When Chicago Ruled Baseball: The Cubs-White Sox World Series of 1906by Bernard A. Weisberger
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In 1906, the baseball would saw something that had never been done. Two teams from the same city squared off against each other in an intracity world Series, pitting the heavily favored Cubs of the National League against the hardscrabble American League champion White sox. Now, for its centennial anniversa4ry, noted historian Bernanrd A. Weisberger tells the tale of a unique time in baseball, a unique time in America, and a time when Chicago was the center of it all.
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When Chicago Ruled BaseballThe Cubs-White Sox World Series of 1906
By Bernard Weisberger
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Bernard Weisberger
All right reserved.
Chicago, Tuesday, October 9, 1906. From the standpoint of baseball weather, the outlook was rotten. Frigid blasts that gave Chicago its unflattering "Windy City" nickname whipped through the streets. A pale sun fought a losing battle with clouds that now and then spat snow flurries. If quality play was expected, the day almost shouted for a postponement.
But nothing short of a blizzard, or an earthquake like the one that had destroyed San Francisco that spring, or a renewal of the Great Fire that had left Chicago a pile of smoking ashes just thirty-five years earlier to the day was going to postpone the big event. Chicago, rebuilt and renowned, was going to strut. It was opening day of the World Series, and both contending teams, champions of the thirty-year-old National League and its five-year-old American League rival, were from Chicago. And so, in the plummy prose of Chicago Tribune sportswriter Hugh Fullerton a few days earlier, "Since last night a combination pennant pole marking the site of Chicago has served as the earth's axis, and around it something less than 2,000,000 maddened baseball fans are dancing a carmagnole ofvictory."1
The earth on the whole was unaware of the relocation of its axis. World Series? Probably 99 percent of the earth's peoples at that time had never seen, heard of, or cared about the game of baseball. But in Chicagoan eyes, baseball was the national pastime of the United States of America, and by definition a contest for its professional championship had to be earth altering. So Chicago was collectively excited, even if not every one of its slightly fewer than 2 million inhabitants could tell a carmagnole (a dance popular during the French Revolution) from a catcher's mitt.
The anticipation had been building for the six days since it became certain that both of Chicago's teams were pennant winners. The town's major daily newspapers (in those preconsolidation days of 1906, there were some nine in English and an equal number in German, Yiddish, Czech, Norwegian, and one or two other languages) gave baseball front-page coverage, beginning on Thursday and with the volume increasing over the weekend.2 The Tribune devoted most of its Sunday sporting section to a long review of the championship seasons of both White Sox and Cubs. It shared space with coverage of Saturday's Big Ten college football matchups -- baseball's only serious rival for attention back then. But college football appealed mostly to college graduates, an influential but still miniature slice of the population. Americans without higher education, however, had taken the diamond game to heart by the millions. They wanted a steady and generous diet of baseball scores, standings, and gossip in the daily papers that plugged them into the world (at 2 cents a copy), and publishers fed it to them willingly and profitably.
Front-page editorial cartoons, usually political, were temporarily shelved in favor of baseball gags: baseballs with smiley faces, deliriously happy fans and families, the latter including pets and babies. Two in particular carried implicit social messages. One, a story in four panels appearing in the Tribune, introduced a pair of characters already familiar from the comic strips: the boss and the office boy. The boss corners the reluctant youngster, who is planning to sneak away, and demands that the boy "do something" for him that afternoon, which happily turns out to be to "go to the ball game with me and explain the finer points." The lesson was that first, there were "fine points" to the game that made it a craft worth studying and not an idle pastime, and second, that mutual delight in Chicago's baseball prowess bound together generations and classes -- benign old employer and lowly kid jobholder. In that simple form the text was clear even to the barely literate reader.
Compared to that theme of harmony, one of the Daily News's pregame cartoons radiates realism. The image of Mrs. O'Leary's angry cow starting the Great Fire of 1871, as legend had it, by kicking a lighted lantern into a pile of straw is succeeded by the "Mild and Gentle Animal of Today" wearing a contented grin as uniformed Cubs and Sox players cheerfully milk her into a bucket stamped with a large, eye-catching dollar sign. Whatever else professional baseball bestowed on society at large, it was a business whose chief end and aim was to generate cash.
That contradiction between baseball's public face as the simon-pure recreational expression of the American spirit and the reality of big-league, big-city baseball as a market enterprise (and a monopoly at that) anchored in a growing commercial entertainment industry and culture -- that discord between image and reality -- is clear in any hard-eyed look at that 1906 crosstown series in a Chicago banging and barging its metropolitan way into a new century. It's a sports story that helps to explain how we American urbanites have come to be who we are and how we see ourselves.
But songs of social significance aren't the only music of baseball history. The Series itself was wonderfully exciting, an electric week of surprises, thrills, exploits and errors, hopes roused and hopes dashed. For those who were there, time was suspended, the world outside the playing field faded into the background, and individual problems were forgotten in the single, roaring life of the crowd riding the same emotional roller coaster with every swing and every pitch. That is what any popular spectator sport still does for its fans. In America, baseball did it first.
It was a different world then. But a lover of baseball in 2006 isn't all that estranged fron the grandstand throngs caught in those grainy black-and-white news photos of a century ago. We know more than we want to now about the private sins of the players, about multimillion-dollar payrolls and agents and unions and TV revenue shares---sometimes it's hard to tell the sports pages from the business news. . ..
Excerpted from When Chicago Ruled Baseball by Bernard Weisberger Copyright © 2006 by Bernard Weisberger. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Bernard A. Weisberger is a distinguished teacher and author of American history. He has been on the faculties of the University of Chicago and the University of Rochester, is a contributing editor of American Heritage for which he wrote a regular column for ten years, has worked on television documentaries with Bill Moyers and Ken Burns, and has published some dozen and a half books as well as numerous articles and reviews. He lives in Evanston, Illinois, with his wife.
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