If you were to draw up the perfect baseball franchise, chances are you might come up with the Chicago Cubs. Here you have a long-established team in a large city with a fanatical fan base, an impressive roster of Hall of Fame players, and a beautiful, timeless ball park that revels in its unique traditions and is actually part of the personality of the team and the city.
Alas, nothing is perfect and the blemish that prevents the Cubs from being that perfect franchise is the interminable lack of success they have suffered on the playing field. It has been more than a century since the team's last World Championship and more than 70 years since their last World Series appearance. Still, they embody much of what makes baseball uniquely great and magical.
No baseball team in any city has the length of lineage the Cubs have in Chicago. They were originally formed as an amateur team less than a decade after the Civil War (1874) and joined the National League for its initial season. Playing their first professional game on April 25, 1876, exactly two months before Custer's Last Stand and while Ulysses S. Grant was President of the United States, they defeated the Louisville Greys 4-0.
Ironically, at this time they were known as the White Stockings. Their star player was Hall of Famer Adrian "Cap" Anson, the first player to accumulate three-thousand hits (hi accepted total for over a century / adjusted on site to 2,995). He played and managed in Chicago for 22 years, leaving the Cubs in 1897 due to his declining prowess and a typo error in his contract that he'd overlooked.
Chicago greeted the 20th century by changing the team name to the Cubs and developing a whole new cast of superstar players. Frank Chance, considered the best first baseman of his time, became player-manager of the club in 1905. Known as the "Peerless Leader" for his ability to manage and motivate players, Chance began guiding the Cubs down a road that would lead them to one of the greatest seasons of all time.
The 1906 Cubs had it all: a great manager, first baseman and hitter in Chance, the immortal Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance infield and a virtually unhittable pitching staff with Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown (26-6, 1.04), Jack Pfeister (20-8, 1.56), Ed Reulbach (19-4, 1.65) and Carl Lundgren (17-6, 2.21). The team won 116 games, a record that still stands, and finished 20 games ahead of the competition. The only thing the Cubs did wrong in 1906 was lose the World Series. They were upset by their cross-town rival White Sox in six games in what remains the only all-Chicago World Series ever played.
Undeterred, Chance led the Cubs back to the World Series in 1907 and 1908, both times against Ty Cobb's Detroit Tigers. The Cubs won both series, and these back to back championships are the only two the franchise has ever won. The 1908 Cubs were involved in the famous "Merkle's Boner" incident, in which Fred Merkle, the Giants' baserunner on 1st base, failed to touch 2nd after the Giants' hitter had singled home the winning run from 3rd. Johnny Evers retrieved the ball from the crowd (which had flooded the field) and got an ump to call Merkle out at 2nd. Merkle's mental lapsus ended up costing the Giants the pennant.
The Cubs won one more pennant for Chance in 1910, and another in 1918 behind new manager Fred Mitchell and twenty game winners "Hippo" Vaughn and Claude Hendrix. They lost both World Series.
In 1921, Phillip Wrigley of chewing gum fame bought the team from Charles Weeghman. Weeghman had originally owned the Federal League"s Chicago Whales (the Federal League was a third Major League that played in 1914-15). Weeghman built the Whales a handsome ballpark on the north side and called it Weeghman Park. After Wrigley bought the team, he changed the name of the park to Cubs Park in 1920, and then to Wrigley Field in 1926.
The Cubs roared back to the top of the National League in 1929 and began a pattern of winning the pennant every three years (1929-32-35-38), losing all four World Series--though the '35 Cubs set a still-standing major league record of 21 straight wins. Those teams had their share of great players during this decade, including Hall Of Famer Hack Wilson, who, in the prime of his short career, set the then National League home- run record (56) and the still-record 191 RBIs in 1930; other Cubs Hall-of-Famers from that period included Rogers Hornsby, Kiki Cuyler, Billy Herman, Gabby Hartnett, Dizzy Dean and Chuck Klein. They also had solid performing veterans like Stan Hack, Ripper Collins, and a young Phil Cavarretta.
The Cubs under Charlie Grimm garnered one more pennant, winning in a war-year (1945) when many teams had lost their best players to military service and the Cubs were lucky enough to lose fewer than most. The Cubs did not fail to disappoint again in the World Series, losing to the Tigers in 7. Nonetheless, 10 pennants in the first half of the century was a respectable showing. But the Cubs were about to plunge into an abyss at the beginning of the second half of the century: In a 20-year stretch from 1947 to 1966, they finished last 5 times and only managed to finish above .500 once.
