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BEFORE THE CURSE
THE CHICAGO CUBS' GLORY YEARS, 1870-1945
By Randy Roberts Carson Cunningham
University of Illinois Press
Copyright © 2012 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All right reserved.
Chapter One Title Time?
AS A FRANCHISE KNOWN FOR unmatched futility, it seems odd that, in what was arguably its inaugural season, the 1870 Cubs—known then as the White Stockings or Chicagoans—won the championship. But even that championship came with a caveat, because the New York Mutuals, who had the best record, protested the controversial ending of its late season series with the White Stockings. The controversy erupted in front of more than 7,000 fans in Chicago when the Mutuals' pitcher, Mac Wolters, became so upset that he'd thrown twelve straight pitches to the plate which neither the batter nor umpire liked that he stormed off the field. Chicago fans then rushed onto the field to celebrate. By the time everyone got cleared away it was too dark to finish. (Negotiations between the teams to replay the game failed.)
Counting the Mutuals series as a victory, the Windy City's title, as the Chicago Times reported, arrived a short time later when the White Stockings won a wildly popular end-of-season series over Cincinnati, making the Chicagoans the "champions of the country."
This championship occurred several years before the formation of the National League and thirty-three years before the first World Series. Still, a crowd of some 15,000, "larger by thousands than any that ever before witnessed a game in America" according to the Times, turned out to watch the game, which was played on the South Side in Dexter Park. Hundreds of the spectators were from Cincinnati.
The White Stocking's victory in this 1870 series came at an early period in the evolution of modern professional sports, not to mention a much different time in America. Only five years before this championship, the Civil War ended. And, though booming, the city of Chicago—yet to be nicknamed the "Windy City"—was constructed largely of wood and boasted a population of fewer than 300,000. The Great Chicago Fire was still a year away.
The White Stockings, depending on the day, played at Dexter Park, which was next to the South Side's Great Union Stockyards, or at the lesser-regarded Ogden Park, on the near-north side. The team was yet to move to their brand new home field, the Union Base-Ball Grounds, between Michigan Avenue and the Illinois Central tracks north of Madison Street. (The fire would wipe out the new park in its first season).
Still, despite Chicago's relative modesty, by 1870 areas like Englewood, Hyde Park, and Calumet had already formed, and the people of Chicago already loved professional baseball. So too did folks in Cincinnati. Indeed, fans from both cities did not hesitate to show their zeal for the home team with a wager.
Along with the Times' reportage of the closely followed series, in this selection, readers get a sample of the Cincinnati papers' reactions to their team's loss.
Comments of the Cincinnati Press on the Late Base-Ball Match
Chicago Times, October 15, 1870
THE LATE CHICAGO-CINCINNATI GAME.
The following comments of the Cincinnati press indicate the feelings of that city over the late Red Stocking defeat:
FROM THE GAZETTE.
We were beaten! We know it, we feel it, but how could we help it? The umpire was against us, the weather was against us, the crowd was against us, the heavens were against us, the ground was against us, the pestilential air of the Chicago river was against us, the Chicago nine was against us, and last, but not least, the score was against us.
FROM THE ENQUIRER.
Chicago is joyful to-night. She has achieved the dearest wish of her heart in having taught Cincinnati, at Dexter Park, in the presence of 15,000 people, that she at last can play base-ball. The contest between the White and Red Stockings was close and bitter, and ended in victory well and honorably earned by the recognized nine of the Chicago club.
Fortune and the vast crowd were with the latter, in the fact that the fielding errors of the Reds were fatal ones, while those of their opponents did not materially affect the issue. In this fact, indeed, is told the whole story of the game, for the wild applause which the crowd bestowed upon the good plays of the local favorites, and its contrast with the seemingly feeble cheer which the 400 Cincinnatians, and they alone, sent up whenever the Red Stockings did anything brilliant, could not unnerve the victors of 200 fields, especially as it was the result of a partisan feeling more than usually devoid of ruffianism.
FROM THE COMMERCIAL.
The game here to-day between the Red Stockings and White Stockings went against the Cincinnatis by 16 to 13. The White Stockings are the first club in the United States to win two games from the Reds. The Mutuals hold the nominal championship, but the victory of today makes the Chicagoans the champions of the country. The game this afternoon was wrought with the greatest determination on both sides, as it proved one of the most intensely exciting ever played. Superior weight at the bat enabled the White Stockings to win. Their batting the last three innings has never perhaps been equaled in an important contest. The Reds and their friends conceded the entire fairness of the defeat. Ferguson, captain of the Atlantics, umpired the game superbly. He was the right man in the right place.
