Tuesday, April 16, 2019

An American Football Idiom . . . from Canada?!? – a History and Etymology of “Moving the Goalposts”

On March 22, 2019, Special Counsel Robert Mueller delivered the final report of his investigation, the “Mueller Report,” to the Department of Justice.  Attorney General William Barr released a summary of the report’s conclusions two days later.  In response, and almost immediately, partisans on all sides “moved the goalposts.”

A New York Times editorial scolded “the majority of Democratic leadership” for letting Trump “move the goal posts.”

[T]hey put too many eggs in the Mueller basket, and allowed Trump to move the goal posts. Indeed, now the goal posts are permanently affixed to skates.[i]

A Fox News editorial scolded the Democrats “moving the goal posts” themselves. 

Almost from the start, Democrats and their media echo chamber have moved the goal posts on collusion.[ii]

In subsequent weeks, talking heads, editorialists, and journalists increasingly accused politicians from one party or the other of “moving the goalposts.”

All of which raises more serious questions – how long have people been metaphorically moving goalposts, where did it begin, and why? 

The Origins

In 1990, William Safire, writing in his “On Language” column in the New York Times Magazine (October 28), quoted Peter Stothard, the United States editor of The Times of London as saying “this term is British,” despite listing an earliest-known example of the expression in 1978 spoken by an American, Albert V. Casey, the CEO of American Airlines.  But William Safire did not have the benefit of current digital archive and search technology.  Another British airline executive did in fact use the expression a year earlier,[iii] but even then, it was decades after its first use in the United States and long usage in Canada.

The proverbial “goalposts” are from American or Canadian football, not soccer.  The expression appeared as early as 1932, in a debate over proposed rules changes at the Democratic National Convention.  It doesn’t appear with any frequency until the 1950s and 1960s, and then only in Canada, primarily in British Columbia. The expression did not appear regularly in American newspapers until the 1970s; increasingly so after 1974 when the National Football League actually did move the goalposts from the goal-line to the back of the end-zone.

And even when new, the expression itself was not cut from whole cloth.  It appears to be a specific variant of an earlier, more general idiom, “changing the rules in the middle of the game.”

Changing the Rules . . .

During war games of the British Navy in 1889, the British fleet captured three ships of the Achillean fleet.  A subsequent order to release the ships was considered unfair.

These instructions are tantamount to an alteration of the rules in the middle of the game, and seeing that the very last ton of coal at Falmouth was used in coaling them, and that a redistribution of the Fleet was made on their being counted on this side, it is not too much to say that this order has utterly upset, for the moment, the strategical and coaling arrangements.

The Standard (London), August 22, 1889, page 5.

Years later, the expression appeared in Canada, coincidentally in a debate about the British Navy.  Canada was debating the creation of its own navy to protect its shores, instead of relying on the British Navy as it had since its founding.  Conservative politicians decried the move as traitorous; an insult to the capabilities of the British Navy.  Liberal politicians like Sir Wilfrid, on the other hand, wanted “Canada to come forward and take her share of the defense.”[iv]

Dr. Michael Clark, the “fighting Liberal” criticized efforts by conservatives to close debate and force their own navy bill through Parliament.

The Victoria Daily Times (British Columbia), May 13, 1913, page 7.
Referring to the closure, Dr. Clarke said that the government had changed the rules in the middle of the game.  What did the people of Ontario call a man who would do that? “A coward,” shouted one, “a cheap sport,” said another.  “Then we will take the argument on our side and make them dead sports,” said Dr. Clarke.

Winnipeg Tribune, May 6, 1913, page 4.

The United States had a maritime debate of its own the following year, in the early days of World War I, before it joined the fight.

Sir: Perhaps the most underhand and contemptible movement in this country since the outbreak of the European war is the agitation, apparently well organized, to prevent by means of embargo legislation the sale and shipment of supplies and munitions of war to the belligerents.

. . . [N]ot only is it bad economic policy, since it would stop many forms of industrial activity and increase unemployment; not only is it without precedent, since during the Russian-Japanese and the Balkan wars American dealers were allowed to get what few orders they could in competition with English, German and French manufacturers, but is, worst of all, essentially un-American, since it proposes to “change the rules in the middle of the game,” a thing abhorred by all lovers of fair play.

New York Tribune, December 17, 1914, page 10.

A generation later, the expression appeared prominently in widespread reports to change the nominating rules in the middle of the Democratic National Convention.  Supporters of Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw the change as a way to break the South’s stranglehold of power over the party. 

Several prominent Democrats came out in favor of change; but only after the Convention, not during.  Former candidate William McAdoo (who lost the nomination to Alfred E. Smith in 1924) and Senator Harrison of Mississippi were quoted using similar language in opposition to the rule change in “the middle of the game.”[v]

New York’s Democratic Mayor Jimmy Walker made a similar point, using slightly different words, a couple days later.  Perhaps he was a fan of the New York Football Giants.

“The two-thirds rule will be a good thing to abolish for the next convention, but trying to change it now is like moving the goal posts up five yards in the middle of a football game.  It’s a sport-loving country, and we prefer play according to the rules.”

The News (Paterson, New Jersey), June 28, 1932, page 3.

This is the only example of the idiom I could find before it popped up again in Canada in the 1950s.  But it wasn’t the only reference to literally moving of goalposts.  The goalposts had actually been moved in college and professional football in 1927, resulting in a significant drop in scoring.  The move was controversial, sparking years of debate, which might easily have informed Jimmy Walkers’ choice of idiom.  The National Football League moved the goalposts back to their original, “proper” position on the goal-line before the 1933 season. 

The Placement of Goalposts

When the rules of American football were laid down in the early-1880s, the length of the field was set at 110 yards, with the goalposts at the goal-line.  Without the forward pass (it would not be legal until 1907), there was need for an end-zone beyond the goal-line; the field simply ended.  Touching the ball down across the line scored a touchdown. 

The advent of the forward pass in 1907 changed the game, but it didn’t immediately change the field.  As first enacted, the forward pass rules did not permit catching a touchdown pass beyond the goal-line.  In a game in which people had always scored by crossing the line with the ball, there may have been a conceptual difficulty in imagining an extension of the field beyond the goal-line where the football might be caught.

But after several years of experience, the rules-makers caught up to the new passing game.  In 1912, they extended the length of the field from 110 yards to 120 yards; shortening the distance between goal-lines to 100 yards with end-zones ten yards-deep beyond the goal-lines.  The goalposts moved ten yards closer to one another, but remained on the goal-line.  And in one fell-swoop, the best seats in the house went from the 55-yard line to the 50-yard line.

Goalposts on the goal-line were perceived as problematic even before the forward pass and touchdown pass were legalized.  In 1904, Princeton, Harvard and other universities called for moving the goalposts behind the goal-line, if for different reasons.

Princeton is in favor of the change because such a move would solve the problem of the relative value of the touchdown and field goal.  Harvard and several other colleges are favorable to such a change, because it would serve to eliminate physical danger.  This is unquestionably the strongest argument for moving the goal back.

Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), March 23, 1904, page 14.

The goalposts created even more problems for the new passing game, particularly after 1912 when they interfered with the path of balls thrown into the end-zone.

The debate was joined.  As early as February 1913, football historian Parke H. Davis suggested moving the goalposts to the back of the end-zone.

Tampa Times, February 7, 1913, page 9.

The debate persisted until 1927, when the colleges and the professionals moved the goalposts to the back of the end-zone.  Kicking then wasn’t what it is today.  The new rule was expected to significantly reduce the number of kicks for an extra-point after touchdown.  One analyst, expecting more fake-kicks on extra-point attempts, drew up one such successful fake-kick from a memorable high school game several years earlier, to let his readers know what to expect in the upcoming season.

Boston Globe, October 3, 1927, page 11.

But the move did little to stop the debate.  In 1927, the number of successful field-goal attempts dropped 80%, from 296 to 60, from 1926 levels, with a correspondingly significant drop in overall scoring.  

Boston Globe, December 25, 1933, page 21.

As a result, the proper placement of the goalposts remained a subject of regular debate for several years.
The Muscatine Journal (Muscatine, Iowa), December 23, 1930, page 8.
San Francisco Examiner, October 17, 1931, page 18.

In February 1933[vi], about six months after the Democratic National Convention, the National Football League moved the goalposts again, this time back to the goal-line.

First, the pros are moving the goal posts back to the goal line, which is expected to revive the lost art of place-kicking and drop-kicking.  The suspense of watching a ball soar from the toe of a Brickley or a Pfaffman on the 35-yard line, describing a deadly arc between the posts, is to be restored to the stands.

The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Alabama), July 17, 1933, page 6.

The new goalpost placement (along with a couple other offense-friendly rule changes) was a big success.  Scoring doubled in 1933 over 1932 – something that did not go unnoticed in the Canadian press.

Twice as many field goals kicked; twice as many points scored, 1,105 in 57 games; a greater percentage of passes completed, 614 of 1,630 or more than 37 percent; tie games decreased from 20 percent of those played in 1932 to only five or less than five percent of the league contests in 1933.

The Winnipeg Tribune (Manitoba), December 12, 1933.

The increased offensive production in professional football revived the debate on goalpost placement in college football, where it was debated nearly every year.  The debate grabbed headlines again in the late-1950s.

Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio), January 4, 1958, page 13.

The Indiana Gazette (Indiana, Pennsylvania), January 13, 1959, page 10.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 4, 1958, page 8.

In the NFL, the goalposts would remain on the goal-line until 1974, apparently sparking a surge in popularity of the “move the goalposts” idiom in the United States, where it had been in occasional use since at least 1970. 

Surprisingly, however (for an expression apparently based on American football) the idiom appears to have caught on in Canada first.  Or perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise.  American football itself was a gift from students from Montreal’s McGill University, who brought Rugby-style football to Harvard in 1874 (see my earlier post, “American Football came from . . . Canada?”). 

Canadian Goalposts

Apart from the one-off example of the idiom in 1932, it does not appear with any great frequency until the 1950s, and then almost exclusively in Canada, in British Columbia in particular.

In the early 1950s, Arthur Laing, a Member of Parliament from Vancouver, British Columbia, used the idiom in his newspaper column, “This Week in Canada’s Parliament.”

