Welcome to Cubs an appreciation!
I feel the time has come to acknowledge the debt I owe to my parents for my love of baseball in general and the Cubs in particular. If not for my dads own interest, I might never have discovered them on my own, I am forever grateful for that. And to my mom whos support and encouragement helped me discover the rich history of baseball and allowed me to appreciate the history of the Cubs, everything that this website represents. So, without my mom, this website and the passion for the subject matter would not exist. Thank you, Mom and Dad, I know you are both up in heaven watching over me and this website!
The Chicago National League Baseball Club, more familiarly known as the Chicago Cubs, has a rich and long history. I consider myself one of the biggest fans of the team. In recent years there is a trend of non Cubs fans to bash them based on their lack of a world championship over the past 103 years. Even alleged Cubs fans have a tendency to pick on the team and refer to the lack of a champion. I personally have been a fan for 40 years and while there have been some hard times over that period, I remain a loyal supporter and refuse to use the 103 year drought as fodder for bashing them. Indeed, I consider myself a student of the teams history and find there is much to be proud of in their legacy. They have been a member of the National League nonstop since the League was created in a, yes, Chicago hotel room on February 2(also my birthday, BTW!) 1876. No other member of the NL can say that, not even Cincinnati, who were home to the very first professional baseball team in 1869. The Chicago White Stockings(as they were known) won the very first NL pennant and their president was the first NL president. After winning 6 pennants in the pre-1900 era, they would win 3 more in the first decade of the 20th century. In the first 45 years of the century they would win a total of 10 pennants and 2 championships.
Although there have been no pennants since then, in the 40 years Ive been following them, there have been 5 Division titles and a wild card. And there is a long list of Cubs players in the Hall of Fame and others who probaly should be in the Hall.
It is my desire to celebrate the legacy of a great franchise, as well as look into why they have not won a pennant since 1945. I also want to put to rest the notion that this team is cursed.
And I would also like to get some imput from other fans like me. Not the ones who always have to bash the Cubs, but the true die hard fans who remember coming home from school in time to catch the end of the game, to catch Jack Brickhouse interviewing a well known baseball figure on the 10th Inning. Fans who remember when WGN would fill the empty programming with Dow Finsterwalds golf tips or a replay of Don Cardwells no-hitter(with Moose Moryns great catch!). Fans who remember the differance between Willie Smith and Wendell Smith. I even welcome fans who might remember Ernie Banks in his prime, Hank Sauer, Andy Pafko, and even fans who can remember the Homer in the Gloamin'. I want to share my impressions of Cubs history, but Id like to hear from other fans who have their own stories.
I want this to be a fans place. I hope to have a place for quizzes, trivia, All Time Teams, player profiles as well as history. Yes, I will try to retain a spot on current matters, but this will be mostly a history.
A THUMBNAIL HISTORY of the CHICAGO CUBS
The Chicago Cubs have a rich history, dating back to 1876. But the story goes back even further than that. Baseball had emerged as a coming sport since Alexander Cartwright came up with the original rules back in the 1850s. Its pretty well common knowledge now that Abner Doubleday is not the inventor of baseball, nor can any one man claim to be. Its my belief that the game simply evolved from several other games including the English game, Rounders. But Cartwright played a big role in developing the game as we know it today. It started on a little ball field in Hoboken, New Jersey(you can make a good argument that the Hall of Fame really belong there, not Cooperstown, New York). Soon it spread across the Midwest until young men from Chicago began playing it, probaly around the end of the Civil War. Then a professional team from Cinncinati toured the area, taking on all comers and creating a record winning streak. The Redlegs, as they were known then took on a team from Chicago, I believe in 1870, and the Chicagos won, playing an important role in the decision to add a Chicago team to a new league known as the American Association. And the Chicagos had some success, until a certain tragedy known as the Chicago Fire wiped out most of the lakefront, including the ballpark the AA team played in. The team eventually returned and continued through 1875, when a man named William Hulbert got involved and seeing the rowdyism, the gambling and the drunks, decided he wanted to have a league that was clean of all those things a league where people would be proud to see a baseball game. So Hulbert got together with a group of men who wanted to own teams across the Midwest and East Coast(remember the West was still full of Indians and lawlessness!) So on February 2, 1876, the National League of Professional Baseball Players was born with 8 teams, including Hulberts own Chicago White Stockings
On April 25, 1876, the Chicago White Stockings played their first game against the Louisville Grays and won 4-0 behind the pitching of Albert Goodwill Spalding. More on Spalding momentarily, but here is the line-up for the White Stocking:
Ross Barnes, 2b
Cap Anson, 3b
Paul Hines, CF
Albert Spalding, P
Bob Addy, RF
Deacon White, C
Johnny Peters, SS
John Glenn, LF
Spalding was a popular pitching star from Rockford, Illinois who had played for Boston with the National Association in 1875. Hulbert lured him and 3 other stars from Boston. Spalding opened a sporting goods store on Randolph Street that became the Spalding Sporting Goods Company which still exists today offering sports equipment. Spalding would win 47 games that year for Chicago and manage the team. Spalding would manage one more season before moving up to the front office and devote more time to his business. He would take over as President of the team after Hulberts untimely death and lead the team on a tour of the world in 1888-89, battle rival leagues and attempts to unionize the League. Over time he would spend less time with the team, though he would remain a member of the front office until around 1910. His successor as manager was a player with one of my all favorite nicknames, Bob "Death to Flying Things" Ferguson, but he only lasted one season. In 1879 he would be replaced by 1st Baseman Adrian "Cap" Anson and they would add players like Ned Williamson, George Gore and Silver Flint. The next season they would add Michael "King" Kelly, who could be considered the Dennis Rodman of his day. And so the stage was set for the first real golden age of Chicago baseball.
The 1880s were a very good decade for the Chicago Colts. They won 5 pennants and appeared in a series that is considered a forerunner to the World Series. After the formation of the first of several rival leagues, the American Association, there was a series between the winner of both leagues that came to be called the Temple Cup. This started in 1884 between the Colts and the AAs St.Louis Browns. The Browns were owned by the eccentric Chris Van Der Ahe, who could be considered the George Steinbrenner of his day. The 1885 series was controversial with no clear cut winner. The Colts won the pennant again in 1886, but lost to St. Louis in the Temple Cup. Following the 1886, the team underwent a makeover as Anson, a notorious teetotaler, had tired of the hard drinking Kellys antics as well as several others. The Colts would remain competitive for several seasons with players like Fred Pfeffer, Jimmy Ryan, Williamson, Flint, George Van Haltren and John Clarkson, culminating in a pennant in 1890, but soon the team began to age and went into a decline that would last several years. Through all this Anson remained a constant, playing a prominent role in Albert Spaldings tour of Europe that was supposed to bring baseball to the world, though it fell somewhat short of those goals. However, Ansons relationship with Spalding suffered a blow during the trip when Anson thought he would be given the opportunity to buy a piece of the Colts team, when it wasnt forthcoming, Anson felt slighted and his relationship would never be the same. Then there was Ansons role in creating the color line. When he found out 2 African American brothers, Moses and Fleetwood Walker would be playing in a game against his team, he threatened to forfeit if they were allowed to play. This began an unspoken policy of keeping black men out of baseball. Anson had started it, but what of the other clubs? They were the ones who kept the policy alive. As for Anson, he would manage the Colts through 1897, following a 9th place finish. That marked the end of an era and the beginning of a transitional period. They would be called the Orphans following Ansons firing and would finish in 5th place, but still well off the pace. But soon, a major change would see the greatest golden age in the history of the franchise.
Frank Selee, Tinker to Evers to Chance and the 1906 Cubs
After Cap Anson was fired, the team was called the Chicago Orphans. The name seemed apropos since the team at this time seemed lost and wasnt going anywhere. And new owner James V. Hart didnt seem all that interested. Hart was part of an attempt of several National League owners to create "syndicate baseball", which is where owners would be allowed to own pieces of several different teams at once and it would allow the free movement of players from a team that is successful to a team that was struggling. Hart also had a piece of Cinncinati, John Brush, owner of the New York Giants also owned part of the Reds and there were other examples. This was obviously a way for the owners to try to keep the players in line. Many players were already dissatisfied with the "reserve clause", a clause with tied a player to one team in perpetuity, in other words, legalized slavery. In any case, the Orphans needed a new direction. After several years they were still going nowhere, so in 1900 they hired Frank Selee to manage them. Selee had won a pennant with the Boston Beaneaters and was considered to be one of the smarter minds in baseball. And one of the first moves Selee made was to take a sometime catcher/outfielder/3rd baseman named Frank Chance and move him to 1st base. Not only that, Selee liked Chances no nonsense style of play and also made him captain. Then Selee went out making over the roster gradually. Over the next few years he would add players the likes of Johnny Evers, Joe Tinker, Johnny Kling and Frank Wildfire Schulte, but the move that really seemed to set in motion the change to a dominant team was the acquisition of Mordecai Brown. When Brown was young, he lost 2 of his fingers in a farming accident and having only 3 fingers, gave his pitches an unusual spin and really made him tough to hit. "3 Finger" Brown would go on to become one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the Chicago National League ball club. The team would gradually improve, until 1905 when it looked like it was ready to be a world beater. Unfortunately, Selee took ill and had to step down as manager, giving the job to Chance, who had already earned the nickname, "The Peerless Leader". Then they added one last piece, a 3rd baseman named Harry Steinfeldt, forever the answer to a trivia question. Franklyn Adams, a columnist from New York would write column in 1907 praising the Chicagos double play combination, Tinker to Evers to Chance, and it would become so famous that it would become the impetus to put the 3 men in the Hall of Fame at the same time, though its debatable that all 3 are deserving of the honor. Meanwhile, Steinfeldt was left out, thereby being the answer to the question, "Who was the 3rd Baseman in the infield with Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance?
