The Rundown: A Brief History of Spring Training, Awesome Baseball Minutia, and Dexter Fowler

Top Of The First

Spring Training is opening up this week as players and teams set up camps in Arizona and Florida. It will be nice to see a preponderance of relevant baseball news that has been absent since the Winter Meetings. Too many top stories have been beaten to death this offseason and the lack of news has caused lot of writers to stretch for content that would be considered filler at best.

A Brief History of Spring Training

I’m a history buff, and if you are too you will enjoy this section today. If not, feel free to gravitate to the links section below.

Spring Training is a multi-billion dollar business now. The quaint ideology of Spring Training still exists in the hearts of true baseball fans these days, but serves as more of a soft opening for the regular season.

Over the years, Spring Training has evolved significantly. Once upon a time, it was a pre-season retreat designed to help ballplayers lose weight added over the winter. Until Spring Training became a mandated exercise, players would often attend spas in places like Hot Springs where they would purge their bodies of the iniquities from the offseason. Up until the 1950’s, most spring training games consisted of split squad games, veterans vs. rookies, or exhibitions with local minor league and college teams.

The Cincinnati Red Stockings were the first professional team to incorporate some form of spring training. In 1870, the team spent the early part of spring in New Orleans training for the upcoming season. Cap Anson of the 1886 Chicago White Stockings brought a reporter with the team to Hot Springs, AR, and, as Anson then led the team to two championships, other teams began to jump on the Spring Training Bandwagon.

The Grapefruit League was started in 1888 by the Washington Senators. However, several hotels refused to house the players because of excessive loudness and drunken hijinks so they left. To compound matters, Southerners, still morally wounded by the Civil War, detested professional baseball because it was a game played largely in the Northeast and Midwest. In 1889, the Philadelphia Phillies signed a multi-year deal to train in Jacksonville, FL. By 1916, seven teams were training in Florida.

In 1906, John McGraw had his players driven to Spring Training in Memphis, TN via horse-drawn carriages, each emblazoned with banners stating that the New York Giants were “The World Champions.” The 1913 Chicago Cubs trained in Tampa, Florida at the full expense of Tampa Mayor D.B. McKay. McKay was also owner and publisher of the Tampa Times, so his newspaper had exclusive access to the team’s players and “inside dope.”

Al Lang, a Pittsburgh businessman who moved to St. Petersburg, FL for health reasons, built the first all-purpose spring training facility for the St. Louis Browns in 1914 — and covered all of the teams expenses — just so he could watch professional baseball. Lang dubbed the facility Sunshine Park. The Browns only trained there for one season so Lang persuaded the Philadelphia Phillies to train at Sunshine Park in 1915. The Phillies won the World Series that season. Lang then built a second facility in town for the Boston Braves — called Waterfront Park —  which was completed in 1921.

In 1925, Lang opened a facility in St. Petersburg for the New York Yankees, who had trained in New Orleans from 1920-1924. The move to Florida was necessitated by the need to keep Babe Ruth away from the Bourbon Street revelry and repeated alcohol binges. Ruth allegedly lost a $1,000 bill in the Big Easy in 1924.

In 1947, Veeck was the owner of the minor league Milwaukee Brewers and the team trained in Ocala, Florida. During a split-squad game Veeck sat in the black section of the segregated stands to engage in conversation with team fans. According to his autobiography, Veeck was told by a police officer that he could not sit in that section. The officer then called the Ocala mayor when Veeck refused to move. The mayor finally backed down when Veeck threatened to take his team elsewhere for spring training.

In 1955, Veeck — now the owner of the Cleveland Indians — brought his team west to train due to the signing of Larry Doby. Veeck believed that the the racial atmosphere of Arizona was far more tolerant of black players than Florida. Veeck then persuaded the New York Giants to train with the Indians that season so that they could play exhibition games against each other.

Since 2010, Spring training has been equally divided between Florida and Arizona, with 15 teams training in each state.

Over the years, teams have trained in places that range from as far north as Baltimore to as far south as Latin America. They have trained in Honolulu, Mexico, Cuba, Panama and Costa Rica. In the 1940’s, the Chicago Cubs trained on Catalina Island. Today, Spring Training offers a tremendous economic impact to Florida and Arizona, where baseball generates nearly a billion dollars of revenue in each state yearly.

Fact, Fiction, Truth, or Rumor

Scouting Baseball recently named their Top 100 Prospects for 2016. Gleyber Torres (#40), Willson Contreras (#49), Ian Happ (#67), Jeimer Candelario (#71) and Billy McKinney (#90) were the only Cubs on this year’s list.

An All-Star Game is in the near future for Wrigley Field. Evan Altman has the details.

Joel Sherman is an advocate for the implementation of timeouts in baseball. His idea includes five timeouts per team — not including injury timeouts — and a world where pitching changes are made from the bench. In theory, this would speed up the pace of the game. Personally, I think Jason Hammel being pulled from a game from the bench would be great entertainment, but I don’t like this idea as much as Sherman does. In fact, I don’t like it at all.

Bill Murray has agreed to narrate a new film about scouts and the players they discovered called Scouting For Diamonds if the crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo achieves its goal of raising $85,000 for the project. Right now the filmmakers have raised about $34,000 with 17 hours left in the campaign.

Beyond the Box score looks at the slow but steady philosophical change in the future of baseball journalism, citing articles by Rian Watt and Meg Rowley of Baseball Prospectus. Blogging and niche writing has certainly altered the playing field when it comes to baseball writing and analysis during the past five years. The narratives and the voices behind them have changed the way we read about baseball, sometimes at the expense of creativity and editorial opinion.

Dave Cameron of Fangraphs looks at the ten worst offseason acquisitions of 2016. Bear in mind, the alleged 3-year/$45M signing of Yovanni Gallardo by the Baltimore Orioles would easily make this list were the signing official.

Baseball America’s Hudson Belinsky reports that draft and IFA spending pools should increase by about 4.6 percent for the upcoming minor league draft and July 2nd IFA signing period.

Bottom Of The Ninth

Blah, blah, blah: Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler and Yovanni Gallardo are still unsigned due to the fact that each is tied to draft pick compensation. A lot of Cubs bloggers think the Cubs should sign Dexter Fowler. I am not among that faction. There is more to the equation than the obvious bargain and the loss of the 2nd round draft pick. What about bonus pool allocations? How would playing time be split amongst the outfielders? How would another free agent signing affect the Cubs ability to acquire players at the trade deadline? How much would being a platoon player inhibit Fowler’s ability to sign with a new team next year?

I think Fowler is a better fit with the White Sox, Indians or Orioles. If the Cubs can trade Jorge Soler for a premium starting pitcher I might reconsider, but I don’t think that deal exists or it already would have happened.

Back to top button