Thursday, October 22, 2015

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

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
when baseball season rolls around?
When the snow melts away
do the Cubbies still play
in their ivy-covered burial ground?
When I was a boy
they were my pride and joy
but now they only bring fatigue
to the home of the brave
the land of the free
and the doormat of the National League.

You know the law of averages says
anything will happen that can.
But the last time the Cubs
won a National League Pennant
was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan...

I've got season tickets to watch the Angels now
and that's just what I'm gonna do.
But you, the living
you're stuck here with the Cubs
so it's me that feels sorry for you!
-- Steve Goodman, "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request"

It's easy to blame "The Curse of the Billy Goat" for the 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?

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 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, they still haven't won a Pennant since September 29, 1945, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3, in the 1st game of a doubleheader at Forbes Field, to go 3 games up with just 2 to play.

That's 70 years and 23 days. How long has that been?

*

The author of "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request," the song that started this post, Steve Goodman, was born, grew up, became a legend, and died, all between the Cubs' last Pennant in 1945 and their 1984 debacle. So did John Belushi.

John's brother Jim Belushi is also both a Saturday Night Live legend and a Cub fan. So is Bill Murray. Neither of them has ever had the Cubs win a Pennant in their lifetime -- and Jim is 61, and Bill is 65.

There was no All-Star Game in 1945, due to travel restrictions put in place by the federal government, due to World War II. Had there been, they probably would have had the following players on their roster make the NL All-Star Team: 1st baseman Phil Cavarretta, 3rd baseman Stan Hack, left fielder Andy Pafko, center fielder Harry "Peanuts" Lowrey, right fielder Bill Nicholson, and pitchers Hank Wyse, Claude Passeau, Paul Derringer and Hank Borowy. This was not a team that lucked into the Pennant: Manager Charlie Grimm's team won 98 games, and beat out a Cardinal team that won 95.

Borowy, a native of my original hometown of Bloomfield, New Jersey, had helped the Yankees win the 1943 World Series, was traded to the Cubs in midseason, went 11-2 for them down the stretch to finish 21-7, shut out the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the World Series, started and lost Game 5, pitched the 9th through 12th innings and won Game 6 on no rest, then started Game 7 on no rest and didn't get out of the 1st inning.

Shortstop Lennie Merullo died this past May 30, at age 98, meaning that there were no more living people who had played in a World Series for the Chicago Cubs. The last surviving player from the 1945 World Series is Tiger left fielder Ed Mierkowicz, now 91.

The Cubs had, back in 1907 and 1908, won 2 World Series. At that point, that was still more than some teams had won. The Boston Braves (1914, forerunners of the Atlanta Braves), Cleveland Indians (1920) and the Washington Senators (1924, forerunners of the Minnesota Twins) had each won only 1. The Phillies and St. Louis Browns (forerunners of the Baltimore Orioles) Phillies hadn't yet won any. And the Tigers only caught up to the Cubs by beating them in '45, having previously won in 1935.

From 1945 onward, the Yankees have won 17 World Series, the Cardinals 6, the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers 5, the New York/San Francisco Giants 4, the Oakland Athletics 4, the Boston Red Sox 3, the Cincinnati Reds 3, the Pittsburgh Pirates 3; and the Mets, Braves, Indians, Twins, Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres, and even the Phillies have won 2 more. The Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, and even the Indians and White Sox have won 1 since.

Pennants since then? The Yankees 26, the Dodgers 15, the Cardinals 11, the Giants 8, Atlanta 8, Boston 7, Baltimore 6, Oakland 6, Philadelphia 6, Cincinnati 5, the Mets 5, Detroit 4, Cleveland 3, Minnesota 3, Pittsburgh 3, Kansas City 3 (with possibly another about to come), the White Sox 2, Toronto 2 (with possibly another about to come), San Diego 2, the Texas Rangers 2, the Miami Marlins 2, and 1 each for Anaheim, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Colorado Rockies, the Houston Astros, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Tampa Bay Rays. The Cubs? None.

It's also worth noting that the Angels, Rangers, Astros, Royals, Brewers, Padres, Blue Jays, Marlins, Rockies, Rays, Diamondbacks and Mets didn't yet exist in 1945. And the A's moved twice, from Philadelphia to Kansas City, and then to Oakland. The Braves also moved twice, from Boston to Milwaukee, and then to Atlanta. The Browns/Orioles, the Dodgers, the Giants, the Seanators/Twins, the new Senators/Rangers, the Seattle Pilots/Brewers, and the Montreal Expos/Nationals also moved.

