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Cubs originally called West Side home

Cubs originally called West Side home

CHICAGO -- Wrigley Field and the Cubs might be the perfect match, but the glory years of Cubs baseball actually took place on the West Side, not the North Side.

"Everybody thinks that the Cubs have played at Wrigley Field since the dawn of time," Cubs history hobbyist Mike Reischl said. "That's not really the case."

The franchise called several parks home before Wrigley, most notably a pair of parks on the West Side of Chicago.

They played in the first West Side Park from 1885-1891, then played from 1893-1915 at the second West Side Park, where the franchise experienced its greatest success. The second West Side Park is often referred to as West Side Grounds to avoid confusion.

At West Side Grounds, the Cubs appeared in four World Series from 1906-1910, winning the title in 1907 and 1908.

The Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double play combination became immortalized there, as did Hall of Fame pitcher Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown.

Reischl created the Way Out in Left Field Society two years ago to promote, explore and discover the hidden, forgotten and eccentric historic places, people and occurrences of baseball.

His first mission was to uncover the history of West Side Grounds, which was sold by unpopular owner Charles Murphy to the State of Illinois for $400,000 after the Cubs moved into Wrigley. The state tore down the park in 1920 to build a hospital. Nothing remains.

The society hopes to have the land commemorated by the end of the summer with a plaque placed where the center field flag pole formerly resided. Today, that location is in a flower garden at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center at 912 S. Wood St. They need a little help from the Illinois State Historical Society to make it an official landmark, but the process is in motion.

"Clearly, the passions of the Chicago Cubs are deeply rooted in the West Side of Chicago," said Way Out in Left Field member Brian Bernardoni, who is also a Wrigley Field tour guide. "As a Wrigley tour guide, one of the more difficult things I have to share with fans is that the Cubs have never won a World Series at Wrigley Field. It's always a look of surprise when people hear that. With that said, when you think about the foundations of Tinker to Evers to Chance, when you think of Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown, when you think of Billy Sunday, they played their baseball at the West Side Grounds. It's exciting from our standpoint that we can be a part of Cubs history, that we can memorialize that."

The field shared similarities to its successor as the Cubs' home.

Like Wrigley, the park was conveniently constructed near an L train stop, two blocks away off of Polk Street which allowed easy access for traveling fans. Spectators sat on rooftops on Taylor Street behind right field.

"The rooftop battles between the Chicago Cubs and the rooftop owners were going on at the West Side Grounds," Bernardoni said. "History has an interesting way of repeating itself. The lasting legacy for the West Side Grounds is not just the Chicago Cubs and its championships."

Unlike Wrigley, center field was deep -- very deep. Reischl said there is some debate over the distance down the right-field line (316 feet vs. 340 feet), but the consensus is that the park ranged 560 feet to straight-away center. The left-field line was 340 feet.

The Way Out in Left Field Society took its name from a West Side Grounds tale. The term "way out in left field" is taken to mean "crazy." Well, that all started in Chicago.

"Cook County Hospital had a mental institution behind left field," Reischl said. "The bottom line is, patients could be heard yelling and screaming things at fans behind the left field wall."

Here are some of the memorable moments from West Side Grounds, according to Reischl:

• On May 14, 1893, the Cincinnati Reds won the first National League game at West Side Grounds, coming back with a four-run ninth inning to top the Cubs (then known as the Colts), 13-12. Charles Comiskey, of future White Sox fame, scored the winning run to christen the park in heartbreaking fashion.

• On Aug. 5, 1884, a fire blazed through wooden stands on the first-base side during a game. Cubs outfielder Jimmy Ryan was a hero of the day, as he took his bat and ripped through a chicken wire fence to allow thousands of fans to exit onto the field, away from the burning bleachers. Reischl said some of Ryan's teammates may have also saved lives, but there were 100 injuries, and half of the ballpark burned to the ground. Somehow, the team resumed play the next day. A day later, Cubs shortstop Bill Dahlen had his 42-game hitting streak snapped at the damaged park.

• During the 1896 season, Philadelphia Phillie Ed Delahanty recorded a four-homer game. What's even more impressive is that all four home runs were of the inside-the-park variety.

• In 1908, a woman gave birth in the bleachers during a game.

• During the 1908 World Series, Murphy put the visiting press in the last row of the grandstand. Allegations arose that he allowed the front rows to be filled by scalped-ticket buyers. The press was so infuriated that it organized the Baseball Writers Association of America, which is still in place today and votes for the Hall of Fame.

Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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