Before the Curse
The Chicago Cubs' Glory Years, 1870-1945
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: University of Illinois Press
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The vintage articles found in Before the Curse come from a wide array of sources: the Chicago Times, Outing magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Saturday Evening Post, and the Spalding Guidebook to name a few. We’re grateful to all of the periodicals and authors who have agreed to share their work with us here. Every baseball fan at some point thinks...
INTRODUCTION. The Chicago Cubs: From Early Excellence to the Golden Age to That Darn Goat
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The Chicago Cubs were a team to be reckoned with back when Teddy Roosevelt was President of the United States, and they continued to be the club to beat during the early administration of William Howard Taft. They forged a golden age for the record books, providing their fans with enough stories to keep them warm during many a....
Part I. From "Let's Play Ball" to King Kelly
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1. Title Time?
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As a franchise known for unmatched futility, it seems odd that, in what was arguably its inaugural season, the 1870 Cubs—known then as the White Stockings or Chicagoans—won the championship. But even that championship came with a caveat, because the New York Mutuals, who had the best record, protested the controversial ending...
2. Baseball, Celebrated and Lampooned
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With no time frame governing a baseball game’s length, playing fields that feature “bullpens” and fences, and a playing season in-step with that of planting and harvesting, symbolically and mythically baseball echoes America’s rural past. Yet baseball in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—especially professional baseball—was...
3. Measuring Fielders
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Managed by Albert G. Spalding , who also pitched for the club and would later become a sporting goods titan, the 1876 Chicago White Stockings won the first ever National League championship. The club finished 52–14 and attracted droves to its 23rd Street Grounds ballpark (bounded by State Street and present-day Cermak). Only five years removed from the...
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In the early 1920 s , sportswriter Grantland Rice called long-time Cub and eventual Hall of Famer Adrian “Cap” Anson the “Grand Old Man” of baseball. In 1939 Cooperstown labeled him “the greatest hitter and the greatest National League player-manager of the nineteenth century.” And in the first selection here, a 1980 biographical article...
5. The $10,000 Beaut!
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According to author James Cox , Michael J. “King” Kelly was Babe Ruth before Babe Ruth. This larger-than-life figure and one-time White Stocking played hard and dirty, lived fast and demanded exorbitant salaries, churned out magnificent seasons and popularized the slide. A song about him is considered one of America’s first “pop hits...
Part II. From the Colts to the Dynasty
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6 FROM TEETOTALING TO EGYPT
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Baseball historians like Peter Levine, author of A.G. Spalding and the Rise of Baseball, consider Albert G. Spalding as the single most important character in establishing baseball as America’s pasttime. Not only did Spalding perform mightily as a hurler in baseball’s early professional years, posting a mind-boggling 254–46 record from 1871...
7 HOT TIME AT THE HOT SPRINGS
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In March of 1899 the Chicago Orphans headed west to Hudson Springs New Mexico (which in 1897 boasted a permanent population of 35 people) for pre-season training that included bronco riding and mountain climbing. They stayed at the renowned Casa de Consuelo (House of Comfort), which Chicago businessman Andrew R. Graham...
8 CHI-TOWN FANDEMONIUM
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Baseball made Chicoans mad in 1906. That year the city’s two professional baseball teams qualified for the World Series, making Chicago the first city to accomplish this feat. As baseball journalist Hugh S. Fullerton explained at the time, “Chicago is the baseball center of the earth.”1 Indicating the heady times, when it became...
9 EVERS ON THE GLORY YEARS
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On September 15, 190 2, the official scorer for the Chicago–Cincinnati game penned the words “Double Plays: Tinker-Evers-Chance.” It was the first time the words were entered into a major league box score, although there was nothing unusual about double plays...
10 BARTMAN'S GOT NOTHIN' ON MERKLE
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Fred Merkle's "bonehead" play remains one of baseball’s best-known gaffes. The circumstances surrounding it could not have been more dramatic. In an important late September game in 1908, the Chicago Cubs and New York Giants, locked in a fierce...
11 CUBS, CHAMPIONS!
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The Cubs last won a World Series in 1908. For perspective, at that time the airplane did not include wheels and no crossword puzzles, bras, or zippers as we know them existed, let alone a commercial refrigerator or television. The automobile was still largely a plaything for the rich, though that soon changed because it was in 1908 that...
12 CENTENNIAL BROWN
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During the years when the Chicago Cubs ruled baseball, barely a hundred years ago or a mere blink of the eye in geological time, Mordecai Peter Centennial “Three Finger” Brown was the ace of the pitching staff. The righthanded Indiana native won 20 or more...
13 POLITICS AT THE PARK
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On Septembe r 16, 1909, President William H. Taft, along with some 30,000 other baseball fans, watched the Chicago Cubs play their legendary rival the New York Giants. It was a fitting team for him to watch because in 1906 the president’s half-brother, Charles, had financed Cubs owner Charles Murphy’s purchase of the team.1 The game also...
