Thirteenth in a series of posts
Even the greatest teams don't remain competitive forever.
In baseball, the Yankees enjoyed perhaps the longest run of success. Between 1949 and 1964, they won 14 of 16 pennants.
Then they finished 6th, 10th and 9th in consecutive seasons. They came within 12 games of first place only twice in the 11 years prior to 1976, when they won their next title.
During the 10 seasons, 1904-13, the Cubs won 4 pennants, were second 3 times and third 3 times.
They won 444 more games than they lost, 986-542, and tied 24.
In each of the first 9 seasons, they won at least 91 games.
They won 88 in 1913, but nearly one quarter of the wins, 21, came after they ended August 16 games out of first place.
Frank Chance, the Cubs' "Peerless Leader," had been become the Cubs' player-manager after the first 65 games of 1905, when Frank Selee was too ill to continue managing.
Chance then guided the team through 1912, playing in only 33 games his final 2 years, as he suffered from a series of injuries, many due to his frequent beanings at the plate.
While Chance was in the hospital for brain surgery, he and owner Charles Murphy engaged in a heated argument that ended with Murphy firing Chance as manager and player.
That decision led to a revolving door of managers.
Long-time second baseman Johnny Evers held the title in 1913, when the Cubs won those 88 games.
In 1914, under Hank O'Day, for many years a top umpire, they won 78.
In 1915, under ex-catcher Roger Bresnahan, they won 73.
In 1916, under former shortstop Joe Tinker, they won 67.
In 1917, it was the turn of Fred Mitchell, who been a pitcher, catcher and first baseman for 6 teams: both in Boston, both in Philadelphia, the Dodgers and the Yankees.
Under Mitchell, the Cubs wound up fifth, as they had a year earlier, but they won 74 games, 7 more.
That was enough to earn Mitchell a second season, and in 1918 the Cubs improved by 10 more wins, to 84, despite the schedule being halted after 131 of a planned 154 games, due to World War II.
And when it was halted, after games on Labor Day, the Cubs owned their first pennant in 1910. Their 84-45-2 record left them 10.5 games ahead of the runnerup Giants and 15.5 in front of the third-place Reds.
Charles Dryden, celebrated as "the Mark Twain of Baseball," covered the Cubs for the Chicago Examiner throughout their decline and sudden return to glory.
Following are excerpts from Dryden's accounts of some notable games during the first of those seasons, 1914. Dates are those on which the games were played; Dryden's stories, of course, appeared in the Examiner the next day.
Excerpts begin immediately beneath the date. Three dots then separate the end of the excerpt from commentary preceding the next date.
Paragraph breaks have been added to many stories for easier reading.
April 15, at Cincinnati
They had a wet opening [day] here after all despite the closing of the barroom at the ball park.
In a steady downpour of rain that started two hours before playtime The Reds beat the Cubs, 10 to 1, solely through the ineffectiveness of Larry Cheney.
A spitball pitcher in the rain is like putting soft soap on an eel so as to get a better grip. Hank [O'Day] had made up his mind to pitch Cheney and the crack of doom would not have changed the program.
On the other hand, [Reds] Manager [Buck] Herzog made a switch. He had planned to employ Chief Johnson, who flings the spitter, but on account of the dampness Herzog chased Rube Benton to the slab and the eminent southpaw allowed the Cubs two hits. Some pitching in a flood.
The futile struggles of Cheney with the too moist ball moved many a bug to inquire if the Cubs had but one pitcher. Owing to a slight deafness Hank did not hear these remarks until the battle was near an end.
In six innings Cheney made five wild pitches and they were beauts. He walked eight parties and soaked two others with the ball. Among these valuable assets the Reds gleaned four hits, only two of which figured in the runs.
In the sixth and seventh the locals copped six runs, three to the round, without striking a blow. The wild stuff did the business.
Cheney gave way to [Elmer] Koestner in the seventh after one man was out and the new man had his troubles. Koestner passed two men and let off a couple of wild pitches so as to be in fashion.
