Wednesday, October 14, 2015

May the Past be Prolog—Cubs Win the 1908 World Series

Cubs haters, most of whom are devotees of Chicago’s junior team, take unending delight in pointing out that the National League team has not won a World Series since 1908, 107 years ago.  Not that Cub fans are not excruciatingly aware of the long dry spell.  But we are a devoted and patient bunch given equally to eternal optimism and resignation.  Hey, it’s not like we never got close.  Besides we agree with the late Jack Brickhouse that “any team can have a bad century.”  And most of us are too damned nice to remind Sox fans that while we have not won in a while, at least our boys never actually threw the World Series and nearly destroyed baseball.  And anyway teasing about the drought is easier to swallow than hearing more crap about the ridiculous Curse of the Goat.
Ah, but this year the sweet smell of ultimate victory is once again in the air.  Manager Joe Maddon has taken a down-on-its-luck-team with a smattering of promising young players, and turned it into the well rounded contender that finished the 2016 regular season with the third best record in all Baseball—better than the leader of every other division in both leagues.  They have already dispatched one team ahead of them in the super-competitive National League Central, the Pittsburg Pirates and now seem have done the same to perennial NL power house the St. Louis Cardinals who had a 100 win season.  Now it is on to the NL Championship Series and quite likely another birth in the Fall Classic.
We can now dare to dream anyway.  And we can draw inspiration from those long-ago Cubs who last won it all on October 14, 1908.
That 1908 team also had its roots as a frisky young team, albeit one which had matured into a dominating team that looked to become a dynasty.  After sitting atop the National League for most of the professional league’s early years as the Chicago White Stockings, the team had a run of hard years and ran through a variety of informal monikers including the Colts and the Orphans. 
Back in 1902 new owner James Hart had begun to assemble a talented young team around their infielders and pitching.  The Daily News took to calling the Orphans the Cubs because of their youthfulness.  In 1905 the anchor of the famous double-play combo Tinkers to Evans to Chance, Frank Chance, took over as player manager and threw the renaissance into high gear with more acquisitions, especially the dominating pitcher Mordecai “Three Finger “Brown.  In 1907 the team officially adopted the nickname Cubs and won the World Series.  The Cubs won four pennants and two World Series titles over a five-year span.

Game 3 at the West Side Grounds did fill the stands, but was not the sell out ownership had hopped.  Note the nearly empty spaces marked out for on-field seating marked out by lines along the left and right field stands and in foul territory between the bases.

They claimed their first championship that year.  In 1908 they were back and confident.  It turned out to be a legendary season.  The Cubs took the National League lead on June 30 when Mordechai Brown blanked the Pittsburg Pirates.  The Pirates were nipping at the Cub’s heels the rest of the season.  On September 26, Ed Reulbach became the only pitcher in Major League Baseball history to pitch two shutouts on the same day completing both ends of a doubleheader against the Brooklyn Dodgers and walking away with 5–0 and 3–0 victories.
Just like this year’s NL Central, by August three teams were dominating the National League leaving the others far behind in their dust and running neck-an-neck in piling up victories. 
Late in the season the Cubs and New York Giants were tied for first place when they played each other on September 23, just three days before the Reulbach twin bill, they met at the Polo Grounds.  The game was a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the 9th inning with two outs and one man on base when Fred Merkel, the youngest player in the League and in the starting line-up for the first time, came to bat.  He singled and the runner at first advanced to third.  Shortstop Al Bridewell was up next and connected with a presumed single that sent the man on third racing to the plate.  Merkel, believing the game was won, began trotting off the field without touching second base or tagging up on first.  Johnny Evers realized the mistake and got an outfielder to toss the ball into second as delirious fans swarmed the field.  Umpires were unsure if the ball used was the actual ball—some thought it had been tossed into the stands by a Giant’s player or one that had been tossed in from the Cubs dugout.  But unable to clear the field of fans and with darkness closing in, they decreed Merkel out and called the game over as a tie. 
Merkel’s Boner would have fateful consequences for the Giants.  The season ended with the two teams in a tie with identical 98-55 records and the Pirates one game behind.  They were forced to meet for a one game playoff at the Polo Ground on October 8.  The Cubs won 4-2 and advanced to meet the Detroit Tigers, American League Champions.
This was a rematch, the first in World Series History.  The teams had met in 1907 when the Tigers, led by the vicious but supremely talented Ty Cobb, regarded by many as the greatest all-around player in MLB history despite his character flaws, had under performed.  After a first game 3-3 tie in 12 innings which was called because of darkness, the Cubs went on to sweep the next four games.
In 1908 the Tigers, like the Cubs, were in a tight, dramatic pennant race to the very end.  They finished the regular season just half a game in front of the Cleveland Naps—the teams had identical win records but Detroit played and lost one game fewer. 
Despite the obvious drama of a rematch between the two best teams in baseball, the Championship Series was something of an anti-climax.  The post season series between league champions was still in its relative infancy.  The first games had been held in 1903 and the following year the American League had boycotted the contest.  Many fans still considered the Series a gimmick to enrich the owners, who were less popular then than they are now.  Winning a League Pennant was more prestigious in the eyes of many.

