of applause. The Times’ writer was impressed by Anson’s girth: “At one time a king bee, Anson is now so portly that he and Big Joe would make a great exhibition in base running.”
Big Joe was Joseph Vyskocil, the Reds’ Czechoslovakia-born pitcher who would spend parts of seven seasons in the minors. He was evidently the largest man on the Reds roster, but at six feet, 175 pounds, Big Joe was hardly in the same weight class as Anson.
Proving that public perception may differ wildly from reality, the Times writer noted that “Anson is now rich enough to have both the hay fever and the gout and is in base ball only because he likes it.” The truth was that Anson was nearly broke. He was “in base ball” to make money, but baseball was driving him to bankruptcy.
With Corbett’s batting average now below .260, he was eased into the order’s seventh spot. He again recorded no hits, dropping his estimated average to .250. In the third inning, with the Colts leading 3-0 and two men on base, Corbett struck out to end the inning. The Reds outhit the Colts 10 to 9, but they committed eight errors to the Colts’ one. Eddie Stack got the outs when it mattered, and the Colts won 6-1.
Anson’s name carried more weight in the sticks of Streator than it did in Chicago, and he was able to command stiff terms for the appearance of his mediocre team. The largest crowd of the year filled the bleachers, but the bodies did not translate to dollars for the game’s promoters. “With the guarantee necessarily given to secure Anson’s team,” the Times complained on Monday morning, “the management didn’t make any big money yesterday.”
The Colts were scheduled to play in Indianapolis on Sunday, September 21. An article in the Indianapolis News, published two weeks before the game, claimed that Anson’s Colts were “one of the most widely-known semi-professional teams in the United States.”
Among the Colts that the News predicted would visit the city were “Walter Eckersall, of Chicago University football fame,” and “John Corbett,” as he was still known in his native land. “Corbett is an Anderson boy, and is well known in Indianapolis, having played in this city.” It is an indication that Corbett’s baseball wanderings had, at some point prior to 1907, brought him to Indianapolis often enough for him to become a known commodity there. His discovery by Anson or Gertenrich, then, might not have been strictly the stuff of a Hollywood screenplay. If Corbett was almost-famous in Indianapolis, it’s likely that his talent was recognized by baseball men all over the Midwest.
The Indianapolis game never happened. “Sunday Baseball” had been illegal in Indiana for years. Why Anson – or business manager Carroll Cherry – thought they could get away with a Sunday game is perhaps another example of Anson’s disregard for basic legalities. The Sunday prohibition applied to “professional” games in which admission was charged and players were paid. Anson probably thought that he could execute a hook slide around the rules by claiming that his enterprise was not truly professional. He was tagged for an out, and the game was canceled.
The Colts instead scheduled a pair of games, played Saturday and Sunday, against the Denver Grizzlies of the Class A Western League. The Grizzlies were barnstorming through Chicago, where several of their players lived. In the first game, taken by the Colts 6-3, Corbett and Henry Butcher were the only Colts who failed to hit safely. Corbett contributed in the field, though, with a putout and six assists. “Two sensational stops by Corbett at short were the fielding features,” The Inter Ocean reported.
The Grizzlies turned the tables in the Sunday game, downing the Colt 9-6. Corbett took three singles from Grizzlies pitcher Pat Bohannon, a decent hurler who spent six seasons with Class A teams.
The Colts and Grizzlies played a rubber match on September 29. Corbett bagged Bohannon for pair of singles and added a putout and three assists. With the score tied 6-6 after nine innings, the game was called due to darkness.
The baseball season was winding down. The National League closed out its schedule on October 6 with the Chicago Cubs in possession of the pennant. By October 12, they were world champions after downing the Detroit Tigers in five games. The first game ended in a 3-3 tie after 12 innings; the Cubs swept the next four.
Chicago’s ballparks were given over to high school and semi-pro football games. The Eckersalls, an all-star aggregation featuring Walter Eckersall at quarterback, made Anson’s Park their home.
The Colts dispersed after their final match against the Grizzlies, then reassembled in Joliet on October 20. A biting wind and temperatures in the low 50s greeted the players. Dellwood Park’s steel grandstand, the model for Anson’s personal money sink, hosted 800 brave fans who paid a quarter to benefit Harry Kane, a near-destitute semi-pro pitcher who was suffering from typhoid.
Corbett once again batted cleanup. In the first inning, Gertenrich, batting third, walked, stole second, and went to third on a passed ball. Corbett drove him home with a single to tally the Colts’ first run. He was then nailed trying to steal second base.
