Oh, The Ignominy Of It All
The 1914 Pittsburgh Rebels were a testament to the general premise of the Federal Leauge - players who had been rode out of the majors or were too wet behind the ears to be given a fair shot could play in this new professional league. Led by such shining lights as local hero and ex-Pirate Howie Camnitz, Brooklyn castaway Ed Lennox, and the famous-in-name only Frank Delahanty, the team was skippered by the 52 year old Doc Gessler, a man whose bark was worse than his bite. Like their manager, the team's talent was overshadowed by its complete futility - especially in its starting pitching, where Camnitz, Walt Dickson, and Cy Barger combined for a dismal 33-54 record.
But the real story was their 5th starter. His name was Mysterious Walker, and he went 4-16 with a 4.31 era, and earned his nickname through his mysterious inability to locate any pitch correctly - he threw 12 wild pitches to lead the league. Switching managers midseason was no help: Gessler's replacement, leftfielder Rebel Oakes, took the team from 6th place to 7th place, finishing with a harrowing 65-85 record. Still, the team was pumped enough about their manager to name themselves after him (after being colloquially named the Stogies, to honor their owner, a cigar magnate.)
Snatching Defeat From The Jaws of Victory
By the next season, many of the old-timers that had populated the starting lineup were gone, replaced by younger faces with fresher bats. Among them was second baseman Steve Yerkes, who batted a solid .288, and slugger Ed Konetchy, who led the league in total bases. The team also dominated with speed, finishing second in the league with 224 free bags. They also completely retooled their starting rotation, and newcomers Frank Allen (who threw a no-hitter in April), Elmer Knetzer, and Clint Rogge contributed fine seasons for the Rebs. Barger and Dickson, relegated to relief duty, managed to put together winning seasons, too, and Oakes was hailed as a managerial ace. By September 30, the Rebs, Chicago Whales, and St. Louis Terriers were tightly packed into the pennant race. The Terriers stood at 86-66, while the Rebs stood at 85-64, and the Whales at 83-65.
On October 2, the Rebs faced Chicago in a doubleheader while the Terriers headed to Kansas City to play possible spoilers the Packers. Sure enough, the Packers won 4-1, but Pittsburgh stumbled and lost both games of the doubleheader. Going into the final day of the season, St. Louis was 86-67, the Rebs 85-66, and the Whales 85-65. The Terriers had one final game against the Pack, while Pittsburgh and Chicago would face off in another doubleheader. The Terriers dominated the hapless Kansas City team and took sole possession of first place temporarily. It was now up to the Rebs - they had to win both games to take the season from both teams. If they lost either game, Chicago would clinch the pennant. They walked into vaunted Wrigley Field and played an 11-inning battle, with Yerkes clinching the game with a base hit to right. The Rebs won 5-4.
Sadly, in the nightcap they faced Whale journeyman Bill Bailey, who threw one of the best games of his career, a 2-hit shutout, giving the Whales victory and the Rebs third place. This was a particular injustice since St. Louis had played one more game than them, and Chicago one game less, and each had benefited from this turn of events. However, there were no rules against such discrepancies, and Chicago faced St. Louis in the championship game, leaving Pittsburgh with a sour taste in their mouths.
In 1916, the Federal League folded, and most of the Rebels either returned to their semipro careers or had marginal careers in the majors, while the team itself joined the ranks of the hundreds of failed new sports leagues developed in the United States over the past 100 years.