In the early days of baseball, team nicknames were much more casual than they are now, when they are considered “brands.”
The team we now know as the Chicago Cubs was originally known as the “White Stockings,” though that was far from an official nickname. (And when the team abandoned being called that, it was picked up by the new American League South Side team after 1900. Otherwise we’d all be White Sox fans now.)
Per baseball-reference’s Cubs franchise page, the Chicago National League Ball Club (as many of us heard it referred to years ago) was known as the Colts around 1890, largely due to an influx of young players, and then after longtime team manager Cap Anson retired after 1897, some began to call them “Orphans.”
And then there was this:
A Chicago Daily News headline reads, 'Manager of the Cubs is in Doubt Only on Two Positions,' marking the first time the team's nickname has appeared in print, March 27, 1902. The club officially adopt the Cubs as its new name in 1907. pic.twitter.com/2vZFDyDWcg— Baseball In Pics (@baseballinpix) March 27, 2022
Again, “Cubs” was chosen not to refer specifically to an animal, but to reference a lot of younger players who first came to the team in 1902. Among those were Joe Tinker and pitcher Carl Lundgren. Catcher Johnny Kling, who first played for the team in 1900, didn’t become the regular catcher until 1902, and the following year the Cubs began a string of winning seasons that lasted through 1914. That, as you know, included four NL pennants in five years and two World Series titles.
Often in that era, these nicknames came from newspaper headline writers, who were looking for ways of referring to sports teams with short names they could fit into narrow columns such as the one you see above. Frank Selee, noted as the manager in that headline stepped down due to ill health in mid-1905 and Frank Chance, pictured at the top of this post, took over and led the Cubs to all those pennants and World Series championships.
That first mention of “Cubs” referring to our favorite team happened 120 years ago today, Thursday, March 27, 1902.