The success and fame of the Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869, baseball's first openly professional team, led to a minor explosion of openly professional teams in 1870, each with the singular goal of defeating the Red Stockings. A number of them adopted variants on the name and colors, and it happens that the Chicagos adopted white as their primary color. After a summer of individually arranged contests among the various teams, the time was right for the organization of the first professional league, the National Association, in 1871.
The Chicago White Stockings were close contenders all summer, but disaster struck on October 8 when a fire began in Mrs. O'Leary's barn on DeKoven Street on the near south side of the city. The Great Chicago Fire destroyed the club's ballpark, uniforms and other possessions. The club completed its schedule with borrowed uniforms, finishing second in the N.A. just 2 games behind, but was compelled to drop out of the league during the city's recovery period, finally being revived in 1874.
After the 1875 season, Chicago acquired several key players, including pitcher Al Spalding of the Boston Red Stockings, and first baseman Cap Anson of the Philadelphia Athletics. While this was going on, behind the scenes the club President, William Hulbert, was leading the formation of a new and stronger organization, the National League.
With a beefed-up squad, the White Stockings cruised through the N.L.'s inaugural season of 1876. The Chicagoans went on to have some great seasons in the 1880s, starting with 1880 when they won 67 and lost 17, for an all-time record .798 winning percentage. Extrapolating an 84-game season onto a 162-game season is a dubious proposition, but it does provide some perspective to note that a similar winning percentage nowadays would yield 129 wins.
By then, Spalding had retired to start his sporting goods company. The length of the season was such that a team could get by with two main starters, and the Cubs had a couple of powerhouse pitchers in Larry Corcoran and Fred Goldsmith. Those two were fading by mid-decade, and were replaced by other strong pitchers, notably John Clarkson. Much has been written about Old Hoss Radbourn's 60 victories for the Providence Grays of 1884, but Clarkson also had a fair year in 1885, winning 53 games as the Chicagos won the pennant.
A second major league called the American Association came along in 1882, and the Chicagos met the AA's champions three times in that era's version of the World Series. Twice they faced the St. Louis Browns in lively and controversial Series action. That St. Louis franchise, which went on to join the National League in 1892 after the A.A. folded, continues to be a perennial rival of the Cubs.
Throughout all of this, and for the better part of twenty seasons, the team was captained and managed by first baseman Adrian "Cap" Anson. Cap Anson was one of the most famous and arguably the best player in baseball in his day. He was the first ballplayer to reach 3,000 hits. However, the Hall of Famer is chiefly remembered today for his extreme racist views (which he stated in print, in his autobiography, lest there be any doubt) and thus his prominent role in establishing baseball's color line, rather than for his great playing and managing skills.
After the Chicagoans' great run during the 1880s, the on-field fortunes of Anson's Colts dwindled during the 1890s, awaiting revival under new leadership.
"Tinker to Evers to Chance"
Joe Tinker (SS), Johnny Evers (2B) and Frank Chance (1B) were three legendary Cubs infielders, who played together from 1903-1910, and sporadically over the following two years. They, along with third baseman Harry Steinfeldt, formed the nucleus of one of the most dominant baseball teams of all time. After Chance took over as manager for the ailing Frank Selee in 1905, the Cubs won four pennants and two World Series titles over a five-year span. Their record of 116 victories in 1906 (in a 154-game season) has not been broken, though it was tied by the Seattle Mariners in 2001, in a 162-game season. As with 1880, extrapolating is statistically questionable, but the Cubs' 116-36 season of 1906 projects to 123 wins in a full 162-game season. Curiously, both of those teams were so far in front that they seemingly lost their edge, and fell in the post-season.
The Cubs again relied on dominant pitching during this period, featuring hurlers such as Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown, Jack Taylor, Ed Reulbach, Jack Pfiester and Orval Overall, who posted a record for lowest staff earned run average that still stands today. Reulbach threw a one-hitter in the 1906 World Series, one of a small handful of twirlers to pitch low-hit games in the post-season (another was Claude Passeau of the Cubs' 1945 squad). Brown acquired his unique and indelicate nickname from having lost most of his index finger in farm machinery when he was a youngster. This gave him the ability to put a natural extra spin on his pitches, which often frustrated opposing batters.