The Cubs avoided being shut out on a sacrifice fly in the ninth, after Benton had issued 3 walks, as many as he had in the previous 8 innings.
As a result of trades and defections to the new Federal League, the Cubs' starting lineup had only 3 of the same players as had played in their first game the previous season -- and all 3 of them were at different positions: Jimmy Archer (catcher, instead of first base), Frank Schulte (left field instead of right) and Heinie Zimmerman (third base instead of shortstop).
The Cubs were 2-3-1, the tie in 15 innings at St. Louis, when they made their debut at the West Side Grounds.
April 22, vs. Reds
Under an entirely new ownership and after being thoroughly overhauled and renovated for the good of organized baseball in these parts, the Cubs formally opened the home season for the benefit of about 3,500 persons, most gents.
While a band played patriotic airs to offset the hot air from Mexico, the rickety Reds licked the collapsing Cubs, 4 to 3.
Mr. [George] Pierce and Mr. Benton essayed to spellbind the multitude and it was only a question of time when one of these famous nuts would be cracked in the shadow of the new detention hospital.
Our southpaw was upset by a wild heave of his own and a couple of long clouts in the fourth, which netted thee runs. One more marker came across in the seventh on a hesitation steal.
In the eighth and ninth the motorcycles inside Mr. Benton's skull started to backfire and it was off with poor Rube.
He was assisted by Mr. [Red] Ames, who pitched himself out of a desperate hole in the ninth. The rescue pitcher fanned [Wilbur] Good and [Red] Corriden, retiring the side with the bases full and after one run had been kicked in by the visitors in their extreme agitation.
The road and home openers set the tone for much of the Cubs' 1914 season. They would lose 25 blowouts, decided by 5 runs or more, while winning 18. They would play 43 games decided by 1 run, going 27-16.
That adds up 86 of their 156 games, more than 55 percent.
Two of the 1-run wins came the next 2 days, both by 2-1. Then they were throttled, 1-13, in the series finale.
That loss began a 2-9 stretch which left the Cubs 6-13, already 10 games out of first place, on May 7, less than a month into the season.
They were 18-22 at the end of the month and 26-30 after a fourth straight loss on June 18.
Then the Cubs caught fire.
July 5, vs. Pirates
An example of that well known bulldog tenacity and a long fly by Our Will, meaning Mr. Sweeney, enabled the Cubs to beat the Pirates, 5 to 4, in ten innings and before a large and cultured Sabbath crowd.
To do all these noble things the Cubs were compelled to come from behind. In that process they knocked the wadding out of Bob Harmon in the eighth, using six blows for that purpose.
One of these swats was [Vic] Saier's homer, which occurred with one man on. A string of four singles chased another run across and the count was tied at four all.
The scene then had shift to Marty O'Toole and Mr. C. Smith in place of Harmon and Thunder [Bert] Humphries.
In the first of the eighth Filbert Pierce also ran. He retired the Pirates on three pitched balls and was glad to quit with a record like that.
Charley Smith was holding the center stage when the combat was won and he should be returned the winner. Mr. O'Toole goes down in the records as a $22,500 loser.
[The Pirates had purchased O'Toole for that sum from a minor league back in July of 1911.]
The finish was a sad and solemn spectacle. O'Toole walked Zim[merman] to open the last of the tenth, at which moment the count was tied. Cruel fate decreed that Ham Hyatt should be playing first base for Mr. Koney [Ed Konetchy], who got the hook for beefing in the sixth.
Anyhow, Heinie drew a pass. he made a bluff at second base when Schulte missed bunting the first pitch. [Catcher George] Gibson pegged to Hyatt and that ponderous athlete swung around toward first with the majestic grace of a steam shovel.
Ham's idea was to tag Zim, but our hero was even then on his way and he kept going. Mr. Hyatt flung the pill to second with great force just as Heinie slid on his stomach for that bag.
It was the luck of the pastime that the pill shout hit Heinie on the tonneau and bound out to center field with great resiliency. Zim got up and galloped to third while the dismayed Pirates were rounding up the ball.
