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Cubs' first league season, Part 1

The Cubs, then known as the White Stockings, had won the national championship in 1870, their first season, by winning the most games against various other professional teams.

In 1871, the "Whites" were among 9 charter members of the National Association, the sports' first true league.

Standings from 1871 show the Whites finishing third in the association, with a record of 19-9. The Philadelphia Athletics are shown in first place, at 21-7, and the Boston Red Stockings in second, at 20-10, despite having a lower winning percentage than the Whites, .667 to .679.

But those standings were meaningless during that season.

The championship was determined not by wins and losses, but how many series teams won.

Every team was supposed to play up to 5 games against its 8 rivals. If a team won the first 3, or 3 of the first 4, the fifth game could be canceled. As a result, teams played as many as 33 games and as few as 25.

The Athletics, Red Stockings and Whites were the only 3 of the teams to finish with winning records. The Washington Olympics wound up 15-15. The 5 remaining teams were a combined 50-82, including last-place Rockford, officially 4-21, after being ordered to forfeit 2 wins because it used an illegal player.

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MANY MORE GAMES

But the Whites didn't just play 28 games in 1871. Based on my research of contemporary newspapers, they played 74, winning 57 and losing 17.

They were 31-8 at home and 26-9 on the road.

Besides the 28 "championship" games that counted in the NA race, the Whites played 9 against NA rivals that were treated as exhibitions and 5 against a professional team that was not in the NA, for a total of 42 vs. pro clubs. They won 26 and lost 16.

They outscored their pro opponents, 455-399, an average of 10.83 to 9.50.

...

The Whites also took on 27 different amateur opponents, 24 of them just once, including their own junior team, Harvard University, 4 "picked nines" comprised of top amateurs from various clubs, and even a game in which the opposing team used 17 players in the field at the same time!

They played 32 total games against amateurs, winning 31.

They scored 734 runs, an average of 22.94, more than double their output against pro teams. They gave up just 173, an average of 5.41, or 4 per game fewer than vs. pros.

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NEARLY 1,200 RUNS

In all games, the Whites scored 1,189 runs and yielded 573, for an average score of 16.07 to 7.73.

High as they are, those numbers actually were down sharply from the previous season, when they piled up 2,507 runs and allowed 759 -- 33.87to 10.26 -- while coincidentally playing exactly the same number of games.

In 1870, according to my research, the Whites hit 86 home runs in 34 games for which homers could be ascertained.

In 1871, they hit just 16 -- again, in precisely as many such games.

...

The stark decline in homers was due in large part to the widespread use of the "dead ball," instead of the "lively ball."

Indeed, a small, front-page ad by J.A. Pierce & Co. in the Chicago Tribune of July 26, 1871 declared:

WHITE STOCKINGS

Use the Celebrated

Ryan Dead Ball

What type of ball would be used in a game led to several disputes during the course of the year.

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The Whites' season began on March 26, with a win by 3 runs against an amateur team at New Orleans. It ended on Oct. 30, just 23 days after the Great Chicago Fire, with a loss by 3 runs to the Athletics at Brooklyn that deprive the Whites of the NA championship.

Following, in chronological order, are some highlights and lowlights of the team's 7-month odyssey.

All quotations are from the Tribune. Many paragraph breaks have been added for easier reading; most stories were printed as a single paragraph.

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MARCH 26, AT NEW ORLEANS

WHITES 9, LONE STARS 6

The Whites started the season with a "Southern tour," just as they had a year earlier.

In their debut, they came from behind to beat an amateur team considered to be the best in the South, in front of about 2,000 fans on a damp Sunday afternoon.

"The grounds were in the worst possible condition for the game, a frightful thunderstorm having prevailed during Saturday night, the rain only ceasing to fall at 9 o'clock this morning. A new field had to be laid out, the old one being under water. There was no back-stop for the catcher, and the ball consequently rolled into a ditch of water, and soon became as soggy as a sponge."

The Whites scored the first 3 runs, surrendered 6 in the bottom of the third, then scored 6 of their own in the top of the eighth.

