Cubs' greatest rival: Part 2

Second in a series of posts about how the identity of the Cubs' greatest rival has changed over the years.


The first rivalry in the Cubs' franchise history lasted just one season, 1870, during which the team, then known as the White Stockings, achieved its mission of defeating the Cincinnati Red Stockings -- not just once, but twice.

The rivalry ended so soon because the Reds disbanded following that season.




In 1871, the White Stockings were among the 9 founding members of the National Association, baseball's first true top-level professional league.

The Whites finished second, losing a championship showdown to the Philadelphia Athletics that played at New York after the Great Chicago Fire of Oct. 8-10 had destroyed the Whites' ballpark along with a large swath of the city.

But the Whites' focus through much of the season was not on Philadelphia but on Boston. The Red Stockings' roster featured brothers George and Harry Wright, previously the top 2 players for Cincinnati.

It also had a 20-year-old rookie pitcher, Al Spalding, who would post a 204-53 record in 5 seasons with Boston, then jump to Chicago, where he would become player-manager, then owner of the White Stockings.


The Whites defeated the Red Stockings in Boston in early June, and again in Chicago in early July. The Red Stockings won when they met in Boston on Sept. 5.

Under the association's rules, the final ranking of teams would be based on series won and lost, not games alone. If Boston won their fourth meeting, on Sept. 29 at Chicago, the series would be tied at 2 games and another game would have to be arranged at a neutral site to break the tie.

Boston arrived having won 6 games in a row, 8 of 9 and 11 of 13 since its July loss to the Whites. The Whites were only 7-3 since then and had played just one game since losing at Boston earlier in the month: a loss at home to Philadelphia.


So the visitors were heavily favored to win on Sept. 29.

They did not.



Two of the multiple headlines above the Chicago Tribune's account of the game were:

A Large Assemblage and an

Intensely Interesting



The Chicago Club Victorious by a

Score of 10 to 8 -- How

it was Done


It's a good thing that the Tribune cited the score in that headline, because it appeared nowhere in the long story that followed.

The story began with this remarkable sentence:

"The renowned Red Stockings, of Boston -- the second club in the contest for the championship (the first, according to the jaundiced vision of certain New York and Philadelphia oracles) -- the professed exponents of all that is high-toned and aristocratic in the professional fraternity -- the "plug-bat nine," as they are scornfully termed by some of the less pretentious ball-tossers -- flushed with their success over the White Stockings in Boston three weeks ago, and entertaining no doubt as to their ability to beat Chicago's disaffected, demoralized, and crippled nine, made their appearance upon the Lake Shore Park yesterday afternoon, all the players in high spirits and the best possible physical condition."

That's 113 words, start to finish!

This is how the story continued:


There wasn't a sore finger or a lame leg in the party. George Wright, their mainstay and chief reliance, was on hand as good as ever for all the purposes of his position in the field [shortstop] and at the bat (as was subsequently proved) and it was easy to see, by the air of exalted confidence which they wore, and by the manner in which the red-legged gentry frisked and cavorted about the field before the game began, that they anticipated a brilliant victory. . . .

[Wright had missed the first 2 games between the teams.]

The White Stockings were in a crippled condition, and illy prepared for a tough game. Pinkham was confined to his bed by sickness, and third base was vacant unless occupied by Hodes, whose lack of practice in that position might have excused the poorest of play.

King, who had scarcely recovered from a badly-broken finger, and who had not participated in a game of any character for nearly two months, must be relied upon as catcher, and Foley was placed in right and Simmons in centre fields.

King had sworn to stop every ball that Zettlein pitched -- if not with his hands, then with his head if need be -- and he kept his oath most faithfully until after he had received an injury so peculiarly painful and enervating as to almost necessitate his retirement from the field. So it will be seen that, morally and physically considered, the Bostons had much the best of its from the beginning.


was very large, numbering at least seven thousand people. The pavilion was completely filled with ladies and their escorts, among whom were some of the most prominent citizens of Chicago. . . .


was one of the loveliest imaginable -- warm, bright, and as clear, and without a breath of wind. It was as though the clerk of the weather took a lively interest in the national game, and on that account arranged a pleasant afternoon for the first time in ten days.



