Sixteenth in a series of posts
In 1910, the Cubs claimed the National League pennant by winning 104 games, the same number they had won a year earlier when finishing second.
Starting in 1911, their victory total dropped for 6 consecutive seasons: to 92, then 91, 88, 78, 73 and 67.
That final number is more than a third lower than the 104 before the peculiar streak began.
1915-16 had been the Cubs' first losing seasons since 1901-02, and in the second of those they had finished with just 1 more loss than wins, 69 to 68.
They had lost won only 53 games in 1901 while losing 86 games, most in franchise history.
The 1916 Cubs had matched that dubious mark before winning their final 2 games.
They couldn't possibly continue their downward slide for a seventh year in 1917 -- could they?
And if they did, would Fred Mitchell become their fifth consecutive manager to be fired after a single season?
Charles Dryden, "the Mark Twain of Baseball," covered the Cubs' attempt to reverse their fortunes.
Following are excerpts from a few of his stories that appeared that season in the Chicago Examiner.
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 12, vs. Pirates
War is but a side issue when it comes to blowing open a baseball season with brass bands, soldiers and sailors and a sea-going goat, to say nothing of other thrilling features.
Something like 18,000 folks assembled in the rain to see the Cubs trim the Pirates, 5 to 3, in the initial combat, which turned out to be the best opening the local team has enjoyed since the good old days.
What [new owner] Bill Wrigley calls a dry California rain set in half an hour before play and continued through four innings, but the program was not disturbed in any way.
The Cubs performed on merit and licked the enemy by superior hitting and defensive play. Hippo Vaughn wabbled a bit at the finish and had the bags stocked with palpitating Pirates after two men were out.
A luckless pinch hitter sent a hopper to Larry Doyle, the hero of the afternoon, and the bugs sat back and swallowed hard before emitting the usual glad cheer.
When the going rang for the start Doyle forgot he had a cracked gam [i.e., leg]. He tore off the first hit for our side, made a diving catch of a liner that smeared his beautiful white coming out gown and did another fancy grab of a fly that enabled him to score a double play without assistance.
Even if he had never played with the Giants, the opening day conduct of Larry would land him a job on any big league team.
"Laughing Larry" Doyle, a 30-year-old second baseman, had spent 13 seasons as a Giant. He led the league in hits twice, and in doubles, triples and batting average once each.
The Cubs had acquired Doyle on Aug. 28 of the previous August in a 3-for-1 deal that sent Heinie Zimmerman to New York. But Doyle played only 9 games as a Cub before an injury ended his season.
The Cubs followed up their Opening Day win with 2 more ,then turned right around and lost 3 straight.
Then they had a peculiar stretch in which they won 2 and lost 1, won 1 and lost 2, then won 2 and lost 1, 3 more times.
You may have heard about the loss that completed the second of those 3 times.
May 2, vs. Reds
Hippo Vaughn, the intelligent southpaw, was doomed from the beginning of this combat. He whiffed the first man up, a sure sign of defeat, and the Reds trimmed him, 1 to 0, in ten rounds, during which Fred Toney closed the Cubs out with nothing that looked like a hit.
Neither side struck a safe blow in nine innings and each pitcher walked two batsmen. Hippo fanned ten Reds in nine frames, but Mr. Toney once heaved a rock across the Mississippi River at Memphis and he still has something on Hippo in this respect.
Something was bound to crack in this sort of a battle, and it happened to be the Cubs.
The tenth opened with the popping out of Gus Getz, who got into the doings when [Heinie] Groh was canned in the seventh.
[Larry] Kopf broke Hippo's crust with a single to right. Anybody is liable to bust a bit. [Greasy] Neale skied to center, and [Hal] Chase would have done the same if Williams had held the ball.
Cy faltered on this clout, and when he did not reach the pill he spilled it on the grass. Kopf took third on the muff and while Jim Thorpe was at bat Chase stole second.
Thorpe bumped a slow twister near the third base line and both Hippo and [catcher Art] Wilson went after it. The pitcher picked up the ball and tossed it to Wilson, who was looking for the throw to be made to first. Hippo had figured he could not stop Thorpe and was playing for the plate.
The ball bounded off Wilson's manly chest and Kopf counted [i.e., scored]. Chase came tearing in, but Wilson scrambled after the ball and met Hal many feet from the rubber [i.e., plate].
That was the ball game, except for the formality of putting the Cubs out of their misery in the last of the tenth.
Mr. Toney remembered about throwing the rock across the river at Memphis and opened strong by fanning Doyle.