In 1906, the team now being called the Chicago Cubs won 116 games(still a record though it was tied by Seattle, but the winning percentage is still a record). And in the World Series, they were expected to sweep through, especially because their crosstown rivals, the Chicago White Sox, opposing them were known as the "Hitless Wonders". But it did not go as expected.
Charles Comiskey knew something about coming up against the National League and specifically against the Chicago National League team. He first came up in 1882 as a 1st baseman with the St. Louis Browns of the American Association. The next year as a 24 yo, became manager. He managed the team that battled the Chicago Colts in the fore runner of the World Series. And he was a key figure in the platers revolt of 1889 that led to the creation of the Players League. After his playing days he became an owner of the Milwaukee team in the Western League. When the President of the league, Ban Johnson came up with a plan to start a rival major league, he had Comiskey on board. They were able to get players to jump by tempting them with the idea that this new league, the American League would not have a reserve clause, which continued to cause consternation in the NL. Soon many big NL stars had jumped, including Nap Lajoie, Cy Young, John McGraw(who would eventually jump back), Willie Keeler and Clark Griffith. Comiskey set up shop on the South Side of Chicago, much like he did when he joined the Players League Chicago team in 1889. After several years at war, the National League realized that Johnson and Comiskey were here to stay so they established a peace agreement that included a World Series championship between the winners of the 2 leagues. This coincided with the Chicago Nationals, now known as the Cubs, rebirth. In 1906, when the Cubs won 116 games, the White Sox(short for White Stockings, which they had appropriated for themselves) won the AL with pitching and defense and hitting only .230, becoming known as "The Hitless Wonders". The Cubs were expected to sweep the series, but the Sox pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of baseball by beating the Cubs with pitching and defense. Then, as now, in a short post season series, good pitching beats good hitting. Ed Walsh, Nick Altrock and Doc White would shut down the Cubs. This was series for the ages, as for the only time in the history of Chicago, there was crosstown Series. I can only imagine what it must have been like to be a baseball fan in Chicago that year. It must have been incredible. I only would be just amazing. In the aftermath, Chance vowed he would never let such a loss happen again and it didnt. They won the next year convincingly and took the Series from a Tiger team led by a brash young Ty Cobb. But 1908 would not be so easy. As for Comiskey and the Sox, they would not repeat, though Comiskey would build a new ball park at 35th and Shields. But though they would win in 1917, that team would be unhappy with Commys penny pinching, a far cry from the days when he was an advocate of better treatment of players. Oh, yes, that reserve clause thing? The first chance they got, Johnson and Commy instituted it for the AL. Soon, 1919, saw the worst gambling scandal in baseball history, the Black Sox scandal which gave everyone involved a black eye, including Commy, who came out of it looking like a cheapskate. Following 1920, it would be more than 30 years until the Sox became a regular pennant contender again. For the Cubs, a much differant fate awaited them.......
Fred Merkle, the "Boner" and the last ChampionshipAfter cake walking through 1906 and 1907, the Cubs hoped 1908 would be more of the same. But the Giants under John McGraw had gotten better and the Pirates with Honus Wagner in his prime, were back in contention. It was a tight battle all the way, with the Cubs still in 3rd place as late as mid August. But then the Cubs got hot and passed Pittsburgh. On Sept. 4, they faced the Pirates and lost despite a controversial play in which the Pirates seemingly had scored, even though Warren Gill, on 1st base, left the field without touching 2nd base, a move which Johnny Evers, a stickler for the rules, caught and tagged the base. Umpire Hank O'Day missed Gills move and the Cubs protested the loss. Although the Pirate victory was upheld NL Prez Harry Pulliam, O' Day admitted he might have made a mistake and would pay better attention in the future. Who knew the future would be 19 days later, with the Cubs only percentage points behind the Giants, in the Polo Grounds with the Cubs facing the league leaders?
With the score 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth, Moose McCormick on 3rd base, rookie Fred Merkle on 1st base, Al Bridwell singled, seemingly bringing in McCormick with the winning run. But Merkle turned and headed to the clubhouse without touching 2nd base. CF Solly Hofman threw the ball to Evers, but it went over his head into the crowd, which was pouring onto the field by this time, celebrating the Giants "victory". Joe McGinnity, the great Giants pitcher who was coaching at 3rd, grabbed the ball and hurled it into the mass of humanity now overrunning the field. Somehow Evers wound up with the ball, and there is still some question as to whether or not it was the actual ball, but he stepped on 2nd base and O' Day called Merkle out. And O' Day ruled the game was a 1-1 tie because they couldnt continue. Pulliam would uphold O' Days decision and it was ruled that if the game was needed, it would be replayed at the end of the season. Well, the Giants were livid because they thought they should have won and the Cubs thought they should have won by forfeit, which is common practice, but Pulliams decision seemed to be the fairest way to do things. So, naturally, the Cubs and Giants were tied at seasons end and in another of the classic 3 Finger Brown- Christy Mathewson duels, Brown came out on top, 4-2. It all seemed anti-climactic, as did the Cubs World Series Championship that they clinched on October 14, 1908. Few fans at the time wouldve imagined that it would be the last time the Cubs would win a Championship.
As a sidelight, it is interesting that 3 of the key figures in the "Merkle game" would all manage the Cubs at some point: Frank Chance, Johnny Evers and even umpire Hank O' Day and 2 other key figures from the Giants would wear Cub uniforms eventually, Al Bridwell, who was acquired in 1915 and Merkle himself, who came to the Cubs in 1917 and would play a key role on the pennant winner the next year. Merkle had a hard time living down the "boner" and went many years before returning to the Polo Grounds late in his life, but he did have a decent playing career, even if he was never a major star.
Although the Cubs didnt know it, the greatest golden age would soon be ending. They did win another pennant in 1910, but the stars were showing signs of age and they couldnt beat Connie Macks Athletics in the World Series. By 1911, they had slipped to second place. Chance was out a month with a brain clot and Evers suffered a nervous breakdown which helped to doom the team. Only Schulte seemed to be playing at the same level. By 1912, the slide continued as they fell to 3rd place. Chance had retired as a player and Tinker, Brown and Jimmy Sheckard would all be gone by the end of the season. The beginning of the end came when team President Charles Murphy fired Chance as manager following a disappointing, though not terrible 1912. Under Murphy the team continued to decline, then when Murphy was forced out, colorless Charles Thomas took over. He was pretty quiet compared to Murphy. On the other hand, he didnt really do a heck of a lot in his brief tenure with the Cubs. In 1914, the Cubs were faced with a new threat. A new rival league popped up, calling it self the Federal League. Besides major raids on teams like the Cubs, the Federal League would play a huge role in shaping the future of the Chicago Cubs.
Enter Charles Weeghman
It is easy to underestimate the significance of Charles Weeghman to the legacy of the Chicago Cubs. From the ballpark on Clark and Addison to the man that succeeded him, he is forever remembered even if you dont really know who he is.
Charles Weeghman made his fortune with a string of diners across the area. He was looking for an investment opportunity and the Federal League looked like a good one. The Federal League was another attempt to rival the established leagues in the usual manner. Tempt the players with the promise of no "reserve " clause. Weeghman set up shop on the North Side to try to attract those who werent interested in going to the West Side Cubbies or the South Side Sox. To show he was serious he built a ballpark on the site of a former seminary on the corner of Clark and Addison and brought back 2 old Championship era Cubs in Joe Tinker and 3 Finger Brown, though both were in the decline phase of his career(though Brown did have his best season in about 4 years with the Whales).
Though the Fed League died after 2 seasons from lack of money, several owners were given the chance to buy into the major leagues, including Weeghman, who, along with 9 others, including gum magnate William Wrigley, meat packer J. Ogden Armour and advertising giant Albert Lasker, became the new owners. It was fortuitious for the Cubs after years of the unlikeable Murphy and controversial James Hart, they now had an owner that actually seemed to care about the team. and Weeghman immediately moved the Cubs into the little ballpark on Clark and Addison. And brought in some talented players including Hippo Vaughn, Lefty Tyler, ex-Whale Claude Hendrix, SS Charlie Hollocher and alleged "bonehead" Fred Merkle. This led to a pennant in war-shortened 1918. It had to be a high point for Weeghman, but the fact that he was unable to show off his beautiful new ball park in the World Series had to be galling. Because Weeghman Park only held 14,000, it had to be moved to Comiskey to accomodate the larger crowds. And after the season, Weeghman was forced to step down as team President because of his debts from losing money in his diners. And gradually he was forced to sell his shares to Wrigley until by 1921 he was out completely. And Weeghman would die relatively young and almost forgotten. If not for the ballpark that once bore his name he would probaly be forgotten completely. Yet in the short time he was on the scene he made an impression as an owner who actually was interested in seeing his team do well. And he helped set up a foundation for the Cubs next Golden Age.