Reaction to the Report is good throughout the country and probably Mr. Knowles expressed most people’s thoughts when he said “let’s get it adopted” before as he inferred “moving the goal posts again.”

Richmond Review (Richmond, British Columbia), July 5, 1950, page 2.

The new proposal will give us a real pension system with an assured source of continuing income to properly finance it.  Let us get this system adopted first before we talk about moving the goal posts again.

Richmond Review (Richmond, British Columbia), May 16, 1951, page 4.

The expression appeared in British Columbia again in the late-1950s through the mid-1960s.

In 1959, Gordon Gibson Sr., a lumber millionaire and “self-styled protector of the small logging operator,”[vii] criticized policies consolidation large Canadian logging firms under the control of American companies.

“They have been successful under the old rules, but now they are moving the goalposts,” he said.  “They are making it impossible for anyone from now on to score a touchdown.”

The Vancouver Sun, November 18, 1959, page 21

The idiom returned in 1962, in a political debate over electrical power in British Columbia.  W. A. C. Bennett, the Premier of British Columbia, was accused of moving the goalposts.  

The Province (Vancouver, British Columbia), March 17, 1962, page 1.

It seems obvious that the Premier, having lost the preliminary steps instituted by the B. C. Power Corporation to have a fair price established in court, moved quickly to choke off the due processes of law.  In the phrase of one shareholder, he “changed the goal-posts in the middle of the game.”

Times Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia), March 20, 1962, page 1.

A few months later, Bennett accused his opponents of doing precisely the same thing.

Premier Bennett will fly to Ottawa Aug. 25 [1962] for talks on the long-stalled Columbia River treaty – but he’s wondering if someone’s moved the goalposts on him.

The Province (Vancouver, British Columbia), August 10, 1962, page 3.

He has a bottmless enthusiasm for succeeding competitively through a test of wits or shrewdness, even, as Bolwell quotes one of his critics, if it means moving the goalposts while the game is in progress.

The Vancouver Sun (Vancouver, British Columbia), January 31, 1963, Page 6.

Nanaimo Daily News (Nanaimo, British Columbia), February 27, 1964, page 2.

(Coincidentally, future Canadian and College Football Hall of Famer (and Super Bowl loser with the Minnesota Vikings) Joe Kapp appeared on the same page.)

Despite its regular (if infrequent) use in British Columbia since at least 1950, the expression does not seem to have been very well known, even in British Columbia, as late as 1965.  It seemed new in 1965, at least to a Vancouver reporter who found the idiom particularly “witty,” having recently learned it from a “resident Toronto correspondent.”

Perhaps the wittiest definition of his sense of fair play came from a resident Toronto correspondent who wrote that Bennett would win even if it meant moving the goalposts while the game was in progress.

Vancouver Sun, February 16, 1965, page 6.

American Goalposts

Americans picked up the idiom by the 1970s.

But the Heart Association itself, a short two years ago, pegged the national average at 600 milligrams.  No one knows when AHA “moved the goalposts,” if it ever has.

Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction, Colorado), October 10, 1971, page 42.

In 1971, controversy swirled around Clint Murchison’s management of Dallas Stadium, sparking a more subject-appropriate use of the idiom.

This quick move to wrap the insurance coverage in Murchison money is like moving the goal posts to the thirty yard line on one end of the field.

Irving Daily News (Irving, Texas), October 17, 1971, page 4. 

By the early-1970s, “soccer-style” kickers’ improved field-goal kicking techniques had made field-goals and extra points much easier, thereby negating some of the reasons for moving the goalposts to the goal-line in the first place.  In response, the NFL moved the goalposts back to the end-line before the 1974 season. 

Ironically, Miami Dolphin Garo Yepremian, one of the kickers whose skills prompted the change, complained loudly.

“I think it’s one of the worst rules they could possibly put in,” said Yepremian when he heard that his kicks would have to travel 10 extra yards to reach the cross bars.  “Now there will be even less scoring because coaches will decide to punt instead of trying long field goals.  It’s going to make the game more conservative.

Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), April 26, 1974, page 21.

The debate and new rule may have played a role in making the idiom increasingly common, and crossing all political lines.

Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska), August 19, 1974, page 7.
Albany Democrat-Herald (Albany, Oregon), February 6, 1975, page 10.

Carlsbad Current-Argus ( New Mexico), June 19, 1975, page 18.

Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Arizona), October 12, 1997, page F3.
New York Daily News, June 7, 1999, page 31.

[i] “It’s Bigger Than Mueller and Trump,” Charles M. Blow, New York Times online, March 24, 2019.
[ii] “How Long Has Mueller Known There Was No Trump-Russia Collusion?,” Fox News online, March 26, 2019.
[iii] Aberdeen Press Journal (Scotland), February 24, 1977, page 7 (“Mr. Vivian Slight, the Gatwick-based independent airline’s [(British Caledonian Airways)] legal associate, told the CAA fares panel it was an experiment that had not come up to expectations.  He said BCAL now sought to ‘move the goal posts’ by introducing two new weekday off-peak fares – one for senior citizens at 50% discount and the other a year-round excursion fare at the same level as the winter weekend fare.”).
[iv] The Winnipeg Tribune (Manitoba), May 6, 1913, page 4.
[v] “McAdoo for Change in Rule, but Not During Game,” Boston Globe, June 25, 1932, page 3; “Can Win Under Old Rule, Says Harrison,” Boston Globe, June 25, 1932, page 3.
[vi] Cincinnati Enquirer, February 27, 1933, page 9.
[vii] “B. C. Entrepreneur Dead at Age 81,” Calgary Herald, July 19, 1986, page H8.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Angels and Tigers and Ducks - a Baseball Biography of George A. Van Derbeck

Detroit Free Press, January 28, 1894, page 6.
George Arthur Van Derbeck is best remembered today as the first owner (1894) of the team that would become the Detroit Tigers, and for building the first baseball stadium (1896) on the site where Tiger Stadium would eventually be built.  But his influence on American sports and pop-culture runs deeper. 

He helped launch three professional baseball leagues, advanced professionalism in baseball in the Pacific Northwest and Southern California, and organized three new baseball teams, each of which introduced new, now-familiar team names into American sports jargon, the Oregon Ducks (1890), the Los Angeles Angels (1892) and the Detroit Tigers (1895).

In 1890, Van Derbeck and a partner established a four-team Pacific Northwest league, with Van Derbeck taking ownership and managing the business affairs of the Portland “Web Footers.”  Four years later, the University of Oregon’s first football team would similarly be referred to as the “Web Footers,” a synonym and forerunner of the name all of its teams use today, the “Ducks.” 

In 1892, Van Derbeck left wet, rainy Portland for dry, sunny Southern California, where he acquired the new California League franchise; the “first league team that ever represented” Los Angeles,[i] and first to officially adopt the name “Angels”. 

Following the collapse of the California League in 1893, Van Derbeck brought “the cream of the California League” with him to Detroit in 1894, to play for his Detroit “Creams”, a founding member of the newly organized Western League.  One year later his team became the “Tigers.”

Van Derbeck was still with the team in 1899 when the Western League changed its name to the American League with an eye toward becoming a major league on equal footing with the “senior circuit,” the National League.  The experiment worked.  The two leagues joined forces and would play the first modern Worlds Series in 1903. 

But by that time, Van Derbeck was long gone, having been ousted by the league, with the aid of a bitter ex-wife, just before the start of its first season as the “American League” in 1900.  George Van Derbeck died in obscurity in Los Angeles in 1938, remembered in a brief notice only as the “loving brother of Mrs. Elizabeth A. Wendell,” no word about his life as a baseball magnate.  The baseball world had apparently forgotten about him.  And perhaps he had forgotten about baseball; it didn’t treat him well in the end, and he never achieved the level of success he had achieved in baseball later in life.  But it wasn’t always like that.

Early Years

George Van Derbeck was born to Andrew A. and Hannah P. Vanderbeck in Rochester, New York, in about 1864.  He grew up on a 100 acre family farm stretching, roughly, from Lake Avenue on the east to the railroad tracks in the west, bounded by Augustine Street and the Aquinas Institute to the north and Eldorado Place and Bryan Street to the south. 

It’s not certain what sorts of crops they raised, but given its location in upstate New York and that fact that George Van Derbeck spent much of his career as a fruit broker and investor in fruit-farming real estate (when he wasn’t organizing professional baseball teams), it seems likely that his family’s farm may have had at least some fruit orchards of some kind. 

The Vanderbecks may have been farmers, but they were also real estate developers.  Recognizing the increasing value their land as Rochester crept northward, they imagined developing and dividing their property into residential lots as early as 1873.  But in order to increase the value of their land for residential purposes, they needed more and better roads to and through the area. 

George’s father, Andrew A. Vanderbeck, with a few other local land owners, promoted the idea of building a new “boulevard” from the Driving Park (race track) to Charlotte, on the shores of Lake Erie.  The Driving Park was situated north of what is now Driving Park Avenue (then known as McCracken) and west of Dewey Avenue, which is the “boulevard” that was developed as a result of their efforts. 

Mr. Vanderbeck said if this road is laid, only a few years will elapse before fine houses will be built along the route as near together as convenient and pleasant.  This was a purely selfish enterprise.  He confessed that he was willing to sacrifice a piece of land, if by this improvement the balance of his property was increased in value four-fold.

Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), February 12, 1873, page 4.

But it wasn’t as quick or easy as they’d hoped.

In July 1876, the city agreed to build the road, taking a swath of land 100 feet wide from Driving Park Avenue to half-way between Augustine and Alameda Streets.  The city compensated the landowners for the land and assessed them the costs of improvements.  The Vanderbecks collected even more for their land than the other owners because the road took a 100 foot wide swath right through the center of their farm, dividing it in two, making the farm less valuable, whereas the landowners to the south lost only a 50-foot wide strip along the edges of their properties.  But nevertheless, the costs of improvements were more than what they were paid, so they would up with a bill of more than $400.  It all might have been worth it – that is, if they had actually built the road as promised.

