On June 11, 1911 at West Side Grounds, the Cubs defeated Boston — then briefly known as the “Rustlers” — 20-2.
That alone would make for a good story, a Cubs win margin of 18 runs. At the time it was the second-biggest positive run differential in franchise history (the story of the other one is coming up tomorrow).
But there was a lot of intrigue surrounding this game, and a franchise record set.
Johnny Kling had been the Cubs’ catcher since 1900, save the 1909 season when he sat out to run a pool hall in his native Kansas City. Back then, when most baseball players were poorly paid, he said he could make more money doing that than playing for the Cubs and he might very well have been right. And, his replacements were so bad that Kling’s absence might have cost the Cubs a pennant. Kling was a 4.9 bWAR player in 1908. The three guys who replaced him were worth 1.2 bWAR — combined. The Cubs finished six games out of first place, though they won 104 games. That still stands as the record for a second-place team (matched by the 1942 Dodgers).
Anyway, Kling returned to the Cubs in 1910 and had a good year and the Cubs won the pennant again, their fourth in five years. He got off to a bad start in 1911 and management, figuring he was about done at age 35, traded him to Boston along with Hank Griffin, Al Kaiser and Orlie Weaver for Bill Collins, Cliff Curtis, Wilbur Good and Peaches Graham.
Right, I know, you probably haven’t heard of any of those guys. The key here is that the trade had happened June 10 — the day before this game — and Kling had jumped the Boston ballclub. As reported by someone with the byline “Handy Andy” in the Tribune:
After catching one game for the Boston Nationals and sizing up from the inside the outfit to which he had been traded, John Kling, crack billiardist as well as backstop, announced his retirement yesterday and his intention of sticking to the green table in preference to the greensward hereafter.
Of course, John did not put it in that coarse way. He was not knocking anybody. On the contrary, he expressed pleasure at being traded to Boston. But on mature consideration he came to the conclusion that the Hub was so far from his cue emporium in Kansas City that it would be difficult for him to keep an eye on business at that distance as well as he could from here [Chicago], consequently he had better retire with honors and devote his entire time to his billiard business.
The game recap by I.E. Sanborn also mentioned Kling:
Just to give the bugs a partial answer to the heated query “Who got the better of that trade,” the Cubs went and licked the everlasting tar out of Boston’s ex-Cubs yesterday in the second game of the series. Score, 20 to 2.
To be sure, the ex-outfit did not have the services of Johnny Kling, the big fish for whom Boston was angling, but it’s a cinch Noisy John could not have filled the gaps in left field, center field and portions of the infield in addition to catching four or five pitchers, so he would have made slight difference in the count.
They don’t write ‘em like that anymore, that’s for sure. “Bugs” was an early 20th Century term for “fans,” incidentally.
Anyway, Kling did wind up staying with the Boston ballclub the rest of 1911, missing just a couple of games, and played there in 1912 and in Cincinnati in 1913 before retiring. The 1911 Boston Rustlers were an awful team — last in the league at 12-38 after the 20-2 loss. The Cubs were 30-18 following that game, half a game out of first place. The Cubs eventually finished second at 92-62, 7½ games behind the pennant-winning Giants. Boston finished last at 44-107. For the Cubs it was the last hurrah for the great teams of the first decade of the century. They wouldn’t win that many games again until 1929.
So the Kling deal was the biggest Cubs story of the day, and I mentioned something else that might have also been bigger than the win itself. Heinie Zimmerman, the Cubs’ second baseman that year, hit a pair of home runs — unusual enough in that day, he hit just nine all year — in a four-hit afternoon in which he drove in nine runs.
One hundred and nine years later, the nine RBI still stand as the Cubs’ franchise record. Sammy Sosa tied it August 10, 2002 in a 15-1 win over the Rockies in Colorado. Sammy smashed three three-run homers that evening. Only eight other Cubs have had even eight RBI in a game — here’s the complete list of all Cubs with eight or more in a game — and apart from Sammy, no one’s done it since 1980.
Other notable performances from the 20-2 win in 1911: Jimmy Sheckard went 1-for-1 with four walks and scored five times and Frank “Wildfire” Schulte went 3-for-3 with four runs and four RBI. Orlie Weaver, one of the pitchers traded to Boston from the Cubs along with Kling, gave up five of the runs. He pitched for Boston the rest of 1911, then played eight more years in the minors before retiring.