Part III. From the Hangover through the Roaring Twenties
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14 OH MY! IT'S O'DAY!
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As already noted , between 1906 and 1910 the Cubs went to four World Series, winning two of them. Additionally, in each of the next three seasons the team registered roughly ninety wins. However, in 1914 a run of less success started. And, as it happened, on the eve of the disappointing 1914 season the team let go of the immensely popular...
15 GROVER'S HIGHS AND LOWS
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Grover Cleveland Alexander , born in the first Grover Cleveland administration, seemed uncomfortable as a twentieth-century athlete. Throughout his brilliant pitching career he never looked very athletic. His run looked more like a controlled stumble, and he appeared singularly uncomfortable in his perennially ill-fitted uniform. But...
16 SHARE SQUABBLE AT THE SERIES
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The 1918 World Series gets overlooked by a lot of Cubs fans. Many seem to know that the Cubs last won a National League pennant in 1945 only to lose that year’s World Series, but few recognize that the Cubs played for a title in 1918. Maybe it’s too painful for Cubs fans to remember too many World Series defeats. The owner of the club for this World Series...
17 PAPA, THE GIPPER, AND THE CUBS
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Many celebrities, such as comedian Bill Murray and actors Jim Belushi and John Cusack, have associated themselves with the Cubs in some fashion, but perhaps no public figures larger than Ernest Hemingway and Ronald Reagan have a direct connection to the Cubs. In...
18 HUMBLE BEGINNINGS, MAJESTIC LIFE
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William Wrigley Jr . was born into humble means about five months after the start of the Civil War. By the time of his January 26, 1932, death at the age of 70, America had industrialized, Chicago had boomed, and he had become one of the Midwest’s wealthiest men, as well as owner of the Chicago Cubs. He built his far-flung business empire, moored...
19 BASEBALL MAN
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From 1926 t o 1950 , with the Cubs, Red Sox, and Yankees, manager Joe McCarthy won over sixty-one percent of his games. But most startling, as a big league manager he won seven world series titles—all as the head of the famed “Bronx Bombers.” In the ’30s and ’40s it was painful enough for Cubs fans to know that one of its former managers...
20 HAYMAKER HACK
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In the pantheon of Cubs icon, the five-feet-six, 195-pound centerfielder Lewis “Hack” Wilson sometimes gets overlooked. He should not. With a sharp, square jaw and squatty build, including an eighteen-inch neck but only size six shoes, Wilson looked like a cross between a ballet dancer and a Brahma bull. He still owns...
Part IV. From Depression-Era Greatnes to That Darn Goat
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21 RAJAH IN CHARGE
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WIlliam Wrigley sacked manager Joe McCarthy at the end of the 1930 season, paving the way for Rogers “The Rajah” Hornsby, one of the greatest hitters of all time and certainly the greatest right-handed hitter, to become the Cubs’ player-manager. One season prior to becoming manager, Hornsby, a chronic gambler who played the horses, won the National League MVP award as he helped the Cubs to the pennant by hitting .380 with...
22 DID HE CALL IT?
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Of the 50,000 spectators that came to see the Cubs and Yankees in game three of the 1932 World Series, which involved plenty of bench jockeying (trash talking), those accommodated by the temporary bleachers erected over Sheffield Avenue saw a ball hit all the way to them. The blast came off the bat of George Herman “Babe” Ruth, and it became one of baseball’s...
23 WHAT DEPRESSION? THIRD WORLD SERIES IN SEVEN YEARS
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The Chicago won twenty games in a row in September 1935 and nipped the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League pennant. On September 4th of that year the Cubs had stood five games behind the Cardinals in the loss column and four behind the New...
24 SANDBERG BEFORE SANDBERG?
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On his way to Cooperstown, keystoner Billy Herman, the Cubs’ “Ryne Sandberg of the 1930s,” hit for a career average of over .300 and registered more than 200 hits on three occasions. Adroit at hitting behind runners, he also skillfully manned second for all...
25 SPEAKIN' OF HARTNETT
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On September 28, 1938, the Cubs were amid an eight-game winning streak and sitting only a half-game behind the league-leading Pirates. However, that day’s game was moments away from getting called due to darkness, which could have ruined the club’s effort to steal the pennant just as the season was coming to a close. But then the greatest catcher
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The Cubs captured f o u r pennants from 1929 to 1938 only to find itself amongst the National League’s lower echelons from 1939 to 1943. Midway through World War II, this candid 1943 Saturday Evening Post article by Stanley Frank traced the downturn in Cubs...
27 MAYBE NEXT YEAR?
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The following article, from the Chicago Daily News, describes the gala atmosphere that accompanied the 1945 World Series on the eve of its first pitch in Detroit. People in both Chicago and the Motor City seemed unconcerned that the major leagues still faced a major shortage of talent due to big-leaguers serving in the armed forces—a situation that led famed sportswriter Warren Brown to opine, “I don’t think either...
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Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2011