Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Federal League Kansas City Packers

Home opener, April 16, 1914. The Chicago Whales, with Hall of Famer Joe Tinker at short, defeated KC 3-2.
The Federal League existed 1913-15, and Kansas City had a team in the loop for the last two and a half of those three seasons. The Fed, then and now considered an independent minor league in 1913, placed one of their original teams in Covington, KY. The Covington Blue Sox suffered from poor attendance to the point that they needed to locate mid-season. KC was their landing spot in late June, and the franchise became known alternately as the Packers and the Feds. Gordon & Koppel Field at 47th & Tracy was their home yard.

The loop declared itself a major league in 1914 and began poaching what talent they could from the American and National. The Federal is indeed considered a major league for the 1914 and '15 seasons, though the talent level lagged behind the two established majors. One of KC's additions was George Stovall, a KC native that had been a below average/above replacement level first baseman in the American League since 1904. He'd been a playing manager for the previous three seasons, a dual role that he continued for the Packers in '14 and '15. But they didn't add any awe-inspiring talent. The 1914 squad liked playing in KC alright, squeaking out a 37-36 home record, but overall went just 67-84, good for sixth place in the eight team league. The team didn't draw particularly well, and the league announced they would be relocated to Newark, NJ for 1915. But KC ownership fought back, serving a lawsuit to the league that successfully blocked the transfer.

The fans came out in much bigger numbers in 1915, putting up some of the highest attendance figures in the league. There was very little turnover on the roster, so no expectation that the Packers would make much noise in the standings. But they were a much improved team and actually held on to first place for a significant chunk of the year. They faded slightly and finished fourth with a respectable 81-72 record buoyed by their 46-31 ledger at home. It was the first winning record by a major league team in KC's history after the Unions and Cowboys never sniffed .500 in their four combined seasons in the 19th century. 1915 was also the last winning record by a major league team in KC until the 1971 Royals.

Despite the increase in attendance, the owners had gone bankrupt by the end of 1915 and the team was taken over by the league. During the '15-'16 off-season, an agreement was reached between the AL/NL and the Federal that put an end to the Fed by partially absorbing it into the AL & NL. With no ownership group left in KC, the Packers were not a part of the deal, and KC fans had to wait 40 years for the official return of major league baseball. 

Exterior of Gordon & Koppel Field

My best guess at the orientation of Gordon & Koppel Field. Assuming the game in the top photo was being played in the afternoon, the shadows would be approximately right. And baseball historian Lloyd Johnson has written that long home runs would end up in Brush Creek.

How great are those sweaters?

"Kansas City in the Federal League" by Bob Cole in the book Unions To Royals
"Kansas City Baseball History" tour pamphlet by Lloyd Johnson
The Federal League of Baseball Clubs by Robert Peyton Wiggins

1 comment:

  1. Greetings. I'm with Ingram's magazine, and we're working on a piece for an upcoming edition about the history of sports in Kansas City. Would I be able to talk with you or, if you have one, a staff historian about those early teams and leagues that predate the modern era? I can be reached at 816-268-6402, or at