It would be up to a gum maker and an ex-sportswriter to lead the team to a successful period full of great stars, great achievements and great controversies. And it would end all too soon......
Two Men named William
When Charles Weeghman stepped down as Cubs president, he was replaced briefly by Fred Mitchell, but Mitchell wasnt really interested.
When Chicago American sports columnist Bill Bailey(real name William Veeck) wrote a series of articles critical of the Cubs, William Wrigley, Jr invited Veeck to his office, where Wrigley challenged him to do the job if he thought he could do it better. Veeck suprisingly took him up on his offer and soon discovered how hard it really was. Following the pennant in '18, the team went into a period where it seemed to be spinning its wheels. There were a few bright spots, like Grover Cleveland Alexander and Charlie Hollocher, but in general the team seemed to be in disarray. And some of Veecks early moves didnt seem to help. In an attempt to recapture the magic of the championship years, Johnny Evers was brought in to manage, not once but two differant times, though neither time saw any great success. By 1923, there were signs that Veeck was starting to get it. He signed a moon faced catcher named Gabby Hartnett and traded for a veteran 1st Baseman who would become a mainstay in the Cubs orginazation for the next 40 years, Charlie Grimm, but there were some misfires. One of the worst was hiring future HOF SS Rabbit Maranville to manage the team in 1925. Of course, this move has Wrigleys fingerprints all over it. But, like the Yankees once said about Babe Ruth attempt to manage, "he cant manage himself, how can he manage a team of 25 players?" Maranville liked the night life and the team floundered badly under Maranville. Bringing in Evers to replace Maranville wasnt much of an improvement. Veeck felt it was time for a change in direction and hired minor league manager Joe McCarthy to manage the team for 1926. Wrigley was opposed to the move and most of the league scoffed, because McCarthy not only had no managing or coaching experience in the majors, he had never even played in the majors! But under Joe, the team gradually improved and by 1928 seemed poised to contend. Thanks to Veecks shrewd moves like a rolly poly OF who fell out of favor with John McGraw, Hack Wilson, Art Nehf, Sheriff Blake, Kiki Cuyler, Riggs Stephenson, Billy Jurges and Charlie Root, they seemed just one player short.
William Wrigley, Jr. was convinced they needed an All Star to fill the bill. That All Star was another player who was at odds with John McGraw.
Rogers Hornsby was one of the best hitters in baseball in 1928 and one of the greatest hitters of all time. He still owns the highest single season batting average in the modern era, .424. And he had power to burn for a 2nd Baseman in the 20s. But he was also very eccentric and a known gambler who loved to bet on the horses and always borrowing money. That got him in McGraws doghouse in New York and Wrigley saw his chance and grabbed him as soon as he could. Hornsby still had enough in the tank to lead the Cubs to the 1929 pennant. And that was followed with a memorable World Series with Philadelphia. In the first game Howard Ehmke a journeyman veteran pitcher set a new record with 13 Ks. Down 2-0 in the 3rd game they had an 8-0 lead in the 7th inning, but blew it thanks to a big error by Wilson. They never got back in the Series and the As were champs. Although they were in contention in '30 and '31, they lost out to the Cards both years. It was a competitive league with St. Louis and New York challenging, but Wrigley felt McCarthy shouldve won at least one of those years. So he fired Joe. It was clear he was never really fond of the manager and it was probaly the biggest mistake of his tenure. McCarthy would be hired by the Yankees and go on to become one of the greatest managers in the history of baseball. The Cubs, meanwhile would be saddled with Hornsby, who, in simplest terms, was a lousy manager. He expected his players to play like him and completely alienated the whole team to the point that they were struggling. Veeck saw it wasnt working and fired Hornsby, replacing him with the more likeable Grimm, which seemed to give the Cubs the motivation they needed to win the pennant. The Cubs would face the Yankees, now managed by their old manager and led by the onetime pitcher who was now the most famous player in the game and who would play a prominent role in one of the most famous and legendary controversies in the history of baseball.......
Exit the two Williams and the Babe gives the Cubs the finger
On January 26, 1932, William Wrigley passed away, just months after firing Joe MCarthy, probaly his biggest mistake as owner of the team, yet it would be the team itself that would have to deal with the fall out.
Mark Koenig had been a SS on the Yankees great Murderers Row team of 1927, a decent hitter and from what Ive heard, an excellant defensive player. But the Yankees dealt him to the Tigers in 1931 and by the next year, he was picked up by the Cubs when Billy Jurges got hurt and Koenig would play a key role down the stretch, hitting .353 in 33 games. So when came time to divvy up the World Series shares, the Cubs voted him a half share. Considering that he was only with the team less than a third of the season, it doesnt seem totally unfair. At least he was luckier than ex-manager Hornsby, who got nothing. Yet, the Yankees, especially Koenigs friend and old roomy, Babe Ruth, were outraged. Of course, adding to this was the way McCarthy was fired, though the players on the Cubs really had nothing to do with that. So going into the Series, tensions between the teams were high, with Ruth taking the bulk of the taunting from the Cubs bench jockeys. By Game 3, the Yanks were up 2 games to zip and seemed destined to win the Series, but instead on letting that stop them, or perhaps it gave them more impetus to because there was nothing to lose, the Cubs bench jockeys ratched up their ragging of Ruth. When the Babe came to bat in the fifth inning, he had already hit one homer. On the mound was Charlie Root, who was notorious for not taking a lot of guff.
While whether or not Ruth called his shot by pointing his finger towards the center field bleachers is open to conjecture, certain facts are clear. Babe was playing up his at bat for the Chicago bench. He did make sure to let them know what the count was by raising his fingers. He did make some reference to hitting the ball out. And it is clear that he made some kind of gesture before hitting the ball into the bleachers. A grainy film surfaced recently that shows the Babe making a gesture with his hands. The question remains, did he point and did he point to the spot where he hit the home run? Frankly, I dont see any evidence that he ever pointed to the bleachers. More likely, he was pointing towards the Cubs dugout, where he had been gesturing at earlier. This mystery will probaly never be solved in a satisfactory manner. But Ruth was the ultimate showman. He probaly loved the fact that he had everyone guessing. And it added to his already lengthy resume of legendary feats. I always thought it was funny that it wasnt even a big deal until several weeks had passed(most likely thanks to the long winter of little baseball news!). Oh yes, BTW, the Yankees did win the Series, but that hardly seems to matter in the long run.
The Cubs came back from the loss in the Series to another competitive pennant race. It seemed the Cubs had to battle the Cards, the Giants and the Pirates every year and by the end of the decade the Reds would be a regular contender as well. After William Wrigley died, his son, Philip Knight Wrigley would take over as owner. But on October 5, 1933, William Veeck, Sr died of leukemia and an era was over. PK Wrigley supposedly made his father a deathbed promise that he would never sell the team. At the time, it didnt seem important, but in the future it would have ominous overtones for this team. And losing the 2 Williams in such a short span would be a major blow, though at the time they had built such a solid foundation, it wouldnt cause a problem,.........yet
In 1934, the Cubs were just 2 years removed from their 6th pennant in the modern era. Only the Giants with 8 and the Yankees with 7 had more. It can be argued that the Cubs were one of the elite teams in baseball. William Wrigley and William Veeck could be proud of the work they did in 13 years. Veeck especially has become an obscure figure in Cubs history who deserves better. While his son, Bill, would soon overshadow him, even in Cubs lore, William Veeck, Sr. is one of the key figures in the history of this team. I know there is a Cubs Hall of Fame, though I dont know if the elder Veeck is in it, but I think he deserves to be. And Wrigleys importance has already been acknowledged, every time a fan walks into the ballpark bearing his name. The Cubs team that they built would remain competitive throughout the entire decade, though by the end of it, there were definite signs of age. And the end of the Veeck era officially ended in 1954 when Phil Cavaretta, one of the last players signed by Veeck, left the Cubs after his firing by PK Wrigley. Even the last World Series team still had a Veeck element with Cavaretta, Stan Hack and manager Charlie Grimm, all of whom had been brought to the Cubs during Veecks run. Slowly and somewhat subtly at first, the team would go into a long decline. But for now, the Cubs were a competitive, contending team. In 1934, William Walker took over as president, but his tenure was short as he annoyed everyone in the Cubs organization. And the Cubs finished 3rd. By 1935, Wrigley took over as president and "Boots" Weber was named General Manager. The Cubs started out slow, but went on a 21 game winning streak and won the pennant. Rookie Cavaretta seemed to fit in perfectly at 1st base, along with Billy Herman, Hack, Augie Galan, pitchers Lon Warneke, Bill Lee, Larry French and good old veteran Charlie Root. In a hard fought Series, they lost to a Detroit team led by Hank Greenberg(even though he broke his wrist early in the Series)Schoolboy Rowe, Goose Goslin and Mickey Cochrane. 1936 and 37, they finished 2nd both years to the Giants. The Cubs needed something to get them over the top. Following the season, Weber made a couple of trades that seem questionable in hindsight, trading pitchers Warneke and Roy Henshaw, but it would be a trade engineered by Wrigley on eve of the 1938 season that would generate much talk and controversy and put Wrigley in the national spotlight for the first time.
