Northside Nostalgia: 1910-1920

Northside Nostalgia Part 1: The Beginning

Northside Nostalgia Part 2: 1870-1900

Northside Nostalgia Part 3: 1900-1910

We started our look back at Cubs history through the decades last offseason. This year I'm going to take over the job all by myself. My goal is to make it all the way to 2010 this winter. As always, feel free to add your own fun facts in the comment section. As we go further along in time you can also add some personal memories. I assume not many of you were around for 1915, but perhaps I'm wrong. Anyway let's go.

End of an Era

The Cubs finished the first decade of the 20th Century at the top of the baseball world. They had gone to four of the last five World Series and won two of them. Of course father time is undefeated and the stars of those title teams retired or moved on. Three-Finger Brown, Tinker, Evers, and Chance all were gone. Every member of the famed double-play combo would manage the team at some point.

The 67 win 1916 Cubs

The 67 win 1916 Cubs

The Cubs won over 90 games in 1911 and 12 without winning the pennant. Then the win total took a steady decline, bottoming out at just 67 wins in the 1916. For most of the decade the biggest developments would come off the field.

Weeghman Park

Albert Lasker

Albert Lasker

Albert Lasker, an advertising executive, bought a large share of the team from Charles Taft in 1914. He teamed up with a wealthy partner, Charles Weeghman, to take majority control of the team in 1916. Weeghman owned a series of lunch counters and the Chicago Whales of the failed Federal Baseball League.

The Whales had played at a newly constructed stadium named for their owner, Weeghman Park. When the pair bought the Cubs they decided to move the team from West Side Grounds to the new stadium on the corner of Clark and Addison.

Builder of Wrigley Field Charles Weeghman

Builder of Wrigley Field Charles Weeghman

While this was going on, candy magnate William Wrigley began buying shares of the team. Eventually, he would take over the team, but that is a story for future decades. As everyone reading this article knows, the Cubs have never left Weeghman Park since renamed after it's future owner.

World Series at War

1918-ws-scorecard_gv878-4-a15-1918_pd_cropped

Things finally came back together for Chicago in 1918, as an outstanding pitching staff of Hippo Vaughn, Pete Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Lefty Tyler carried the team. The United States had entered the Great War in April of 1917, so the 1918 season was reduced to just 129 games. Seasons didn't have a consistent length although it was around 154, a number soon settled on permanently.

The Cubs won 84 games in the shortened season to take the pennant and a trip to the World Series against the Boston Red Sox. The American army was at that point in early September of 1918 fully engaged in fighting on the Western Front with hundreds of men dying daily.

Many star players were serving overseas, including Alexander, who pitched just 29 innings before being drafted. When he returned he suffered from shell-shock, now called PTSD, from artillery attacks during the war. He would eventually start drinking heavily effecting his later career.

Grover Cleveland Alexander

Grover Cleveland Alexander

The lack of Alexander hurt the Cubs during the series which they would eventually lose four games to two. Interestingly, one of the Northsiders' best hitters during the season was Fred Merkel. Yes the same Fred Merkel who didn't touch second for the Giants in 1908.

The games in Chicago were played at the bigger Comiskey Park, so the Cubs would not play a World Series at the Friendly Confines for another 11 years. Players also threatened to strike due lower than expected gate revenue, but the games went on.

The real star of the series was Boston ace George Herman Ruth who won two of the games including a complete game shutout in game one. This will not be the last World Series he beats the Cubs in.

A Tradition Born

During the patriotic furor of 1918, a new tradition began to take root in baseball. I use furor because people took things too far at points and violated peoples civil liberties. But that is a matter for a different forum, perhaps I should start a history blog for that.

Anyway back to baseball, Red Sox fans began to spontaneously sing the Star Spangled Banner during the seventh inning stretch in the first game of the series. Not yet the official national anthem, it had never been sung at a game. Eventually during World War Two it became common place to sing it before games.

Fenway Park 1918

Fenway Park 1918

 

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  • I find similarities between the Cubs during the years following the WS victory in '08 and today's team, especially winning over 90 games in 1911 and 1912 with the win total declining after that. In today's parlance, we'd say their window was closing...

    Going by total wins, the Cubs have done well in '17 and '18, but didn't get the big enchilada... Hopefully, they'll keep that window open and get another WS ring or two while the core of the team is still together.

  • Here's some more "Merkle Facts" that bleed into the 1920-20 era:

    Many Cub fans are familiar with the Merkle Game of 9/23/08. To summarize briefly, the Giants and Cubs were locked in a very tight 1908 pennant race. In the 9/23 game, the score was tied and the Giants were at bat with the Cubs having obtained 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th. Giants were on 1st (Merkle) and 3rd, when the game winning hit plated the runner on 3rd — game over, or so the Giants and the home crowd thought. Only problem was that Merkle never touched 2nd, and Cubs claimed a force out there nullifying the run and forcing a playoff ultimately won by the Cubs, who went on to claim their 2nd World Championship.