However, the infield also attained fame, after turning a critical double play against the New York Giants in a July 1910 game. The trio was immortalized in Franklin P. Adams' poem Baseball's Sad Lexicon, which first appeared in the July 18, 1910 edition of the New York Evening Mail:
- These are the saddest of possible words:
- "Tinker to Evers to Chance."
- Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
- Tinker and Evers and Chance.
- Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
- Making a Giant hit into a double--
- Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
- "Tinker to Evers to Chance."
The fourth line is sometimes misquoted as also reading "Tinker to Evers to Chance". Also, in the still-in-modern-usage expression "Tinker to Evers to Chance", meaning a well-oiled routine or a "sure thing", people tend to pronounce it "EH-verz", when the proper pronunciation was "EE-verz".
Tinker and Evers reportedly could not stand each other, and rarely spoke off the field. Evers, a high-strung, argumentative man, suffered a nervous breakdown in 1911 and rarely played that year. Chance suffered a near-fatal beaning the same year. The trio played together little after that. In 1913, Chance went to manage the New York Yankees and Tinker went to Cincinnati to manage the Reds, and that was the end of one of the most notable infields in baseball. They were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame together in 1946. Tinker and Evers reportedly became amicable in their old age, with the baseball wars far behind them.
Every three years
The Cubs fell into a lengthy doldrum after their early 1900s Glory Years, broken only by their pennant in the war-shortened season of 1918. Around that time, chewing-gum tycoon William Wrigley obtained majority ownership of the Cubs, and things started to turn around, especially after they acquired the services of astute baseball man William Veeck, Sr.
With Wrigley's money and Veeck's savvy, the Cubs were soon back in business in the National League, the front office having built a team that would be strong contenders for the next decade. During that stretch, they achieved the unusual accomplishment of winning a pennant every three years - 1929, 1932, 1935 and 1938 - sometimes in thrilling fashion, such as 1935 when they won a record 21 games in a row in September, and 1938 when they won a crucial late-season game with a walk-off "Homer in the Gloamin'" by Gabby Hartnett.
Unfortunately, their success did not extend to the post-season, as they fell to their American League rivals each time, often in humilating fashion. By the late 1930s, the double-Bills (Wrigley and Veeck), were both dead. As the decade wound down, the front office under P.K. Wrigley was unable to rekindle the kind of success that P.K.'s father had created, and the Cubs slipped into mediocrity. They enjoyed one more pennant, at the close of another wartime year, 1945, lost the World Series, and have not been back since then, at least through the 2005 season.
Day games at Wrigley
The Cubs' home ballpark, Wrigley Field, played host to only day games until 1988 because the stadium owner donated the lights to the war effort in the 1940s, and it then became tradition. The first night game was scheduled to be played August 8, 1988, versus Philadelphia, but it was rained out after 3 1/2 innings. The high point of that contest, beyond the cry of "Let there be lights", was when famous top-heavy entertainer Morganna Roberts, "The Kissing Bandit", ran onto the field and attempted to plant one on Ryne Sandberg. She was thwarted by Chicago's Finest, but Ryno hit the next pitch out of the park to thunderous approval. Unfortunately, the rainout nullified his home run. The first official night game thus occurred the following evening, August 9, 1988; the Cubs defeated the New York Mets, 6-4. While night games are now possible at Wrigley, the Cubs still play more day games at home than any other Major League team.
The Cubs have the longest dry spell between championships in all of the four major U.S. sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA), having failed to win a World Series since 1908. To make matters worse, the Cubs haven't even been in a World Series since 1945, and finished in the second division, or bottom half, of the National League for 20 consecutive years beginning in 1947. They didn't win any playoff series between 1908 and 2003, when they beat the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS.
