Thursday, October 22, 2015

How Long It's Been: The Chicago Cubs Won a World Series

It's easy to blame "The Curse of the Billy Goat" for the Chicago Cubs' failure to win a Pennant since 1945. Except they haven't won the World Series since 1908. Between 1908 and 1945, they were actually in 7 World Series. Not a bad total at all. That's actually more Pennants in those 37 years than the Mets have won in their entire 54-season history -- including the one they won mere hours ago (their 5th).

But the Cubs lost all 7 of those World Series. And thus, by the time William "Billy Goat" Sianis and his bar-mascot goat were kicked out of Wrigley Field during Game 4 of the 1945 World Series, they had already not won a World Series for 37 years. You can't blame the Curse of the Billy Goat for that.

Curse of Fred Merkle, maybe? I would understand it if the guy held up as the, uh, scapegoat for the New York Giants losing the 1908 National League Pennant to the Cubs had cursed the team that had made him so. But Merkle wasn't a mean person. He wouldn't have wished the Cubs to never win another World Series during his lifetime. Even if he had, he died in 1956. It's been 59 years. If he was the reason, why is it still going?

At any rate, the Cubs' failure to even get a single lead on the Mets, let alone win a game, never mind 4 games and the Pennant, in the League Championship Series shouldn't be blamed on a curse, real or imagined. They had Yankee Fans, Philadelphia Phillies fans, Washington Nationals fans, Atlanta Braves fans, Los Angeles Dodgers fans, San Francisco Giants fans... pretty much anybody isn't a hardcore fan of the Mets, Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers or St. Louis Cardinals rooting for them. And they just didn't show up. They let everybody down.

They are the Chicago Cubs. This is what they do.

And so, through losing the 1910 Series to Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics, losing the 1918 Series to Babe Ruth's Boston RedSox, losing the 1929 Series to the A's in part because of blowing an 8-0 7th inning lead in Game 4, getting swept by the Yankees in 1932 (including Ruth's alleged "Called Shot" home run) and again in 1938, losing Game 6 and the Series in 1935 because they couldn't bring home Stan Hack with a leadoff triple in the 9th, the Goat, all those years of Ernie Banks, the black cat running around Ron Santo in 1969, Leon Durham in 1984, Steve Bartman in 2003, and now this...

The Chicago Cubs they still haven't won a World Series since October 14, 1908, beating the Detroit Tigers 2-0, in Game 5 at Bennett Park in Detroit.

That's 107 years and 8 days. How long has that been?


Well, for one thing, it's my furthest-back "How Long Has It Been" post yet. The previous record was set by the last Stanley Cup won by a Vancouver team: 1915, now 100 years ago.

Admittedly, the double-play combination of shortstop Joe Tinker, 2nd baseman Johnny Evers and 1st baseman Frank Chance should not have gone into the Hall of Fame together. They were all good players, but none was a clear choice to go in as a player. Chance was a player-manager, and was definitely worthy of the Hall as a manager.

However, all 3, plus Hall of Fame pitcher Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown, pitchers Jack Pfeister and Ed Reulbach, and catcher Johnny "Noisy" Kling would have been easy choices for the NL All-Star Team, had there been an All-Star Game back then.

The World Series had only been played 5 times. The Cubs had won in 1907 and 1908. The Boston Americans, by 1907 the Red Sox, won in 1903. The Giants won in 1905. And the Cubs had lost to the crosstown Chicago White Sox in 1906.

World Series won since 1908: Yankees 27 (including 1932 and 1938 against the Cubs), Cardinals 11, Athletics 9 (5 in Philadelphia, including 1910 and 1929 against the Cubs, 4 in Oakland), Red Sox 7 (including 1918 against the Cubs), Giants 7 (4 in New York, 3 in San Francisco), Dodgers 6 (1 in Brooklyn, 5 in Los Angeles), Cincinnati Reds 5, Pittsburgh Pirates 5, Tigers 4 (including 1935 and 1945 against the Cubs), Baltimore Orioles 3, Minnesota Twins 3 (1 as the Washington Senators), Braves 3 (1 each in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta), White Sox 2, Cleveland Indians 2, Toronto Blue Jays 2, New York Mets 2, Phillies 2, Miami Marlins 2, Kansas City Royals 1, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 1, Arizona Diamondbacks 1... Cubs none.

It makes it worse when you realize that the Angels, Mets, Royals, Blue Jays, Marlins and Diamondbacks didn't exist in 1908.