Dizzy Dean, the Homer in the Gloamin' and the first signs of decline
In 1938 the Cubs were still competitive, but Wrigley felt they needed something to bring in more fans. That something turned out to be Dizzy Dean.
from 1934 to 1937, Dizzy Dean was the best pitcher in baseball, indeed he had one of the greatest seasons in baseball history in 1934 when he won 31 games for the Cardinals and capped it off with a Series victory. However it all came to a sudden end when Dean got hit on the foot in the 1937 All Star game. Diz tried to come back too soon and threw his arm out and as the 1938 season was about to begin still had a basically dead arm. so he was useless to the Cards. But Wrigley thought the colorful pitcher could fill the little ballpark on Clark and Addison and made a deal for him. No matter the Cubs had to give up a relatively decent pitcher in Curt Davis, PK had to have Dizzy Dean. Even Boots Weber tried to talk him out of it to no avail. So Dean was now a Cub. However, although Deans ability to start for the Cubs was limited, when he did pitch he was the dominant Diz of old, going 7-1 with an impressive 1.73 ERA. And the Cubs, after floundering around 3rd place most of the season, suddenly got hot and caught up to the Pirates, leading to one of the most dramatic HRs in Cubs history. With the growing darkness(remember, the Cubs were starting games in those days at 3 pm and it was September), Gabby Hartnett drove a home run into the bleachers off of Mace Brown and the Cubs would have their pennant and it would forever be known as the Homer in the Gloamin'.
However they faced the Yankees again, but in game 2, Dizzy Dean pitched one of the most memorable games of his career, holding off the mighty Yanks for 7 innings on nothing but fumes. Although the Yanks would win, thanks to a Joe DiMaggio home run, it was one of the gutsiest perfomances in Cubs history and perhaps for the only time in the 43 years he owned the Cubs, Philip Knight Wrigley looked like a genius for his acquisition of the dead armed pitcher.
Sadly the Cubs would lose the Series and the game had taken so much out of Dean that he would never again be a productive pitcher in the major leagues.
As for the team, this would pretty much mark the end of a productive era as the first signs of Wrigleys influence began to affect the team. It would flounder between 1939 and 1944. Most of the earlier era stars would get older or Wrigley would trade off some of the others. By the 40s, Wrigleys eccentric moves began. He signed Jimmie Wilson to manage following the Series in which Wilson, a retired coach, had been activated and helped lead the Reds to a Championship. Boots Weber quit, to be replaced by sportswriter Jimmy Gallagher, in hopes of replicating his fathers idea of hiring William Veeck. Gallagher would proceed to make one of the worst trades in Cubs history by dealing future HOF 2nd baseman Billy Herman, who was still in his prime. Wrigley signed aging slugger Jimmie Foxx as another draw, it certainly wasnt for his bat, he had gone into decline several years earlier.
The war affected the Cubs as well. Wrigley was prepared to put up lights until the war came and he donated the equipment to the war effort. but the Cubs continued to flounder. But when the Cards lost several stars to the war, it opened an opportunity which the Cubs would take advantage of.
So says Steve Goodman in his brilliantly acerbic song, "A Dying Cub fans Last Request"
Nothing puts the Cubs situation in a better context than that. Indeed, most of the NLs best players were still off fighting the war. Even the Cardinals, who had dominated the decade thus far were missing most of their best players.
The player probaly most responsible for putting the Cubs over the top was Hank Borowy, essentially a 3rd or 4th starter from the Yankees, who after being acquired in what was probaly Jimmy Gallaghers best trade as GM, chose the summer of '45 to go on the hottest streak of his career.
The Cub were an interesting mix. Stan Hack, who had played on pennant winners in '32, '35, and '38, was having the last productive season of a great career. Andy Pafko was just beginning his great Cub career and Phil Cavaretta was in his prime. Don Johnson, Hank Wyse and Claude Passeau were all having career years(none of them would ever be as productive again). Even old hero Lon Warnecke returned for one last hurrah. After beating out St. Louis by only 3 games, they would face a Tiger team, that would seem beatable. Hank Greenberg had returned just in time fore the Series after being in the Army most of the season. But the Tigers had Hal Newhouser, best pitcher in baseball during the war years and Rudy York. It would be a close series, with Borowy winning 2 games and Passeau winning the other with an impressive 1-hitter. They would go to a 7th game where it looked like the Cubs had a chance to win it all, but then Charlie Grimm would make the biggest mistake of his great managing career. He chose to start Borowy on only 2 days rest. Ive always wondered why managers always do this because it rarely works. Predictibly, Hank got rocked and Detroit would win the game and the Series.
Little did anyone realize that this would be the last time The Cubs would appear in a World Series game.
Indeed, no reasonable person could possibly believe in a curse. If you look at the way the team has been run and continues to be run, the fault is in human failings
Anyway, by 1946 the war would be over, teams would be back at full strength and the Cubs would continue their descent into the abyss, not even truly hitting rock bottom until the 60s. Things were about to get ugly and the little ballpark at Clark and Addison would soon be emptier than it had ever been before......
Into the abyss, or, why did the Cubs suck so badly from 1947-1966?
Lets just suffice it to say that the 50s were a lost decade for the Cubs. Yet, by the end of the decade, there was reason for optimism. They had stockpiled a group of talented young pitchers, yet they overworked these kids, some to the point that they would never recover, as in the case of Dick Drott. Drott struck out 15 in his first game as a Cub, yet he would be plagued by injuries and be out of baseball within 6 years. Whether this was manager Bob Scheffings fault, its hard to say, though it wouldnt suprise me if Wrigley had his hands on this mess. In 1959, the Cubs finished at .500 for the only time in the decade, Ernie Banks had won his 2nd MVP award, there were several promising position players on the horizon, including George Altman, Billy Williams and Ron Santo and new GM John Holland was showing signs that he might know what he was doing. It appeared that the Cubs had reached a major crossroads in PK Wrigleys tenure. Yet, Wrigley would do something that would set the organization back about 5 years......and make the Cubs the laughingstocks of baseball.......
Here is essentially the ballclub Leo inherited:
Right off the bat, John Holland proved to be someone Leo could work with. It was during this period that Holland really came into his own. The Cubs acquired P Bill Hands and C Randy Hundley for McDaniel and Landrum. Then in April, Holland pulled off his greatest move by acquiring Ferguson Jenkins and Adolfo Phillips for Jackson and Buhl. Although Phillips was the player Durocher wanted(indeed, Leo compared him to Willie Mays), it was Jenkins who would become a HOFer.
Still, the Cubs made Leo look prophetic by finishing not in 8th place, but in 10th and last place. Yet there was a sense of optimism. Leo especially seemed to like hard nosed players like Beckert and Kessinger, possibly because they both reminded him of himself. It was during this season that Leo gave some young players a chance to play and seemed to suggest that Durocher was a manager who liked to give young players a chance. But if you look at his recor, that is pretty much a myth. Although he did give some younger players a chance, it was mostly players that he liked from the start and had an idea of using in his scheme of things, but if you werent a young player around early on, you were probaly going to be left on the bench.
Then theres the Ernie Banks thing. From the start, Leo was jealous of Mr. Cubs popularity, though when he came to Chicago, you would think he would have a clue to Banks' popularity judging by his NICKNAME! Each season, he would try to find someone to replace Ernie at 1st base. John Boccabella, Jim Hickman, Willie Smith, Roe Skidmore, Jim Dunegan, Hal Breeden, Tommy Davis, Joe Pepitone were all given a chance to replace Mr. Cub.
In any case, the Cubs were about to make Leo Durocher look like a genius, if only for a short time.
It has been suggested that Leo can be very nurturing to certain young players, but if you arent one of his boys, you are out in the lurch, especially if you were a pitcher. While Jenkins and Hands thrived under Durochers leadership, others including Holtzman, Niekro, Nye, Joe Decker, Jim Colburn and Burt Hooton seemed to chafe under Leos regime and failed to fulfill their potential.