Attendance for the games at the Cubs’ dilapidated West Side Grounds and Detroit’s Bennet Park was the lowest in the history of the Series.  There was miserable weather in Detroit and a massive ticket scalping scandal in Chicago, which some suspected Cubs ownership was complicit in.  Some newspapers had called for a fan boycott of the Chicago games.  Evidently it worked because attendance to Series games was a miserable.  The final game was played to a more than half-empty house in front of only 6,210 fans.  Contrast that with the huge crowds in and around Wrigley Field last night when the team advanced to the NLCS.

Player/managers Frank Chance and Hugh Jennings meet with the two umpires assigned to a game at the West Side Grounds.

Cobb and the Tigers were in better form this year, but the results were not much different.  Cubs pitching dominated most games.  And in the dead ball era when balls were hit out of stadiums less frequently than a blue moon, the Cubs excelled at small ball—slapping singles, taking walks, forcing errors, and stealing bases. 

In the first game on October 10 at Bennett Park, the Cubs came from behind in the 9th inning with six straight one-out singles scoring 5 runs for a final victory of 10-6.

The second game at the West Side Grounds was a scoreless pitching duel into the 8th when Joe Tinker’s rare two-run homer launched a six-run Cub outburst.  The Tigers were able to spoil a shutout for pitcher Orval Overall by pushing one run across. The Cubs pulled ahead two games on a 6-1 final score.
Back on the West Side, the Tigers finally got back in the series on the strength of an offensive outburst by Cobb—the best post-season game he would ever have.  He hit three singles and a double in five at bats and stole two bases with his famous sharpened spikes slashing high.  He was finally thrown out trying to steal home in the 9th.  The Cubs went down 8-3.
Back at Bennett Park Mordechai Brown through a complete game shutout and the Cubs took game four 3-0.e
Not to be out done on Monday, October 14 Overall pitched his own shut out.  It was the first game in Series history in which neither team committed an error.  The Cubs won 2-0 and walked away World Champions for the second consecutive year.

A little gloating was in order as in this souvenir post card from the previous year.

They had completely dominated their AL rivals out-scoring them a total of 24 to 15 runs and out hitting them 48-33.  Besides dominating pitching from Brown and Overall, the Cubs were nearly flawless in the field with only two error’s to Detroit’s nine.
It was not quite the end of the Cub’s dominance.  They would go on to play in the Series in 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, and 1945 but come up short every time.  Their last appearance in 1945 when both clubs fielded wartime teams of cripples, the walking wounded, 4-Fs, old-timers, and kids as yet unfamiliar with razors, was also against the Tigers.
Loyal Cub fans, among whom I am proud to include myself, now wait eagerly to return to the Fall Classic and win it all.


1 comment: