Cubs' greatest rival: Part 3

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




After winning the pennant in 1876, the first season of the National League, the future Cubs faded from contention for 3 years, placing fifth, fourth and fourth.

Boston, their greatest rival since 1871, finished first in 1877 and 1878. But in 1879 the Beaneaters came in second behind Providence.

Then the Grays were runnersup for 3 straight seasons, 1880-82, each time trailing the White Stockings, as the Cubs were known at the time.

In 1880, games against Providence resulted in 3 of the Whites' top 10 crowds, including the largest of all, 9,000 on Monday, July 5. Only one other game all season drew more than 4,000.

Since baseball was prohibited on Sunday in 1880, the next day's game took the place of the traditional Fourth of July contest. The Whites won, 3-2. They took the final 2 games of the series as well, increasing their winning streak to 20 games and their unbeaten streak to 22.

Their astonishing record of 35-3-1 gave them a 13.5-game lead over the second-place Grays. By season's end, they were 67-17-2 and ahead by 15 games.


The following year, the Whites were second, at 10-5, when they hosted Providence for the first time on May 25. By the end of May 27, they were in first by 1.5 games, thanks to a sweep of the Grays.

Two weeks later, they began a series at Providence tied for first with Buffalo. The Whites swept the Grays again, won 2 out of 3 at Boston, then returned home and won 3 more from the Grays.

The last of those wins put the Whites in front by 4.5 games and their cushion never was fewer than 3 games the rest of the season. Their final margin was 9 games.



In 1882, the Whites had a much more difficult time defending their championship.

After losing the rubber game of a series at Boston, 18-2, on Monday, Aug. 7, the Whites were 1 game behind the Grays, each with 22 losses but the Grays with 2 more wins, 36 to 34.

Three days later, the Whites and Grays began at series at Providence. The Whites trailed, 1-0, until the fifth, when they knotted the score on a double and an error. A double, an error and a squeeze play broke the tie in the seventh. The Whites added a run in the eighth and held on to win, 3-1.

The game took just 1 hour, 25 minutes!

The sixth inning alone of the next day's game may have seemed to the Whites to have lasted that long. When it started, they led, 5-0. When it ended, they were behind, 8-5, and they wound up losing, 10-8.

The Whites had a day to regroup, as the teams were idle on Friday. But on Saturday they lost again.

The headlines above the story in Sunday's Chicago Tribune said:

Chicago Cutting a Sorry Figure

in the Race for the League



Providence Won Yesterday 2 to 0,

and Now Has Almost a

Sure Thing.


The Grays ended the series with a lead of 2 games, which became 3 when they won and the Whites lost the following Wednesday, the next time each team played.

On Saturday, Sept. 9, the Whites completed a 3-game demolition of Troy in which they outscored the Trojans, 41-2, capped by a 24-1 onslaught. They continued to trail by 3 games, with 13 to play.

But their next 3 were against Providence, at home.



The series began on Tuesday, Sept. 12. The Tribune's account of the opener began this way (paragraph breaks added for easier reading):


"Can't lose today," said Capt. Anson, sententiously but confidently before the game.

"Why?" was asked.

"Because," said the big man, "I've just got a telegram. It's a boy; weighs ten pounds."

Now, as all this relates to a matter not directly connected with the affair in hand, it is not exactly clear why Capt. Anson was able to announce emphatically that Chicago "couldn't lose."

But let that pass; he was right -- Chicago didn't lose.

[The Whites took a 3-2 lead with 2 runs in the fifth, scored 3 times in the eighth and survived a ninth-inning rally by the Grays to prevail, 6-4.]

Six thousand people packed the grounds to witness the important contest -- the first of three games the result of which will surely determine the championship for 1882.

There have been larger crowds on the Chicago grounds, but never one so intensely wrought up with interest and excitement. Every play from first to last was watched with breathless intentness, and every good hit and sharp fielding stroke -- and there were many of both -- was enthusiastically and impartially cheered.

Providence appeared on the ground in the finest of physical form, and every man able to play ball for all there was in him. Whether the visitors felt anxious or confident it would be hard to tell by their bearing, for they played a splendid game of ball throughout, making but one misplay.

All this was equally true of the Chicago men. They played like winners from the outset, their game being brilliant, steady, and full of nerve.



Wednesday's game was played in front of 5,000 fans.

"It looked at one time as though luck and the umpire were so much on the side of the visitors that they could not lose," the Tribune said, "but luck in the end deserted them . . . "

Providence was on top, 4-1, when the Whites came to bat in the top of the fifth inning. Two singles, a passed ball and another hit cut the Grays' advantage to 4-3.

