Northside Nostalgia: 1900-10

Northside Nostalgia Part 1: The Beginning

Northside Nostalgia Part 2: 1870-1900

Michael Ernst has done a great job so far covering Cubs history. I'll try to match his great work in my articles, hopefully I can come close. Anyway lets get on to the 20th Century.

Worst To First

If you think the Theo Epstein era was the first time the Cubs underwent a total rebuild en route to a championship you would be wrong. The Chicago Orphans (as they were then known) had fallen on hard times as the new century dawned. Controversial star player/manager Cap Anson was forced out after a 59-73 record in 1897. The Orphan's struggles continued and they bottomed out in 1901 with a 53-85 record.

Owner and sporting goods magnate Albert Spalding sold the team to his associate Jim Hart in 1903. Hart would only own them outright for 3 years selling the club to newspaper man Charles Murphy in 1906. Murphy was able to buy the team with help of a loan from Cincinnati Enquirer publisher Charles Taft (the brother of future President William Taft).

Cubs owner Charles Murphy

Cubs owner Charles Murphy

Before he left Spalding signed a crop of young promising prospects to hopefully turn around his club's fortunes. Like his counterpart Theo Epstein did over a century later, Spalding focused the rebuild on the infield. First baseman Frank Chance, shortstop Joe Tinker, and second baseman Johnny Evers (pronounced Eeeeevers) formed the core of a talented lineup. The youth infusion inspired the newspapers to rename the team the Cubs.

Tinkers, Evers and Chance the famous double play combination

Tinkers, Evers and Chance the famous double play combination

Things really began to come together with the addition of pitchers Mordecai Brown and Orval Overall. As a child, Brown lost part of the index and middle fingers on his right hand in a farm accident. Ironically, the missing digits gave him incredible drop on his curve ball. Three Finger Brown, as he came to be known, was one of the best pitchers of low scoring "deadball era" of the 1900's.

'Three Finger' Brown

The American League

After the failure of the American Association and the Players League in the 1890's a new league challenged the National League in 1901. Ban Johnson became President of the Western League in 1894. The WL was considered a minor league at the time and Johnson sought to make it major league. He wanted to challenge the National League with a more wholesome alternative, thus profanity and fighting among players was banned. Johnson, alongside partners Connie Mack and Charles Comiskey, disbanded the Western League in 1899 and founded the American League.

AL President Ban Johnson

AL President Ban Johnson

By 1903 the league consisted of eight teams: Cleveland, Boston, St. Louis, Washington, Philadelphia, Detroit, New York, and Chicago. That year the American League which had been recognized as a major league in 1901 agreed to battle the winner of the National League in a title series. Modeled after the series between the American Association and National League two decades earlier the event would become the World Series.

The Pittsburgh Pirates were defeated by the Boston Beaneaters (Red Sox) five games to three in the best-of nine series. When the New York Giants won the NL in 1904 manager John McGraw refused to play the AL champion Beaneaters. The series was not considered mandatory despite an agreement before the season for the winning teams to participate. The Giants declared themselves World Champions and wore uniforms to that effect in 1905. Both leagues signed a formal agreement to have a series in 1905 and Giants won 4-1 (the series had become best of seven) over the Philadelphia A's.

The Cubs Dynasty is Born

The Cubs loaded roster made history in 1906. They won a whopping 116 games, a record that would stand alone until the Seattle Mariners matched it in 2001 (the Cubs .763 winning percentage is still the best ever). Despite this domination, they were stunned by the crosstown White Sox four games to two in the World Series.

In 1907, the Cubs dominated again winning 107 games and earning a return trip to the series. This time they wouldn't be denied a title beating a Detroit Tigers team led by young Ty Cobb 4-0-1 (yes there was a tie in the World Series).

The first truly great pennant race of the World Series era was the 1908 National League. The Cubs and Giants were tied in the standings on September 23 when they played at the Polo Grounds in New York. Joe Tinker hit an inside the park homer to give the Northsiders a 1-0 lead, the Giants tied it in the 5th. In the bottom of the 9th, Art Devlin and Fred Merkel singled for New York to put men at the corners with two down. Al Bridwell lined the first pitch he saw up the middle for the walk-off single and a crucial 2-1 win.