Andrew Vanderbeck never saw his dream realized.  He died an untimely death two years later, in 1878, when a runaway team of horses collided with the buggy he was riding in.  At some point after his death, and before his estate cleared probate (this was an issue in the case), Mrs. Vanderbeck received a notice of the $400 outstanding assessment for improvements on the road, which she promptly paid out of her own pocket.

But eight years later, the road had still not been built.  Without having received the benefits of the proposed “boulevard,” despite having paid for the improvements, Mrs. Vanderbeck wanted her $400 dollars and change back.  Her lawsuit against the city for return of her assessment came to naught, turning in part on the fact that she paid the assessment voluntarily from her own money, instead of having been paid as an obligation from her husband’s estate as established through probate. 

But despite losing on a technicality, her efforts may have borne fruit – during the course of the litigation, the city renewed its efforts to develop the road and within a few years, she would sell off the entire farm at a huge profit to a developer who subdivided the property and developed all of the streets and a new electric railway.  She could have sold the farm for $50,000 in 1888, but by holding out until 1890, she was able to realize $80,000 on the transaction. 

Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York, August 21, 1890, page 7.

All of which may seem more like George Van Derbeck’s parents’ story than his, but his seeing his parents deal with fruit, lawsuits, improper tax assessments, and selling off farmland seems to have prepared him for the various, similar pursuits he would follow throughout his career. 

On His Own

George  Van Derbeck left home at about the age of twenty.  He moved to Toledo, Ohio and took a position as an accountant in the “fruit commission” (brokerage) business of A. A. Geroe & Son of Toledo, Ohio, selling fruit instead of growing it.  He stayed in Toledo for five years.  He appears to have liked the job, or at least liked the boss’ daughter, Etta, whom he married. 

But maybe he didn’t like her that much.  They divorced within three years, after which he headed west.  But at least his boss liked him, despite the brief marriage to his daughter.  Years later, after being forced out of baseball, Van Derbeck returned to Toledo to become a partner with his ex-father-in-law in the same company.

Van Derbeck arrived in Portland in the fall of 1888, where “real estate and speculation consumed his time, and success met him at every turn of the road.”[ii]  In July of 1889, he moved to Albany, Oregon to manage the local office of the Portland real estate firm, Hughes, Brown & Co.[iii]  Sometime between July and September of the same year he became a partner in new venture called the West Shore Land and Investment Co., and shortly thereafter owned the entire business. [iv] 

Although far from home, his real estate transactions may have made him feel right at home.  All of the real estate transactions in his name, and for which I’ve seen evidence in newspaper archives, relate to fruit farms.  At about the same time his mother was selling off their family farm in Rochester, New York, George Van Derbeck was selling off his interests in the “Woodburn Fruit Farms,” piece-by-piece.  Today, “Woodburn Fruit Farms” is still the name of a neighborhood in the town of Gervais, near Salem, Oregon[v] 

George Van Derbeck did not let business take up all of his time.  He was apparently an avid and respected duck hunter.  His name pops up in a story about “Mallard Shooting at Shoalwater” (dateline Portland, Oregon), in a New York-based outdoor magazine in 1891.  He may have been “one of the talented Oregon duck hunters” the writer interviewed for the article, but he didn’t like bad weather.

I suggested to Van Derbeck that we strike out for the Greene Lake.  But Van is disposed to procrastinate when the weather is bad.  So I jumped into my boots and made for the boat alone.

Forest and Stream, Volume 36, Number 18, May 21, 1891, page 348.

Van Derbeck had another interest related to his duck hunting pursuits, which illustrates his competitive nature.  He entered his hunting dog, an English Setter named Kash, in the Los Angeles dog show in 1892, winning best in breed.  A few weeks later, his new baseball franchise, the Los Angeles Angels, embarked on its first season in the California League. 

But the Angels were not his first team; George Van Derbeck organized his first professional baseball league and his first team in Portland in 1890.

Portland Web-Footers

Base Ball League.

Spokane Falls, March, 10. – The North Pacific Baseball league is to be organized including the cities of Portland, Tacoma, Spokane Falls, Helena and Butte. . . .  The projectors of the movement are Vanderbeck & Morgan, of Portland.

Daily Democrat (Albany, Oregon), March 11, 1890, page 1.

Not content with just a regional league, Van Derbeck and other owners had loftier ambitions.  At the end of their first season of play, they tried merging the North Pacific, or Northwestern League with the California League.

Negotiations are looking toward the consolidation of the California Baseball league and the Northwestern league are said to be nearing completion.  It is stated that the only question has been the entrance fee.  Managers of the Northwestern league insist upon the admission tariff of fifty cents.  The alliance, if completed, will include San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Stockton, San Jose, Los Angeles, Fresno, San Diego, Portland, Tacoma, Seatttle, and Spokane Falls, making the league of twelve clubs.

Weekly Oregon Statesman (Salem, Oregon), October 24, 1890, page 9.

It wasn’t as easy as they hoped.  And there were much bigger hurdles than the “entrance fee” question.  Two years later, when Van Derbeck moved to Los Angeles to start a team there, they renewed their efforts to merge the leagues; this time the railroad rates were the sticking point.[vi]  There would not be a consolidated professional baseball league with teams up and down the Pacific Coast until 1903.

Van Derbeck’s new team was called the “Webfooters.”

After last Friday’s game a number of Manager Harris’ friends who had a pecuniary interest in seeing the Portlands win telegraphed to Portland that Umpire Young had robbed the Webfooters of the game, and the Oregonian thereupon called the umpire a thief.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 6, 1890, page 2.

Although Van Derbeck deserves credit for bringing the first real professional team to Portland, he does not necessarily deserve credit for coining the name.  The name was a natural fit.  Portland was the only team from Oregon in the league and people from Oregon had been known as “Webfooters,”[vii] and Oregon the “Webfoot State,”[viii] since the 1860s; a humorous reference to the anatomical adaptations necessary to thrive in the wet climate that prevails throughout much of the state. 

Oregonians are, however, better known by the name of “Webfeet.”  This name originated in this way: It rains in Oregon about seven months in the year, and I am informed by several “reliable gentlemen,” that through constant wading in the water during that period, “webs” finally grow between the toes of the unfortunate inhabitants, who may be forever after known by a habit they have of dismounting (the Oregonian never walks, if the distance exceeds one hundred yards) from their horses, and wading in every swamp along their route to moisten the webs between their toes to keep them from drying up and becoming painful.

Granville Stuart, Montana As it Is, New York, C. S. Wescott & Co., 1865, page 59.

Although some early examples of the nickname seem to restrict the name to people in the wettest part of the state, the Willamette Valley[ix], the name came to be generally applied equally to anyone who lived anywhere in Oregon.

Bismarck Tribune, October 19, 1883, page 1.

Although native Oregonians were “Webfooters,” the name “Webfooters” was not native to Oregon.  It had been used with respect to people who lived or worked in wet conditions since at least the Revolutionary War, when it was applied to a group of war heroes from coastal Massachusetts.[x]  Sailors in the United States Navy were also “Web feet” during the Mexican-American War, long before Walt Disney put Donald Duck in a sailor’s suit in the 1930s.

The monotony of this place [(Brazos Santiago, Texas)] has been relieved the last two days by the drilling of ‘Uncle Sam’s’ ‘web feet,’ or ‘barnacle-backs,’ that came here from the squadron.

The Sunbury Gazette (Sunbury, Pennsylvania), May 30, 1846, page 2. 

Portland was not even the first city to have a baseball team called the “Webfooters.”  That honor may go to the town team in the very wet city of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, where residents had been called “Webfooters” from as early as the mid-1870s.

The Fond du Lac “Whitings” came up on an excursion yesterday and met the home team [(Neenah)] at the Driving Park grounds. . . .  Bennett occupied the box for the Webfooters and Williams for the Neenahs.

The Neenah Daily Times, July 27, 1887, page 4.

Fond du Lac is no longer the home of the “Webfooters,” but Oregon is still home to the “Webfooters,” at least in modified form, as the mascot of the University of Oregon – the “Ducks,” an obvious alteration of webfooter which had previously been used used with reference to Portland’s professional baseball teams on occasion.[xi]

Butte Daily Post (Montana), June 12, 1902, page 8.

The Portland Webfooters baseball team were not the only “Webfooters” in town.  Soon after Van Derbeck established the team in 1891, other sports teams in Oregon would also be referred to as “Webfooters.” In some circumstances, however, it was in circumstances suggesting the name merely referred to people from Oregon, generally, and not a team “name” as such.  When the Stanford football team travelled to Oregon to play a local team of ex-Eastern collegiate football players locally known as the “Multnomahs,” for example, a San Francisco newspaper referred to the team as “Webfooters.”

San Francisco Call, December 24, 1893, page 20.

It took several years for the name “Webfooters” to gain a foothold at the University of Oregon, and another few decades before the “Ducks” was officially sanctioned. [xii]  When the University of Oregon played its first game of intercollegiate football on March 24, 1894, a 44-2 win over Albany College, newspapers in both schools’ hometowns referred to the teams simply as the “U. O.’s” and the “Albanys” – no nicknames.[xiii]   And in any case, “Webfooter” would not have distinguished one school from the other, as they were both from Oregon.

Later that year, in a preview of an upcoming game between the University of Oregon and Pacific University, a local paper dismissed concerns about wet field conditions because, “Webfoot boys would rather play on a muddy field than on one that is dry and solid.”[xiv]  The comment was equally applicable to players from both teams as both teams were from Oregon, and there is no indication that the writer intended for it to apply to one school over the other. 

The University of Oregon would not be commonly known as the “Webfooters” until they started playing teams from outside the state in 1899.

Record-Union (Sacramento, California), November 19, 1899, page 1.

San Francisco Chronicle, November 11, 1900, page 10.

Oregon’s Strange Course

The University of Oregon has so far refused all overtures to play. . . . It looks like a case of cold feet on the part of the Webfooters.

Seattle Star, December 3, 1901, page 8.

The name caught on, and people seemed to like it, but its days were numbered – at least in the short term. 

Although widely known as the “Webfoot State,” Oregon had also been known, alternately, as the “Beaver State” from as early as 1870, in reference to the fact that “300,000 beaver pelts were shipped out of Oregon, by the Hudson Bay Company” during the 1830s.[xv] 

The state’s nickname name was nearly co-opted in 1872, however, when a widely circulated news item suggested it would be a perfect nickname for the new state of . . . Idaho???