Holtzman, in particular, is a good case in point. When Kenny first came up to the Cubs in 1965, as a Jewish, hard throwing left hander, naturally he was compared to Sandy Koufax. Perhaps this was unfair because he was not Sandy Koufax, did not have the same temperment as Sandy, nor did he pitch for a team that was in the World Series regularly like Koufax. Though at times, he looked like a world beater, he was never able to find a level of consistency like Jenkins or Hands. And then Leo arrived. Ive often wondered what kind of career he might have had if he didnt have to play for Durocher. When he was traded to Oakland, he would go on to have the best years of his career there. It was clear that there was no love lost between the 2 men. And other pitchers would have run ins with Leo. That would be a part of the problem as to why the Cubs never won anything under Leo Durocher.
But for now, the team had taken a step back, but if you look at other teams that would make a dramatic jump from one season to the next, it is commonly known that the 3rd year is the year when that team would make its move. Meanwhile Holland made several moves that would benefit the team greatly in 1969. In June 1968 he acquired veteran reliever Phil Regan and journeyman 1st baseman-OF Jim Hickman. While neither player would be a longterm solution, they would fill a niche for a brief period. Holland also made up for a bad trade by reacquiring submarining Ted Abernathy, then brought in Hank Aguirre for long relief.
Everything was coming together and the Cubs were looking forward to 1969. The stars were all aligned for the Cubs......
What happened next has been debated by Cubs fans for 40 years. I will attempt to make some sense of the most famous season in Cubs history.
1969 was the year I became a Cubs fan. I started out casually following them, but by June I was hooked. I use June 15 as the day I officially became a fan, because I decided that Glenn Beckert would be my favorite player.June 15 was also significant, because that was the day the Cubs officially gave upon Adolpho Phillips. The player that Leo Durocher had once compared to Willie Mays was in his 3rd frustrating year as a Cub. After seemingly having a breakout year in 1967, Phillips had fallen back and the perception that he was a head case did not help. So Adolpho was traded for Paul Popovich, a major comedown to a once promising prospect. For what its worth though, Popo would turn out to be a valuble utility infielder over the next 4 years and indeed, almost from the start, because Beckert was out with an injury.
Phillips had been replaced by Don Young, who had been in the Cubs farm system for many years. Before 1969, he had only a few games under his belt in 1965. As it turned out, this move would end up in disaster for the Cubs. Meanwhile the Cubs reached June well in command. Only the Pirates seemed to have any real shot, while the suprising New York Mets were in 3rd place, the highest standing in the teams history. But by July, the Cubs ran into a little slump. And suddenly the Mets were in 2nd place as they faced the Cubs in a crucial series in Shea Stadium. There were some bad feelings between the 2 teams following the Mets visit in Wrigley Field, because Ron Santo had taken to doing heel kicking following a Cubs victory and Tom Seaver and several other Mets players took it personally, even though Santo never actually directed the heel kicking to the other team. So there was some tension when the Cubs went into the 9th inning with a lead and Fergie pitching. However, a seemingly easy popup was dropped by Young and his error would lead to the Mets winning. What seemed like just a simple loss became a cause celebre when it came out that Santo had angrily chewed out Young in front of the whole team and the Cubs fiery captain was the most hated athlete in Chicago for a brief period until, Ronnie publicly apologized for his outburst. However, the damage was done and the moody Young, who seemed to have self esteem problems anyway, saw his confidence fall even more. And Leos confidence in the quiet rookie was shaken to the extent that he began using Jimmy Qualls in CF. In fact, Qualls would be in the line up the next night when Seaver had a perfect game going until the 9th inning, when Jimmy would forever etch his name into the annals of Cubs history by singling off the eventual Cy Young award winner. Although these losses to the Mets threw a big scare into the Cubs, by the end of the month they had regathered themselves and built the lead back up to as many as 9 games by August. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. The Cubs swept the Phillies in a double header that same day and it appeared that the stars were aligned. They continued to ride high through early August, climaxed with Kenny Holtzmans no hitter on the 19th. However, not long after that the bottom fell out. Most of the regulars stopped hitting. Fergie began struggling and suddenly the lead shrunk to 4, 3 and 2. Early September the Cubs faced the Mets in Shea Stadium in a game that featured a black cat and a controversial call at home plate(to this day, I still think Hundley got the tag on Agee!) And the Cubs would lose. A couple of days later, the Mets would be in 1st place and the Cubs would not be back. Eventually, the Mets would go on to win the World Series and be forever known as the Amazin Mets. And the Cubs would be forever known for choking.
The Cubs should have won. Everything was set. Cubs fans have been debating the reasons for Cubs collapse for 40 years, but one thing is certain: the Mets had an extraordinary run in August and September and the Cubs struggled at the worst possible time. Lets look at some of the theories:
Leo wore down the regulars:
Yes, Leo kept the starters in there without a rest in the second half. Its possible that Durocher had no confidence in his bench and there could be something to that. Although Popovich did a fine job filling in, he couldnt play every day. While Willie Smith was a good pinch hitter, he was not an especially good defensive player and other than power was not a great hitter. Aside from them, there wasnt any great options. Nate Oliver couldnt hit, Al Spangler was near the end of his career and late season acquisitions came too late to have any impact.
The summer heat wore everybody down:
I never bought into that theory, because 1969 was not an especially hot summer. Kessinger and a few of the others must have short memories.
The Mets simply outplayed the Cubs:
I tend to go along with this theory. Although when you look at the roster of the 1969 Mets, it doesnt really impress you a lot, but remember, they had an incredibly talented group of young pitchers. Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry and even an inconsistent Nolan Ryan seemed to rise to occasion in these 2 months and even some of the veterans seemed to raise there games, including ex-Cub Don Cardwell and Ron Taylor. And journeyman players like Tommy Agee, Donn Clendenon, Al Weis, Wayne Garrett, Ron Swoboda and Cleon Jones all stepped it up. Judging by the success of recent teams like the 2007 Colorado Rockies, it doesnt seem so far fetched that a mediocre team like the 69 Mets could pull off a run like they did.
Too many distractions:
When the Cubs became a hot team, they were in demand for endorsements and records. They made a recording of "Hey Hey Holy Mackerel" that became a big hit in Chicago. Its possible that it may have been a reason, because it seemed like they lost their focus together.
Maybe they just werent that good:
If you take a good look at the Cubs of 1969, it raises questions as to how good they really were. Yes, they had that great All Star infield, a great catcher, a great LF and a solid big 3, but beyond that are really questions. They had no real CF. When it turned out Phillips would not be the answer, they were left with Young, who wasnt really much of a hitter and not a great defender either. Al Spangler was basically a career pinch hitter who was starting regularly. Qualls was a slight improvement over Young, but not by that much. Jimmy had some speed, but didnt really hit well enough to take advantadge of it. Jim Hickman would have a great 1970, but in 69 was still just a journeyman hitter. Ive already talked about the bench. Holland made a late season acquisition that might have helped but they didnt get Jimmie Hall until September, so it was already too late. As for the pitching, Jenkins and Bill Hands both won 20 games, but Holtzman was not that dominant. Dick Selma was a godsend as a spot starter and reliever, giving the Cubs a 3rd dependable starter. They probaly could have used another starter though. Phil Regan was the closer in the bullpen, but his ERA just under 4 was not especially good for a closer. Ted Abernathy and Hank Aquirre were solid in middle relief and years later, Leo would admit that he shouldve gone to Abernathy when Regan began struggling. Veterans like Don Nottebart and Ken Johnson would be virtually useless to the fading Cubs. Perhaps if Leo had given Oscar Gamble a chance instead of Young, perhaps things might have turned out differantly, but Leo being Leo had pretty much turned his back on unproven rookies, especially after the Phillips fiasco.
To sum it up, I believe that the Mets simply outplayed the Cubs at exactly the time they needed to. And the Cubs just didnt have enough to catch the Mets in the end.
Still, the core of the team was still together and there was no reason to think they wouldnt contend again. But the way that Leo and John Holland would react to the collapse would set up the remainder of the Durocher-69 team era. But the Cubs would not win the division or even play the way they did in 69. We will explore that issue next time.....
Still, going into 1970, there was still some optimism, but then they suffered a serious blow when Hundley had his knee torn up in a collision at home plate. While it didnt kill the Cubs chances, it certainly did not help when they had only Jack Hiatt, Ken Rudolph or JC Martin behind the plate. But they did make a couple of trades that would have implications, both good and bad over the next few years. In May they acquired veteran pitcher Milt Pappas. Pappas had been one of the young arms the Baltimore Orioles had in the late 50s, but while Pappas had been fairly consistent, he was never the star they hoped he would be. In 1966 he was traded for Frank Robinson, though at the time the trade was seen as an insult to Robby. By 1970, he was pretty much the odd man out in Atlanta. Of course, it was rumored that he was something of a clubhouse lawyer. This would come back to haunt the Cubs. And they also acquired Joe Pepitone, the first of many young Yankees proclaimed the next Mickey Mantle, though he never fulfilled his potential. Plus he was very flamboyant, being the first to carry a hair dryer into the locker room. But he was also very moody and sometimes abrasive with managers. This too, would haunt the Cubs.