The Cubs's Wrigley Field and the Red Sox' Fenway Park are the only major league ballparks in use then that are still in use now. Every other team has changed its home stadium at least once.

Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta is preparing to do it for a 4th time. San Francisco, Washington/Minnesota, Washington/Texas, Montreal/Washington have done it 3 times. So have the Yankees, if you count their sojourn at Shea Stadium while the old Yankee Stadium was renovated. The Mets, Philadelphia, St. Louis/Baltimore, Los Angeles/Anaheim, Seattle/Milwaukee, Philadelphia/Kansas City/Oakland, Cincinnati, Houston, Brooklyn/Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and St. Louis have done it twice, as has Cleveland if you count no longer dividing their home games between tiny League Park and vast Municipal Stadium, and just using Municipal from 1947 to 1993.

Major League Baseball had just 16 teams in 10 cities. From east to west, they were: Boston (2 teams), New York (3 teams), Philadelphia (2 teams), Washington, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Cincinnati, Chicago (2 teams) and St. Louis (2 teams). There was a National League team in Boston, and American League teams in Washington, Chicago and St. Louis. No team had moved in 42 years. There was no artificial turf, no domed stadiums (retractable or otherwise), no electronic scoreboards, only a handful of games had ever been on television (after all, hardly anybody had a TV set at that time, so there was little point to it), and there were no nonwhite players.

And 4 teams had still not played a night game at home: The Cubs, the Yankees, the Red Sox and the Tigers. All but the Cubs would do so by 1948. The Cubs wouldn't until 1988. And putting lights up at Wrigley Field did nothing to end the supposed curse: The Bartman Incident happened at night.

The National Football League had 10 teams: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Pittsburgh, Cleveland (soon to move to Los Angeles), Detroit, Green Bay, and 2 teams in Chicago. The National Hockey League had 6 teams: Montreal, Toronto, Boston, New York, Detroit and Chicago. There was no National Basketball Association: It wouldn't begin play for another year. 

There was a National Basketball League, and it included 2 teams that would move to the NBA: The Fort Wayne Pistons and the Rochester Royals. By 1947, it would add the Minneapolis Lakers, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks and the Syracuse Nationals. All 5 of these teams exist today, but none in their original cities. They are, respectively: The Detroit Pistons, the Sacramento Kings, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia 76ers.

1890s baseball legend Hugh Duffy was still alive. So was Arlie Latham, "The Freshest Man On Earth," the last survivor of the St. Louis Browns (forerunners of the Cardinals, not the Orioles) team that won 4 straight American Association Pennants from 1885 to 1888, famously beating the Chicago White Stockings (forerunners of the Cubs) in a postseason series in 1886.

The defining players of my childhood? Carl Yastrzemski was 6 years old, Willie Stargell 5, Pete Rose 4, Tom Seaver was 10 months old, and Steve Carlton 9 months. Reggie Jackson, Nolan Ryan, Johnny Bench, Mike Schmidt and George Brett weren't born yet. Rod Carew was born 2 days later. Not one of the managers and head coaches of the 9 current New York Tri-State Area teams had been born yet: Tom Coughlin of the Giants was born 11 months later.

The Tigers dethroned the Cardinals as World Champions. The defending NFL Champions were the Green Bay Packers, and the Stanley Cup holders were the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Heavyweight Champion of the World was Joe Louis.

The Olympic Games, which had been canceled for 1940 and 1944 due to World War II, would start up again in 1948, and have since been held 5 times in America, 3 times each in Canada, Japan and Italy; twice each in Britain, Germany, Austria, France, Norway, Japan, Australia and Russia; and once each in Switzerland, Finland, Mexico, Germany, Bosnia, Korea, Spain, Greece and China.

The World Cup, which had been canceled for 1942 because of The War, and for 1946 because there wasn't time after The War to hold qualifying matches, has since been held in Brazil, Mexico and Germany twice; and in America, Switzerland, Sweden, Chile, England, Argentina, Spain, Italy, France, Japan, Korea and South Africa once each.

