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Lake Front Park

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Lake Front Park

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]

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. The site is now part of Millennium Park.

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.

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.

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 the change to the Chicago ground rules.

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 a player approached that number again. Williamson's long-forgotten record was rediscovered in 1919 when Babe Ruth, then with the Red Sox, hit 29 and broke the major league season record for home runs.

After 1884, 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

References

  • Retrosheet. "23rd Street Park in Chicago, IL". Retrieved 2006-08-31.
  • Retrosheet. "Park Directory". Retrieved 2006-09-04.
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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