    Here’s what I (and probably you) didn’t know about the aftermath.

    1. Harry Pulliam, the NL President that decided the situation in the Cubs’ favor, was so distraught that he committed suicide 8 months later. All teams save one (the Giants), sent a representative to his funeral.
    2. Hank O’Day was named the Cubs’ manager in 1914. Believe it or not, it turns out he was also the umpire that, later that night, called the Merkle force-out in the Cubs favor.
    3. Rookie Merkle started for the first time that day, ultimately had a 14-year career, and became a Cub himself in 1917.
    4. Merkle died in 1956, the year that the Cubs set the record for their worst winning percentage at 60-94 .390 (since tied or exceeded 5 times).

  • In reply to wthomson:

    There was more to Pulliam's mental health pressures than the Merkle game. He wanted to investigate the alleged scheme to bribe the October 8, 1908 umpires by the Giants. He wanted to investigate an alleged scalping scheme by Cubs owner Charles Murphy. And he didn't really rule in favor of the Cubs. He supported his umpires. The Cubs were angry with him because they insisted that the Merkle game should have been declared a Giants forfeit. So he was getting pressure from the Cubs, the Giants, especially John McGraw with whom Pulliam had been at odds for years, and even his old friend Barney Dreyfus owner of the Pirates who was very upset about how the season ended. And there's a theory that Pulliam was gay and being threatened to be outed if he didn't cooperate with the owners on these, and other, controversial issues. Probably to discredit any such outing of his sexual orientation, during the February 1909 winter meetings, held at what is now the Congress Hotel in Chicago, he suddenly declared he was to be married and left the meetings to catch a train to St. Louis for his supposed wedding. The owners tried to stop him by kidnapping him, essentially. He escaped and ran through the city without hat or coat and caught his train. But he was met in St. Louis by representatives of the league and put under a kind of house arrest at the Planters Hotel. He was obviously suffering a nervous breakdown. There was no fiance, no wedding plans. The owners moved him to Cincinnati for a time. He also spent some time recuperating at his sister's home in Nashville. He resumed his duties as league president the following summer, but broke down in late July and shot himself in the head. There are those that suspect someone helped him, but I don't know. There was a Tammany connection to the attempted bribing of the October 8 umpires, but he was clearly a broken man. And mental health problems were in his family. His sister committed suicide several years later. His is a very tragic story.

  • One of my favorite Cub fun facts is that the Cubs were the first MLB team to win multiple World Series.

  • Turns out that my dad was a clubhouse boy at Weeghman Park during this decade. He and his pre-teen buddies would walk a few blocks north (unsupervised) to the Park, shine a few shoes, pick up a few towels, and gain entrance to the game. A different time indeed!

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    In reply to wthomson:

    That's great stuff. I did not now about the National League President doing that. It is fascinating that Merkel ended up on the Cubs after the famous play. 1918 sports writers probably had a field day with it.

  • Great stuff. Enjoyed it a bunch!

  • Great stuff Sean. Interesting that Wrigley enters the picture around the same time as the long decline of the franchise. Maybe coincidence, maybe not.

    Sean, can you provide a book reference that is not too stodgy yet illustrates the Cubs history. Would be cool for us Cub fans to go into gory detail on the offseason.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    A few books I have really enjoyed include Crazy '08 by Cait Murphy. A very good read about that 1908 season. Also, Root for the Cubs: Charlie Root and the 1929 Cubs by Roger Snell is an interesting book about the early Cubs under William Wrigley Jr.
    If you want just a general Cubs history, Before the Curse: Cubs Glory Years 1870-1945 is good also.
    I haven't read it yet, but I have heard Cubs 100: A Century at Wrigley is good also.

  • In reply to Cubpack:

    Thanks I checked out Crazy '08 on Amazon and from the reviews it looks like a fantastic read. I already ordered it. I added "The Glory of Their Times" to boot, since that came up as a related read and looks amazing also.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    Hope you like it. I enjoyed learning how different & crazy baseball, & our world was in 1908

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    In reply to HefCA:

    As future editions will demonstrate Bill Wrigley was a good owner. Committed to winning and had many good tearms. When his son Phil takes over the team falls apart. Phil was famously cheap and leads the Cubs into 39 years without a playoff appearance. Ironically the much maligned Tribune Company started to repair the damage. But that is all I will add for now.

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