In the bottom of that inning, "[T]he Stars had a man on third and first bases. Oberlander went to bat and sent a hot one to [second baseman] Jimmy Wood, who took it beautifully, and touching the man running from first to second, threw to [first baseman Joe] Simmons, who put out Oberlander, and then sent it to [catcher Charlie] Hodes, who despatched the man who attempted to run home from third," completing a triple play.

"The Stars could not comprehend the situation for some minutes, but when it was explained they appreciated the play, and complimented its authors."

...

The Whites demolished their next 3 opponents by a combined score of 94-14, then rolled past a "picked nine" by 28-6.

Of the latter game, the Tribune noted: "One obstacle in the way of success in fielding and base running is the wretched condition of their shoes. [Marshall] King's brogans were minus the heels. [Tom] Foley is compelled to wear [Ed] Atwater's, which are four sizes too small for his feet, and interfere very materially with his comfort and the growth of his corns. Simmons is wearing a cast-off pair of Condon's, which fit him too much, and have no spikes."

(Neither Atwater nor Condon appeared in any of the White's official National Association games.)

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APRIL 19, AT MEMPHIS

WHITES 68, MUTUALS 9

They led, 13-2, after 4 innings, then went on a rampage.

"The run of 30 in the fifth inning might easily have been increased to 50. [Michael] McAtee, Simmons, and Foley struck out purposely to end the inning."

The Whites won 2 games at St. Louis to end their tour 9-0. They beat a picked nine at home on April 29, then outlasted the Forest Citys of Cleveland, 14-12, on Monday, May 8 in their first NA contest.

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MAY 11, AT CLEVELAND

WHITES 18, FOREST CITYS 10

The Whites had hit just 1 home run in their first 11 games, by Simmons at Memphis. In this game, they hit 3, nearly a quarter of their eventual season total.

In the second inning, [Ed] Duffy struck safely past second, and was brought home by [Ed] Pinkham's superb hit to the farther fence, on which the latter came round for a clean home run, amid great applause. . . .

"In the third inning King opened the ball by a splendid home run, at which everybody cheered."

Hodes then smacked a 3-run homer in a 5-run sixth that broke a 6-6 tie. The Whites added 3 runs in the seventh and 4 in the eighth.

...

"As the play went on, the bias of the umpire continued to show against Cleveland, until a flagrant error of judgment put [Charlie] Pabor out at third base by a throw from Foley, at the end of the eighth inning, when the score was ten to eighteen in favor of the Chicagos.

"This last decision was the straw which broke the camel's back, and the officers of the Forest City club coincided with captain Pabor in surrendering the game as it stood. Five distinct decisions had been given on bases against the Cleveland club, and nine bases given the opponents on called balls, notwithstanding both Pabor and [Al] Pratt pitched with exceptional accuracy.

"It was time that the Forest City club should refuse to be longer defrauded, and, unfortunate as the result must be considered, it was sustained by unanimous voice of the audience.

"Against the White Stocking nine nothing can be said. They played a fine gentlemanly game, and expressed genuine regret at the cause of the trouble.

"The ball was given to captain Wood, and the case will be referred for decision to the Judiciary Committee of the Professional Association."

...

The committee eventually ruled the game completed after 8 innings, rather than declare a forfeit.

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The Whites rolled on, winning a league game at Fort Wayne, then earning 5 more wins at home in a span of 9 days.

They beat the Washington Olympics, an NA rival, by 14-4 on May 16, then defeated them again in spectacular fashion 3 days later. Shut out through 8 innings, the Whites tallied 9 runs in the top of the ninth, then held on to win, 9-7.

Between those games, the Whites disposed of Racine College, 36-9.

Wins over the Forest Citys of Rockford, an NA opponent, by 15-6, and their own development team, 28-8, made the Whites' record 18-0 as they began their first trip to the East.

...

Their first stop was Brooklyn, home of the Eckfords, a pro team that had wanted to be a member of the NA, but had been denied entry. The Whites beat them, 10-5, then topped the New York stars, an amateur team, 7-1.

June 1-3, they played games in Massachusetts, winning easily over an amateur team at Lowell; nipping the Red Stockings, 16-14, in an NA game; and routing Harvard, 12-2.