Frank Chance holds Fred Merkel on first base in the disputed September 23 game

Frank Chance holds Fred Merkel on first base in the disputed September 23 game

Or did they walk it off? Fans stormed the field to celebrate the Giants victory and mobbed Merkel between first and second. Johnny Evers saw Merkel hadn't reached the base and yelled at center fielder Solly Hofman to throw him the ball. Evers then stepped on the base jumping up and down and screaming to get the umpires attention. After a protest, the league ruled that Merkel was forced out at second so the game was a tie that would be replayed if the teams were even at the end of the season.

Sure enough the teams finished virtually tied and a one-game playoff was held on October 8. Giants ace Christie Mathewson faced Chicago's Jack Pfister, I let Ken Burns take it from here.

After surviving the playoff, literally and figuratively, the Cubs faced Detroit again in the World Series and won 4-1. Chicago went to it's fourth World Series in five years in 1910, a loss to the A's. Those five seasons were one of the most dominant stretches in baseball history, a whopping 530 wins. It would be over a hundred years before the Cubs would win another title.

Baseball's Sad Lexicon

Franklin P. Adams was a reporter for the New York Evening Mail. Frustrated by the Giants lack of success against the Cubs he wrote a poem on July 12, 1910. In it, Adams laments a Giants rally killed by a 6-4-3 Chicago double play. His words would immortalize the Cubs star infield:

These are the saddest of possible words:

"Tinker to Evers to Chance."

Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,

Tinker and Evers and Chance.

Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,

Making a Giant hit into a double–

Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:

"Tinker to Evers to Chance."

A Song Is Born

A song that has had a big impact on Cubs history was created in 1908. Commenter Barley Pop (aka Mike Pilbean) will provide the rest of the story:

On a subway train in 1908, 29-year-old Vaudeville poet and songwriter Jack Norworth spied a sign along his commute announcing "Baseball Today: Polo Grounds." This simple advertisement sparked his interest, and the young wordsmith began crafting notes on various pieces of scrap paper. He shared these notes with fellow Tin Pan Alley songwriter Albert Von Tilver, and they co-wrote a song about this new phenomenon sweeping the country called baseball.
Mr. Norworth wrote of a feisty young lady by the name of Katie Casey. Though fictional and a century ago, Ms. Casey could steal my heart to this day. "Katie Casey was baseball mad, Had the fever and had it bad". She was a woman of meager means who spent every available cent attending ball games, calling out to players by their first names and heckling umpires for what she knew were blown calls.
One day, a young suitor took a shine to Ms. Casey and summoned the nerve to ask her out on a date to see a show. Ms. Casey accepted the handsome lad's offer, but only on her terms.

What were those terms you may ask?

Comments

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  • Baseball, America's game. It's a history lesson.

  • Great job Sean. Look forward to reading more from you and Michael.

  • We are fortunate to have some fantastic writers here at Cubs den! Great job, Michael and Sean!

  • The Merkle play is very complicated. Everyone seemed to have their own version. The Giants claimed that Merkle did indeed touch second base. There were also claims that the ball Evers eventually caught was not the game ball. Hofman made a bad throw into second. The ball trickled into the infield. Giants coach Iron Joe McGinnity intercepted it and, after a fight with a couple of Cubs, threw it into the crowd. The Cubs claimed they retrieved it, after another struggle, from a tall gent wearing a brown bowler. Many claim the Cubs simply produced another ball from their bench. The field was awash with celebrating fans, so it was hard to know where the ball came from. But the ball wasn't the point. The home plate umpire was Hank O'Day who had ruled on an almost exact same play on September 4th that also involved the Cubs and Evers in an extra inning game in Pittsburgh. He ruled that Pittsburgh's winning run counted because he didn't see the Cubs force out the runner at second (a rookie first baseman, just like Fred Merkle named Warren Gill). When the Merkle play began to develop O'Day made sure he saw the whole thing, and Evers made sure he did, too. The final ruling was that O'Day called Merkle out and declared the game a tie because McGinnity had interfered with the play. It's in O'Day's report to NL president Harry Pulliam. The ball and the force out had little or nothing to do with it. However, the questions of the ball and where Merkle was have survived as the debate still seems to rage about whether Merkle was out.