In 1969, The Cubs had a 8-game lead in August led by Hall Of Famers Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins and Billy Williams, but they wilted under pressure, lost key games against the surprising New York Mets, and floundered a shot at the postseason by 8 games (92-70). Many superstitious fans attribute this collapse to an incident at Shea Stadium when a fan released a black cat onto the field, thereby cursing the club. In 1984, The Cubs won the first two games of the then-best of 5 National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field against the San Diego Padres (It must be noted that at the time, the team with homefield advantage played the first two games on the road), only to lose the final three games in San Diego. The Cubs' 2003 playoff run ended in an emotional game 7 of the NLCS against the Florida Marlins. While at one point ahead in the 7-game series 3 games to 1, the Marlins came back to win the final three games. Marlins pitcher Josh Beckett shut out the Cubs in game 5. An implosion of the Cubs defense late in game 6, following the now-infamous incident in which a fan attempted to catch a ball in foul territory, allowed the Marlins to score 8 runs in the eighth inning (see The Inning) and tie the series. The Cubs were unable to win the final game at home, and were without a pennant again.
To historians of the game, this incident echoed another Cubs disaster, Game 4 of the 1929 World Series, in which the Cubs yielded 10 runs to the Philadelphia Athletics in the seventh inning. A key play in that inning was centerfielder Hack Wilson losing a fly ball in the sun, resulting in a 3-run inside-the-park home run.
In 2004, misfortune struck the Cubs again. Having the Wild Card lead by a game and a half on September 24, the Cubs proceeded to drop 7 of their last 9 games, and relinquished the Wild Card to the then-red hot Houston Astros. This time, the fallout was decidedly unlovable, as the Cubs traded superstar Sammy Sosa in the off-season, after he had left the final game early and then attempted to lie about it publicly. Sosa was a controversial figure, and his place in Chicago Cubs lore was possibly tarnished.
Inconsistency struck the Cubs for their 2005 season, as the team finished under .500 for the first time since 2002 with a 79-83 record and fourth place in the NL Central. Again, the Cubs were hit by injury to pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, and shortstop Nomar Garciaparra suffered a groin injury in late April, which kept him out for three months. Despite the bleak ending for the injury-plagued Cubs, the team witnessed a career year from first baseman Derrek Lee (.335 batting average, 46 home runs, 107 RBIs) and the rise of closer Ryan Dempster (33 saves in 35 save opportunities).
The long history of the Cubs is a dichotomy. For their first 80 years, prior to and including 1945, the Cubs were generally assumed to be contenders, playing well and winning the occasional pennant. For much of the 60 year span since then, it was as if the baseball gods had forsaken the Cubs, granting them just an occasional glimmer of hope. It did not take astute observers long to realize that something bad had happened to this once-proud franchise...
In his 1950 book The World Series and Highlights of Baseball, LaMont Buchanan wrote the following prose next to photos of Wrigley during the 1945 World Series and of their newly-hired manager: "From the sublime to last place! Wrigley Field, the ivy of its walls still whispering of past greatness, watches its Cubs grow less ferocious in '47, '48, '49. New doctor of the cure is smiling Frank Frisch, veteran of previous baseball transfusions who thinks, 'It's nice to have the fans with you.' Chicago has a great baseball tradition. The fans remember glorious yesterdays as they wait for brighter tomorrows. And eventually their Cubs will bite again." Little did anyone realize how long "eventually" might turn out to be.
What may be the least known, but possibly the most telling, statistic of futility for the Cubs, though, is that their first back-to-back winning seasons since 1973 came in 2003 and 2004. Nonetheless, they remain one of the best-loved and best-attended teams in the league, with attendance figures consistently in the top 10, despite the 3rd smallest stadium in Major League Baseball.
As with the Boston Red Sox (prior to their astonishing 2004 post-season triumph), the Cubs of recent generations have seemed to be a team that "bad things happen to". Although there is a tendency to compare the Cubs and the Red Sox, there is a stark difference. Since World War II, the Red Sox have been frequent contenders and frequent visitors to the post-season, including five trips to the World Series. They have had more of a reputation as "chokers" than as "losers", the tag that the Cubs bear.
