Exactly a century ago, the Chicago Cubs won the National League pennant.
Before the 1918 season started, this was neither a foregone conclusion nor even expected. After a decade of dominance from 1903-12, during which the Cubs won at least 91 games every season but one, averaged 98 wins over the period and won four league titles and two World Series, the team had fallen on hard times. Players aged, retired or departed and as 1918 dawned, the team was coming off three straight losing seasons.
Several shrewd acquisitions and the onset of World War I, which took quite a number of good players out of baseball, suddenly had the Cubs as a dominant club again.
They finished with the best record in baseball, albeit in a shortened season (131 games) due to the war, and dropped a six-game World Series to the A.L. champion Red Sox.
Both teams in that Series would then go through extended championship droughts before ending them helmed by the same executive, Theo Epstein.
The 1938 Cubs, 80 years ago, also won the National League pennant, capped by perhaps the most famous home run in franchise history, Gabby Hartnett’s “Homer in the Gloamin’”.
The other two anniversary seasons to be noted this year, you’re probably more familiar with.
The 1998 Cubs wild-card team also came mostly out of nowhere. The team had posted one of the worst years in franchise history in 1997, a 94-loss season that began with a 14-game losing streak. A 13-12 September in 1997 was perhaps a harbinger of the better things to come in ‘98, in which, led by Sammy Sosa’s 66-homer year as well as Kerry Wood’s Rookie of the Year season, they, the Mets and Giants had an epic postseason race in which no team led the wild-card race by more than one game over the last 45 days of the season.
The ‘98 Cubs were swept out of the division series by the 106-win Braves, but it was still a ride worth remembering 20 years later.
We will note, this year, the 10th anniversary of the 2008 N.L. Central champion Cubs, who roared through a regular season that posted the most wins for any Cubs team since 1945. They went into first place to stay May 11 and their 20-8 August was one of the best months in franchise history. Led by fine seasons from Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto, the best year of Ryan Dempster’s career (7.0 bWAR) and 34 saves from Wood, the Cubs looked like they would have a great chance to break the World Series drought after exactly a century... until they simply stopped hitting once October came.
None of those four teams won the ultimate prize, the World Series championship, but all are worth remembering. Throughout this season I’ll present notable games and events surrounding the 10th, 20th, 80th and 100th anniversaries of these memorable teams from Chicago Cubs history.
And we hope that 2018 will be remembered as a significant year in Cubs history too.