A History of Spring Training
In one form or another, spring training has always been a part of organized baseball. In the early days of the National League, spring training was quite different than today. Teams practiced independently from their league counterparts, primarily playing against themselves in their own cities. But a problem soon arose. Every National League team was located in the north or northeast of the country back then, and the climate in February and March was not hospitable for baseball.
In 1886, two men had an idea that changed spring training—and baseball—forever. A.G. Spalding, owner of the Chicago White Stockings (which later became the Cubs) and his player-manager, Adrian “Cap” Anson decided to hold their spring training in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a resort town known for its spa-like thermal waters.
Other team owners started moving their teams to the resort town for spring training too. Before long, the best players in the country–from Babe Ruth to Ty Cobb to Tris Speaker–were all heading to Arkansas. Baseball in Hot Springs would not last forever though. Most major league teams had stopped using it as their official training site by the 1920s, after finding better weather (along with space for training facilities) in Arizona, Florida and California.
In the mid-1940s, Bill Veeck, owner of the then-minor league Milwaukee Brewers, was taking in one of his team’s spring games in Ocala, Florida, and started chatting up some fans in his section. Unbeknownst to him, that part of the stadium was designated for African American fans. In the segregated South of the 1940s, laws kept black fans from being able to sit with white spectators. Veeck’s unintentional actions soon attracted the attention of local law enforcement and he was asked to move. Veeck countered that if he were forced to move from his seat, he would move his team to another city.
Veeck eventually sold his stake in the Brewers, but later purchased the Cleveland Indians in 1946. He never forgot that incident in Ocala, however. Turned off by the intolerance he’d witnessed first-hand that spring, Veeck decided to hold his team’s spring training in a more tolerant area of the country.
Veeck chose Phoenix, Arizona as the Indians’ spring training home for 1947. The warm weather helped Veeck convince the New York Giants to join his Indians in Phoenix so that the two teams could prepare for the season. In the years to come, more teams followed Veeck to Arizona, and the Cactus League was born.