Public Ledger (Memphis, Tennessee), July 25, 1872, page 4.

Luckily, for Oregon State Beaver fans, Idaho was not granted statehood until about twenty years later, so the nickname remained with Oregon, although it took a backseat to the “Webfoot State.”  By one measure,[xvi] “Webfoot State” was nearly fifty-times more popular in Oregon than “Beaver State.”  But despite the overwhelming acceptance of the name, the Oregon Development League and Oregon Press Association issued an edict in 1906, dropping “Webfoot” in favor of “Beaver” in an effort improve the state’s image and encourage outside investment.[xvii]

The action in joint convention was taken on motion of Tom Richardson, secretary of the Development league, who said that serious harm had been done by the indiscriminate use of the terms “Webfoot” and “Webfooter;” that thousands of dollars had been diverted from investment in Oregon by the application of a nickname intended to convey the idea that Oregon’s climate was perpetually damp and disagreeable, whereas, in fact, the annual rainfall of the state was less than that of many other states of the Union.

The Atchison Daily Globe, march 8, 1906, page 6.

The decision was not without controversy.

Albany Democrat (Albany, Oregon), January 19, 1906, page 2.

Albany Democrat (Albany, Oregon), December 14, 1906, page 4.

But despite its long-standing tradition and apparent popularity, local teams and writers played along.  When the 1906 baseball season rolled around a few months later, Portland’s old “Webfooters” were suddenly “Beavers,” at least in the local papers (out of state papers didn’t get the memo).  Even the Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University) whose teams had traditionally gone by the inoffensive name, “Aggies,” changed their name to “Beavers” by the end of 1908. 

And with “Webfooters” on the outs, the University of Oregon abandoned the traditional (if unofficial) name “Webfooters” for another traditional, if less popular name, the “Lemon-Yellows,” a color associated with the team since its first game in 1894. 

“Webfooters” made a comeback in 1922 when the University of Oregon prepared for its trip to Hawaii.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, November 17, 1921, page 5.

In what might be a shock (or insult) to modern fans, one newspaper even referred to the University of Oregon as “Webfooters” and “Beavers” in the same headline.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, January 3, 1922, page 7.

 Students seemed to like the name, voting it to the top of a list of nicknames in a poll conducted by a school newspaper later that year.


University of Oregon, Eugene, Nov. 4. – “Webfooters” and “Pioneers” are the favorite names thus far in the campaign which the Oregon Daily Emerald is staging to find a name for the Oregon’s football team.

Oregon Daily Journal, November 5, 1922, section 7, page 2.

Some newspapers followed suit.

If the Journal sport correspondent wants the Oregon team called Webfooters, let’s call them that.  It’s a lot better than many of the other suggested inanities.

Eugene Guard, November 15, 1922, page 6.

But despite its popularity, the powers-that-be continued to question its propriety.

The consensus of opinion on the campus is that the team, “Webfooters,” as Oregon teams are wont to be known, means nothing.  It is strongly suggestive of “Ducks,” and once a team is called that, the school is in for a peck of ridicule.

It is also contended that neither “Webfooters” nor “Ducks” are characteristic of the fighting spirit for which Oregon teams are known. . . .

Lemon-Yellow, as the team is often called, also has its dangers.  If the linotype operator or some careless correspondent should forget either the lemon or yellow, it would take all of the sports editor’s time for the news two months to explain.

The Eugene Guard (Eugene, Oregon), April 24, 1926, page 14.

It took decades, but the University administration eventually embraced the lame name “Ducks,” even making a deal with Walt Disney in 1947 to use the image of Donald Duck.[xviii]

But despite later concerns about the strength of the name “Webfooters,” George Van Derbeck’s Portland Webfooters baseball team showed a lot of fighting spirit, winning the Northwest Pacific League pennant in 1891, earning a spot in an inter-league Pacific Coast championship series against San Jose, champions of the California League. 

San Jose won the series, played on a neutral field on a neutral field on Haight Street in San Francisco, ten games to 9, with the nineteenth and decisive game awarded to San Jose by forfeit.  With the game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth, a series of missed calls, bad calls and bad judgment on the part of the umpire prompted Portland’s manager, Bob Glenalvin, to pull his team from the field, giving the game and the series to San Jose.  It was his last game Portland; his next game would be as player-manager of the newly minted Los Angeles Angels. 

George Van Derbeck had already jumped ship.  And it was none too soon.  The Northwestern League would not survive the next season and would therefore be unable to send a team to contest the Pacific Coast championship.  As a result, Glenalvin and Van Derbeck’s new team, the Los Angeles Angels (not of Anaheim), could claim the title when it defeated San Jose for the California League pennant in 1892.

The Los Angeles Angels
George Van Derbeck appears to have sold his interest in the Portland Webfooters sometime between the end of the 1891 regular season and before the start of the post-season Coast Championship Series that same year.  News of his being awarded the new Los Angeles franchise in the California League broke before that series was even over.  He must have had a good working relationship with Portland manager, Bob Glenalvin, since he invited him down to Los Angeles with him to build the new franchise. 

Bob Glenalvin, Saint Paul Globe (Saint Paul, Minnesota), August 13, 1897, page 5.

Bob Glenalvin’s open letter to Los Angeles baseball fans, written while on a recruiting trip back East, is one of the first examples of the name “Angels,” in print.

Los Angeles Herald, February 18, 1892, page 5. 

 As was the case with the Portland “Webfooters,” however, the name was a natural fit for the team and did not require any great amount of creativity.  The original, formal title for Los Angeles was, “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles” – in English, “the Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels,” and the city had long been simply as Los Angeles, and sometimes in English as the “City of Angels.”

Organized baseball came to California in 1878, with the formation of the Pacific Base Ball League in San Francisco in January 1878.  Not to be outdone, Los Angeles County formed its own baseball league in March. 

California baseball would remain divided along regional lines for more than a decade, with various “California Leagues” forming and reforming in Northern California, with teams generally in cities like San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose, and Stockton. The California League joined the “National Agreement” in 1889, placing it under the same governing structure that ruled over major league baseball and introducing an added level of professionalism to the league.

The Los Angeles County Base Ball League would be supplanted by various Southern California leagues, with teams at various times in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, San Diego, Pomona mixed in with club teams like the Mutuals and the Peck & Ruggles.  The Southern California leagues remained strictly a regional affair, not governed by or subject to the “National Agreement.”  One drawback to being an independent league was that any players who played in your league were subject to being blacklisted in the “National Agreement” leagues, so it was difficult to attract and retain good, professional players in the prime of their careers.

Teams from the north would travel south, or vice versa, for an exhibition series or two, but the leagues remained separate entities.

When George Van Derbeck’s Los Angeles Angels joined the California League in 1892, they came under the umbrella of the “National Agreement” for the first time, and introduced a new level of professional play to the city.  Despite the fact that the city had fielded teams in Southern California teams for years, a local newspaper considered the “Angels” to be the “first league team that ever represented this city.”[xix]

It was also the first local team to officially adopt the name “Angels.”  But it was not the first local team to have been referred to by that name in print, at least on occasion.  But not every team from Los Angeles was called the “Angels.”  In 1887, for example, a team from Los Angeles preparing for a trip through Texas and Louisiana adopted the name, “The Orange Boys.”[xx]

Later that year, a team from Los Angeles signed a number of future major leaguers and past-their-prime major leaguers for a winter league, when the Eastern leagues were out of commission due cold weather.  Perhaps the biggest name on their team was Joe Quest, who is widely credited with coining the expression, “Charlie Horse,” for a leg cramp.  Quest had played in the major leagues for fifteen years, from 1871 through 1886, finishing his career with the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association. 

The Philadelphia Phillies toured California during the off-season between the 1887 and 1888 season, stopping in Los Angeles for a series of exhibition games.  In a report of the last game of that series, a local reporter referred to the home team as the “Angels,” the earliest example of a team from Los Angeles being referred to by that name that have been able to find in print.

One thousand persons attended the last game of the Los Angeles-Philadelphia series at the Sixth street grounds yesterday, and saw one of the best and most sharply contested games ever played in the city.

. . . The Angels won the toss and went to the bat.

. . . In the first inning Ebright came in from the third bag on Stockwell’s sacrifice hit and made the only tally for the Angels.

Los Angeles Herald, December 27, 1887, page 8.

But despite these early beginnings, big-time baseball did not thrive in Los Angeles, at least not yet.  Los Angeles tried for several years to place a team in the “California League,” which consisted only of teams from the Bay Area and the Central Valley, but the costs and inconvenience of travel back and forth between Southern California and Northern California kept them out of the league.  Teams from Los Angeles were restricted to playing in a Southern California League, and sometimes just a city league, and none of those teams (so far as I have been able to determine) were regularly, if ever, referred to as the “Angels.”  All that changed when George Van Derbeck came to town.

When George Van Derbeck first purchased the new Los Angeles team in late-1891 or early-1892, his first order of business was to try to join a consolidated Pacific Coast League with teams from the Northwestern League and the California League.  But with railroad rates to steep to make travel between the Pacific Northwest and California a paying proposition, he settled with joining the California League, the first Los Angeles team to gain membership in a league with the other major cities of Northern California. 

Although its owner and manager referred to the team publicly as the “Angels” before the season even began, and the team was primarily referred to in the press as the “Angels” during the season, they had an alternate nickname, the Giants; sometimes the two names appeared in the same story.

The Los Angeles Giants Easily Win from San Francisco

Los Angeles, March 26. J- At 3 o’clock this afternoon Mayor Harry Hazard pitched the first ball over the plate in the opening game of the first league baseball season in which this city has ever participated.

When the teams reached the grounds the open seats and grand stand were found packed with an excited, noisy crowd.  The visitors were the first to appear and were given a royal welcome, the multitude shouting themselves hoarse, only to begin over again and use up what little breath they had left when “The Angels” appeared.

San Francisco Examiner, March 27, 1892, page 5.

Sometimes the names appeared in the same headline; even when they didn’t play like “Giants.”

Los Angeles Herald, April 3, 1892, page 5.

But winning cures all ills.

Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1892, page 8.

Glenalvin’s Giants, or Angels, put up a great game – and a great season.  They won the pennant for the second half of the season, earning a spot in a season-ending championship series against San Jose, winners of the pennant for the first half of the season.  The Angels won the championship series, thereby earning (arguably) two championships at once; the California League Championship and the Pacific Coast Championship by default, the Northwest League having folded before the end of the season.

It will be remembered that at the close of last season the winning teams of the California and Pacific Northwest leagues played a series of games for the coast supremacy.  San Jose won that contest.  As the Northwest league went to pieces before the end of the season, San Jose retained the honor of first place.

The Angels, therefore, are now emphatically at the top round of the ladder.

Los Angeles Herald, December 17, 1892, page 2.

After building and leading two teams to two league championships in three seasons, it may have come as a shock to George Van Derbeck when he was forced out of the consolidated, north-south California League he helped establish a year earlier.  The reasons are unclear, but less than a month after winning the championship series from San Jose, he was reportedly “not so popular in Los Angeles as he used to be,” and the Los Angeles Athletic Club fought to replace him with someone named Lindley.[xxi]  They succeeded, but perhaps it was for the best. 

Wasn’t it Julie Andrews who said, “when God forces you out of one baseball league, opportunity knocks in another,” or something like that? 

After sitting out for a season, Van Derbeck hoped to field a non-league team for winter baseball exhibitions in California.

His project is to round up the Angels of 1892 and pit them against the nines of the present Central League, playing a few games at San Francisco, Stockton, Sacramento, San Jose and Los Angeles. . . .  [Glenalvin] intends to fix up an all-star collection of California boys who have won fame in the big league this season and exhibit them on the coast.

San Francisco Chronicle, October 7, 1893, page 11.

But a few weeks later, he abandoned those plans and offered his services to Ban Johnson’s new Western League, the forerunner of today’s American League.

G. A. Vanderbeck, of Los Angeles, was willing to take a franchise anywhere he could be placed . . . .  Detroit was considered an available point and had no representatives present.

The Inter-Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), October 26, 1893, page 8.

His bid was successful.

Count G. A. Vanderbeck, who managed the baseball team representing Los Angeles in the California league during the summer of 1892, will own the Detroit team in the Western league during the coming season. . . .

It is Mr. Vanderbeck’s intention to take a team of California players to represent Detroit in this league, and probably rightly thinks that the coast can produce talent that will make the other managers hustle to keep up with the procession.

Los Angeles Herald, November 20, 1893, page 5.

Van Derbeck packed his bags and took his second-baseman with him, high-tailing it for Detroit, leaving the remnants of his recently organized Los Angeles team stranded in Sacramento.

 Baseball is again knocked out in Los Angeles, and the baseballists have departed.  Manager Vanderbeck yesterday disbanded the team, and, with the exception of Glenalvin, who headed for Chicago, the boys left for Sacramento under the guidance of Umpire McDonald.  They will winter at the Capital City, and during their hibernation will cross bats with the Bostons, San Franciscos and Oaklands.  Traveling expenses will be reduced to a minimum, and in this way the boys, who are working on the co-operative plan, hope to pull out even until the professional season again begins in the East.  Umpire McDonald will take Glenalvin’s place at second, and will manage the team.

The Los Angeles Times, November 2, 1893, page 6.

Detroit Tigers

George Van Derbeck and Bob Glenalvin left Los Angeles for Detroit to start the team that would become the Detroit Tigers in a new league that would become the American League a few years later.  They brought with them, or so they bragged, the “cream” of the California League, inspiring a new nickname – the “Creams,” which first appeared in a report of the teams first game of spring-training, a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Detroit Free Press, March 26, 1894, page 1.

Detroit had big dreams when professional baseball returned in 1894.  Before the season opener, the Detroit Free Press appears to have abandoned the “Creams” for something more substantial – the “Giants,” perhaps in hopes that the name would catch on in Detroit as it had in New York a decade earlier.

Detroit Free Press, April 22, 1894, page 6.

Detroit Free Press, April 22, 1894, page 6.

The name never really did catch on, although the press in Los Angeles, where the Angels had occasionally been the Giants two seasons earlier, briefly picked up on the name.

Vanderbeck’s Giants at Toledo.

Count Vanderbeck, who will be pleasantly remembered as the only successful baseball manager that Los Angeles ever had, has recently “caught on” in great shape in Detroit, as the manager of the [Western] league team of that city.  [T]he team . . . has been dubbed “Vanderbeck’s Giants” . . . .

Los Angeles Times, May 7, 1894, page 5.

The name “Wolverines,” a well known, long-time nickname for Michiganders, generally, and one which had been used by an earlier professional team from Detroit, didn’t catch on either.  But it wasn’t without trying.  The Detroit Free Press did, in fact, refer to their new team as the “Wolverines” occasionally throughout the 1894 season, beginning in spring training.

Anson’s Colts Beat the Detroits.

Chicago’s white stockings broke a record to-day by winning their fifth consecutive exhibition game, defeating the Detroits, of the western league.  The Wolverines have been playing steadily in the south for a month or so, and are at this time as hard to beat as a [National] league team. 

Detroit Free Press, April 15, 1894, page 6.

Other papers also referred to Detroit as the “Wolverines” during the 1894 season, but it was never adopted as an official name.  Even in Detroit, the name “Wolverines” was not exclusive to its baseball team.  The University of Michigan’s teams were already well known as the “Wolverines,” and the Detroit Free Press even referred to the Western League team from Grand Rapids as “the Wolverines” in a report of one of their games in Toledo, Ohio, to distinguish the team from Michigan from the team from Ohio.  So it is not clear that anyone, not even the hometown papers, considered “Wolverines” to be the name of the Western League baseball team in 1894.

The Detroit Free Press, for the most part, referred to the team as the “Detroits” that season, in keeping with the standard professional baseball team naming convention of the day.  Teams were regularly referred to as the plural of the name of the city they represented.  If a city had teams in two different leagues, they might be the “Nationals” or “Americans” of that city to remove any ambiguity.  Many teams had informal nicknames, but those came and went for the most part.  Philadelphia’s Phillies and Athletics are two of the longest-lasting team nicknames, as are the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox.  But few people remember the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, Philadelphia Quakers or the Boston Beaneaters.

Newspapers in other cities, for the most part, used a different name for Detroit throughout the 1895 season; a name inspired by preseason hype by the owner of the new Detroit team, but used derisively and ironically when his boasts never quite panned out – the “Creams.” 

There is common widespread belief that Detroit was called the “Creams” in 1894 because Van Derbeck said the team would be the “cream of the league,” meaning the Western League.[xxii]  But the evidentiary record suggests otherwise.

When George Van Derbeck bought his way into the newly formed Western League, he promised to fill his roster with the “cream of the California league”.

The men are mostly Californians and came here lauded to the skies as the cream of the league in that state.

Detroit Free Press, May 13, 1894.

Van Derbeck’s braggadocio may have rubbed some people the wrong way.  It was apparently an issue on opening day in Toledo.  Luckily for the Detroits, they won the game and remained “Giants” – at least for one more game.

Not that it was not merited, but the home players had publicly announced their intention of giving Detroit a lesson and teaching President Van Derbeck that California does not produce men as good as her horses.  The scheme failed to materialize, although Toledo was on the verge of victory once; but Detroit left the field with only twenty-five men out and enough runs to break the tie, which, to say the least, was painful for two innings.

Detroit Free Press, April 26, 1894, page 1.

The following day, however, Toledo’s Swamp Angels had their revenge.  It was the last time the Detroit Free Press called them “Giants.”


Toldedo, April 26. – (Special.) – By a score of 20 to 2 Toledo is avenged, and siren-like the swamp angels are putting in the night singing a lay of victory. . . . [T]he sting of the opening defeat was nicely healed by the awful drubbing . . . Van Derbeck’s giants [got] this afternoon.

Detroit Free Press, April 27, 1894, page 2.

As the losses piled up, Van Derbeck’s “Cream” team turned sour, and sportswriters from other league cities mocked them.

So rotten has been the baseball put up by Detroit of late that not over five hundred paid to see the opening game this afternoon between the Hoosiers and Vanderbock’s “Milk Shakes,” formerly the “Creams.”  It was just as well, for Detroit lost.

Indianapolis Journal, May 10, 1894, page 2.

[T]he Western League is solid as the rocks of Gibraltar and . . . the only chance of any team weakening is Detroit, where the patronage is the worst of the league. . . .  Naturally the people have soured on second-rate ball and have not turned out in thousands to see visiting teams mop up the skin diamond with the cream of the California league.  With a winning team, one that ranked even fourth, Detroit would be the banner week day city of the league and would draw enough away from home Sundays to yield as much profit as any team in the league.

From The Sporting Life, reprinted in the Detroit Free Press, June 24, 1894, page 6.

Throughout the rest of the season, newspapers outside of Detroit generally referred to them as the “Creams.”

Indianapolis Journal, August 22, 1894, page 3.

But in Detroit, it was a different story.  I could find only one reference to the team as the “Creams” in the Detroit Free Press that season (not including their spring training loss to the Pelicans); but even then, the “Special” designation in the byline suggests that it may have been written in Kansas City, perhaps by a Kansas City writer, and not by a Detroit sportswriter.

Kansas City, Mo., August 1. (Special.) – The closing game of the Kansas City-Detroit series resulted in a rather easy victory for the home team, the Wolverines not making the desperate fight which characterized the two previous games. . . .  The Creams got nine hits off his delivery, but they were widely scattered and non-productive of runs.

Detroit Free Press, August 2, 1894, page 2.

The Detroits needed a new identity after the so-called “Creams” finished the 1894 season a disastrous seventh place in an eight-team league, far below the level of success local baseball enthusiasts had grown accustomed to.  The Detroit Wolverines of the mid-1880s finished in second place in the National League in 1886, won the pennant in 1887, and beat the St. Louis Browns of the American Association in the 1887 World’s Series, 10 games to 5.  The Wolverines moved to the International League in 1889, winning the pennant two years in a row.  But despite Detroit’s success on the field, they were a loser in the baseball league realignments following the chaos of the Players’ League baseball war of 1890; they did not have a team in any professional league for three full seasons from 1891 through 1893.