Under veteran manager Leo Durocher, the Cubs rebounded in the late 1960's. Ernie Banks had been the heart and soul of the Cubs for the previous decade. He was called Mr. Cub for his loyalty to the franchise and optimistic disposition ("Let's Play Two!"). His 512 career home runs and two Most Valuable Player Awards helped cement his reputation. Banks was finally surrounded by strong supporting talent including Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert and Randy Hundley. A veteran pitching staff led by Ferguson Jenkins, Kenny Holtzman, and Bill Hands made the Cubs a contender, but never a winner. The 1969 campaign was the toughest of all for Cubs fans, as the team blew a nine game lead in August to the miracle Mets.
The Cubs returned to their losing ways until Dallas Green came on board and rode the offensive talents of Ryne Sandberg, Jody Davis, Ron Cey and Gary Matthews to the 1984 National League East title. What put the Cubs over the top that year was the in-season acquisition of pitcher Rick Sutcliffe who won 16 of his 17 decisions. This magical Cubs season ended on a sour note when they lost the NL Championship Series to the Padres in five games after winning the first two. The Cubs first-baseman, Leon Durham, committed an error in the 7th inning of the decisive game that opened the way to the Padres' victory--almost identical in effect and imagery (a ground ball dribbling through his legs) to the error first-baseman Bill Buckner (a former Cub) was to commit 2 years later in the 10th inning of game six of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Mets.
In 1988 the Cubs brightened Wrigley Field with the installation of lights and enjoyed some success afterwards with division titles in 1989 and 2003 and a wild card berth in 1998. The '89 and '98 teams exited the playoffs quickly, but the 2003 team went down especially hard, with one particular play summing up life as a Cubs player and fan.
The Cubs were leading 3-0 in the 8th inning of the sixth game, just 5 outs away from a win against the Marlins that would take them to their first World Series in almost 60 years. The Marlins' Luis Castillo lofted a foul ball down the left field line and a fan named Steve Bartman reached for the ball, deflecting it from the outstretched glove of Cubs left-fielder Moises Alou, and preventing him from registering what would have been the second out of the inning.
The Cubs fans were furious with Bartman, and their anger continued unabated well after Bartman had touched the foul ball. The Cubs ace, Mark Prior, was to give up a walk and a single and shortstop Alex Gonzalez was to boot a double play ball that would have gotten the Cubs out of the inning without allowing a run. Before the Cubs could close out the inning, the Marlins had scored eight runs, won the game and won Game Seven the next night.
For Bartman, a lifelong and loyal Cubs fan, life became a nightmare. A half-century of fan frustration poured out on him like venom. He had to be escorted out of the stadium by security guards and go into seclusion for months.
In desperation, Cubs fans ceremoniously destroyed the Bartman foul ball before the beginning of the following season, hoping it would change the karma of a team that had suffered through a half century of abject misery punctuated by occasional near-miss heartbreaks. No sign yet that it's worked, though there are some glimmerings. The arrival of Theo Epstein on the scene in 2011 may have begun to pay dividends, as the Cubs, led by Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and a slew of talented rookies, managed to reach the Championship Series again in 2015--though no further, for they were swept by the Mets in 4 games.
"Chicago Cubs fans are the greatest fans in baseball. They've got to be." - Cubs Manager Herman Franks (1978)
Chicago Cubs Franchise Facts
Chicago White Stockings Rosters
1876 - 1889
Chicago Cubs Rosters
1902 - Current
Bold Seasons : Uniform Numbers Worn
Chicago White Stockings Schedules
1876 - 1889
Chicago Cubs Schedules
1902 - Current
Bold Seasons : Box Scores Online
|Chicago Cubs No-Hitters|
|Bold = Perfect Game|
|Chicago Cubs Cycle Hitters|
|Bold = Natural Cycle|
|Chicago Cubs Batting Champions|
|Chicago Cubs Home Run Champions|
|Chicago Cubs Strikeout Champions|
|Chicago Cubs N.L. Pennants|
The Chicago Cubs (White Stockings) played their first Major League baseball game on April 25, 1876. Their opponent that day was Louisville and they shutout the Grays 4-0.
|Chicago Cubs World Series Appearances|
|1906 World Series||1918 World Series||1938 World Series|
|1907 World Series||1929 World Series||1945 World Series|
|1908 World Series||1932 World Series||2016 World Series|
|1910 World Series||1935 World Series|
|Bold = Chicago Cubs World Series Wins|
Did you know that the Chicago Cubs (who were the White Stockings at the time) won the first pennant in National League history? The 1908 World Series was their last World Championship and life-long Cubbie fan / author / pulisher / poet David D. Horowitz included the baseball epigram below in his most recent book:
Though I'm a Cubbies fan, I will not castigate and blame.
Five soldiers lost their lives today. The Cubs just lost a game.
Source: Wildfire, Candleflame (2005, David D. Horowitz)
During the 1894 season Bill Dahlen set the Chicago Cubs franchise record for longest hitting streak when he connected successfully in forty-two consecutive games.