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3 tales from the 1890s

Three tales from 1891-96, when the Cubs were known as the Colts.

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WOULD-BE MASCOT

The Colts opened the 1891 season at Pittsburgh, where, batting second, they recorded a walk-off, 10-inning victory, 7-6.

They won the next day, then lost the day after that.

The series finale was on Saturday, April 25. This is the start of the peculiar account of the game that appeared in the Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune (paragraph breaks added for easier reading):

...

PITTSBURG, Pa. April 25. -- [Special.] -- The Smoky City is in deep mourning tonight. Its high-priced team has bitten the dust three times this week, and Anson's men are in great feather in consequence.

Today Pittsburg went down again, but only after one of the most desperate struggles of the year, it taking ten inning to turn the tide in favor of the Chicago.

At the end of the ninth inning the score was a tie [at 7] and when Pittsburg had gone out in order [in the 10th] Anson was seen carefully studying a letter which he had fished from his inside pocket.

His team had not had any too much luck and he was wondering if there was any efficacy in a mascot. If there was he had the chance of a lifetime to secure one.

The paper he was studying was an application received a few days since. It read as follows:

"OSHKOSH, Wis., March 31, 1891. -- A.C. Anson, Esq. Chicago, Ill. -- Dear Sir:

"You have probably heard of my reputation as a mascot, and I am very sorry to have to tell that I wrote you a letter last year and you failed to answer the same.

"Now write and tell me all about your nine. If you do not have time you just go to [shortstop] Jimmy Cooney and tell him you were honored by a letter from me, and I am sure he will answer it for you.

"I have not signed a contract yet this year, but I will probably act as mascot for the Oshkosh team, but I think that I have been in the business long enough to hold my job in the National League.

"I am 22 years of age and stand two feet five inches high, double jointed, and can hoodoo any one I wish to. I can eat just as large a square meal as a good-sized man.

"The best thing you can do is sign me immediately, for if you do not the best place I can possibly let you have in the race is fourth.

"Hoping you will answer this or give it to Cooney to answer, I remain, yours truly,

"CHRIS GRABNER, Oshkosh, Wis., mascot for the championship team of the Western Association, Season 1887."

While the old man was hesitating and wondering whey had had not secured this prodigy a shout arose from the bleachers. Anson looked up in time to see [Fred] Pfeffer skim across the plate with the winning run.

The paper was dashed to the ground, stamped on, and lost to literature, and a double-jointed mascot that can eat as much as a full-grown man was lost to the National League."

...

Pfeffer led off the 10th inning with a hit, stole second and came home on a 1-out single by Malachi Kittridge.

The Colts led the standings by 7 games on Sept. 4, after a fourth straight win improved their record to 70-41.

But they went just 12-12 the rest of the way, capped by 4 straight losses, and wound up second, 3.5 games behind Boston, which won 21 of its final 25 games to overtake the Colts.

..........

COST OF BASEBALLS

The Colts, batting first, jumped out to a 3-0 lead over visiting Cleveland on Wednesday, July 1, 1891.

Then the Spiders tallied 3 runs in the fourth.

From the next day's Tribune:

...

This tied the score, and it became incumbent on the Chicagos to hump themselves. They humped.

In the fifth Jimmy Ryan by way of a starter put the ball against one of the houses in Congress street [for a home run].

The fever was on now and Anson picked up a homer himself in the sixth on a drive to the carriages.

Cooney made a single, and Pfeffer, just to be in line, put the ball into Harrison street. Even Treasurer Brown smiled when he threw out a new ball, despite the fact that every home run was costing the home club $1.25 for balls.

[Pitcher Bill] Hutchison landed a single in left, went to second on Kittridge's sacrifice, and scored on Ryan's drive to left for three bases.

Then in the ninth Ryan hit for two bases and scored on Wilmot's three-bagger.

...

That triple completed the scoring in the Colts' 9-3 victory -- and a cycle for Ryan.

He had done so once before, against Detroit in 1888.

Those were the only 2 cycles by a Cub before the Modern Era. They have had 9 since 1901, each by a different hitter, so Ryan remains the only Cub with more than 1.

..........

'WORST GAME EVER'

Shortstop Bill Dahlen played in the big leagues for 21 seasons, the first 8 with the Cubs, starting in 1891.

He put together an admirable slash line during those 8 years: .299/.384/.449, with an OPS+ of 123. He hit 57 home runs and knocked in 561 runs, with a high of 108 in 1894.

But Dahlen had plenty of critics, especially of his fielding.

This story appeared in the Inter Ocean, a Chicago paper, on May 22, 1896, the day after the Colts were routed by visiting Washington, 12-6:

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TEAM ALL IN PIECES

...

Colts Completely Demoralized and

Gone to the Dogs.

...

Dahlen Plays the Worst Game Ever

Seen on a Local Play -- Sulks and

Spoils Every Play.

...

Won't somebody please go and buy your Uncle Anson a ball team?

A public as patient as spring lamb in a snowstorm and as long-suffering as a man standing on his head with a boil where his hair parts will laugh at an occasional defeat, but when, to the crushing burden of two defeats from the despised Gothams [Giants], is added another by the Senators, patience becomes a felony.

Washington won, but they were hardly to blame. They made as many errors as the Colts, but they were of the harmless, funny sort, which are applauded by laughter, instead of by groans.

The Chicago errors were made with the deliberate malevolence of a a small boy who has been licked by his father. They occurred at the critical points of the game, as though they had been carefully picked out beforehand.

...

Dahlen played the worst game within the memory of [team president] Jim Hart's dog, and the dog is older than Arlie Latham's jokes.

Bug juice was the most charitable reason assigned for his interference with the game. The play which passed within reach of him without being spoiled was as lucky as the man who dodged the avenging wrath of a disappointed brickbat. . . .

...

[The Senators scored 4 runs in the fifth and led, 6-1, after the sixth.]

In the seventh the entire Senatorial company of players appeared. "Scrappy Bill" Joyce was hit in the leg. His injuries were as great as those of the elephant hit with a spitball.

When Abbey hit the ball, Dahlen happened to remember a new feature of his jag, and let the ball go by. Selbach singled, and Joyce scored. Cartwright donated another one, allowing Abbey and Selbach to come in.

McGuire flew out to Flynn, and Rogers scored Cartwright, with a double, which Dahlen transformed into a triple. DeMontreville duplicated the hit, scoring the runner.

[The Colts now trailed, 11-1.]

...

The story declared:

"The Colts richly deserved their defeat. For their sake, the score should have been larger. They played the game as scientifically as the storekeeper at Twinkieville works the shell games.

"Really, some one ought to take out into the vacant lot on Harrison street, where the genuine game used to be played, and tell them that a man is out when the ball is caught."

Dahlen was charged with only 2 errors during "the worst game ever seen." He made 71 for the season, in 125 games, but that was 15 fewer than he had made the previous year.

Meanwhile, he slashed .352/.438/.533, with an OPS+ of 156, which was 18 points ahead than in any of his 20 other seasons.

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