George Van Derbeck purged his roster following the 1895 season, and replaced his longtime field general Bob Glenalvin with J. C. “Con” Strouthers (sometimes spelled Strothers).  Van Derbeck was likely familiar with Strouthers from his time in the Northwest League, where Strouthers had been a player (1st base for Tacoma) and an umpire.

The Eagle (Bryan, Texas), September 12, 1897, page 3.

In April of 1895, without fanfare or explanation, the Detroit Free Press referred to the team as the “Tigers,” or rather, “Strouthers’ Tigers,” with reference to their new manager.

Detroit Free Press, April 16, 1895, page 2.

Several of the first few examples of the name “Tigers” in print similarly refer to the team as “Strouthers’ Tigers,”[xxiii] not the “Detroit Tigers,” suggesting, perhaps, that it was the name was more closely associated with the new manager and not the team. 

The deacon’s gang may come out of the bushes in May and lambaste the daylights out of Strouthers’ tigers.

Detroit Free Press, April 18, page 2

Strouthers’ Tigers downed the Gold Bugs again to-day, and did it in the handiest manner. . . .

Detroit Free Press, April 23, 1895, page 2 (“

Detroit Free Press, April 28, 1895, page 7.

It would not have been the first time a Strouthers-managed team would be referred to as “tigers.”  One year earlier, while managing the Western Association’s team in Jacksonville, Illinois, his team reportedly “worked like tigers.”

Leaving the errors aside, however, Jacksonville deserved to win.  Strothers’ men played nice ball in the field, their batting was timely and they worked like tigers for the victory.

The St. Joseph Herald (St. Joseph, Missouri), May 16, 1894, page 3. 

Perhaps Strouthers just liked how that sounded and started referring to his players as such.  Or was it just a one-off?  It is the only example I could find of “tiger” being used in reference to his 1894 team, a team more commonly known as the Jacksonville “Jacks.”  And in any case, “fight like tigers,” or the like, was a common cliché in sports reporting at the time, so the single reference may be completely unrelated to the later use of name in Detroit.

If Strouthers did introduce the name, it would not have been the first time a team took its name, in some form, from a manager.  The team that would later become the Chicago Cubs was long known as “Anson’s Colts,” for their manager “Cap” Anson.  The Cleveland Spiders, and later the St. Louis Cardinals, were frequently referred to as “Tebeau’s Indians” or “Tebeau’s Terrors,” after their volatile manager, Oliver “Patsy” Tebeau.  And the Cleveland Indians were known as the Cleveland “Naps,” after their manager, Napoleon Lajoie, for many years, until his move to Philadelphia after the 1914 season prompted a name change. 

And Detroit was not the first team to be named the “Tigers.” The University of Missouri had been known as the “Tigers” since at least as early as 1893.  Coincidentally (perhaps), Strouthers was from Kansas City, Missouri.  Did Strouthers bring the name with him to Detroit because he was a fan of University of Missouri football?  Did Strouthers use the name to inspire his team to play like “tigers”? 

Strouthers may or may not have had a hand in coining the name “Tigers,” but regardless of who coined it, the name stayed.  Strouthers, on the other hand, didn’t; he was gone by September.  But he stayed in baseball long enough to earn a second footnote in Detroit Tigers history.

In 1904, as manager of the Augusta (Georgia) Tourists of the South Atlantic league, J. C. “Con” Strouthers signed the legendary Ty Cobb (who would go on to have a Hall of Fame career with Detroit) to his first professional baseball contract.  Two days later, Strouthers became the first (and perhaps the last) manager to cut Ty Cobb, after just two games. 

Cobb was just 17 years old when Strouthers signed him to the team during spring training.  His regular center-fielder was suspended on opening day due to some contract violation, so he put Cobb in the game in his place.  As Cobb recalled in 1913, he hit a double with an RBI in his second at-bat, and a grand-slam in the eighth-inning to win the game.  He started the second game too, with the center-fielder still on suspension, sacrificing twice and hitting another double.  But when the center-fielder was cleared to play in the third game, Strouthers gave Cobb his release. 

As a free-agent, Cobb was able to sign on with another team, but he harbored lingering bitterness against Strouthers’ for cutting him so quickly, despite his early success.  When Strouthers invited Cobb back to the team later that season, Cobb refused.  He did rejoin the team later, but only after Strouthers had left the team in mid-July, when forced to sell the team on the heels of accusations of fixing games.

Even if Strouthers did coin the name, it would have found particularly fertile ground in Detroit, where a beloved local militia unit had been known as the Detroit Light Guard “Tigers” for more than a decade.[xxiv]  If Strouthers did not coin the name, it’s possible, and generally assumed, that the name was selected in the first instance to honor the Detroit Light Guard “Tigers.”  But the conventional origin story has its own problems. 

The standard origin story holds that the name, “Tigers,” was borrowed from the Detroit Light Guard Tigers.  But the apparent source of the legend does not unambiguously make that claim.  It merely states that they took their “insignia” from the Light Tigers, which could have happened after the name was already in use.  And if “insignia” is read to include the “name,” the story is still five years off.

The earliest version of the story I have been able to dig up is from the 1950s. 

In 1900 when Ban Johnson organized the American League the Detroit club owners applied to the regiment to use the Light Guard tiger as their insignia.

Decatur Daily Review (Decatur, Illinois), May 16, 1954, page 18.

The Detroit Light Guard’s tiger insignia did, in fact, look similar to a tiger image used to advertise the Detroit Tigers a few years later.

Left - Walter F. Clowes, The Detroit Light Guard, a Complete Record of This Organization from its Foundation to the Present Day, Detroit, Michigan, John F. Eby & Company, 1900; center and right – detail and full image of a Detroit Tigers’ advertising postcard showing a pennant with the year 1907 on it.

If restricted to the insignia, the story has no particular bearing on the origin of the name.  If it were extended to include the name as well, the author of the piece missed the date of first use of the name by five years, putting the rest of the story into question. 

In any case, I have not seen any contemporary accounts that make a direct connection, even in passing, between the two organizations, despite the fact that they were both regularly, but separately reported on in the local press. 

The earliest example I could find of a direct connection between the two organizations is an advertisement for a “play by play” electric scoreboard reports of an away game of the 1907 World Series between the Tigers and Cubs, presented at the Light Guard Armory.

It goes without saying that large crowds will be present at the Light Guard armory to listen to the reports of the Chicago series.  A descriptive scoreboard will be used, and all plays will be placed constantly before the spectators on a large specially constructed score board.

Detroit Free Press, October 8, 1907, page 8.

I remain open, but unconvinced.  It seems plausible, but the circumstantial evidence of an alternate explanation and total lack of contemporary support for the standard explanation create doubt in my mind. 

Another story making the rounds came from a more obviously suspect source – “Iffy the Dopester.”  Iffy the Dopester was a fictional sports columnist and alter-ego of Malcolm W. Bingay, editorial director of the Detroit Free Press.  Bingay wrote Iffy’s column with “tongue-in-cheek solemnity and outright tomfoolery”[xxv] during the 1930s and 1940s.  In 1935, “Iffy” claimed that an editor of the Detroit Free Press coined “Tigers” in response to the orange and black-striped stockings Van Derbeck selected for their uniforms.

Vanderbeck, with a flair for fancy dress, had his ballplayers wearing striped stockings of orange and black.  The late Phil J. Reid, managing editor of the Free Press, took one look at them and dubbed them “Tigers.”  That’s what they have been called ever since.

Detroit Free Press, August 29, 1935, page 15.

Several years later, a cartoon version of the same story was put in wide circulation.

What’s in the Name Tigers?  As was the case with many other baseball teams, the Detroit American League club got its nickname, “Tigers” from the stockings worn by team members.  Shortly after the turn of the century, Frank Vanderbeck, a Toledoan with a flair for fancy dress, owned the club and decided to outfit the athletes in stockings bearing orange and black stripes.

Arizona Republic, June 6, 1939, section 2, page 2.

Leaving aside for a moment Iffy’s iffy reputation, the story does not match descriptions of the uniforms worn by the team when the name was first used.  The name “Tigers” first appeared in mid-April 1895, in the middle of the exhibition season, when the team was still wearing its old uniforms.[xxvi]

The team will wear the old uniforms throughout the exhibition series, and on May 1, when the Toledos open the championship series here, will appear in new uniforms.

Detroit Free Press, April 7, 1895, page 6. 

And on opening day, the stockings were black – no orange stripes.

When the bell sounded three times the Detroits entered the field and were loudly cheered, while the band gave them a welcome.  The Tigers were out in their new uniforms of dark blue, with black caps and stockings, and red belts and letters on their shirt fronts.

Detroit Free Press, May 2, 1895, page 2.

But that’s not to say the George Van Derbeck didn’t make other stylish uniform decisions.  In 1896, he introduced the “German” or “Old English” script D, which with few brief exceptions, has been worn in Detroit ever since.  In keeping with the new name (although not clearly with that purpose), he also added stripes to the uniform – but to the caps, not the stockings.

Opening Day 1897, Detroit Free Press, May 4, 1897, page 1.

Instead of the word Detroit on the shirt front there will be a German letter “D” on one side.  The white caps will have two black bands around them.

Detroit Free Press, February 29, 1896, page 6.

One researcher suggests that their identity as “Tigers” might be wrapped up in their striped “sweaters” or “jackets,” instead of their socks.

While the striped tiger story may or may not be apocryphal, closer examination and additional research reveals that there might be some truth to it after all.  They were referred to as the “men of the striped sweaters” in the May 18, 1897 edition of the Detroit Free Press.  And a May 27, 1899 item in the St. Paul Globe states the following: “Now that the Detroits have abandoned their old striped jackets, the nickname Tigers has no direct application.”  Jackets and sweaters, as opposed to striped stockings, could well be the inspiration behind the Tigers nickname.

The Tigers Old English “D” - a Motown Classic Since 1896”, Todd Radom, toddradom.com/blog (earlier at TheSportingNews.com).

But the only such comments appeared years after the name was first used, leaving open the question of whether they chose the stripes to match the name or the name to match the stripes.