There were 48 States in the Union. The President of the United States was Harry S Truman. The Governor of Illinois was Dwight H. Green, and the Mayor of Chicago was Edward J. Kelly. The Governor of the State of New York was Thomas E. Dewey. The Mayor of the City of New York was Fiorello LaGuardia, but William O'Dwyer was about to be elected to succeed him. The Governor of New Jersey was Walter Edge. The last 3 Presidents of the United States, 4 of the last 5 Governors of Illinois, the last 3 Governors of New York, the last 6 Governors of New Jersey, and the current Mayors of Chicago and New York weren't born yet.

The Pope was Pius XII. The Prime Minister of Canada was William Lyon Mackenie King, and of Britain Clement Attlee. The monarch of Britain was King George VI. England had suspended play in both its Football League and its FA Cup for the duration of The War; therefore, the winners of 1939, Liverpool-based Everton and Hampshire-based Portsmouth, respectively, were still the holders thereof.

Major novels of 1945 included Animal Farm by George Orwell, Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, Brideshead Revisited by Everlyn Waugh, Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich, Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, and Stuart Little by E.B. White.

Many films had been made in color, but most were still made in black & white. Notable films of 1945 included The Lost Weekend, The Bells of St. Mary's, Blithe Spirit, the original version of Brewster's Millions, Brief Encounter, Christmas In Connecticut, The Corn Is Green, Leave Her to Heaven, Love Letters, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Spellbound, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn and The Wicked Lady; the war pictures A Bell for Adano, Blood On the Sun, Hotel Berlin, Pride of the Marines, Pursuit to Algiers, The Story of G.I. Joe (no relation to the later films based on the action figures), and They Were Expendable (no relation to the later The Expendables films); the Westerns Along Came Jones and Gun Smoke (no relation to the later TV series Gunsmoke); the musicals Anchors Aweigh, State Fair, Ziegfeld Follies, the George Gershwin biography Rhapsody In Blue, and The House I Live In, a cautionary tale against prejudice starring Frank Sinatra. And, oh yeah, The Naughty Nineties, the forum in which most people, unable to get to a theater to see them live, first saw Bud Abbott and Lou Costello do their baseball-themed "Who's On First?" routine. (They didn't come up with it, though. Who did? Naturally.)

The Number 1 song in America on September 29, 1945 was "Till the End of Time" by Perry Como. As stated, Frank Sinatra had starred in The House I Live In, and also recorded an album based on it, perhaps the first "concept album" aside from collections of songs by a particular writer. The film was directed by Albert Maltz, the songs written by Earl Robinson. Both would later be blacklisted for perceived Communist views.

Elvis Presley was 10 years old, Ringo Starr was 5, John Lennon was about to turn 5, Bob Dylan was 4, Paul McCartney was 3, George Harrison was 2, and Michael Jackson wasn't born yet.

By 1945, there were still many Americans who had never owned a telephone -- including all 4 of my own grandparents. Hardly anyone owned a television. ENIAC, the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer, the world's 1st real computer, was successfully tested at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The leading computer mind in the world was Alan Turing. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee wouldn't be born for another 10 years. 

Antibiotics were still relatively new, but had already saved thousands of lives in The War. There was, as yet, no cure for polio. Space program? The Germans had gotten their V-2 rockets into the stratosphere, but artificial satellites, let alone astronauts, were a long way off.

In the Autumn of 1945, World War II had been over for only a few weeks. Cordell Hull, the U.S. Secretary of State, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, was, in effect, the dictator of Germany; General Douglas MacArthur, that of Japan; both were trying to start the rebuilding of the former enemies as modern democracies. The U.S. occupied southern Korean, the Soviet Union its north, setting up the first war of the Cold War. Ho Chi Minh established the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, setting up another. Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru demanded that all British troops leave India. Peronism was founded in Argentina. Vichy French Premier Pierre Laval and Norwegian Nazi leader Vidkun Quisling were tried, convicted and executed. The United Nations was established.

U.S. Army Captain Ronald Reagan signed the discharge papers of Major Clarke Gable. The "Black Friday Riot" takes place in Hollywood, leading Reagan to conclude that labor unions were dominated by Communists, beginning his transformation from New Deal liberal to the greatest conservative icon of the modern world. And Jackie Robinson, a shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League, signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Milton Hershey, and Jerome Kern, and Admiral John McCain Sr. died. Jim Palmer, and Phil Jackson, and Jacques Lemaire were born.

September 29, 1945. The Chicago Cubs won the National League Pennant. They've had 70 chances to win another. 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.

2 comments:

Adeniyi Opemipo said...

This is too comprehensive.

Mitzie Uppinghouse said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.