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Union Base-Ball Grounds was a baseball park located in Chicago, Illinois. It was also called White-Stocking Park, as it was the home field of the Chicago White Stockings of the National Association in 1871, after spending the 1870 season as an independent professional club playing home games variously at Dexter Park race course and Ogden Park.[1]

The Great Chicago Fire of October 8 destroyed Union Base-Ball Grounds and all the club's possessions. After fulfilling its 1871 obligations by playing on the road, the club did not field a team for the next two seasons, and the ballpark was not rebuilt.[2]

Lake-Shore Park 1883

Union Base-Ball Grounds was "very visibly downtown", its small block bounded on the west by Michigan Avenue, on the north by Randolph Street, and on the east by railroad tracks and the lakeshore, which was then much closer than it is today. Millennium Park is now located on the same plot of ground.

In 1878 the White Stockings returned to the 1871 site and to a new park that is usually called Lake-Shore Park, Lake Front Park, or simply Lake Park, which was actually the name for the entire waterfront area (not just the ballpark) until being renamed Grant Park in 1901.[3] The team played here through the 1884 season, after which they moved to the first West Side Park. During their short stay, the White Stockings became known for two things that were related: winning baseball, and cheap hits.

Under Hall of Fame first baseman/manager Cap Anson, a major star of the game in his day, the club won the National League pennant in 1880, 1881 and 1882. They went 67-17 in 1880, an all-time high winning percentage of .798 that would extrapolate to 129 wins in a modern 162-game schedule. Their powerful lineup took full advantage of the cozy dimensions of their downtown ballpark, and their outstanding two-man pitching staff of Larry Corcoran and Fred Goldsmith helped hold down the opposition scoring.

The outfield area was especially close in right field. The right field fence was less than 200 feet away, so anyone hitting the ball over that fence was awarded only a ground rule double. Batters would aim for the fence, and during their years at the park the Chicago club regularly led the league in doubles... except in 1884.

In what would be their final season on the lakefront, the White Stockings decided to make the entire outfield fence home run territory. Thus the team slumped in number of doubles while boosting their home runs from typically a dozen or two to 142, easily outdistancing second place Buffalo, which had 39 for the season. The entire league's home run totals were up, thanks to this much-ridiculed change to the Chicago ground rules. Ironically, it was to little avail for the locals, as the White Stockings finished a distant fourth behind the pennant-winning Providence Grays.

However, a legacy had been established. The home runs, while ridiculed, counted in the league statistics nonetheless. The top four home run hitters in the National League of 1884 were all White Stockings; Ned Williamson happened to come out on top with 27, all but two in Chicago. It would be decades before someone approached that kind of number again, and that someone was Babe Ruth. Williamson's long-forgotten record was rediscovered in 1919 when Ruth, then with the Red Sox, hit 29 and broke the major league season record for home runs.

After the 1884 debacle, the city reclaimed the land, and the White Stockings became a road team for the first couple of months of 1885 while awaiting construction of West Side Park, and building toward another league championship.

Notes

  1. ^ Gilfoyle, Timothy J. (2006-08-06). "Millennium Park". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/06/books/chapters/0806-1st-gilf.html. Retrieved 2008-06-24.  
  2. ^ For the baseball season of 1872, the Chicago club leased another plot and built the 23rd Street Grounds that would be its home through 1877, renting it out chiefly to local clubs for two seasons before the White Stockings returned to the field in 1874. Several National Association games were played at 23rd St in 1872-1873: six in 1872, essentially because teams based in Cleveland and Troy were failing, and one in 1873 (Retrosheet). The Chicago club itself renewed play only in 1874
  3. ^ In 1883, the second Lakefront Park opened. The second Lakefront Park is noted for its extremely short dimensions. A ball hit over the wall was normally considered a ground rule double. However in 1884, these short dimensions allowed the Cubs to set home run records that would not be broken until Babe Ruth over 30 years later. Ned Williamson, Fred Pfeffer, Abner Dalrymple, and Cap Anson each hit over 20 homers, with Williamson leading the way with 27. It is Lake Front Park, often with a numeral I or II, in recent reference works including Retrosheet and the 1986 edition of Lowry.

References

Preceded by
Ogden Park & Dexter Park
23rd Street Grounds
Home of the Chicago White Stockings
1871
1878 – 1884
Succeeded by
23rd Street Grounds
West Side Park

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