Just prior to World War I, a group of investors in cities around the United States made the last serious attempt to establish a third major league in professional baseball. In 1913 the growing interest and attendance for ‘the national pastime’ led to the founding of a baseball league that would compete with the established American and National leagues for the nation’s sports entertainment dollar. In its first year it was known as the Columbia League, and with only six franchises, and a policy of not signing players already under contract to other teams, it was not considered a major league operation. But with a taste of economic success in the 1913 season, the owners decided to expand, and the Federal League was born.
The league had some success, both in attendance and in luring popular players from their rivals, and in 1915 was also blessed with the tightest pennant race in baseball history as – due to an uneven number of games for each team – the Chicago Whales edged the St. Louis Terriers by one tenth of one percent. More importantly, the Whales drew 40,000 fans to their final game. Local entrepreneur Hugo Chandler III, always on the lookout for a profitable investment, was thus eager to acquire a Federal League team. A property he owned on the fringe of the downtown area was cleared, and construction began on a ballpark designed to hold 35,000 fans. Chandler reached a tentative contract agreement with former Philadelphia Athletics – and future Hall of Fame – pitcher ‘Chief’ Bender, who had played the 1915 season for the Federal League’s Baltimore Terrapins. He then signed two dozen local semi-pro players to fulfill the league’s minimum personnel requirements. These players were soon released, however, when Chandler was promised control of the struggling Newark Peppers franchise, with permission to relocate them to his new stadium.
Chandler then joined the other Federal League owners in their antitrust suit against the American and National Leagues. The owners won the case, and monetary damages, but as a result the league was disbanded. And while the more established owners were awarded compensation in the hundreds of thousands dollars, Chandler’s brief investment netted him only $21,000, or about ten percent of what he had already invested in the foundation for his new ballpark. About six weeks after the case was settled, Chandler suffered a mild heart attack, and turned over daily operations of his businesses to his son, Hugo Chandler IV. The son would later salvage some of his father’s investment by expanding the stadium’s nascent foundation, and using the property to erect the Chandler Building, the city’s third tallest skyscraper.
Harold ‘Dutch’ Langer, who would later become a one-term mayor of the city in the 1950s, was one of the players signed by Hugo Chandler III for his team (prior to his acquisition of the Peppers). ‘Dutch’ would continue to be a fixture in city politics via ‘Dutch’ Courage, his weekly television commentary on the newscasts of the local NBC affiliate, which continued through his death in 1991. He was buried in his baseball uniform, the one from which he had removed the name of his semi-pro team, the Grindstones, and had hand stitched the name under which he anticipated the Federal League team would compete: The Lowlanders. Langer’s gravesite at Elm Grove Cemetery, complete with nine foot-tall tombstone in the shape of a baseball bat, has become one of the city’s more offbeat tourist destinations.
– D. Andrews