These thrilling episodes put a guy on third base with none out. Ham Hyatt rubbed his powerful wrists, denoting extreme mental agitation, and the Pirates could feel their daubers dropping.
Schulte lined a fly to Hyatt and he clung to the ball.
Sweeney poled a long one to right center and Mike Mitchell made the catch, after which Zim skidded home with the winning run.
Mike did not offer to throw home. He put the pill in his pocket as a souvenir of the great event and hastened away for his portion of the soap and water [in the clubhouse] prior to taking a late train to Pittsburgh, where they don't know much about soap and water.
The victory was the Cubs' third in 2 days over the Pirates, following a Fourth of July sweep at Pittsburgh. The sweep had come after a 1-2 loss at Forbes Field the previous afternoon.
And that had been only the Cubs' second defeat in more than 2 weeks.
By winning 14 of 16, they had climbed to second place, just 4 games the Giants -- although they had 8 more losses, as both teams had 40 wins.
Still, the headline above the box score in the Examiner the day after the 10-inning triumph over the Pirates was: "They're After McGraw!"
The Cubs lost their next 2 games to the visiting Braves, then beat them to close the gap to 2.5 games. It was still just 3.5 after another loss to Boston and a split of 4 games against the Giants.
The Cubs earned the split by winning the series finale. They won 8 more in a row after that to end a home stand, then headed for Boston to begin a 19-day, 19-game, 4-city tour of the East Coast.
July 25, at Boston
About 16,000 bean-fed enthusiasts watched the Cubs trim the Battling Braves, 5 to 4, in the opening game of the set to-day.
It was a battle of the side wheelers, and [Hippo] Vaughn triumphed over Old Man [Otto] Hess. At that, Otto fanned Hippo 4 times.
A single by Zim in the seventh, while the bases were stocked, sent in tow runs and decided the contest. . . .
The crowd rushed Umpire [Bill] Byron as he was leaving the field and one gent bounced a pop bottle off the umpire's dome. In the sixth the overflow crowd in center opened to allow [the Cubs' Tommy] Leach to catch a fly ball that would have been a two bagger. Byron refused to allow a hit and the bugs commenced to bate him for the action.
Vaughn had a close shave in the ninth. After he got the first man out Hippo's control went to the bad and he walked two parties [his first walks of the game]. Evers ended the show by hitting into a double play.
Despite their 9 straight wins, the Cubs had gained exactly 1 game on the Giants and remained 2.5 games behind them.
The would not even win 2 in a row again for nearly a month, going 2-12 on the rest of the road trip, including 1-3 at New York. Then they lost their first 2 back home on Aug. 15-16, making the record 54-41 and dropping them to fourth place, 6 games behind.
What did Dryden have to say about this stunning reversal of fortune?
There is no way to know. The Chicago Public Library Digital Collection, only online depository of the Examiner's archives, is missing every edition that was published in August.
The Cubs went 8-6 to close out the month, all but the last game at home. They took only 1 of 4 against the Giants, and that by 1-0. In the losses, they were outscored, 4-24.
In a quick trip to Cincinnati, the Cubs won 3 of 4 but lost the a fifth game. They returned to Chicago in third once more, but 5 games back.
The Cubs would win every one of their remaining home games. Unfortunately, they had only 7 to go -- and 24 on the road, at every city except Cincinnati.
Sept. 7, vs. Reds
As predicted in this reliable column the large Labor Day throng in this bustling little city dispersed the Reds' nanny and they spilled two games to the Cubs for the price of one.
Filbert Pierce put the kibosh on P. [Pete] Schneider, 3 to 2, in the opener, and in the second joust Thunder Humphries earned a 3 to 1 decision over Philo Fittery, the Evansville Bearcats.
Considerable rain disturbed the later proceedings. The athletes did not cease, but the bugs in the open-faced seats dug for shelter and amused themselves pegging cushions at straw hits.