The Colts were leading 9-0 in the middle of the sixth inning, but the Joliets fought back, scoring four runs in the bottom of the sixth and three runs in the ninth. With two out, a man on first, and the tying run at the plate, the final Joliet batter “cracked a grass cutter to Corbett,” who scooped up the ball and winged it to first for the final out, the last out of the game and the last out of the Colts’ 1907 season.
By November 16, Corbett was back in Anderson, hanging around Tom Fisher’s roller rink and swapping baseball stories with Tom and his brother, Bob.
The 1907 season was a success for Jack Corbett. He proved that he had the talent to hang with the best semi-pro players in the nation’s second-largest city. His teammates and opponents included past and future major leaguers. His final batting average, around .266, was respectable. He hit well enough to bat fifth through most of the season. In the field, he established himself as the Colts’ shortstop, holding off Eckersall’s somewhat underwhelming competition. And Corbett had played for the legendary Cap Anson, an accomplishment that would highlight his resume for the next ten seasons.
After becoming a player-manager, Jack Corbett seemed to use Anson as a role model. He was a solid baseball man and strategist but was a persistent kicker, unafraid to give any umpire a large piece of his mind. Though Corbett lacked Anson’s proportions, he intimidated umpires who feared that the wiry Corbett might launch a physical attack. Umpires were known to flee the field when confronted by Corbett’s fury.
Baseball historian Bill James said, “Cap Anson was a blowhard, and the older he got the harder he blew.” The same could be said for Corbett. In his later years, many came to regard him as a world-class blowhard, a person whose late-life legal antics made him an object of sport.
Cap Anson soldiered on after the 1907 season, trying to milk some revenue from his team and ballpark. In 1908 he took to the diamond on a regular basis, hoping that the novelty of a once-famous first baseman would put a few more fans in the grandstand. On some days, he would bend his 56-year-old knees and hunker his massive frame into a catcher’s crouch.
His fortunes continued their descent. By June of 1908, he was no longer able to pay his Colts’ salaries. He told the players that they would receive a share of the gate receipts but no regular paycheck. Gertenrich, Hugh Cook, and three other players immediately walked out.
A month later, Anson was completely bankrupt. He was $15,000 in arrears, including $6500 in unpaid rent on the Madison Street building that hosted Anson’s bowling alley and billiards hall. His businesses also owed $3000 to the Blatz Brewery and another $1300 to the Grommes and Ullrich whiskey company.
The McChesney family canceled the lease on the land beneath Anson’s Park and took over the operation of the ballpark. Anson, now a visitor in the park that bore his name, kept the Colts together, perhaps because playing baseball was the only thing that he knew how to do.
Anson’s Colts limped through three full seasons, finally giving up the ghost in late 1909. In one of their final games, they took on the Cubs’ second-stringers at West Side Park in a game played to benefit the old captain. Though Anson refused to accept charity, he was not above accepting a few quarters for a game of baseball.
A cold October wind was blowing off the lake, and fewer than 1000 fans were scattered across West Side Park’s 15,000 seats. In the fifth inning, Anson strode to the plate as a pinch hitter. He hit an easy grounder to Del Howard at second base. Howard booted it, allowing Anson to huff safely into first. Howard later claimed the ball was “too hot to handle.”
Before the 1910 season, the MacChesneys leased Anson’s Park to H.C. Ostermann, who had made his fortune manufacturing railroad cars. Ostermann put Jiggs Donahue, a former White Sox first baseman, in charge of his team, which was branded the Red Sox. The team lasted a single season. Donahue died in an insane asylum in 1913, suffering from syphilis.
The semi-pro craze was over. Grandstands all over Chicago disappeared. The diamonds and outfields were plowed up and paved over to make way for homes and businesses. The MacChesneys announced plans to subdivide the tract at 61st Street and St. Lawrence Avenue, which was valued at over $150,000. The great steel grandstand into which Cap Anson had poured his money was demolished in May of 1911.
Anson died in 1922. When told of his passing, Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis exclaimed, “Not Pop Anson? You can’t mean my old pal Pop is dead? Oh, I just can’t say anything. He was such a wonderful fellow. And to think that he’s dead.”
Part 2 – The South, Another Anderson, The Everyday Electrician, Fortune’s Wheel, Spartanburg
Part 3 – The Land of the Sky, The Most Popular Man in Asheville, Nebraska Crane, Nervousness, Columbia
Part 4 – Working for Mr. Lynch, Atlanta, Syracuse
Part 5 – El Paso, The Inventor, The Great Suer