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Before the Curse

Before the Curse: The Chicago Cubs' Glory Years, 1870-1945

Randy Roberts
Carson Cunningham
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Before the Curse
    Book Description:

    Before the Curse: The Chicago Cubs' Glory Years, 1870-1945 brings to life the early history of this much beloved and often heartbreaking baseball club. Originally called the Chicago White Stockings, the team immediately established itself as a powerhouse, winning the newly formed National League's inaugural pennant in 1876, repeating the feat in 1880 and 1881, and commanding the league in the decades to come. The legendary days of the Cubs are recaptured here in more than two dozen vintage newspaper accounts and historical essays on the teams and the fans who loved them. The great games, pennant races, and series are all here, including the 1906 World Series between the Cubs and Chicago White Sox. Of course, Before the Curse remembers the Hall of Fame players--Grover Cleveland Alexander, Gabby Hartnett, Rogers Hornsby, Hack Wilson--who delighted Cubs fans with their play on the field and their antics elsewhere._x000B__x000B_Through engaging introductions to each article, Randy Roberts and Carson Cunningham demonstrate how changes in ownership affected the success of the team, who the teams' major players were both on and off the field, and how regular fans, owners, players, journalists, and Chicagoans of the past talked and wrote about baseball.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09336-4
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION. The Chicago Cubs: From Early Excellence to the Golden Age to That Darn Goat
    (pp. 1-10)

    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 cold Chicago winter night.

    But here’s the problem with golden ages: everything afterward savors of anticlimax. This is particularly true when the golden age took place in the distant past. You don’t have to go back to the Greeks and Romans,...

  5. Part I. From “Let’s Play Ball” to King Kelly

    • 1. Title Time?
      (pp. 13-16)

      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 of its late season series with the White Stockings. The controversy erupted in front of more than 7,000 fans in Chicago when the Mutuals’ pitcher, Mac Wolters, became so upset that he’d thrown twelve straight pitches to the plate which neither the batter nor umpire liked...

    • 2. Baseball, Celebrated and Lampooned
      (pp. 17-28)

      WITH NO TIMEFRAME 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 strongly urban. It represented, as Mark Twain put it, “the outward and visible expression of the drive and push and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century.”¹

      Surprisingly, though, in 1881 the New York Times—which sometimes showed support for baseball—ran a scathing op-ed about the sport, saving its choicest...

    • 3. Measuring Fielders
      (pp. 29-34)

      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 1871 Chicago fire that had caused the White Stockings to halt play for two seasons, the 1876 National League championship showed that Chicagoans not only loved their squad but followed baseball closely. This seems evident in the following Chicago Times article, which...

    • 4. “Cap”
      (pp. 35-48)

      IN THE EARLY 1920S, 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 from Palimpsest, David L. Porter calls Anson baseball’s “first superstar performer.”

      Anson’s career lasted twenty-seven seasons, ended with a batting average of .333, and included five pennants in the 1880s as a player and “captain-manager” of the Chicago White Stockings (Cubs). It also saw him get at least...

    • 5. The $10,000 Beaut!
      (pp. 49-64)

      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.” He was one of the first athletes hounded by fans for his autograph. He even starred on stage.

      Kelly’s rise to fame was swift and great, but he drank too much and his demise came about quickly. Still, here from Cox we get a picture of a burly...

  6. Part II. From the Colts to the Dynasty

    • 6. From Teetotaling to Egypt
      (pp. 67-74)

      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 to 1876, the last season of which he pitched for the world champion Chicago White Stockings, but he served as president of the Chicago club for much of the 1880s. He also founded what became one of the world’s most successful sporting goods companies, A.G. Spalding & Brothers....

    • 7. Hot Time at the Hot Springs
      (pp. 75-80)

      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, at the prodding of his friend Albert G. Spalding, had turned into the most sophisticated resort in the territory. At that time, Americans thought highly of the healing powers of hot springs, and Graham had smartly made the springs at the House of Comfort a focal point.¹

      There the...

    • 8. Chi-town Fandemonium
      (pp. 81-98)

      BASEBALL MADE CHICAGOANS 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 clear that both squads had locked up their respective pennants, Chicagoans could be seen cheering on street corners and standing in jubilation in “elevated trains.”² The first article here, from the Chicago Tribune, captured the “mad” thrill for baseball that permeated the city as its two professional...

    • 9. Evers on the Glory Years
      (pp. 99-108)

      ON SEPTEMBER 15, 1902, 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. But there was magic in the words, at least for the New York Mail columnist and baseball poet Franklin P. Adams. He was a New York Giants fan who dreaded the linking together of these three names, in that awful combination, because usually these names strung together meant the end of an inning that had shown possibilities, and as...

    • 10. Bartman’s Got Nothin’ on Merkle
      (pp. 109-120)

      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 battle for the pennant, found themselves tied with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The Gothamites’ Fred Merkle stood on first and Moose McCormick on third. Next, the Giants’ Al Bridwell ripped a single and McCormick crossed home plate, delivering what appeared to be the game-winning run. However, as jubilant New York fans stormed the field, Johnny Evers, with...

    • 11. Cubs, Champions!
      (pp. 121-126)

      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 Henry Ford first offered his Model T. Baseball games commonly featured just one umpire, and he was armed with only three new baseballs. If he ran out of balls, the home team had to supply them, and if the home team...