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    In reply to Floyd Sullivan:

    Thanks for the extra details. I was just giving the basics, but the debate was extensive. The field was total chaos at the time. Also I didn't add the Pittsburgh Pirates were right in the race the whole time. They only finished a game back in the standings. In fact, they won the 1909 World Series the following year despite the Cubs winning 104 games.

  • In reply to Sean Holland:

    If I remember correctly, both pennants, AL and NL were in question among three teams until the last day or two of the season. In the NL it was the Cubs, Giants, and Pirates. In the AL it was the White Sox, the Tigers, and Cleveland, then known as the Naps. The Giants needed to sweep Boston the last weekend of the year in order to tie the Cubs and force the October 8 game, which was technically a replay of the Merkle game, not a playoff per se. Sweep the "Doves" (named for owner George Dovey and his brother) they indeed did. The rumors were rife that the fix was in. Which is very plausible considering the Giants tried to fix the October 8 game with an attempted bribe of the umpires. The umpires reported it to the NL office. 1908 was an insane baseball year. So nuts that I think at least 6 books have been written about that season, and one about the year in general, which was wacky on its own even without baseball.

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    In reply to Floyd Sullivan:

    Thank You Floyd for giving us the details. I know there is so much to cover. Great job everyone!

  • Another great article! Thanks this time to Sean.

  • The composer of the music for "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was Albert Von Tilzer, with a z, not Von Tilver. Norworth wrote the words.

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    In reply to Floyd Sullivan:

    We may have to bring you on as our fact checker. Norworth also wrote Shine on Harvest Moon which was a mega hit. Norworth also didn't see his first baseball game in person until 1940.

  • In reply to Sean Holland:

    Neither had Von Tilzer! Norworth's wife Nora Bayes was credited as the other composer of Shine On Harvest Moon, but there's some debate as to who actually wrote it, I think. Norworth and Bayes were married in 1908, but divorced some years later. They were kind of the Pitt/Jolie couple of that era. Bayes was the star of the 1908 Follies, which were only the second Follies produced. Another musical theater star, Mabel Hite, was married to Giant star Turkey Mike Donlin.

  • In reply to Floyd Sullivan:

    You're right, Floyd, it is Tilzer with a "z". I pulled off several sources for that info, and one had his name misspelled. My fault, not Sean's.

    This iconic song has a special place in Cubs' history with Harry and WGN, but it's Chicago roots go even deeper. Lyricist Jack Norworth's wife Nora Bayes sang the original 1908 hit song. Nora was born in Joliet, IL and cut her teeth performing in Chicago before moving to New York. Her biggest claim to fame may be singing the patriotic, troop-rallying tune "Over There", which carried our nation and inspired puclic support through two World Wars.

    Anyway, I post a lot of lyrics, and I know our readers have varied musical tastes. I'm pretty sure all of us are familiar with this one.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Great stuff, BarleyPop! I believe Nora Bayes debuted it near the close of the run of the 1908 Follies as an encore, perhaps, because it wasn't listed as part of the program. It's a great story!

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    Thanks for another wonderful article. I love history and the history of the Cubs (and baseball) is great reading. We do have top writers and thanks for all the work going in to these pieces.

  • I remember the old days when it was easy to sign a FA and
    make a trade

  • I remember the old days when it was easy to sign a FA and
    make a trade

  • I remember the old days when it was easy to sign a FA and
    make a trade

  • I remember the old days when it was easy to sign a FA and
    make a trade

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    In terms of "Beaneaters" ... Refer to "The Boston Pilgrims Never Existed," by Bill Nowlin ... who shows also that "Boston Beaneaters" never existed, as it was a spectacularly off-hand reference to Boston's AL and NL teams BOTH:http://www.baseball-almanac.com/articles/boston_pilgrims_story.shtml
    The only thing that makes "Beaneaters" a "former nickname" for those teams is that people have kept repeating it in otherwise credible books, so I certainly can't blame this particular author.
    For other "official" past nicknames being debunked, see www.bit.do/unofficialNODAKS
    Glenn Pierce, author of Naming Rites: A Biographical History of North American Team Names

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