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The Top 100 Cubs Of All Time - #34 Orval Overall

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Chicago Daily News negatives collection, SDN-056429. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society.

Profile by BCB reader Chris (with additions by Al)

Orval Overall unquestionably would deserve to rank highly on the list of the 100 Greatest Cubs for just one singular achievement. He is one of only two men ever to stand on the mound and record the final out to clinch a Cubs World Series victory. (Three Finger Brown is the other.) While there is sadly no video, Retrosheet dryly records the final out of Game Five of the 1908 Series thusly: "Schmidt grounded out (catcher to first); 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Cubs 2, Tigers 0." Happily, Tim McCarver was not in the park to mar this still-blissful memory.

Born on February 2, 1881 in Farmerville, California, Overall was one of the biggest men to play baseball in his era -- 6-2, 214, in an era when many ballplayers were barely over average height for the time, 5-6. He attended the University of California-Berkeley, where he starred in both baseball and football. His father, a wealthy man, wanted him to join him in business dealings in California, but young Orval was determined to play baseball, signing with Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League in 1904, and eventually joining the Cincinnati Reds the following season after the Reds outbid the Cubs for his services. Foolishly, after Overall got off to a poor start in 1906, they then traded him TO the Cubs for Bob Wicker and cash. He immediately paid dividends, going 12-3 with a 1.88 ERA for the '06 Cubs.

Overall dominated the 1908 series - two starts, two complete games, one run and seven total hits allowed. The Baseball Encyclopedia retroactively selected him as its MVP. It should be noted in fairness, however, that in a Game 1 RELIEF APPEARANCE on top of his two starts, he walked what became the tying run in the bottom of the eighth. However, the Cubs then scored five in the top of the ninth - evidently this is the karma that is balanced out on the cosmic ledger against Alex Gonzalez's 2003 NLCS error.

It's possible that Overall himself did not necessarily consider this to be the epochal accomplishment that it appears today. By then, it may have been old hat. It was, after all, the second of back-to-back Cubs World Series victories. (I want to say that again, just because I like typing it. Back-to-back Cubs World Series victories.) Overall started two games in the 1907 series, winning one, with the other ending in a tie. Moreover, he was a member (along with Brown, Ed Reulbach, and Jack Pfiester) of one of the most dominant pitching rotations in baseball history, after coming to the Cubs in 1906 from the Reds. The pitching staff was so dominant that Bill Burgess cited it as one of the key reasons why Ty Cobb failed so miserably in his World Series career. I commend that essay for anyone interested in the numbers.

Those accomplishments alone clearly mark Overall as one of the great all-time Cub pitchers. If, in the future, any other pitcher comes to the Cubs and is at the core of the pitching staff for (I guess I'll say it one more time) back-to-back World Series victories, we will put a statue of him up at Wrigley Field next to Harry.

Nonetheless, I would be remiss if I did not mention two additional pieces of food for thought. First, his gaudy statistics have to be considered in light of the dead ball era in which he pitched. Even so, it should be evident from his rankings (near the top of the league in WHIP, strikeouts, and shutouts throughout his best years) that Overall plainly stood out when measured against his contemporaries.

Second, Bill James makes this intriguing observation in the Historical Baseball Abstract:

When you look carefully at the Cubs of those years, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that this team won more games with infield defense than any other team in the history of baseball.... Their pitching was good. Three Finger Brown was great; the rest of the staff was good. But it is also apparent that the Cubs' defense was so good that anybody they put on the mound was effective. Nineteen pitchers pitched 150 or more innings for the Cubs in their ten best years (1904-1913). Seventeen of those 19 pitchers posted ERAs below 3.00, including guys ... like Orval Overall who had never had comparable success with other teams.

Now, if the principle behind the observation were completely true, Neifi would have worked out a lot differently. Without seeing Overall, it is impossible to say what proportion of his accomplishments properly may be attributed to pitching, and which to defense. Regardless, baseball success ultimately is a matter of deeds - for which Orval Overall unquestionably ranks as one of the all-time great Cubs.

One last time - back-to-back Cubs World Series victories.

After he retired, having pitched well for the Cubs in all four World Series in which he appeared (3-1 in 8 games, 5 starts with a 1.58 ERA in 51.1 IP), Overall did eventually fulfill his father's wishes, taking over the family farm and becoming involved in banking in his native California. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1918. He died of a heart attack on July 14, 1947 in Fresno, California, aged 66.

Orval Overall's career stats at