Play-by-play followed, documenting how the teams battled to a 4-4 standoff through 5 innings.

The Whites' leadoff batter in the sixth singled, advanced to third on an out and passed ball, then scored the go-ahead run on a single. An error and a single loaded the bases for Jimmy Wood, the team's second baseman and manager.

"He had made a poor show so far," according to the Tribune, "having once struck out, and he felt that, if there was ever a time to do something stunning, that time had arrived. Accordingly he dashed [yes, dashed] at a hip-high ball, sending a magnificent liner to left, clear to the south fence, bringing Hodes, Zettlein and McAtee home, and himself reaching third, amid a storm of cheers which lasted nearly five minutes."


Boston responded with 2 runs in the bottom of the sixth. The Whites added single tallies in the seventh and ninth, making the score 10-6.

"The Reds looked savage and determined, and had evidently no idea of being beaten," said the Tribune. The Whites' first error of the game and a double made it 10-7. A single, a steal and another error made it 10-8, with a runner on second and nobody out.

The runner held on a fly out, then reached third as catcher King fielded a tap in front of the plate and threw to first for the second out.

Here is the Tribune's description of what happened next:


George Wright now stepped up to the plate, determined, as it appeared, either to get a ball exactly to suit him, or else to take his base on called balls. In this resolve he was most ably seconded by the umpire, who gave him his base after six balls had been delivered, one being a called and another a missed strike, while the sixth ball, although hi-high and over the plate, was called "Three balls!" and George was spared the necessity of taking any chances.

It now required but two runs to tie and three to win, with men on first and third. A two-base hit would win the game in all probability, but Barnes failed to produce it.

He lifted a high fly between the in and out fields at the right. With all his might Jimmy Wood backed off for it, and while on the run reached behind his head for the ball, which settled securely into his hands -- a magnificent catch -- and the game was ended, and the championship series between the White and Red Stockings was decided in favor of Chicago.



Such a dramatic game normally would have intensified the fledgling rivalry.

Instead, the rivalry went on hold, as the White suspended operations in the wake of the Great Fire. They did not play for 2 full seasons, seasons in which the Red Stockings won both pennants.

Chicago and Boston did not meet on the field again until June 3, 1874, the 978th day since their previous encounter. This one was in Chicago, too, and the underdog Whites put up a battle before losing, 11-10.

The Whites won only 3 of the 10 games the teams played in 1874, then went 2-8 the following year, when the Red Stockings cruised to a fourth straight championship, finishing 71-8 to 54-28 for runnerup Hartford and 30-37 for the sixth-place Whites.


But Boston's string of pennants came to an end in 1876, when it and Chicago were among the 8 founding members of the National League. The Whites went 52-14 to finish first by 6 games over both Hartford and St. Louis, with Boston a distant fourth, 15 games behind.

The Red Stockings reclaimed first place in 1877, as the Whites stumbled to fifth, and repeated in 1878, when the Whites were fourth.

Boston and Chicago have continued to square off every season since, except in 2020, due to the pandemic.

And in all those years, as the Red Stockings, Beaneaters, Doves, Rustlers, Bees and Braves, and while based in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta, the 2 most ancient of Major League teams never have ended a season with the Cubs first and their long-time rival second.

What's more, the Cubs have been runnerup to the Braves just twice: in 1883 and 1891. They never have come in third when Boston won any of its 14 championships, between 1874 and 1958, before the teams were placed in different divisions in 1969.



Yet Boston continued to be a major attraction when it visited Chicago long after the on-field competition waned.

Four of the Whites' 10 largest crowds of 1880 came against the Beaneaters, the same as in 1874, 1875 and 1877.

They had a total of 8 top-10 crowds when hosting Boston in 1887-89, the 3 seasons after the Whites sold superstar King Kelly to the Beaneaters. Back-to-back games on June 14-15, 1887, lured 12,000, tying for the second-largest audience at any game in Chicago since 1870.

And there were 5 of the 10 biggest turnouts in 1890, when Kelly no longer was with Boston.

There were just 5 more in the final decade of the century. Still, the total of such crowds for games against Boston before the Modern Era was 46, which was 10 more than for any other team.


TOMORROW: A short but intense rivalry

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