Ed Williamson doubled to start the sixth, took third on a passed ball and scored on a single by Anson. A forceout, a wild pitch and a single gave the Whites a 5-4 lead. Each team added a tally in the ninth, making the final count 6-5.

Each club now had 28 losses, with the Grays atop the standings by 1 game only because they had 47 wins to the Whites' 45.

Said one of the headlines in the Tribune, looking ahead to the series finale:

The Game in Chicago Today the Most

Important in Its Results Ever

Played in This City.


3 FOR 3

Fans flocked to Lake Front Park to see Thursday's game. They were rewarded by a 6-2 victory that left the teams tied for first, with the Whites (46-28) in front of the Grays (47-29) by .004 in winning percentage.

From the Tribune:


The largest crowd ever seen at a league game in Chicago outside of a holiday attended yesterday's final meeting of the Chicago and Providence Clubs. Fully 7,000 people paid to witness what was generally conceded to be the most important contest of the year.

There was a large overflow into the field that completely filled the north seats and also the temporary bleachers in left field, but the big crowd was remarkably quiet and orderly, even submitting to two or three grossly unfair decision of the umpire with nothing more than a few moderate expressions of disapproval.

It was indeed fortunate that the home team outplayed their opponents at every point and were in the lead from the start, because the manifest purpose of the umpire to favor Providence would surely have decided a close game in favor of the visitors.


As it was, the Whites grabbed a 3-1 lead by scoring twice in the fourth, then did the same in the sixth and never looked back.

They never looked back, either, after taking sole possession of first place by winning their next game, against Worcester, on Saturday, while Providence was losing at Detroit.

Tragically, Anson did not play that day. His infant son had died and he journeyed to Philadelphia for the funeral.

Victories in their next 2 games increased the Whites' winning streak to 9 games. A loss and a win at Cleveland left them on top by half a game with 6 to play.

They won them all, while the Grays lost 2 of their final 5 to wind up 3 games behind the champion Whites, 52-32 to 55-29.



The Whites finished just 1 game ahead of the Grays in 1883, 59-39 to 58-40. But both lagged behind Boston, which went 63-35.

The teams hardly could have been more evenly matched. The Whites went 7-7 against the Grays and Beaneaters, and the Beaneaters went 8-6 against the Grays.

Chicago held a half-game lead over Providence -- and 6 games over Boston -- before it lost 3 of 4 at Rhode Island in the second week of June.

By June 23, the Whites were in fourth place, 7 games to the rear of the Grays and 1 behind the Beaneaters.

They still were fourth, 6 behind front-running Cleveland, after taking 3 of 4 from the Grays at home in mid-July.

They narrowed the gap to 1.5 games on Aug. 4, then lost 9 of 12, the last 7 in a row, to revert to 6 games out once more.


The Whites promptly won 11 in a row, culminating in 4 straight wins over Detroit that left them in first on Sept. 8, with Providence and Boston tied for second.

Then disaster struck: 4 consecutive losses at Boston that ended with the Beaneaters first by 1 game over the Grays, 2 over Cleveland and 2.5 over the Whites.

The Whites put a crimp into the Grays' pennant hopes by beating them twice at Providence, but the Grays won the series finale, and the Whites lost their next game, too.

They won each of their last 5, but it was too little, too late.

Providence, after its victory over the Whites, went only 3-3 to end its season, while Boston went 6-0, making it 14-1 over the final 3 weeks of play.



The Grays won the pennant easily in 1884, finishing 10.5 games ahead of the runnerup Beaneaters, while the Whites fell to a tie for fourth, 22 games to the rear.

Providence attracted only 1 of the 10 biggest crowds at Lake Front Park, and that was a tie for the ninth-biggest, with just 2,500 spectators.

There would never be another top-10 turnout for the Grays in Chicago. After they tumbled to fourth place in 1885, 33 games behind the champion Whites, their owners sold all of their players to Boston and the team went out of business.

Until the last of their 8 seasons, the Grays never had finished lower than third, winning 2 pennants, coming second 3 times and winding up third twice.

They had an overall winning percentage of .610. Against the Whites, though, they were just .436.

The Grays went 13-11 against the Whites in 1878-79 and 16-16 in 1884-85. But in the 4 years when they were Chicago's greatest rival, they beat the Whites only 17 times and lost to them 33.


TOMORROW: A short but intense rivalry

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