Ever have one of those days? You know the one I mean, the one where nothing goes right no matter how hard you try. One of those? Yeah, of course you have. Well, baseball has a team with an entire century of those kind of days, the Chicago Cubs.
It wasn’t always that way. Chicago won the first ever National League pennant all the way back in 1876. On the centennial of the Declaration of Independence, it was seen as an omen to a number of Chicago city boosters. For a while it was. They won again in the 1880s, picking up a postseason championship along the way. There were down times in the 1890s, but they bounced back in the early 20th Century with a pretty good team. The 1906 version still has the highest winning percentage in Major League Baseball. But it was the 1908 team that represented the peak of Cubs baseball.
The 1908 Cubs won the National League pennant, one of the most famous of all pennant races, by a single game over Honus Wagner’s Pirates (I wonder if Wagner walked around going “aargh” or not. Probably not.) and John McGraw’s Giants. Although defending world Series champs, the Cubs faced a formidable opponent in the American League’s Detroit Tigers and Ty Cobb. The Tigers featured Cobb and fellow Hall of Fame inductee Sam Crawford in the outfield with Bill Donovan, Ed Killian, and Ed Summers on the mound. They’d won the American League pennant by a half game and had won it with hitting. Their pitchers records reflected their hitters abilities as much as they did the individual pitcher’s skills.
The Cubs, on the other hand, could both pitch and hit. Three Finger Brown, Jack Pfiester, and Orval Overall were superior hitters and the infield of Frank Chance (who doubled as manager), Johnny Evers, Joe Tinker, and Harry Steinfeldt was one of the best in baseball. The outfield was good with Jimmy Sheckard, Wildfire Schulte, and Solly Hofman patrolling the grass. Johnny Kling was considered one of the finest catchers in the NL.
Games one through three were high scoring, particularly for Deadball Era games. The Cubs and Brown won the first game 10-6 by plating five runs in the top of the ninth. Kling, hitting eighth, drove in the winning run with a clean single. Game two ended with a Cubs 6-1 victory. With both teams shutout going into the bottom of the eighth (game one was in Detroit, but games two and three were in Chicago) when the Cubs bunched together all six runs, highlighted by Tinker’s two-run homer. Detroit won game three in an 8-3 shootout. Again Chicago scored all its runs in one inning (the fourth), but this time Detroit also had a big inning. Down 3-1 in the top of the sixth, the Tigers strung together four singles, a bunt, and a double to plate five runs and put the game away.
Games four and five were back in Detroit where Chicago pitching took over. Brown and Overall both threw shutouts, Detroit got seven total hits, and the Cubs scored three runs in game four and two in the fifth game to capture the World Series.
The Cubs hit .293 (Chance hit .421), had an OBP of .343 (Chance also led in walks with three), slugged .360 including the Series’ only home run (Tinker’s in game 2). That game them an OPS of .702 (Chance’s was .921 and Schulte’s .950. Detroit hit all of .209 with Cobb leading the team at .368. Their OBP was .272, with a slugging percentage of .241 (OPS of .512).
Cubs pitchers Brown and Overall each won two games (Pfiester took the loss). The team ERA was .260 and Chicago gave up only 33 hits and 13 earned runs. Detroit’s pitchers wern’t nearly as good. Donovan and Summers each took two losses (Mullen got the win). The team ERA was 3.68 and they gave up 48 hits and 18 earned runs.
The Cubs won another pennant in 1910, but lost the World Series to Philadelphia, then the team began to slide. It won the NL pennant again in 1918, but lost to Boston and Babe Ruth. Futility has reigned since. As it turned out, 1908 was the last World Series Chicago won. Bad century, indeed.