The feeling in Chicago before the game was that the Red Stockings would succeed. No even bets could be obtained this morning. The Cincinnatians, of whom about 500 came up, were almost certain that their favorites would win by a handsome score. Their feeling to-night is one of surprise at the excellent work of which the Chicago nine is capable. The White Stockings had not the same spur to win as the Red, having already scored the first of the series, which is one reason why their friends were reluctant to stake money on the result, but they fought their best, far excelling their display of skill in the Cincinnati game. Before the game commenced it was informally arranged that in case the Reds won to-day, the third and deciding game should be played in Chicago next Monday....
The crowd at Dexter Park this afternoon was enormous, and larger by thousands than any that ever before witnessed a game in America. The number is estimated at 15,000. Not more than 500 ladies were present. At least 1,000 carriages and other vehicles accommodated the dense multitude. For an hour after the game closed there was a blockade of carriages in the avenue leading from the grounds. The weather was clear, though a steady wind made it slightly too cold for comfort. The grounds are level, and in satisfactory condition.
The conduct of the crowd was highly creditable. Their club was in the rear most of the game, but they made no spiteful demonstrations. When their favorites forged ahead, they cheered loudly, and in the ninth inning, when the White Stockings made the remarkable number of eight runs, they cheered furiously. The Cincinnatians rewarded the good plays of the Reds with hearty applause. Hundreds of strangers from Iowa and Wisconsin were present, and to a man they sympathized with the Reds, and were ready to back them with money. The Reds also had thousands of backers among Chicagoans.
It is estimated that $20,000 changed hands in this city on the result of the late Chicago–Cincinnati game.
Chapter Two Baseball, Celebrated and Lampooned
WITH NO TIMEFRAME governing a baseball game's length, playing fields that feature "bullpens" and fences, and a playing season in-step with that of planting and harvesting, symbolically and mythically baseball echoes America's rural past. Yet baseball in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—especially professional baseball—was strongly urban. It represented, as Mark Twain put it, "the outward and visible expression of the drive and push and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century."
Surprisingly, though, in 1881 the New York Times—which sometimes showed support for baseball—ran a scathing op-ed about the sport, saving its choicest barbs for the professionals. The paper called on Americans to shun baseball and turn to the more refined game of cricket.
The second article presented here, written in 1888 in Outing magazine, reflects how near the turn of the twentieth century baseball not only made Americans giddy, it could unite classes and represent America's "verve."
In 1888 the industrial revolution roared and European immigrants came to America in droves. The two-year-old Statue of Liberty stood as a beacon of hope and Victorian mores were giving way to a more liberated cultural attitude. These changes brought their own issues, though, as cities with exploding populations like Chicago sometimes saw tensions arise and social problems multiply. Still, steam, steel, and electricity had already made significant inroads in changing how cities looked, felt, and functioned, and how people worked. Indeed, the increase in leisure time that came with the industrial revolution fueled the startling growth of professional baseball.
This article shows that, through all the rapid changes in America, the National League managed to appeal to thousands upon thousands of Americans—Americans that reveled in baseball. We also get a glowing report on the evolution of baseball as a business and the ballplayer as a professional.
This National Game
New York Times, August 30, 1881
There is really reason to believe that baseball is gradually dying out in this country. It has been openly announced by an athletic authority that what was once called the national game is being steadily superseded by cricket, and the records of our hospitals confirm the theory that fewer games of baseball have been played during the past year than were played during any other single year since 1868.
The history of the development of baseball is a curious and interesting one. It has existed in a rudimentary form in England ever since the latter part of the twelfth century, and it is believed that the young Plymouth Pilgrim played this inchoate game, then known as "rounders," on Good Friday as a public protest against the Church of Rome. Undoubtedly the game of "rounders" was developed from the still older and simpler game of "two-old-cat." The latter game, in the opinion of our best archaeologists, was invented by the Egyptians during the period of the Third Dynasty, and afterward introduced into Greece, whence it spread throughout the Mediterranean basin. It formed part of the Olympic games, and is believed to have been played by the Pythagorian neophytes as part of the initiation ceremony of the mysterious brotherhood founded by the great enemy of the bean school of philosophy—a school which was the forerunner and antitype of the modern Concord school. "Two-old-cat" has always held its place among the small-boys of all nations, and it is the germ whence all other games of ball in which "runs" are counted originate. Its extreme simplicity has prevented it from ever attaining the proud position of a national game, but it will always retain the reverence of ball-players as the primitive game of remote antiquity.
