Northside Nostalgia: 1920-1930

Wrigley Field during the 1929 World Series

Wrigley Field during the 1929 World Series

Northside Nostalgia Part 1: The Beginning

Part 2: 1870-1900

Part 3: 1900-1910

Part 4: 1910-1920

 

The Double Bill's Era

William Bill Wrigley

William Bill Wrigley

As baseball entered the roaring 20's, the Cubs had a changing of the guard at the top. In 1921, William Wrigley became majority owner of the team. This began the 60 year ownership of the Wrigley family, as we will see this stability did not lead to success.

Two years earlier in 1919 Bill Veeck Sr. was named the President of the Cubs. This is definitely not the last we will hear of the Veeck family. The two Bills, Veeck and Wrigley, would help build the Cubs back up to contender status. It would not be an immediate turnaround, however, as the early 20's were not a good era on the field.

The Cubs never finished higher than fourth place in the first half of the decade. Bottoming out in dead-last with 68 wins in 1925. 1925 is a good cut-off point, because things started steadily improving the next five years.

Joe Knows Managing

Joe McCarthy (Photo by Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)

Joe McCarthy (Photo by Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)

The turnaround began when Chicago hired Joe McCarthy as manager in 1926. McCarthy, later went on to a wildly successful run as Yankees manager in the 30-40's, was a very good manager on the Northside as well.

Veeck claimed a talented, yet disappointing outfielder off waivers from the New York Giants after the 1925 season. Lewis Robert Wilson, had earned the nickname Hack for his vicious swings at the plate. He'd go on to hit 21 homers, 36 doubles, and a .321 batting average in 1926 the beginning of five unbelievable seasons at Wrigley Field.

In 1921, the Giants had passed on signing a young catcher from the Worcester Boosters of the Eastern League. Scouts told manager John McGraw his hands were too small to be an effective receiver. The following year the Cubs signed the backstop, Charles "Gabby" Hartnett, and the rest is history.

Hack Wilson

Hack Wilson

The Final Piece

By 1928, the Cubs had 91 wins, but still came up four games short of the pennant. They needed one more player to bring things all together. The cash-strapped Boston Braves had acquired former Cardinals star second-baseman Rogers Hornsby in 1928. Hornsby had a tremendous year for the Braves and Veeck decided he was the man that would put the Cubs over the top.

Rogers Hornsby

Rogers Hornsby

The Cubs President offered the Braves five players and a staggering 200,000 dollars to buy Hornsby. Remember, before the reserve clause ended in the 1970's, players were often sold since they had no right to become free-agents. Clearly they had no financial restrictions that season, since 200,000 translates to 2.8 million today. Boston had no choice but to take the Godfather offer and the Raja donned a Chicago uniform.

He was worth every single penny. The Hall of Famer hit .380 with 39 homers and scored a whopping 156 runs  (still a franchise record) in 1929. Hornsby won the MVP and the Cubs took the pennant with 98 wins.

Unfortunately, Connie Mack had put together an even better team in Philadelphia. Sluggers Al Simmons and future Cub Jimmy Foxx teamed up with ace Lefty Grove to form a powerhouse A's squad.

Hornsby struggled in the series and Hartnett battled a season-long arm injury that limited him to pinch-hitting. The mighty Athletics steamrolled the Cubs in five games to win the title. Still the stage was set for a very successful decade to come in the 30's. After that, things get pretty dark on the Northside for about 40 years.

Comments

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  • A "talented, yet disappointing outfielder" becomes one of the Cubs' all-time greats under a manager named "Joe?" Mr. Schwarber, are you reading this?

    Nice job, Sean. I like the breakdown by decade as it's easier to envision the building and performance cycles of the team.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    I am still hoping that the aforementioned "Mr. Schwarber" is spending the offseason learning how to handle that borderline outside 3rd strike pitch. Maybe learn to foul it off or take it to LF. Maybe spend a week with Anthony Rizzo and learn to choke up on two strikes. Anything but taking it for a called third strike.

    If Kyle could make that improvement, I believe he would step up to the next level and the legacy of "Manager Joe" will continue.

  • Some time ago I read Warren Brown's 1946 book on the Cubs history thru the 1945 pennant. Two things stuck with me: (1) Joe McCarthy was essentially run out of town by a fan base so angry that he hadn't taken them back to the World Series in 1930 (and would have his revenge in '32 & '38, of course), and (2) what I believe was the closing line of the book, which mentioned that although the Cubs had lost the '45 Series, they would get back there soon, because they always had!!

    Thanks for these, Sean.

  • In reply to ClarkMontrose:

    Clark, I've read Warren Brown's book also. You're right. It's interesting to think what the Cubs may have done if Joe McCarthy stays. I just finished a book called Root for the Cubs: Charlie Root and the 1929 Cubs. I would recommend it. The book says the players loved McCarthy and he really knew the game and how to manage. It also speaks highly of Wrigley as an owner.

  • In reply to Cubpack:

    And thanks Sean. I love these articles of yours and looking back at the history of our Cubs.

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