When the Squares Ruled the Diamond
The Cubs and White Sox have a storied rivalry and legions of fans throughout the city. But early in the last century, Logan Square had its own semiprofessional team —the Logan Squares—that gave the two pro teams a run for their money.
Logan Square's 'unbeatable' semi-pro team drew huge crowds by flouting the rules
The team was the pet project of Jim “Nixey” Callahan. An accomplished utility player, Callahan had pitched and played left field for the Philadelphia Phillies, the Chicago Colts (Cubs) and the White Sox. After retiring from professional baseball in 1905 at age 31, he bought an amateur diamond in Logan Square and erected a wooden grandstand and a canvas fence to control admission.
Located between Milwaukee, Diversey and Sawyer, the park’s home plate was located approximately where McDonald’s sits today. “You could get in three ways,” longtime resident Thomas Dale told writer John Drury in a letter from the 1950s. “Crawl under the canvas (although you risked being clobbered by irate attendants), find a ball that had been popped out of the park (you presented the ball to Sarge, an ancient guardian with a tin star that was suspiciously of Cracker Jack nature), or—most unorthodox of all—pay your way.”
In the days before radio and television, semipro and amateur baseball drew big crowds all over the city; when the Logan Squares played their first official game on April 15, 1906, more than 400 teams were already playing scheduled games throughout the city.
Callahan convinced nine other semipro teams to join the Logan Squares in forming the Chicago City League, including the Leland Giants, a Negro league team owned by Hall of Fame pitcher Andrew “Rube” Foster.
Callahan flouted the rules in building the Squares, however, paying players who were still under contract to professional teams to play. Ringers such as Phillies outfielder Moose McCormick, White Sox second baseman Gus Dundon and Cleveland Naps pitcher Happy Townsend joined under aliases, and the caliber of talent fast made the Logan Squares almost unbeatable—and an immediate sensation. In October 1906, in fact, crowds of more than 5,000 watched the Squares take on the White Sox and the Cubs in postseason games. The Squares handily beat both teams.
Callahan’s hiring practices soon drew the scrutiny of baseball’s National Commission, however. Calling him “The Anarchist of Baseball,” it began penalizing pros for playing with the Squares and other “outlaw” clubs in 1908. Callahan fought back with a lawsuit calling for investigation of the majors as a monopoly.
When the White Sox’ new stadium opened in 1910, attendance at Logan Square Park fell off. The following year, Callahan buried the hatchet with Sox owner Charles Comiskey and rejoined the team as player/manager. He disbanded the Squares and tore down the fence surrounding the park. It continued to host amateur games until 1925, when it was razed to make way for—what else?— apartment buildings. – Ian P. Murphy