But at the time both trades were good for the Cubs. They got off to a great start. Then Holland made another trade that weakened the team. For the second time he traded set up man Ted Abernathy for journeyman IF Phil Gagliano. Abernathy would continue to be productive for several more years, while the Cubs bullpen became thinner as Regan continued to decline. They would add Juan Pizarro and Bob Miller, but it only slowed the bleeding. Miller was only around briefly and Pizarro wound up in the rotation. The Cubs did not win in 1970 and it seems obvious now. The lack of an outstanding RF, a thin bullpen and losing their catcher for a big chunk of the season did not help. And tensions between Leo and the players was growing. Holtzman became increasingly unhappy with his role. 1971 would be a season in which everything hits the fan and marks the beginning of the end of the Durocher era. We will look at that next.
Although Leos firing was expected, Wrigley brought him back, though it was clear that his days were numbered if things didnt improve. There were changes over the winter, with Holtzman being sent to Oakland for Rick Monday. Then they acquired veteran OF Jose Cardenal. Cardenal was pretty much a journeyman when they got him, but he seemed to step up his production with the Cubs and he gave them 6 solid years. They also traded Callison for veteran reliever Jack Aker, who proved to be fairly effective for a couple of years. Even though the changes seemed to help with Monday giving them the best CF they had in a long time, Cardenal becoming a leading hitter, Williams winning a batting title, still they never could get going and floundering in 4th place at the All Star was the last straw. The Cubs replaced Leo Durocher with Whitey Lockman, and much more low key personality who had once played for Leo in New York.
Lockman actually got the team back in contention, but it was too little, too late.
There have been plenty of theories as to why Durocher could never get this team over the hump, but in the end, it seems to be one thing. Leo was not able to adjust to the changing times and his refusal to play certain players who didnt fit in his scheme turned out to be fatal. Perhaps if Holland had gone out and gotten just one more player in '69, if they hadnt been in such a rush to get rid of players like Dick Selma, if they had used Abernathy down the stretch. Who knows? Leo probaly already had worn out his welcome by 1970. Perhaps if they had Lockman back then, they couldve gotten over the hump. Sadly, we will never know. It just remains another disappointing chapter in the history of the Cubs, especially more so because they had the talent to go as far as anyone.
For me personally, it was the beginning of an uncertain period. Since becoming a Cubs fan in 1969, all I had known was success. Now, I was about to find out what Cubs fans like my father had already known: that Philip Wrigley was a baseball owner with no understanding of the business of baseball.
I had nothing against the backing of the truck. Indeed, Holland pulled off a couple of pretty good deals, but it wouldve been smoother if the team had some replacements ready in the minors, but that was Wrigleys fault. If Wrigley had put any money into the farm system at all, it wouldnt have ended the way it did. Another example of how out of touch with baseball PK was. Instead the onus was once again put on John Holland to start over. And it was getting harder, because Holland was getting older(indeed, this would be Johns last year as GM). Beckert would be traded for CF Jerry Morales, Santo for Steve Stone, Steve Swisher and Ken Frailing(it was not a terrible trade because Stone would be a productive starter for a couple of years and Swisher would make an All Star team) and Hundley would go to Minnesota for catcher George Mitterwald(Mitts was not the greatest catcher, but he was a fairly productive power hitter).
So the Cubs would enter 1974 with only Kessinger and Williams left from the 69 team. Billy would be moved to 1st base in a move that would prove problematic. The OF was faster than ever before and one of the teams strengths, but the pitching staff was young and thin. Rick Reuschel was expected to be the ace, but in only his 2nd full season, he struggled. Bonham lost 22 games and Hooton continued to struggle. The team was at the bottom of the league all season. The losing took its toll on Lockman, who resigned in mid-season to be replaced by Jim Marshall. Marshall had once played for the Cubs, as well as the Mets and in Japan, but found his niche as a minor league manager. He had enough success to get a shot with the Cubs, but I was never really that impressed by him. To be fair though, he may have been well suited to managing this young team, but I never felt like he made them a better team through motivation or feistyness like Durocher in his early days.
Following the season, the Cubs traded Williams to Oakland to give him a chance at a World Series. They got Manny Trillo to play 2nd base, which was an improvement over the disappointing Harris. And the Cubs got off to a great start in '75. Somehow, Marshall had this team in 1st place. This was not a power laden team. Thornton and Monday lead the team, but no one had over 20 homers or 100 rbis. Stone got off to a great start before a sore arm slowed him down. But the bullpen was downright horrible. Their best relievers all had ERAs over 5. Not suprisingly, it didnt take long for them to come down to earth. They ended up in 5th place. The one good thing was Bill Madlock winning his first batting title. That gave them hope for the future, but still they seemed a long way from being good again. In 1976 the last remaining 69er was traded, Kessinger sent to St. Louis for Mike Garman. The 1976 team floundered, never really getting it together. Madlock won another batting title and Cardenal and Monday again had great years, but the bullpen continued to be a mess. Darold Knowles was okay, but aside from a kid named Bruce Sutter, there was nothing to write home about. Indeed, Sutter didnt become the closer until mid season, but still managed to lead the team in saves. Bruce had been in the Cubs farm system for several years, but it wasnt until minor league instructor Fred Martin, a former member of the College of Coaches, taught Sutter how to throw a split finger forkball. the pitch transformed the young pitchers career. He suddenly found himself on the teams fast track and considering how bad the bullpen was, its not suprising that a pitcher like him would get a chance after so many years in the teams system.
Meanwhile, Philip Wrigley was getting ready to play out the final act of his ownership. It would not be a pretty way to end such ignomonious tenure
To be fair, Wrigley may have been making a legitimate effort to hold down salary, but it still appears that PK Wrigley was totally out of touch with the changes going on in baseball. In 1969, Curt Flood was traded by the Cards to the Phillies, but Flood refused to report and sued baseball to get his freedom on the basis that the long held reserve clause was illegal. Flood eventually lost his case, but his efforts opened the flood(no pun intended) gates. Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally would sue for their freedom and win it when an arbitrator awarded them free agency. Soon baseball was forced to install a system of free agency. And with free agency saw salaries skyrocket. But some teams, including the Cubs, seemed unwilling or unable to adjust to the new reality. So, teams would rather trade players than even try to sign them. Still, even in the new reality Wrigleys reaction seemed extreme. Madlock wouldnt even have been a free agent for a couple more years anyway. But Wrigley was put off by Madlocks supposed arrogance. So Bill was traded to the Giants for another one time "next Mickey Mantle" Bobby Murcer. Murcer had put together a couple of great seasons, but he was traded for a player who had been the next Willie Mays, Bobby Bonds. Murcer was still a productive player, but he was not the superstar he was supposed to have been. Philip Knight Wrigley passed away in March of 1977, bringing an end to one of most bizarre ownerships in the history of baseball. However, it was not the end of the Cubs problems. Bill Wrigley III was no more suited to owning a baseball team than his father. Plus young Bill was saddled with huge inheritance taxes that would impact the way he ran the team. Bob Kennedy would have to make do with what he had and suprisingly enough, the team would have some success, though it would have trouble getting over the hump.
So the Herman Franks era begins. Franks had been a catcher on the 1951 Giants, then became a coach for Leo. Herman finally got his shot to manage in the 60s, leading the Giants to 3 straight 2nd place finishes at a time when St.Louis and the Dodgers were dominating the NL. Franks would briefly coach with Leo in 1970. one wonders what wouldve happened if Franks were handed the team.
But in 1977 he had a solid infield Buckner, Manny Trillo, De Jesus and Steve Ontiveros, an outfield that was beginning to age, a starting staff full of potential, if still unfulfilled and a bullpen that was led by a pitcher who was about to turn the baseball world on its ear. What would follow was a roller coaster ride that would make the 69 era team pale in comparision as far as ups and downs were concerned
Then the strike came......
There had been the threat of a work stoppage the year before, but it was avoided at the last minute, but now the reprieve had ended. Of course, the whole issue between the players and owners is a story in itself and I may deal with it at a later date, but this is about the Cubs. In any case, the strike probaly was the best thing to happen to the Cubs that year. The team was so bad at this point, not having to watch it was a relief. The team was so bad, it even signed a washed up Bobby Bonds to play in the OF. Bonds at one time had been considered the next Willie Mays and even won an MVP award in 1973, but injuries had taken its toll and by 1981 he was on his last legs as a major league player. And somehow symbolizing the frustration of the season, Bonds broke his hand in his very first game as a Cub.
The Chicago Cubs had truly hit bottom. Bob Kennedy had finally gotten so frustrated with Bill Wrigleys inability to put any money into the team, he quit after 4 years in which he was not the worst GM theyve ever had, though not as good as he couldve been. He would be replaced by........guess who? Herman Franks!?!?!
And the very first trade Franks would make was to trade the Cubs best pitcher. Mike Krukow seemed to finally find some consistency, which must have given Franks the confidence to trade Rick Reuschel to the Yankees for a couple of prospects who never really panned out, including Pat Tabler.
Cubs fans had just enough time to digest this shocking move when they would get news that would transform Chicago sports. The Wrigley era in Cubs history was about to come to an end.........
