Northside Nostalgia 1940-50

Brooklyn Dodgers Jackie Robinson iin the dugout at Wrigley Field June 6,1954. (Chicago Tribune File Photo by Ray Gora) .OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS, NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, CHICAGO OUT.. 00277608A jackie (baseball pro)

Northside Nostalgia Part 1: The Beginning

Part 2: 1870-1900

Part 3: 1900-1910

Part 4: 1910-1920

Part 5: 1920-1930

Part 6: 1930-1940

Baseball at War

1945_world_series_program_hd

After three pennants in the 30's the Cubs struggled early the next decade. They failed to break the 80 win plateau from 1940-44 as the stars of the past generation began to retire. Owner PK Wrigley felt it wasn't a priority to spend big on young talent. The quality prospects the Cubs previously sought out moved elsewhere and Chicago began sliding to also-ran status.

History then intervened to give the Cubs one more shot at a pennant in 1945. Many of baseball's best players began being drafted into military service during the Second World War. While most players didn't see combat, instead playing baseball to raise money for war bonds, they were unavailable for their teams.

The diluted talent pool offered a chance for second-division teams to succeed. The lowly St. Louis Browns won the 1944 pennant for the only time they were in St. Louis (they have been much more successful as the Orioles). Likewise, the Cubs jumped from 74 wins in 1944 to 98 in 1945 to win the National League.

They played the Tigers in the World Series, travel restrictions due to war time rationing meant the first three games were in Detroit and the final four were at Wrigley Field. The series went seven games but the Tigers, led by Hank Greenberg, took the title. It would only take 71 years for the Cubs to make it back to the World Series

Jack Roosevelt Robinson

Cubs legend Cap Anson had helped fashion a "gentleman's agreement" to keep black players out of the Major Leagues in the 1890's when Fleet Walker had integrated baseball playing for Toledo. This shameful unofficial rule had held until the 1940's. Finally after the death of virulently racist commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, Dodgers President Branch Rickey decided to act.

In late 1945, Rickey tapped Jackie Robinson from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League to be the first black man to play since Walker. Robinson was assigned to Brooklyn's farm club in Montreal for 1946, where he had a great season. In April 1947 his contract was purchased by the Dodgers and he made his debut.

Some players planned to go on strike if Robinson took the field, one story had it that the Cubs players strongly favored the strike. A threat from new commissioner Happy Chandler to ban anyone who refused to play scuttled the strike before it started. Robinson's first game at Wrigley drew 46,000 fans and another 20,000 jammed Clark and Sheffield streets. This was not just a huge moment in baseball history, it was a huge moment in American history. Here is a home movie of Jackie's first Wrigley game.

Off a Cliff

The falsely accused billy goat

The falsely accused billy goat

When star players returned from the war in 1946 the Cubs growing talent deficiency came into focus. They had a 82-72 record that season, Chicago would not have a winning record again until 1963! That's 17 years for those of you who are math challenged.

At this point, PK Wrigley was let off the hook because of a dispute over a goat. Don't let a non-existent curse hide the fact the Cubs were badly mismanaged by their owner. Most of the next 40 or so years the club was very rarely competitive. Despite this fact, the one bright spot in this dark time will emerge in the next decade. Another Kansas City Monarch would come to Chicago and become one of the best players in Cubs history.

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  • Curiously, this decade and the next led to my imprinting on the Cubs. Imagine my state today if they had been good!

    My dad was “Cubs to the core” and each summer we would travel up from Texas and take in a game or two. My brother and I would also get our new winter Cubs jacket, and then we would be taken to the Ivanhoe restaurant and catacombs by my rich uncle Jack.

    Wrigley then was pretty much as Wrigley now, but with the trip from the dugout to the clubhouse following an open “cage” catwalk above the heads of the lower stand fans.

    And the Cubs actually had a winning record in the games I attended! Good memories....

  • Too bad Cubs fans had to suffer as long as they did. Also, too bad the Cubs took 6 years to follow Rickey's example and start bringing black players into the game. What a different game it would have been without the discrimination.

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