The Cubs then played their games at West Side Park. The Red Sox at the Huntington Avenue Grounds. There are no major league ballparks in use now that were in use then. Indeed, by 1938, when the Phillies moved out of Baker Bowl to groundshare with the A's at Shibe Park, none of the MLB stadiums of 1908 would still be in use. Indeed, in just 7 short years, by 1915, only the Phillies and the Cardinals would still be using the same stadium they were using in 1908.

There was football, basketball and hockey, but very little of any of them that was professional. There was no NFL, no NBA, no NHL. There was a Stanley Cup, and it had been awarded to the Montreal Wanderers. Aside from the 16 MLB teams from 1908 that are still around today, no major league team in place today was in place then. The Montreal Canadiens were a year away from their foundation. The Heavyweight Champion of the World was Tommy Burns, 2 months away from being dethroned by Jack Johnson, who thus became the 1st black Heavyweight Champ.

The 16 teams were confined to 10 cities: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis. There were no teams south of Washington, Cincinnati and St. Louis. There were no teams more than 2 miles west of the Mississippi River.

There were no concrete and steel stadiums: Shibe Park in Philadelphia and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh would open the next year. There were no lighted stadiums, no artificial fields, no domes (retractable or otherwise), and no nonwhite players.

Half the 10 members of the 1st openly professional baseball team, the 1869-70 Cincinnati Red Stockings, were still alive: Catcher Doug Allison, 1st baseman Charlie Gould, shortstop George Wright, right fielder Cal McVey and utility man Dick Hurley. Honus Wagner, Napoleon Lajoie, Christy Mathewson and Ty Cobb, as well as Tinker, Evers, Chance and Brown, were the biggest stars in baseball. Babe Ruth was 13 years old, Lou Gehrig was 5, and Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Hank Greenberg, Dizzy Dean and Bob Feller weren't born yet.

The Olympics had just been held in London. There were no Winter Olympics yet. Nor was there a World Cup -- indeed, in most countries, soccer was still in its infancy. Manchester United had won the English Football League for the 1st time, and Wolverhampton Wanderers had won the FA Cup. Since those London Games, the Olympics have been held in America 7 times, France 4 times; 3 each in Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada; twice each in Britain, Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Australia, and Russia; ; and once each in Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Mexico, Bosnia, Korea, Spain and China.

There were 46 States in the Union. The President of the United States at the time the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series was Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt. Between the death of Grover Cleveland on June 24, 1908 and his succession by William Howard Taft on March 4, 1909, TR was the only living President.

Taft was then Secretary of War, the position now known as Secretary of Defense. Woodrow Wilson was President of Princeton University, Warren Harding was running a newspaper, Calvin Coolidge was in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Herbert Hoover was an independent mining consultant, Franklin Roosevelt was practicing corporate law (making his eventual New Deal stance impossible to imagine at the time), Harry Truman was farming, and Dwight D. Eisenhower was in high school.

Lyndon Johnson was 46 days old. John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, both George Bushes, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama weren't born yet.

The Governor of Illinois was Charles S. Deneen, of New York Charles Evans Hughes, and of New Jersey John Franklin Fort. The Mayor of Chicago was Fred A. Busse, and of New York George B. McClellan Jr., son of the infamous Civil War General.

The Pope was Pius X. The Prime Minister of Canada was Wilfrid Laurier, and of Britain Herbert H. Asquith. The monarch of Britain was King Edward VII. Germany was ruled by Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Russia by Czar Nicholas II. (Both "Kaiser" and "Czar" mean "Emperor," and both derive from the Latin name "Caesar.") Both the Kaiser and the Czar were 1st cousins of King Edward's son, the Prince of Wales, who would succeed him in 2 years as King George V. Just 4 years after that, they'd be at war.

Indeed, aside from Switzerland, every country in Europe -- including some then dominated by Russia, such as Poland and Finland, and some by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, such as the 2 nations that would later make up Czechoslovkia and the 7 that would later make up Yugoslavia -- was ruled by a monarch, some of them with more limited powers than others. Just a little over 10 years later, the only European monarchies left would be Britain, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Romania -- all heavily limited. No "Off with his head!" decrees from a King or Queen were binding in any of them.

Major novels of 1908 included A Room With a View by E.M. Forster, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine by John Fox Jr., The Wind In the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, and The Blue Lagoon by H. De Vere Stacpoole.