RIP The Wrigley Era(1921-81)
On June 16, 1981, William Wrigley III agreed to sell the Chicago Cubs to the Tribune Company for $20 million. Following the death of both his parents, Bill was left with huge inheritance taxes that hindered his ability to be able to do anything with the team. And to be honest, I think he had even less desire to run a baseball team than his father had. Its hard to completely blame the younger Wrigley for the problems the team had. I tend to look at it as old PK Wrigley continuing to hinder the Cubs even in death. It was clear they needed an owner with deep enough pockets to build up the farm system and sign the kind of free agents that might actually help the team and finally, they needed an owner with the foresight to bring in someone to run the team that could get them out of this hole. Nothing against Herman Franks, but he was ill suited to be a GM(I know it was only an interim position, but still). And they needed an experienced manager, which, as much as I liked Amalfitano, they didnt have. It remained to be seen how the Tribune would fill those spots. But when the season resumed, the Cubs actually played better in the second half and there were a few encouraging signs for the future. Catcher Jody Davis had been drafted in December and suprised everyone by winning the starting job. Davis would prove to be durable and a fan favorite over the next few years. A young pitcher named Lee Smith would be brought in to make a few starts, though he seemed to struggle in that role. It would be a couple of years until the Cubs found that he was better coming out of the bullpen as the closer. And Durham became a valuble player showing some power.
As the season staggered to an end, with Wrigley Field suddenly looking as empty as it did in the early 60s, the wait began for a savior. Who knew that it would be a huge, hulking ex-pitcher coming off of winning a World Championship just a year earlier?
"You (Dallas Green) have fourteen guys who can't play Triple-A, the free agent pickings are slim and there's nothing in the minors. Good luck." - Announcer Jimmy Piersall (1981)
George Dallas Green pitched in the major leagues for several teams in the 60s and his main claim to fame was being the pitcher who allowed Jimmy Piersalls 100th career home run, which the eccentric player celebrated by running the bases backwards. Following a mostly inauspicious playing career, he moved into the front office of the Phillies, working his way up to Farm Director, where he presided over a rebirth of a minor league system which had been barren for years. During his tenure, the major league team enjoyed success thanks in part to the aforementioned farm system. After 3 division titles(but no pennants), Green would find himself replacing Manager Danny Ozark in August 1979. Then in 1980 under Greens leadership the Phillies finally took the next step, getting to the World Series, where they would defeat a Kansas City Royals team that had taken a similar path under Manager Jim Frey. Eventually the 2 men would cross paths again. But for now the Phillies were World Champions, for the first time ever. Green would return in 1981, but after the season he would accept a new challenge.
Since buying the Cubs, it seemed that the Tribune would have to bring in someone with championship experience to get the Cubs back to respectability. Green seemed like the ideal choice. He had helped reenergize a Phillie franchise that had been pretty much moribound for a long time and it figured that if Green could bring a championship to the Phillies, then the Cubs should be no problem. At first it seemed like marriage made in heaven. Greens strong willed personality appeared to be what the doctor ordered and the Tribune appeared to be pliable enough to go along with what Green wanted to do.
It wouldnt be until a few years later that those two entities would seem like a marriage made in hell.
So, in October 1981 Dallas Green became the GM of the Chicago Cubs. Immediately it became known as the "New Tradition". Only time would tell if it really would be.
This in New?
Dallas Green would waste little time reshaping the team. First he would hire his 3rd base coach, Lee Elia, to manage. Elia had had a cup of coffee with Durochers team in 1968, as well as the White Sox before becoming a minor league manager. Though he had never managed at the major league level, it seemed like a good move, just by the fact that Elia was not a good old boy or had any real ties to the Wrigley era team.
Then Green made the trade that would define his tenure. He dealt dependable(and underrated) SS Ivan DeJesus to the Phillies(naturally!) in return for long time Phil SS Larry Bowa and a rookie OF prospect named Ryne Sandberg. In fact, Green would not make the deal without the kid. Though Sandberg was highly thought of, no one couldve imagined how great a player he would become. For the moment, the challenge was to find a place for him to play. It was thought that he would eventually replace Bowa at SS, but for the moment he would take over 3rd for a washed up Ken Reitz. They brought in Bump Wills to play 2nd. Who knew that he would prove to be washed up as well. Then they re-signed Fergie Jenkins, bringing him back to the place of his best years. Finally, veteran Bill Campbell was signed to close. Who knew Campbell would prove to be in the decline phase of his career.
Even with these changes the team got off to a slow start and never really got on track. Fergie, with 14 wins turned to be the big winner on the team, not a good thing. They ended up in 5th place with 73 wins, just a slight improvement over the previous seasons debacle.
Believe it or not, the next season was even worse, in spite of acquiring Ron Cey, moving Sandberg to 2nd and adding solid veterans like Steve Trout, Dick Ruthven and Chuc Rainey. And Lee Smith became the full time closer in 1983 and had solid help, but the team still struggled. They even had 6 players in double figures in HRs, but it wasnt enough. And Elia turned out to be a big mistake. Prone to anger and speaking out of turn, he sank himself following an expletive laced tirade caught on tape by a local sports reporter in which he blasted Cubs fans by calling them names, including, "...unemployed bleepity-bleeps" or something to that effect. Not long afterwards, poor Lee was out of a job in Chicago.
The first 2 years of the so-called "New" Tradition seemed to be anything but new. After all the bluster and much wheeling and dealing, the team seemed to be right back to where they were before.
But Dallas Green was nothing, if not resourceful. He would get right back on the horse and give it the old college try. And once again, it would be his old team that would provide the inspiration and the impetus for his next major moves. Things were about to get fun around Wrigley Field again.........
Dallas Green realized that he needed to go in a different direction following the Lee Elia fiasco, so he brought in a more low key, more experienced manager…….the man who lost the World Series to Greens Phillies in 1980.
James Frey had been a member of Earl Weavers coaching staff on an Orioles team that seemed to be in contention every year. Previously he had been a minor league manager, so when he was hired to replace Whitey Herzog in Kansas City, big things were expected. Frey got the team to a Series in his first year, but by 1983 he would be replaced by Dick Howser. So when Frey got the call from Green he was ready.
Not a lot was expected from the Cubs following a terrible spring, but everything changed after Green made another trade with his old team in Philadelphia. They acquired Ofs Gary Matthews and Bob Dernier and suddenly this was a different team. “Sarge” Matthews gave the Cubs a real leader and Dernier gave the Cubs a lead off man a quality defensive CF. The team responded with a great start and by June, it was clear that they had a real chance to win it. But Green was not done. He made 2 more moves that guaranteed a real shot at winning it all. First they acquired veteran SP Dennis Eckersley from Boston for Buckner. With the acquisition of Matthews, Durham was moved to 1stBase and Bill Buck was the odd man out. But it worked out well for both teams, as Buckner would play a big role in Bostons pennant run and Series in 1986. Meanwhile, Eckersley had been a golden boy at one time, but by 1984 was in need of a change of scenery, which he took advantadge of. But Green was not done. He next pulled off a trade that would go down as one of the best trades in Cubs history. He acquired SP Rick Sutcliffe from Cleveland for prospects Joe Carter and Mel Hall. Some revisionists have derided the trade because Joe Carter would go on to be a major star during the late 80s and early 90s, but if you are the Cubs and you want to win the pennant, you make the trade. And Sutcliffe would remain a productive(if oft injured) member of the starting rotation for most of the next 8 years.
Just a week after the trade, the Cubs would play a crucial series against the Cardinals who were battling the team at the time. On June 23, 1984, they would play one of the most famous games in the history of the team. And because it was being nationally broadcast, it is commonly known as Ryne Sandbergs coming out party. Sandberg had shown some potential and indeed, didn’t take long to get a reputation for his defense at 2nd Base, but his hitting hadn’t quite caught up. But in 1984 he got off to a great start even hitting home runs, thanks to a suggestion by manager Frey who thought he could hit for power by changing his stance. Against the Cards, Sandberg hit 4-5 with not 1 but 2 homers off one time Cubs icon Bruce Sutter, still in his prime as the Cards closer. Ironically, although everybody remembers the home runs by Sandberg, the Cubs actually won the game on a single. Following that dramatic victory, as if an explanation point was needed, the next day, Sutcliffe pitched as a Cub in Wrigley Field for the first time and threw a shut out, carrying a no hitter into the 7th inning. From there the Cubs pretty much cruised into September. Although the Mets tried to make a late run, there would be no repeat of 1969 and they won their first divisional title ever.
It was a joy filled time with the sound of “Go, Cubs, Go” reverberated across Wrigley the way “Hey Hey Holy Mackerel” had in 1969. But it would be bittersweet for the man who originally recorded the new Cubs anthem. Steve Goodman, a long time Cubs fan and popular folk singer who also wrote “The City of New Orleans” was dying of Leukemia and the same man who once wrote, “anything can happen that can, but the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant was the year we dropped a bomb on Japan” would not live to see his beloved team reach post season for the first time since 1945.