But regardless of how or why the name “Tigers” was chosen, it caught on quickly and they were soon the “Tigers” or “Detroit Tigers,” without reference to either manager Strouthers or the Light Guard Tigers. 

Detroit Free Press, May 3, 1895, page 2.
Detroit Free Press, May 3, 1895, page 2.

With the team-name question settled, the Detroit Tigers improved steadily, finishing in 5th place in 1895 and a respectable 3rd in 1896, before reverting to form for a 5th place and then 6th, in 1897 and 1898, and 3rd again in 1899.   A decade later, they would be winding up their third-straight pennant and third-straight Worlds Series appearance.  But by then, George Van Derbeck would be long gone, little more than a footnote in major league baseball history.  But for a few years at least, he enjoyed a modicum of success.

By all accounts, George Van Derbeck was a good owner.  The managers liked him because he stayed out of baseball matters once the season began.

He personally looks after his ball team each year, engaging and releasing players as the case may be, though he entrusts his captain with the sole charge of the men during the playing season.

Galesburg Enterprise (Galseburg, Kansas), May 7, 1897, page 4.

And it wasn’t just coincidence; he adopted his management style intentionally for reasons he described in his own words a few years later.

“My work for the season will be confined exclusively, both at home and abroad, in looking after the gates; that is the business end or minor one.  I believe on these lines rests the true sportsman spirit of the national game, and on these lines only will the game be a success in any city.”

Detroit Free Press, April 16, 1899, page 8.

Players and other owners appreciated the fact that he generally made a profit, fielded good teams and always met payroll.

Van Derbeck . . . has always met his obligations promptly, placed first-class teams in the field at the opening of each season, with the exception of 1898, and attended strictly to business.

Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), March 5, 1900, page 6.

Vanderbeck is popular with the majority of the American league magnates for the reason he has always met his obligations promptly in addition to having a good team in the field.

Chicago Tribune, February 25, 1900, page 18.

George Van Derbeck was open to new technology, hosting at least two exhibitions involving electricity.  On September 24, 1896, after the eighth inning of the second game of a planned, three-game post-season exhibition game with the Cincinnati Reds of the National League, they “called the game to allow the linemen to put up the electric lights for the night game,” in what would have been one of the first night games ever played by a major league team.[xxvii]  But whatever happened in that game, it was apparently not very memorable or notable, even at the time.  The following day’s paper did not mention the game, and the results of the game (if any) were not included in reports from the Detroit-Cincinnati series, which Detroit took three games to one, with all of those games having been played in the daytime.

In the days before television and radio, baseball fans generally had to wait for the morning paper to find out the results of an away game.  A more devoted fan might stand around in front of the telegraph office or a public bulletin board for regular “play-by-play” telegraphic updates throughout the game.  By the mid-1890s, several promoters had developed “electric baseball” devices to present the dry, telegraphic updates into a visual representation of the game, presented on stage to a paying audience. 

When introduced in New York City in 1895, electric baseball “was at once branded a success.”  In Detroit in 1899, it was a miserable failure. 

Under contract to George Van Derbeck, the Electric Illuminating and Advertising Company of Boston, Massachusetts set up and presented “electric baseball” to nine consecutive, nearly empty houses at the Empire Theater.  Van Derbeck had paid the operators $100 upfront and promised an additional $350 minimum payment to cover the costs of putting on the show, together with a share of the gate-receipts, if any.  When the show tanked, Van Derbeck refused to pay the outstanding $350, claiming to have lost nearly $300 himself on the venture. 

The operators sued Van Derbeck and a jury awarded them nearly $400 in damages and costs.  Van Derbeck appealed, asserting the contract was unenforceable because it was signed on a Sunday – and he won.  Well, it wasn’t that simple.  The appeals court invalidated the agreement to the extent that it relied on the written contract signed on a Sunday, but returned to the trial court for resolution of other issues based on negotiations and actions that did not take place on Sunday.  Two years later they were still negotiating a settlement – the terms of the settlement, if any, were not made public.

Like his parents before him, Van Derbeck was hounded by other legal hassles as well; some were his fault, some were just the cost of doing business. 

In 1895, George Van Derbeck built a new stadium at the corners of Michigan and Trumbull, the first stadium at the site where Tiger Stadium would later be built.  But when finished, he realized that the grounds were too small.  To remedy the situation, he applied to the Detroit common council for permission to extend the field twenty feet out into Helen Avenue, and they agreed.  But neighbors complained, and a judge ruled that the common council had exceeded its powers.  He fined Van Derbeck $11 and ordered him to move the fence.

Having a too-small field in the middle of town presented other risks as well.

Thus far this season President Van Derbeck of the Detroit Club has paid nearly $20 for windows broken by foul balls.

Buffalo Evening News, July 3, 1896, page 38.

The threat of broken windows and other dangers embroiled Van Derbeck in a second fenceline dispute.

William Gordon, who resides and manufactures cigars at 471 Michigan avenue, filed a bill in the Wayne Circuit Court yesterday against George A. Van Derbeck to perpetually enjoin him from leasing and using Bennett park for baseball purposes, and also from the alleged nuisance of permitting foul balls from flying into his yard. . . .

On one occasion one of the balls came within a few inches of his head, again a ball brushed a lady’s face as she was going into Gordon’s house, and twice in one day fould balls struck within four inches of a window where two employes were making cigars.

Mr. Gordon also says that the crowds of small boys and men that chase into his yard after the foul balls not only do great damage to the premises, but that on two occasions they have prostrated the complainant to the ground, bruising and injuring his legs and arms and back.

Detroit Free Press, August 26, 1896, page 5.

The court refused the injunction.

Detroit Free Press, September 20, 1896, page 11.

But that didn’t put a stop to matter.  Cigar maker Gordon raised the stakes several months later with a $25,000 lawsuit for false imprisonment. 

Wm. Gordon, who recently lost his suit against President Geo. A. Van Derbeck, of the Detroit Baseball club, by which he sought to restrain him from playing ball at Bennett park, because lost balls played havoc in his little flower garden, brought a suit by capias against Mr. Van Derbeck yesterday.  He claims damages for alleged false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.  He says that on August 22 last Van Derbeck had him arrested on a charge of stealing two balls which had fallen upon his premises, but that he had been honorably acquitted by Justice Sellers on September 17.

Detroit Free Press, March 20, 1897, page 5.

The outcome of the case might surprise anyone who has caught and kept a foul ball at a professional baseball game. 


Adjoining the base ball park out in Detroit lives a man named William Gordon.  Frequently in the course of a game balls are driven outside of the enclosure and they land on ground owned by Gordon.  George Van der Beck, owner of the Detroit club – and incidentally owner of the balls that from the savagely swung bat played truant to the extent of going beyond the confines of V. d. B.’s possessions – was anxious to regain the lost spheroid.  Gordon was in the habit of taking the Spalding horsehides as his own property after they landed on the part of mother earth for which he held a deed, although V. d. B. demanded their return. . . .

[Gordon refused to return the balls, and twice refused to appear in court at a hearing on the issue.]

Gordon was then arrested, and at the station he asserted that that was just what he desired, for he would make Von der Beck sweat for it.  He thereupon instituted proceedings against the Detroit owner for false imprisonment, claiming $25,000 damages. . . .

Judge Donovan charged the jury that if base balls, horses or anything else trespass upon the premises of any person, the person so injured is provided with a competent remedy by the law.  But he has no more right to seize a base ball than he has a horse.  The court also stated that if Gordon had taken two of Van der Beck’s base balls and refused to give them up when requested to do so, it was not only the right, but the duty of Van der Beck to lay the matter before a magistrate, and if it was satisfactorily shown to the magistrate that Gordon had taken the balls it was his duty to issue a warrant for Gordon’s arrest.

The jury promptly rendered a verdict in favor of the Detroit owner and Gordon’s $25,000 damages were not in sight.  This effectually settles who owns base balls when they are rapped out of a base ball park.

Wilkes-Barre Record (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), December 1, 1897, page 3.

When the team was making money, a local tax assessor smelled blood.  He tried to squeeze extra revenue out of Van Derbeck by taxing him on the value of his players’ contracts, which the assessor valued at $5000, on which he would have owed about $100 in taxes.

Detroit Free Press, March 23, 1899, page 3.

It’s not clear whether the taxes were ever collected, but the assessment was not without its critics.

Assessor Oakman said that “the civil war settled that sort of assessing; you can’t tax a man on slave contracts any more.”  The committee postponed action. – Detroit Journal.

Indianapolis Journal, May 5, 1899, page 6.

Van Derbeck’s contract-signing habits brought him other headaches as well.  He had several disputes with rival owners over the rights to sign players, which may be the source of the animosity that drove him from the league a few years later.  But he wasn’t always at fault.

In early-1895, for example, he was in a dispute with owner of the Minneapolis Millers over an outfielder named Freeman, whom Van Derbeck had signed after the owner neglected to put Freeman’s name on the “reserve list.”  Shortly after Minneapolis filed its appeal with the league, the league’s commissioner, Ban Johnson, received a telegram from a “George Vanderbeck” (last name one word), surrendering his claim on Freeman and apparently resolving the matter.

This all came as a shock to the real “George Van Derbeck,” who spelled his last name as two words, not one.  He returned to Los Angeles to investigate the source of the telegram and uncovered the misspelling on the original order, thereby establishing his right to keep Freeman.  Buck Freeman hit .286 in ten games for Detroit that year, before moving to the Toronto Canucks of the International League.  If nothing else, the dispute at least clarified the correct spelling of his name.

A couple years later, Van Derbeck found himself in another of apparently many such disputes, this time with Minneapolis and Milwaukee over two players named Hahn and Nicol. 

Van Derbeck has been accused of more sharp practice than any other magnate in the league, and has been in trouble a number of times, but always managed to get off with a censure.

The Indianapolis News, March 10, 1897, page 7.

In this case, he didn’t get away with a censure.  The Western League Board of Directors brought the hammer down, fining him $100, to be paid within two weeks, or he would be expelled from the league.  Some observers found the league’s action “questionable,” since the two injured parties, Killelea and Comiskey, the owners of Milwaukee and Minneapolis respectively, were members of the board assessing the penalty.