The esteemed [Fred] Merkle died hard. He slammed a terrific drive to left that seemed bent on clearing the bleacher front for a homer.
Alonzo G. Cueto, the fiery little Cuban patriot, bumped himself against the screen and caught the ball. Hollow groans from the multitude.
Still thinking of the rock and the wide river, Mr. Toney led o0ut a fresh kick and fanned Cy Williams. This concluded the exercises, barring the post-mortem in the Cubs' dressing room.
This remains the only big league game in which neither team made a hit through 9 innings.
The Cubs made 14 and 12 hits the next 2 days, as they routed the Reds, 10-3 and 11-3. A 4-7 loss completed the series and the odd run of "meatloafs."
Back-to-back wins over the Pirates the next 2 days made the Cubs 14-9, tied for first place with the Cardinals (12-7).
But those games were the Cubs' last at home for more than 3 weeks, as their schedule called for 18 in a row on the road -- and during the 4 previous seasons, the Cubs had gone 130-177-8 in other cities, a .425 winning percentage. At home, their percentage was more than 100 points higher: .540 (176-150-2).
May 9, at Brooklyn
These headlines appeared above Dryden's story:
CUBS CAN'T PLAY BALL?
Just Think This Over -- They In-
vaded Brooklyn Yesterday and
Trimmed Those Champs, 7 to 3
It mattered not that the champion Dodgers broke loose with a three-run lead in the early rounds. The Cubs took a brace, landed a number of hard knocks and won handily.
Thus did Mitchell make a flossy start in the opening battle on foreign sol.
Rollie Zeider was of vast help to his folks in unsettling the Dodgers. The greatest living shortstop made four hits, drove in four tallies and counted two runs himself, all in one afternoon.
Without the eminent Zeider the locals might have run off with the pastime.
May 12, at Brooklyn
Tom Seaton's conduct to-day should wipe Columbus, O., off the map.
The veteran slabber blanked the Dodgers 1 to 0 and made it four straight from the champions.
[There has been talk of sending Seaton to the minors.]
[Max] Flack's triple off [Jeff] Pfeffer in the fourth followed by Doyle's sacrifice fly scored the game.
The game was a pitching duel all the way. Seaton walked one man, allowed three hits and fanned four. The Cubs collected four blows and Pfeffer struck out six.
Rain squalls at interviews damaged Mr. [Charlie] Ebbets' half-holiday attendance and another slim handful [2,500] of bugs gathered at this farewell combat.
These rain squalls are of frequent occurrence, but they are nothing compared to the squalls emitted by the baseball folks. The only signs of Spring we have seen in New York are on a street named Spring. The signs may be seen at the corners.
May 16, at Boston
Our ruthless Cubs continued their campaign of frightfulness along the Atlantic seaboard to-day. Even with Mr. [Johnny] Evers, the Keystone Kink, in the lineup the Braves were unable to halt the headlong rush of the Windy City crowd.
Vic Aldridge blanked the home lads, 8 to 0, and did it with the ease and grace of a veteran slabber. This makes nine wins in a row and as the Giants were stalled by rain the Cubs tightened their grip on first place.
Specifically, they moved 3 games ahead of New York, 21-9 to 13-7.
That's right; the Cubs had played 10 more games than the Giants, who had been rained out 10 times already.
May 18, at Philadelphia
After spending ten chilly days copping tight combats, the Cubs blossomed into a loser on the first hot afternoon.
The great [Grover Cleveland] Alexander was too stout for the leaders and trimmed them, 3 to 1, for the entertainment of 10,000 ladies and gents, all of whom were friendly to Alex and his associates. . . .
An impressive part of the ceremony was the canning of Manager Mitchell and Shuffling Phil [Douglas, the Cubs' starting pitcher]. The umpiring did not make a hit with these two.
In the third frame Douglas became exasperated and told Orth he suffered from an acute attack of pseudoplepsis. Mitchell backed Phil up in this assertion, and both got the hook.
When Orth looks up the word in the dictionary and learns that it means distorted vision, Phil and Mitch may get life. What Phil thought were strikes Mr. Orth called balls. Hence the outburst of temper.
The next day, the Phillies tied the game with a 2-out hit in the eighth. In the 11th, their first batter singled.
Their second tapped a pitch toward the mound. Vaughn picked it up and fired to second, where Zeider dropped it.
Another single then saddled the Cubs with a 4-5 defeat.
2 more setbacks followed at Philadelphia and 1 at New York, the last dropping the Cubs out of first place.