Anyway, the Cubs were up against the San Diego Padres, the same team they had once slaughtered in 1969 as an expansion team 19-0. The same team that once employed Preston Gomez, Don Zimmer and Jerry Coleman as managers. But it appeared that the Cubs had them out matched. The pitching certainly matched up pretty well. And playing the first 2 games in Wrigley seemed to bear this out. They won both behind Sutcliffe and Eckersley, and headed to San Diego confident in finishing the series. However, the Padres gave the a Cubs a rude awakening by winning both games in California, with game 4 a big comeback lead by Steve Garvey. Then game 5 at Wrigley with Sutcliffe on the mound. The stars seemed aligned for a Cubs World Series appearance. Although Sutcliffe didn’t seem as sharp they did have the lead in the 8th inning. But suddenly Rick lost it and the Padres came back to tie it. Then in the 9th one of those weird things happened that still has Cubs wondering about a goat. The Padres had a runner on base when Alan Wiggins hit a ground ball to Leon Durham, which proceeded to go through his legs for a hit which brought the winning run in. The exact same thing that would happen to Buckner in Boston 2 years later……the irony is mindblowing!
Later Durham would blame the fact that Gatorade had been spilled on it. You can blame Durham until the cows come home, but if Sutcliffe had pitched like he had all season with the Cubs, it wouldn’t have gotten to that.
So the Cubs went home for the fall to watch San Diego play in the Series that should’ve been theirs. There is no doubt in my mind that the Cubs were the better team, and its reasonable to assume that they could’ve have beaten Detriot as good as they were. Sadly, the same thing that befell the 69 Cubs would happen to the 84 Cubs. One Series appearance could have begun a run of appearances, but that would not happen.
Dallas Green had reason to be proud. He did something no Cubs GM had done in 29 years by getting them to post season. And the farm system that had been stagnant for so long was beginning to show signs of life thanks to Green. He was at the peak of his powers, but soon he would find how hard it is to stay there, especially with the Cubs.
Don Zimmer first came up as a hot shot prospect with the Brooklyn Dodgers until a very severe beaning adversely affected him. After a playing career as a journeyman infielder with several teams(including the Cubs), he became a manager and coach. He replaced fellow ex-Dodger and future fellow Cub manager Preston Gomez as skipper of the Padres, not having any more success than Gomez. From there he landed in Boston as a coach with Darrell Johnson pennant winning BoSox in 1975. After Johnsons firing Zimmer took over and managed the unfortunate 1978 Sox team that blew a 13 game lead to the Yankees, which culminated in a playoff game loss. After a turbulent stint in Boston, he managed Texas before joining Freys coaching staff in 1984. Somehow, Frey and Zimmer had survived being fired by Dallas Green to take over the team he had once hoped to lead to the promised land. Though he had some success as a coach, he had never won anything as a manager. So there was skepticism in his hiring.
And it wasnt helped by Frey first trade, which has proven to be a terrible move with long ranging consequences. He traded valuble closer Lee Smith to Boston for Calvin Schiraldi and Al Nipper. Neither man did much for the Cubs, while Smith would continue to be a productive major league closer for another 10 years. To replace him Frey signed Goose Gossage, once an intimidating closer now just a mediocre pitcher who would struggle to keep his ERA under 5 as a Cub. Then he signed Vance Law to play 3rd base, not a bad move, but he was a .280 hitter with no power on a team that couldve used more. the good news is Maddux, after struggling for 2 and a half years, suddenly seemed to get it. Sutcliffe was getting healthy and Dawson and Sandburg were All Star candidates every year. The bad news is there wasnt much else. Without Smith, the bullpen had major problems. The young players who were arriving, like Palmiero, Mark Grace, Damon Berryhill were not enough. It would be another down year for the Cubs.
The next trade Frey made would be a great short term deal, though in the long run, they would pay for it. They acquired closer Mitch Williams for Palmiero, Moyer and Drew Hall. Although Williams would have a productive 2 seasons as a Cub, Palmiero would end up having a HOF type career before steroid rumors put a cloud over his numbers and although it would take Moyer 6 years(and a 2nd stint with the Cubs) to find himself, he did become one of the best pitchers in baseball in the latter half of the 90s.
Still, it would be a good move for the season. 1989 also saw the arrival of several more young prospects, including OFs Jerome Walton, Dwight Smith, C Joe Girardi and P Les Lancaster. Walton would emerge as a real find, with a 30 game hitting streak culminating in a Rookie of the Year award. The team suprised everyone by moving into the lead in the East Division with Zimmers by the seat managing, hitting and running and bunting and career years by several key players, including Mike Bielecki, Walton, Smith, Law, Lancaster, Lloyd McClendon, Luis Salazar and expected years from Sutcliffe, Sandburg, Grace, Sanderson and a big year from Maddux.
So they would face the Giants in the playoffs, but unlike the Padres in 1984, this team was a real threat, led by young 1st base star Will Clark and they wasted little time in getting ahead of the Cubs. In spite of a great series by their own young 1st baseman Mark Grace, they could not overcome a potent Giant attack.
The Cubs had clearly played over their heads and would soon come back down to Earth in 1990. They would struggle to stay in the middle of the pack.
Freys response to the poor season would be to get the Tribune to open their pocketbooks for a change, but unfortunately, he signs 3 players who would be bad fits for the team. George Bell, former MVP with Toronto who would prove to be ill suited to Wrigley Field, Danny Jackson, an injury prone left hander who would be gone in 2 years, and Dave Smith, a once productive closer, but a bit too old for the Cubs. Then they traded Williams for Chuck McElroy, who was a decent middle reliever. Then the Cubs fired Zimmer, replacing him with Jim Essian, who had been a minor league manager. Essian wasnt the worst manager, but the Cubs continued to flounder and he would be replaced at the end of the season. Then it would be Freys turn as there was a major shake up at the Tribune. Frey would be replaced by Larry Himes. Himes had had some success with building the White Sox team that would be a contender most of the early 90s, but Himes clashed with Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. At the time Himes seemed like the right person. He was considered a brilliant judge of talent and goodness knows the Cubs needed that. But the Cubs underestimated the negative aspects of his personality which would have serious consequences for the future of the franchise.
As 1991 turned into 1992, there was a sense of hope. After all, Larry Himes had drafted Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Jack McDowell, Alex Fernandez and most of the key pieces of the White Sox team that was now looking to contend for a pennant. And the first manager of Himes tenure was Jim Lefebvre, well respected around the league as a coach and former manager of Seattle. He signed Mike Morgan, a quality pitcher who would have some success with the Cubs. He did allow Sutcliffe to leave as a free agent, but the veteran pitcher was nearing the end of the line, though he did win 16 games in 1992, but that was it.
Then Himes made a move that shouldve defined his tenure, except he would make such a bad move later. He acquired Sammy Sosa from the White Sox for the unfortunate George Bell. Himes had scouted Sosa for Texas, then acquired Sammy for Sox. He had a great arm, he could run and he could hit the ball a ton, but he was also very undisciplined and a little too cocky for his own good. The Cubs seemed to teeter between being good and bad all year. They got good production from key players and Maddux and Morgan were very solid, but the bullpen was shaky. Lack of a strong closer was the big problem as they continued to be haunted by the Lee Smith trade. It turned out to be another mediocre season as they just missed finishing over .500. But the trouble would start following the season.
Greg Maddux won his first Cy Young award in his free agent year. It was thought that Maddux should be given a nice raise and Mad Dog seemed to be interested in coming back, but Himes refused to make any deals with Greg. Maddux would end up signing with Atlanta, where he would win 3 more Cy Young and become an icon there. Himes also let Dawson go. Although the Hawk was getting older and only had a couple of seasons left, it might have been a nice gesture to keep him around. Andre couldve helped mentor Sosa, who probaly couldve used one. But Himes seemed determined to cut off the teams past. To replace Maddux they signed oft injured Texas P Jose Guzman along with acquiring left handed P Greg Hibbard. Somehow the Cubs remained competitive. The addition of Randy Myers helped immensely, filling the hole at closer. Sosa led the team in homers, but still seemed a ways from being a really great player. They finished 6 games over the .500 mark yet they still fired Lefebvre. The team continued to be mediocrity defined and there seemed to be no end to this trend. Under new manager Tom Trebelhorn, this trend would continue. But once again a strike would prove to be a godsend for this team, if not for this long time baseball fan
Baseball would return and I would return, though it would take a while. Since then there has Sammy Sosas home run chases, a wild card, a new GM in Jim Hendry, 3 division championships, poor decisions as far as free agency, an ownership change and finally 2 terrible seasons which has seen Jim Hendry fired, and as of this writing, October 2011, Theo Epstein has taken over as President of the Cubs. Recent history is hard to write because it is still fresh to many Cubs fans. But I may add some analysis in the coming months, but I would love to get the input of other fans. If you have something you want to discuss, feel free to go to the message board. Thanks, and, as always, GO CUBS GO!
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Chicago Cubs-Steve Goodman - Go Cubs Go!.mp3