Van Derbeck appealed the Hahn decision to the national board of baseball arbitration, and came away with a rare victory, which was celebrated in the local press.

The Hahn case is one of the few which Detroit has won, and is all the more acceptable because it knocked out the decision of the board of directors which sat to throw the harpoon into the Detroit magnate.  Hahn belonged to Detroit, and now Comiskey can yell bloody murder until he is tired; but it will do him no good.  Monkeying with the bright works will not do for minor leagues, no matter how the directors stand.

Detroit Free Press, April 18, 1897, page 6.

It wasn’t just his professional relationships that brought him grief; personal relationships were a problem too. 

Mary H. Van Derbeck was granted a divorce yesterday on the ground of infidelity, from George A. Van Derbeck, the baseball magnate.  The question of alimony was deferred for settlement until June 15.

Detroit Free Press, November 24, 1899, page 6.

His wealth would lead to a then-record award of alimony.  

His acrimony with the league nearly cost him an additional $4,000 and put his ex-wife in position to become the first female owner of a major league team – but it didn’t work out that way.

George Van Derbeck appealed the amount of alimony, arguing that it would force him to sell his team and deprive him of all of his means.  He argued that the court did not consider the amount of debt he owed, and besides, “Mrs. Van Derbeck is still young, healthy and attractive, and, therefore, not entitled to so large an amount.”[xxviii] But to no avail.

With Van Derbeck on the ropes, the league took action to force him out of the league, while giving his wife an additional $4,000 windfall.  In January 1900, just months after the league changed its name from the Western League to the American League, the league arranged a forced transfer of the team from Van Derbeck to his wife, with the purchase price set at an amount equal to the alimony judgment.  The arrangement got quite a bit of press, since it would have made Mrs. Van Derbeck the first female owner of a professional baseball team.

Mrs. Van Derbeck secured the franchise and all the base ball assets of George Van Derbeck last Saturday through a sale ordered by the courts. . . .  When the sale came off there was only one bidder and that one was Mr.s Van Derbeck’s attorney, who bid in the club for $8,000 . . . .

South Bend Tribune, February 23, 1900, page 3.

But although several outlets reported that she was eager to run the team, and that the league was willing to let her, her actual intent may have been to turn around and resell the team at an enormous profit to prearranged buyers, essentially stealing $4,000 from her husband.

Fort Wayne Sentinel, February 17, 1900, page 2.

Elliott G. Stevenson, attorney for Mrs. Van Derbeck, and who made the bid in her behalf, says that the property will undoubtedly be sold to local parties, some of whom have offered $12,000 cash for it.  The divorcee was the only bidder.

Fort Wayne Sentinel, February 17, 1900, page 2.
George Van Derbeck was able to convince a court to see through the shenanigans, stop the forced sale to Mrs. Van Derbeck at below-than-market price, and let him sell the team at a fair market price.  He then settled his debt with his ex-wife and retained the remaining value of his team for himself.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 6, 1900, page 1.

Shortly afterward, there were rumors that he would buy his way back into the league, with a new American League franchise in Louisville, but it never panned out.  Out of baseball for the first time in a decade, George Van Derbeck returned to Toledo, Ohio, and rejoined his first ex-father-in-law in the lower-profile fruit commission business.

Fruit Trade Journal, Volume 30, Number 26, April 9, 1904, page 8.

But even a lower profile couldn’t keep him out of the papers forever.  In 1908, he was sued for negligence when a shipment of onions spoiled on its way to Utah; the alleged culprit? – lack of adequate ventilation.

The H. L. Griffin company of [Ogden] has commenced an action in the district court against George A. Van Derbeck of Toledo, O., for $200 damages for alleged negligence in packing a car of onions.

Salt Lake Herald, December 10, 1908, page 3.

The $200 case dragged on for years, with a default judgment in 1909, reversal on appeal in early-1911, and finally a trial by jury in late-1911.

The Ogden Standard, November 20, 1911, page 6.

But after a two day trial, the plaintiff dismissed its original $200 complaint, only to re-file asking for $700 in damages; enough to make a grown man cry.  No word on the outcome. 

George Van Derbeck appears to have moved to Los Angeles some time before 1918.  His name appears in the results of a few golf-tournaments in the late-teens and early-twenties.  He was a decent golfer, competitive but not a champion.  He shot a 79 in the Los Angeles city championship at Griffith Park in 1918, placing him among the top-eleven.

In 1927, George Van Derbeck found his way back into the papers for another embarrassing legal mess with another woman.  Years after his divorce, his ex-wife (presumably his second ex-wife) threatened to sue him and take more property from him.  To protect his property (he believed), and at the urging of Lydia Mills, “a close friend at the time” (they had considered marriage), placed some of his property in her name.  But when the threat subsided, and he wanted the property back in his name, she refused. 

When Ms. Mills broke down on the stand while testifying about their relationship, the judge pointed to the marriage bureau across the hall, suggested they just get married to resolve the matter, and sent them home to think about it overnight.  The ploy did not work.

Judge Crawford took the bench with a confidential air as the case was scheduled to be resumed and already had in mind whom should be called as witnesses to the marriage.

But his honor was “in error.” Instead of being greeted by a marriage license the judge was handed a motion for a change of venue prepared by Vanderbeck’s attorneys . . . .  “Motion for change of venue granted.”

Los Angeles Times, May 10, 1927, page 21.

After a long, productive life in which George A. Van Derbeck helped start three baseball leagues, three baseball teams, and gave life to three now-familiar team names, George Van Derbeck died in Los Angeles in 1938, remembered simply as, “George A. Van Derbeck, of 1734 Kent street [(now an empty lot a block west of Echo Park)], loving brother of Mrs. Elizabeth A. Wendell.” 

No mention of his connection to the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels or Portland Webfooters.

Indianapolis News, April 19, 1898, page 6.
Galesburg Enterprise, May 7, 1897, page 4.

[i] Los Angeles Herald, March 21, 1892, page 5.
[ii] Detroit Free Press, January 28, 1894, page 6.
[iii] Albany Democrat (Albany, Oregon), July 26, page 1.
[iv] Morning Daily Herald (Albany, Oregon), September 10, 1889, page 3.
[v] The Capital Journal (Salem, Oregon), July 1, 1891, page 3.
[vi] San Francisco Examiner, January 8, 1892, page 5.
[vii] The earliest example I found is from 1862.  The Sonoma County Journal, March 14, 1862, page 1 (“How do you imagine the Web-footers cut their trees down?”).
[viii] Washington Standard (Olympia, Washington), February 14, 1863, page 1.
[ix] Morristown Gazette (Morristown, Tennessee), January 21, 1874, page 1 (“As I promised in my previous letters to the Gazette that I would keep you posted as to Oregon; and, as the weather is and has been such as to make old “web-footers” (those born in the Willimette Valley), shiver, grumble and use very forcible language, I have took some trouble to look up the ‘weather report.’”
[x] “Getting Our Webfeet in a Row: The Story Behind the Oregon Ducks,” Paul Caputo, http://news.sportslogos.net/2014/09/27/getting-our-webfeet-in-a-row-the-story-behind-the-oregon-ducks/
[xi] Oakland Tribune, April 13, 1903, page 2 (“Lindsay pitched for Harris’ hired men [(Seattle)] and was in fine form as was Kostal for the Ducks.”).
[xiii] Albany Daily Democrat (Albany, Oregon), March 26, 1894, page 3; The Eugene Guard, March 26, 1894, page 4.
[xv] Statesman Journal (Salem, Oregon), January 25, 1906, page 3.
[xvi] Searches on newspapers.com, of Oregon newspaper archives in the decade from 1896 through 1905, resulted in two hundred and forty-seven “hits” for “Webfooter” against only six “hits” for “Beaver State” during the same period; a ratio of 45-1.
[xvii] Statesman Journal (Salem, Oregon), January 16, 1906, page 8 (“Now Oregon is the Beaver state.  The Oregon editors declared at their meeting last week, and they have the power to enforce the order.”).
[xix] Los Angeles Herald, March 21, 1892, page 5.
[xx] San Francisco Examiner, February 11, 1887, page 2.
[xxi] Los Angeles Herald, January 21, 1893, page 6.
[xxiii] Detroit Free Press, April 18, page 2 (“The deacon’s gang may come out of the bushes in May and lambaste the daylights out of Strouthers’ tigers.”); Detroit Free Press, April 23, 1895, page 2 (“Strouthers’ Tigers downed the Gold Bugs again to-day, and did it in the handiest manner. . . .”).
[xxiv]  Although the Detroit Light Guard dated back to the 1830s, it adopted the nickname in the early 1880s. See, for example, Walter F. Clowes, The Detroit Light Guard, Detroit, John F. Eby & Company, 1900, page 66 (“It was on May 1st of [1882] that the company adopted the present crest, consisting of a tiger’s head, with the motto “Deo Liberati Gloriae,” and ever since, the members have styled themselves “The Tigers.”).  Other references suggest that the emblem, if not the name, may be older.  The Light Guard used a tiger head on a badges as early as 1874 (Port Huron Times Herald (Michigan), October 3, 1874, page 4, “A Badge of Honor. – Miss Sallie Holman has been made the recipient of a very handsome gold badge by the Detroit Light Guard.  It comprises a bar, pendant from which is a circular badge of burnished gold, upon the face of which is a laurel wreath with crossed muskets supporting the monogram “Co. A.”  Below this is the regular Light Guard badge with tiger head and monogram in center.”), and on a flag as early as 1880 (Detroit Free Press, November 17, 1880, page 1, “. . . a banner . . . of the heaviest silk, red and white stripes and a blue field which bears a striking facsimile of a tiger’s head, hand-worked with silk embroidery in such a way that the head stands out very prominent on the field.”)..
[xxv] Detroit Free Press, January 18, 1939, page 3.
[xxvii] The earliest known amateur game under electric light was played in 1880, and with other experiments under electric or gas light following during the 1880s. See my earlier post, “Don’t Believe Everything You Read.” For more information on the 1896 game in Detroit, see, https://www.detroitathletic.com/blog/2011/08/31/the-first-night-game-at-michigan-trumbull-was-played-in-1896/
[xxviii] Detroit Free Press, January 16, 1900, page 5.