But they took 2 of the remaining 3 from the Giants and spent 3 days at Cincinnati watching rain fall.
May 30, at Pittsburgh
A cleverly executed squeeze play in the ninth round won this morning's combat for the Cubs, 6 to 5. Our side used five pitchers and the other fellows three.
Rollie Zeider laid down the squeeze bunt after a pitch hit by [Dutch] Ruether had tied the score.
At the matinee Al Demaree made the fatal mistake of walking [rival pitcher Hal] Carlson in the fifth, instead of whiffing him, as heretofore, and Max Carey poked a single that tallied two runs.
They proved to be sufficient. Score, 2 to 1.
The double bill drew about 20,000 persons in spite of a circus in town and other open-air attractions.
Quantity, not quality, was the watchword of the steaming athletes in the morning game. The home folks had not seen any baseball for some time and the players gave them plenty.
An even thirty blokes got into the fracas on one pretext or another and flopped around for two and one-half hours. Many of the athletes yielded to lurga in its most malignant form.
Every little while a pitcher was carted off to the reduction works to have the streak of fat removed from his heart, if possible. Being as how this was Decoration Day, they might have buried a few and planted bright nosegays to mark the final resting place.
The split left the Cubs (25-16) in a 3-way tie for the top spot with the Giants (20-11) and Phillies (21-12).
June 1, off day story
Mitchell and his regularly conscripted Cubs are back to do their bit on the North Side, pending the call to arms. They open a series this afternoon with the Dodgers, who proved easy for the Cubs on the Flatbush green maintained by Mr. Ebbets.
The tour of the East established Fred Mitchell's rep as a capable manager and strategist and the Cubs to a man are in the mood to go along with him.
Mitch knows how to handle the temperamental athlete and retain his friendship and respect. The absence of Heinie Zim[merman] lifts a great load from the manager and yet they say Heinie is a regular guy in his new surrounding.
On the long splash away from home the Cubs copped eleven and lost seven games. This fine record does not include the bitterly fought twelve-inning combat won at Rochester on the way East.
The remarkable cleaning process the Cubs worked worked on the Dodgers and Braves astounded those commodities and Mitchell was hailed as another miracle man.
At Boston they slipped him an armful of silver drinking tools and did talk some of spreading a big feed. Mitchell is glad the banquet was canceled, for after losing four straight the backers of the Braves might have regretted the misplaced victuals.
June 4, vs. Dodgers
One withering curtain of fire enveloped the Dodgers on a fair Sabbath afternoon, and when the smoke cleared away the old ball game was gone.
That was in the fourth, which produced four swats and four runs, and the combat ended 5 to 2 in favor of the Cubs, with Shuffling Phil Douglas skidding along on a flat tire.
Phil punctured a tire stepping on first base in the third and is said to have suffered intense mental and physical anguish throughout the bitter contest.
The win was the Cubs' third in a row since they had lost the series opener. It kept them tied for first with the Giants, 1 game in front of the Phillies, their next guest.
They were supposed to play 4 games. The first and third were rained out. In the 2 that were played, the Cubs failed to score a run, losing 0-4 and 0-1.
They didn't score in their next game, either.
June 9, vs. Giants
Ferdinand de Soto Schupp blanked the Cubs, 4 to 0, in the opening battle of the series, and Al Demaree lost one of his seldom games to the Giants.
The Cubs got three hits, two of them scratches. [Dave] Robertson's triple with two on in the fourth clinched the combat. Benny Kauff cracked a homer in the eighth with one on.
Demaree had won eleven straight from the Giants.
Fair weather and the advent of the Giants brought out the largest and most enthusiastic multitude of passholders seen here in many a day. The line bent and doubled back half a city block and never seemed to grow shorter. Fresh arrivals took up the slack, so to speak, of those who got in.
When the pastime started the line was still moving and when the Great Zim was presented with his customary Greek horseshoe in the first inning a great shout went up.
Thereupon the line became wildly agitated, like a snake with its head caught in a wire fence. The strain must have been terrible.
Cash customers turned out in proportion to the free sentiment prevailing and the yard was well filled by the third inning. The line had got inside by that time.
The Cubs had been shut out in 3 straight games only twice before in the Modern Era, and not since 1905.
They would do it 3 more times by the end of 1924, then again in 1950 and 1963.
They were blanked 4 games in a row for the first time in June 1968. Another 4-game streak, April 27-May 1 of 1992, is the only subsequent stretch of more than 2 games without scoring.
TOMORROW: Dryden on the rest of 1917