Before the Curse: The Chicago Cubs' Glory Years, 1870-1945

Before the Curse: The Chicago Cubs' Glory Years, 1870-1945

Paperback(1st Edition)

$19.08 $21.95 Save 13% Current price is $19.08, Original price is $21.95. You Save 13%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Eligible for FREE SHIPPING
  • Get it by Wednesday, February 21 , Order now and choose Expedited Delivery during checkout.
    Same Day delivery in Manhattan. 


Before the Curse: The Chicago Cubs' Glory Years, 1870-1945 by Randy Roberts

Before the Curse: The Chicago Cubs' Glory Years, 1870-1945 brings to life the early history of the much beloved and often heartbreaking Chicago Cubs. Originally called the Chicago White Stockings, the team immediately established itself as a powerhouse, winning the newly formed National Base Ball League's inaugural pennant in 1876, repeating the feat in 1880 and 1881, and commanding the league in the decades to come. The legendary days of the Cubs are recaptured here in more than two dozen vintage newspaper accounts and historical essays on the teams and the fans who loved them. The great games, pennant races, and series are all here, including the 1906 World Series between the Cubs and Chicago White Sox. Of course, Before the Curse remembers the hall-of-fame players—Grover Cleveland Alexander, Gabby Hartnett, Roger Hornsby, Dizzy Dean—who delighted Cubs fans with their play on the field and their antics elsewhere.
Through stimulating introductions to each article, Randy Roberts and Carson Cunningham demonstrate how changes in ownership affected the success of the team, who the teams' major players were both on and off the field, and how regular fans, owners, players, journalists, and Chicagoans of the past talked and wrote about baseball.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780252078163
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication date: 01/15/2012
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 296
Sales rank: 1,361,494
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Randy Roberts is Distinguished Professor of History at Purdue University and the author of Joe Louis: Hard Times Man. Carson Cunningham is an assistant professor of history at Depaul University and the author of American Hoops: U.S. Men's Olympic Basketball from Berlin to Beijing.

Read an Excerpt


By Randy Roberts Carson Cunningham

University of Illinois Press

Copyright © 2012 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-252-07816-3

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 following comments of the Cincinnati press indicate the feelings of that city over the late Red Stocking defeat:


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.


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.


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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction. The Chicago Cubs: From Early Excellence to the Golden Age to That Dam Goat 1

Part I From "Let's Play Ball" to King Kelly

1 Title Time? 13

Comments of the Cincinnati Press on the Late Base-Ball Match—Chicago Times, 1870 14

2 Baseball, Celebrated and Lampooned 17

This National Game—New York Times, 1881 18

America's National Game—Outing, 1888 20

3 Measuring Fielders 29

Fall Field Sport—Chicago Times, 1876 29

4 "Cap" 35

Cap Anson of Marshalltown: Baseballs First Superstar—David L. Porter, Palimpsest, 1980 37

Open Letter to Anson—Chicago Daily Tribune, 1897 45

5 The $10,000 Beaut! 49

When Fans Roared "Slide, Kelly, Slide!" at the Old Ballgame—James A. Cox, Smithsonian, 1982 50

Death of Kelly—Boston Daily Globe, 1894 59

Part II From the Colts to the Dynasty

6 From Teetotaling to Egypt 67

The Lessons of the League Campaign of 1888—Spalding's Official Baseball Guidebook, 1889 69

The Great Baseball Trip Around the World in 1888-89—Spalding's Official Baseball Guidebook, 1889 71

7 Hot Time at the Hot Springs 75

Start Play This Week: Orphans Finish Their Training at Hudson Hot Springs Chicago Daily Tribune, 1899 76

8 Chi-Town Fandemonium 81

Nearly Everybody in Chicago Is Crazy About Baseball—Chicago Daily Tribune, 1906 84

Frantic Rooters Crowd the Field—Chicago Daily Tribune, 1906 90

9 Evers on the Glory Years 99

Excerpt from Touching Second: The Science of Baseball John J. Evers Hugh S. Fullerton, 1910 101

10 Bartman's Got Nothin' on Merkle 109

Bluff of Giants Typical—I. E. Sanborn, Chicago Daily Tribune, 1908 111

Story of the Merkle Game—I. E. Sanborn, Chicago Daily Tribune, 1912 116

Manager O'Day Takes from Evers Credit for Famous Merkle Play— Chicago Daily Tribune, 1914 119

11 Cubs, Champions! 121

Cubs Supreme in Baseball World—I. E. Sanborn, Chicago Daily Tribune, 1908 122

12 Centennial Brown 127

Three-Fingered Immortal—Ed Burkholder, Sport, 1953 129

13 Politics at the Park 139

President's Day at Chicago—Spalding's Official Baseball Guide, 1910 140

Part III From the Hangover through the Roaring Twenties

14 Oh my! It's O'Day! 147

Evers Deposed As Cubs Leader; O'Day Gets Job—Sam Weller, Chicago Daily Tribune, 1914 148

15 Grover's Highs and Lows 157

His Own Worst Enemy—Andrea I. Paul, Nebraska History, 1990 158

16 Share Squabble at the Series 169

Adjustment Today, Players' Demand—Melville E Webb Jr., Boston Daily Globe, 1918 171

17 Papa, the Gipper, and the Cubs 175

Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1918: A New Kansas City Piece by Ernest Hemingway—George Monteiro, American Literature, 1982 175

Ronald Reagan: Above All, the Gipper was a Good Sport—Gary Peterson, 2004 177

18 Humble Beginnnings Majestic Life 181

Wrigley Spent Fortune to Make Cubs Champs—Jim Crusinberry, Chicago Daily News, 1932 183

19 Baseball Man 187

Busher Joe McCarthy—Joe Williams, Saturday Evening Post, 1939 187

20 Haymaker Hack 199

Hack Wilson Fined $100—Chicago Daily News, 1929 202

Part IV From Depression-Era Greatness to That Darn Goat

21 Rajah in Charge 207

M'Carthy Likely To Go; Hornsby Rumored for Job—Chicago Daily News, 1930 208

22 Did he Call it? 213

Home Runs by Ruth, Gehrig Beat Cubs, 7-5 Edward Burns, Chicago Daily Tribune, 1932 214

23 What Depression? Third World Series in Seven Years 217

All World Thrilled By Big Series-Gene Morgan, Chicago Daily News, 1935 218

24 Sansberg Before Sandberg? 223

Well-Spent Dime—Ron Coons, Courier-Journal & Times, 1975 223

25 Speakin' of Hartnett 229

Gabby Likes 'Em Hot—Warren Brown, Saturday Evening Post, 1939 231

26 Swoonin' 247

The Decline and Ball of the Cubs-Stanley Frank, Saturday Evening Post, 1943 248

27 Maybe Next Year? 259

Back Cubs with Heavy Betting-John P. Carmichael, Chicago Daily News, 1945 260

Notes 263

Index 271

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Before the Curse: The Chicago Cubs' Glory Years, 1870-1945 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book goes back to not only the beginning of the Cubs but baseball. Full of facts about how various aspects of the game got their start such as idea of spring training and baseball signalling (begun by a Cubs manager-at the time called the white stockings and then the Chicago colts]. Very detailed, incorporating newspaper articles and editorials of the time. Favorite line from an editorial from 1897 where someone wrote "A constant dwindling of public interest in the club and a falling off of attendance at games....." This could be applied to the present team. I am not a baseball fanatic but am a Cubs fan and have thoroughly enjoyed the book.