It must be that the spectacle of the Cubs winning twice in a single afternoon grows monotonous.
"They're Crawling Up!" was the headline above the 2 box scores.
The crowd for the holiday games was 11,500. The next day, only 1,100 watched the Cubs squander leads of 1-0 and 3-1, then win, 4-3, in the 10th on an error, a bunt, another error and a single by Schulte.
The Cubs (69-59) now were 3 games behind the Braves (69-53), who had wrested the top spot from the Giants (68-54).
The Cubs left town again, to play 4 games against the sixth-place Pirates (57-66).
Sept. 12, at Pittsburgh
Mr. [Fred] Clarke and the noble Pirates made a clean sweep of the Cubs twice to-day. The first battle ended 5 to 4 and in the second a gawky southpaw entitled Mr. [Erv] Kantlehner shut us out, 4 to 0, on three hits. . . .
The double dose dropped the Cubs to fourth place and crushed their pennant hopes. . . .
[In Game 1] they had use 5 to 0 in the ninth, when the Cubs assaulted [Babe] Adams and sent four runs across on six hits. [Pinch runner Jimmy] Johnston was called out on a close play at the plate with the run that would have tied the count.
The Cubs limped home, 6 games out first. Wins over the Pirates the next 2 days made their final record at the West Side Grounds a splendid 46-30. But they still trailed by 5.5 games.
On Sept. 16, the Cubs embarked on a 20-day, 20-game, 5-city odyssey.
During the first week, they lost 2 of 3 at Brooklyn, then won 2 of 3 at New York.
In the second week, they 1-3 at Philadelphia and 0-4 at Boston. The lone win, fittingly, was a game relocated from Chicago that had been rained out during the Phillies' last visit of the season.
Following their 4-10 tailspin, the Cubs were 15 games behind the front-running Braves. They had lost 9.5 games in just 14 days.
Oct. 1, from Cleveland
Dark and dismal was the hour when Hank [O'Day] and his fourth [place] army corps passed through this hamlet on the retreat to St. Louis.
No violence was offered to Hank's forlorn and tattered troops. The fight men of the hamlet were far away, giving battle to the White Sox [in Chicago].
Even that phase of the war will soon be over.
There is little that Hank can do at St. Louis. He has six combats in four days, beginning [in 2 days,] on Friday. Then it is back home to open the series au gratin for the cheese championship of Chicago [i.e., the City Series vs. the Sox].
They always have something like that in the Fall, and the outcome usually demonstrates that Colonel [Jimmy] Callahan [manager of the Sox] has the stronger bunch of fromage de brie.
The West Side smearcase is no match for his outfit. An interlocking directorate of solid bone has parlayed a fairly good ball club into a piece of cheese, a fact which the most ardent Cub rooter cannot deny.
It is indeed a sad thought.
Dryden did not go to St. Louis with the Cubs. He changed trains and went back to Chicago, where he covered the city's team in the Federal League during the new league's final week. The Chi-Feds held a 2-game lead with 5 games to go. They lost 3 of them and fell to second, 1.5 games behind Indianapolis, which won 6 in a row.
The Cubs meanwhile dropped 3 of the first 4 at St. Louis, the third loss coming in Game 1 of a doubleheader on Oct. 4, the next-to-last day of the season, making their record 76-76. They had not been at .500 since they were 30-30 on June 26.
The losses made them 25-39 since they peaked at 14 games above .500 on July 25 with the last of their 9 straight wins.
The Cubs managed to win Game 2 of the doubleheader at St. Louis, 4-3, in 6 innings. Then they beat the Cardinals again by the same score in 9 innings the next day to finish 78-76-2, in fourth place, 16.5 games behind the champion Braves, 6 behind the runnerup Giants and 3.5 behind the Cardinals.
The season-ending wins made the Cubs 7-13 on their ill-fated final road trip and 7-17 away since Sept. 8, just 4 weeks earlier, when they had been only 3 games away from sharing first place.
TOMORROW: Dryden on the 1915 Cubs