About twenty-five years ago there was an effort made to induce Americans to play cricket, but it failed. We were not, at that time, worthy of the game, and in our ignorance and indolence we said, "Give us something easier." It was then that certain unknown persons resolved to take the old game of "rounders," which had gradually become known by the name of baseball, and to make of it an easy substitute for cricket. To the latter game it bore much the same relation that the frivolous game of euchre bears to the grand science of whist. The base-ball conspirators said to their fellow-countrymen, "Here is an easy game which everybody can learn. Let us play it and call it our national game." The suggestion met with a warm response, and base-ball clubs sprang up all over the country.
Of course, the national game soon lost the simplicity of the familiar baseball of country small-boys. Elaborate rules were made, and these were so constantly changed and so many additions were made to them that the study of base-ball jurisprudence became a gigantic task. When objection was early made to the national game that it was really fit only for boys, the conspirators hit upon the plan of using a ball about as hard as a ten-pound cannon-ball and much more dangerous, and then proudly asked if they had not taken away the reproach that base-ball was a small-boys' game. From that time it became rather more dangerous to play base-ball than to fill lighted kerosene lamps or to indulge in any other of our distinctively national sports. It is estimated by an able statistician that the annual number of accidents caused by the base-ball in the last ten years has been 37,518, of which 3 per cent have been fatal; 25,611 fingers and 11,016 legs were broken during the decade in question, while 1,900 eyes were permanently put out and 1,648 ribs were fractured. Had not the popularity of the game begun to decline some two years ago it would undoubtedly have been demanded by Western Democrats that base-ball cripples should be pensioned by the Government, a measure which would at once bankrupt our national Treasury.
During the halcyon period of the national game a number of enthusiastic players went to England in order to introduce it in that benighted land. They played several games in public, but the Englishmen refused to take any interest in the matter. They said: "Ah! yes. Very nice game for little boys, but it's only our old game of rounders, you know." The American missionaries returned disappointed and somewhat disheartened, and from that time baseball began to show signs of waning popularity.
Then appeared the "professional players," [that] fell upon the game. They made a living by hiring themselves out to base-ball clubs. They made of what was originally designed to be a sport a matter of business. Worse than this, they made the national game a national instrument of gambling, and gradually succeeded in placing it on a level with the game of three-card monte. Games were won and lost in accordance with previous "arrangements." In other words, one set of players sold the game to their opponents before it was played, and the unfortunate people who had bets on the result were thus systematically robbed. Of late years base-ball has been rather more disreputable than was horse-racing in the days before the existence of Jerome Park. The honest young men who dressed themselves in ridiculous uniforms, called themselves "Red-legs," or "White-legs," and broke their fingers by playing matches in public, found that they were ranked in public estimation with professional black-legs, and one need not wonder that they are now abandoning the game wholly to the professional players.
Probably the time is now ripe for the revival of cricket. The day has gone by when Americans looked upon athletic sports which really required muscle and endurance, and upon games of cards in which intellectual effort was a more important element than chance, as something which they had no time to attend to. Whist has to a large extent superseded euchre, and the latter has been banished from the drawing-room to the railway smoking car. Our experience with the national game of base-ball has been sufficiently thorough to convince us that it was in the beginning a sport unworthy of men, and it is now, in its fully developed state, unworthy of gentlemen. Cricket will probably become as popular here in the course of a few years as it is in England. And we shall be contented to play a game worth playing, even if it is English in its origin, without trying to establish a national game of our own.
America's National Game
Harry Palmer, Outing, An Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Recreation, July 1888
Long live the National Game! Of all the games and field sports that have been introduced into civilized countries from time immortal, not one, so far as history has kept account, has ever awakened the same enthusiasm, attracted the same following, or enjoyed such steady progress along the highway of public favor as the national game of America. It will not be necessary, so far as the American readers of Outing are considered, to refer to figures or data in support of this assertion. The average American boy, although he may be rather ignorant as to how delegates are elected to the national convention, the number of electoral votes apportioned to the different States in the Union, or the date of Lee's surrender, can call the names of eminent professional ballplayers off-hand, or with equal ease give the principal events of Captain John Ward's history as a pitcher and short-stop, and Adrian C. Anson's record from the date upon which he left Philadelphia to play ball with Deacon White, Col. McVey, Ross Barnes and Al. Spalding in the Chicago team.
Excerpted from BEFORE THE CURSE by Randy Roberts Carson Cunningham Copyright © 2012 by Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission of University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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