Despite their image as "Lovable Losers" during the post-World War II era, the club's longevity combined with their earlier successes add up to a major league record 9,756 victories (for a franchise in a single city) through the 2004 season. In other years the Cubs have shown they can win, or at least contend, when their pitching is superior. Outstanding pitching has been a major difference in every one of their winning seasons since World War II. But although there is no substitute for front-office savvy and on-the-field excellence, the venerable ballpark itself has to be considered a factor in the teams' failures to go farther than they have. When the bleachers were extended into left field in 1937, it shortened the true power alley from a posted distance of 372 feet to about 350 feet, which is too short for major league standards, especially for a left field. Most batters are right-handed, so their natural power alley is left-center. Thus most asymmetric ballparks have their short field in right. Not so with Wrigley. This allows more left-center field home runs than the average ballpark would. Ferguson Jenkins, upon being traded to the Texas Rangers after a successful though home-run prone career with the Cubs, bitterly complained that "Wrigley Field is a bad ballpark!"
After posting a below-.500 record for the first time since 2002, the Cubs are looking to retool for the 2006 campaign. Since the Cubs' last pennant in 1945, every other Major League franchise that was playing at that time has won the World Series (as the Red Sox and the White Sox both won the title in 2004 and 2005, respectively). It remains to be seen what, if any, effect this will have on the club's management.
- Founded: 1870, as an independent professional club. Joined the National Association in 1871. Became a charter National League member in 1876.
- Formerly known as: White Stockings, in the 1870s. Colts, in the late 1890s. Orphans, 1898, after the firing of longtime manager Cap Anson. Remnants, in 1901, after a number of players deserted the team for the American League. The nickname Cubs was coined in 1902 when manager Frank Selee arrived and rebuilt the club with young, inexperienced players. The Chicago Tribune tried to call the team the Spuds around this time, but that name did not appeal.
- Home ballpark:
- Uniform colors: Blue, Red, and White
- Logo design: A red "C" circumscribed by a blue circle. Sometimes a smaller "ubs" will follow the large "C", or the team will make use of a cartoon bear cub.
Many songs have been written about the Cubs. Here are a few:
- "The Cubs Song (Hey Hey, Holy Mackerel)" - produced in 1969 by a Chicago studio group (the Len Dresslar Singers), and later covered by several members of the team. Its title refers to the home run calls of the team's TV and radio play-by-play men, Jack Brickhouse and Vince Lloyd respectively. It became kind of infamous among fans, as a reminder of a year that ended badly for the team.
- "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request" - a lengthy and funny (and prophetic) song recorded "live" by die-hard Cubs fan and folk musician Steve Goodman in the early 1980s.
- "The Land of Wrigley" - by a local group called Stormy Weather, inspired by "Let the Good Times Roll".
- "Go Cubs Go" - a rah-rah tune by Steve Goodman that became the theme for the WGN radio coverage of the team during its division-winning season of 1984. Goodman died of leukemia just days before the Cubs clinched their first title in 39 years.
- "Here's to You, Men in Blue" - a bluegrass or country number recorded by a group of team members in 1984.
- "Here Come the Cubs" - a rah-rah tune done specially for the Cubs by The Beach Boys, to the tune of "Barbara Ann", used extensively on WGN radio during the team's division-winning season of 1989.
Minor league affiliations
- AAA: Iowa Cubs, Pacific Coast League
- AA: West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, Southern League
- Advanced A: Daytona Cubs, Florida State League
- A: Peoria Chiefs, Midwest League
- Short A: Boise Hawks, Northwest League
- Rookie: AZL Cubs, Arizona League
- Rookie: VSL Cubs, Venezuelan Summer League
- Cubs award winners and league leaders
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- Chicago Cubs official web site
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- Chicago Cubs Resource - Complete information on Cubs