The 1906 – 1908 Chicago Cubs – The Golden Age of Chicago Baseball

In 1923, Miller Huggins managed the Yankees to their first World Series Championship on its third try. Thus began one Golden Age of Baseball in New York City. But before the Yankees began their run to 27 World Championships, the Chicago Cubs had the claim as the game’s greatest team. From 1906-1908, the Cubs had three World Series appearances, two World Series Championships, and the mythology and folklore of the first Golden Age of Baseball. Unfortunately for Cub fans, they have been waiting for their next World Series Championship since.

The Cubs were not originally the Cubs. They were the Chicago White Stockings. It wouldn’t be until 1902 when “noting the youth movement lead by new manager Frank Selee, a local newspaper penned the nickname Cubs for the first time.” The team officially adopted the name in 1907. It would be first baseman Frank Chance, “The Peerless Leader” (in the dark uniform on the right), who would guide the Cubs through their golden age.

1906 was a year in which Orville and Wilbur Wright flew their airplane at Kitty Hawk. Upton Sinclair published The Jungle. The San Fransisco Earthquake practically destroyed a city. Jack London published White Fang, and Devil’s Tower is declared the first National Monument. The Cubs and the White Sox would play in the first and only Chicago crosstown series. Author Bernard Wesiberger describes the state game in 1906:

At the turn of the century, American baseball and America itself were, to a modern observer, both completely alien and yet timelessly similar to what we know today. In 1906 the sport of baseball was still mired in the “dead ball” era, when defense won championships, and players didn’t need bodybuilder physiques in order to be competitive. The league was racially segregated. A six–day workweek was threatened by early game times, as the first night game wouldn’t be played for another three decades. There was no radio to broadcast the contest. Only one ball was used throughout the game. And yet it was still ninety feet between bases. The home team still batted in the bottom of the ninth inning. And the final score could still capture the attention of a nation.

The Cubs won an astonishing 116 games in 1906. New manager Frank Chance played first base in addition to his managerial duties. Playing in the spacious West Side Grounds, the size of park placed an emphasis on pitching and defense. Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown along with Orval Overall, Jack Pfeister, Ed Reulbauch, Carl Lundgren, and Jack Taylor led  the Cubs dominating pitching staff and carried them to the NL Pennant by twenty games. The stalwarts of the defense not only played defense like no others, they actually hated each other. From 1905 on, Evers and Tinker did not speak. It would not be until Frank Chance was dying that Evers and Tinker repaired their relationship.

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

When the World Series came to Chicago in 1906, the Cubs were prohibitive favorites. The White Sox shocked the city and the nation by winning the series four games to two. The White Sox had only hit .230 as team during 1906. Throughout the series they consistently hit Cubs pictchers and the vaunted Cub defense collapsed committing error after error.

1907 saw the Cubs rebound and dominate again. Despite only having three fingers on his pitching Mordecai Brown won 29 games this season on his way to the Hall of Fame. This time, what some call the best team ever, ruled the west side with 107 wins. They took the series from Ty Cobb and the Tigers 4-0-1. The first game was a tie but the resulting four games showcased the Cubs pitching as they held the Tigers to one run a game. The Cubs stole an amazing 16 bases in the series and ran roughshod on the bases.

1908, once again, saw the domination of the Cubs. The Cubs won 99 games and won the pennant thanks to the “Merkle’s Boner” game.

In a September 23 Cubs-Giants game, Merkle failed to touch second base when Al Bridwell delivered an apparent game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth inning. By the time the Cubs retrieved the ball and eventually forced Merkle at second, fans had swarmed the field. With order impossible to restore, the game was declared a 1-1 tie. As things turned out, Chicago and New York wound up with 98-55 records, meaning the “Merkle game” would have to be made up. In an October 8 replay, the Cubs scored a 4-2 victory and left the Giants agonizing over what might have been. Or even what should have been. The Chicagoans, on the other hand, were reveling in what was.

The Series was a rematch against Ty Cobb and the Tigers. The Tigers winning game one until the final inning. leading 6-5, Detroit pitcher Ed Summers gave up six consecutive hits and five runs in the top of the ninth. The Cubs 10-6 triumph used Orval Overall and Mordecai Brown in relief after started Ed Reulbach.The Cubs would win the series four games to one. Orval Overall and Mordecai Brown each won two games as the Cubs would win their last championship.

The Cubs from 1906-1908 boasted Cub legends and Hall-of-Famers in Brown, Tinkers, Evers, and Chance. Unbeknownst to most Cubs fans is the dominance of Overall in 1907-09. Overall would only win one hundred games in his short career, mostly between 1906-1910. His two shutouts in 1908 stand still as achievement in the annals of the series. He would be out of baseball at the end of 1913 after missing the 1911 and 1912 seasons. Also, pitcher Ed Reulbach pitched two complete shut out games against the Brooklyn Dodgers on Septmber 26, 1908, a feat surely to be unmatched in today’s game. 3B Harry Steinfeldt was the main bat in 1906 and was around for the back-to-back championships in 1907 and 1908. The Cubs would mix it up against the then Negro League Leland Giants (Chicago American Giants) in October after both the series in 1908 and 1910.

Within five years, the Cubs would move to the north side to their current establishment and be in the World Series seven more times between 1908 and 1945 always settling for second place. For a small moment in time, Chicago ruled the baseball world on the west side of town. It was truly the golden age of baseball in Chicago. The White Sox in the 1910s would approach the level of the Cubs only to be undone in 1919. When Miller Huggins and his new star, Babe Ruth, took the series in 1923, it truly marked the end of the golden age of baseball in Chicago.

For further reading
When Chicago Ruled Baseball by Bernard Weisberger
The Best Team Ever by Alan Alop and Doc Noel
Crazy ’08 by Cait Murphy

For Further Reading
Golden Age of Baseball: The 1920s

Golden Age of Baseball: The 1930s

Golden Age of Baseball: The Post War World

Golden Age of Baseball: The 1960s

Golden Age of Baseball: The 1970s

Golden Age of Baseball: The Steroids Era

The Golden Age of Chicago Baseball



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