    • 12. Centennial Brown
      (pp. 127-138)

      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 right-handed Indiana native won 20 or more games every year from 1906 to 1911, and during his career he won 239 games and had a remarkable 2.06 earned run average, one of the lowest in major league history. He retired from the major leagues after the 1916 season and returned to Indiana, where he ran a filling station and pitched for a...

    • 13. Politics at the Park
      (pp. 139-144)

      ON SEPTEMBER 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 marked an important moment in the long history that U.S. presidents, Taft in particular, share with baseball. Though he did not throw out the first pitch at this 1909 game, on opening day in 1910, at Washington D.C.’s Griffith Stadium, he became the first...

  7. Part III. From the Hangover through the Roaring Twenties

    • 14. Oh My! It’s O’Day!
      (pp. 147-156)

      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 manager and second baseman Johnny Evers (in 1921 he returned to the Cubs to manage for one more year). It was a surprising move to many. Yet with hindsight the fact that the Cubs hired Hank O’Day to replace...

    • 15. Grover’s Highs and Lows
      (pp. 157-168)

      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 his pitching motion—the only thing in life that seemed to come naturally to him—was the essence of economy and ease. With barely a windup and an abbreviated stride, he looked like he was throwing darts. During his pitching career between 1911 and 1930, he amassed 2,198 strikeouts, a 2.56 earned run average, and...

    • 16. Share Squabble at the Series
      (pp. 169-174)

      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 loss was Charles H. “Lucky Charlie” Weeghman. Born to a homemaker mom and blacksmith dad amid humble surroundings in Richmond, Indiana, the baseball-loving Charlie moved to Chicago as a young man....

    • 17. Papa, the Gipper, and the Cubs
      (pp. 175-180)

      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 fact, the Cubs helped both get their careers started. With regard to “Papa,” this is reflected in the first selection, an article about Hemingway and his work covering the Cubs for the Kansas City Star. The second selection takes a look at the importance of sports, the Cubs in particular, in the life of Ronald Reagan, as...

    • 18. Humble Beginnings, Majestic Life
      (pp. 181-186)

      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 by five-cent-a-pack gum, upon crafty advertising and other methods of ingenious salesmanship. After gaining controlling interest in the Cubs in 1922, he helped guide the team to a World Series appearance in 1929. Actually, you could argue...

    • 19. Baseball Man
      (pp. 187-198)

      FROM 1926 TO 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 was winning title after title, but it was doubly so in years when those titles culminated with World Series victories over the Cubs, which happened in 1932 and 1938.

      Born in Germantown, Pa., McCarthy immersed himself...

    • 20. Haymaker Hack
      (pp. 199-204)

      IN THE PANTHEON OF CUBS ICONS, the five-feet-six, 195-pound center-fielder 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 one of baseball’s most unreachable records, 191 RBIs in a season (originally awarded 190 RBIs, in 1999 an additional RBI that had been mistakenly given to another player was added to his total). He registered those 191 RBIs during a 1930 season in which he produced arguably the...

  8. Part IV. From Depression-Era Greatness to That Darn Goat

    • 21. Rajah in Charge
      (pp. 207-211)

      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 39 home runs and 149 RBIs. Before that he hit over .400 on three separate occasions for the St. Louis Cardinals, including a still-standing record of .424 in...

    • 22. Did He Call It?
      (pp. 213-216)

      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 all-time best-known home runs. Upset that former Yankee Mark Koenig, who was unavailable for the Series, was voted only half a World Series share by his new “cheapskate” Cubs teammates, Ruth had already been jabbering with...

    • 23. What Depression? Third World Series in Seven Years
      (pp. 217-222)

      THE CHICAGO CUBS 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 York Giants. Charlie “Jolly Cholly” Grimm managed the team during its unlikely streak.¹

      Upon winning the pennant, the Cubs faced the Detroit Tigers in what became a record-setting World Series—record-setting for frigidity, for the size of player bonuses because of the massive gate, and for the $100,000 Henry Ford paid for radio...

    • 24. Sandberg before Sandberg?
      (pp. 223-228)

      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 three of the Cubs’ pennants during the 1930s.¹ Unfortunately, Herman was shipped to the Brooklyn Dodgers in an ill-conceived trade in 1941.

      On the eve of Herman’s entrance into the Hall of Fame in 1975, Ron Coons of Louisville’s Courier-Journal & Times reflected on the skinny Herman’s rise from a not-so-outstanding high school player in New...

    • 25. Speakin’ of Hartnett
      (pp. 229-246)

      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 in Cubs history, Charles Leo “Gabby” Hartnett, delivered a mighty blast that rocketed the Cubs to the World Series. The shot occurred with two strikes and no balls, and in its wake pandemonium erupted. Baseball writer Warren Brown, as seen in...

    • 26. Swoonin’
      (pp. 247-258)

      THE CUBS CAPTURED FOUR 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’ fortunes. Frank noted the fans’ impatience by 1943 with owner Philip K. Wrigley, who took over when his father passed in 1932 and had recently tightened the team’s purse strings, as well as with the “James boys,” general manager James “Jim” Gallagher and manager James “Jim” Wilson, particularly with their handling of Russian power hitter Lou Novikoff....

    • 27. Maybe Next Year?
      (pp. 259-262)

      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 one of them can win it [the World Series].” (Brown even titled a chapter about it in a book on the history of the Cubs, “World’s Worst Series.”)¹ Nor did...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 263-270)
  10. Index
    (pp. 271-282)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 283-285)