Each of these books would eventually be made into at least one major motion picture, but, at this point there wasn't really a "film industry" like we understand that term today. And films that were released were silent, black & white, and tended to be short. But the year did see the production of film versions of William Shakespeares plays Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew, and of Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

There wasn't yet music charts to determine the most popular song of a week or a year. Popular songs of 1908 included "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?" (Irish songs were big then), "When Highland Mary Danced the Highland Fling" (Scottish songs were also big then), and "I'm a Yiddish Cowboy" (written not by anyone Jewish, but with words by Edgar Leslie and music by Al Piantodosi Halsey K. Mohr).

Perhaps it was revenge for "Dorando"? The song was by a young Jewish songwriter named Irvin Berlin, mocking Dorando Pietri, the Italian runner who collapsed near the end of the Olympic marathon and was illegally helped to his feet and the Gold Medal by officials (including Sherlock Holmes' creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), before being disqualified and having the Gold go instead the runner-up, American Johnny Hayes. In that time when even Irving Berlin could be less than enlightened, he sang, "Dorando, he's-a good-a for not."

Oh, yes, it was also a good year for songwriter Jack Norworth. With his then-wife, Nora Bayes (who would later sing the hit version of George M. Cohan's World War I song "Over There"), he wrote "Shine On Harvest Moon." And with Albert Von Tilzer, he wrote "Good Evening, Caroline," "I'm Glad I'm Married," "Smarty," and "You Will Have to Sing and Irish Song." Aside from "Shine On Harvest Moon,"

None of those songs is well-remembered today. But Norworth and Von Tilzer also wrote another song that would become baseball's anthem: "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Despite having been inspired to write it by seeing a sign on the new (opened in 1904) New York Subway saying, "BASE BALL TO-DAY POLO GROUNDS," Norworth never attended a Major League Baseball game until 1940. 

Any one of those songs could have been played on a phonograph, or "Gramophone," as it tended to get nicknamed for the leading brand of manufacture at the time, a la "Kleenex" and "Frigidaire." But they wouldn't have been played on the radio. Radio broadcasting wouldn't be possible for another few years. Television? Forget it. The telephone was still considered a luxury. So was the automobile, although this would be the year in which Henry Ford introduced the Model T, though not yet the assembly-line production that would make it quick to build and thus easier to sell. Computers? Forget it, unless you want to count adding machines and early cash registers.

The Wright Brothers, shortly before the Cubs' victory, had made 2 dramatic demonstrations of their current Wright Flyer, at Le Mans, France, thus earning European recognition as the first true pilots and aircraft builders; and at Fort Myer outside Washington. But in the Fort Myer demonstration, Orville Wright piloted with a 26-year-old Army Lieutenant, Thomas Selfridge, and crashed. Orville barely survived. Selfridge didn't, becoming the 1st person to die in a plane crash. So heavier-than-air flight was still in the experimental stage.

In the Autumn of 1908, the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Ottoman Empire, the 1st domino to fall in what became The Great War (known today as World War I) in 6 years. Bulgaria declared its independence from the Ottomans, declaring Ferdinand I as their Tsar (that's how they spelled "Tsar"). Puyi ascended the throne of China at age 2, and turned out to be that nation's last Emperor. The Christian Science Monitor was first published. Scandinavian peace activists Klas Pontus Arnoldson of Sweden and Fredrik Bajer of Denmark were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. And Wild West outlaws Robert Parker and Harry Lonagabuagh, a.k.a. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, are reported killed by the Bolivian Army, although this is disputed.

Dickey Pearce, one of the 1st professional baseball players in the 1860s, apparent inventor of the bunt and perhaps the 1st great shortstop, died. Novelist Richard Wright, and actress Carole Lombard, and All-Star Yankee 3rd baseman Red Rolfe were born.

October 14, 1908: The Chicago Cubs won the World Series. They've had 107 chances to win another. (Well, 106: There was no World Series in 1994.) They haven't.

People have told me that the Cubs are set up very well, with both a strong current team and a deep farm system, and that they'll be contenders for years, and will win a Pennant for sure in that time.

Yeah, that's what we were told in 1969, and 1984, and 2003. It didn't happen then. Will it happen in the late 2010s? Men have grown old and died waiting for it to happen.

Indeed, if you are under the age of 75, you do not remember the Chicago Cubs being in the World Series. I have twin nieces who are 8 years old, and if they live to be 107, the new length of the Cubs' World Series drought, they may not live long enough to see it.

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