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JUNE 5, AT NEW YORK

MUTUALS 8, WHITES 5

The Whites' 23-game winning streak came to an end, as all 8 runs they allowed were unearned. Three "muffs" in the fourth inning led to 4 runs that put the "Mutes" in front to stay, 7-4.

Crowds had gathered at several locations in Chicago to hear inning-by-inning reports of the score, sent by telegraph.

"The last despatch was waited for with an almost dramatic interest, and when it was posted '0 to 0,' everybody vented a long-drawn sigh and walked off, looking into vacancy.

"No man in Chicago has lost faith in the White Stockings, and everybody who lost [money betting on them] yesterday is hoping to make up, but not by changing sides.

"Of course the 'I told you so' people were out in full forced, headed by a Post reporter, who exulted visibly and blatantly, and extolled his own judgment in a highly comforting manner -- that is, to himself."

...

Thus started the first of the many June Swoons in the Cubs' long history. During the rest of the month, they played 4 more official NA games and lost 3 of them: to the Athletics at Philadelphia, to the Olympics at Washington and to the Olympics again, at home, on the final day of the month.

Their only win was against Rockford, at home, on the 24th.

Three days later, they suffered a singular defeat.

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JUNE 27, AT CHICAGO

ACTIVES 8, WHITES 5

The day before, Fort Wayne had beaten the mighty Mutuals, 5-3, at New York. But that upset paled in comparison to this one.

Following is the Tribune's complete story about the historic game.

...

Wonders will never cease in baseball. Scarcely have we recovered from the astonishment which the result of the Kekionga-Mutual game produced, before we are called up to endure another extraordinary shock.

This time it is the White Stockings who have met with a disgraceful defeat when they least expected it, being beaten, on yesterday, by an amateur club from Iowa, hitherto almost entirely unknown.

Not more than five hundred people assembled at the Lake Shore grounds to see the game, as it was supposed that it would be nothing short of the veriest walkaway.

The last time the Actives, of Clinton, Iowa, played here they had for their opponents the Aetnas [Chicago's top amateur team], by whom they were badly beaten, the visiting nine being crippled and short-handed.

Yesterday they came on the field in excellent shape for work, and the manner in which the nine professionals and half a thousand spectators were convinced that they knew a thing or two about baseball was a curiosity in the history of the national game.

These Actives, who have so suddenly emerged from their obscurity and blossomed forth as 'the little amateurs from Clinton who cleaned out the White Stockings,' are a newly-organized team, in which there are four of last year's Chicago Actives -- Lapham, Brannock, Maigne, and Foley; Keerl, of the White Stockings of 1970, and the rest are players from Clinton. So it is not a strictly amateur club, some of the members being under pay.

Yesterday's nine seemed to be as complete as could be imagined. Everyone played his position almost flawlessly, and in a manner strongly contrasting with the slobbering style of play affected by the White Stockings.

The game was won and lost entirely on its merits, the Whites being outbatted and outfielded from beginning to end.

Their batting should have caused a pony club to blush for shame, 12 of their 27 outs occurring on flys and found bounds.

Their fielding, in general, was simply abominable, Duffy, King, and Simmons being the only ones who were not guilty of errors.

After seeing this game no one need be at a loss to account for the defeats of the White Stockings when pitted against clubs like the Mutuals, Athletics, and Olympics.

They claimed that they could not ball the ball -- one of Kelly's make -- but the Actives found no difficulty in punishing [George] Zettlein's pitching with excellent effect.

Weak batting and loose fielding seemed to be the trouble with the Whites, many of whom have yet to learn that they are paid for playing ball on all occasions, and who scarcely realize the fact that a defeat like that of yesterday is a disgrace which no amount of subsequent good play can wholly wipe out.

As for the Actives, they played a beautiful game in all respects, and are entitled to full credit for their achievements. The club is one of which Clinton may justly be proud, and one which should make a brilliant record before the season is over.

...

The Actives scored the game's first 3 runs and never looked back. After the Whites tallied one in the second, the Actives did the same in the third.

Each team produced a run in the sixth, then the Actives added 1, 1 and 2 in the final 3 innings and were ahead, 8-2, until the Whites mustered 3 runs before making their last out.

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TOMORROW: Knotholes, homers that became singles, a dispute over balls, a great victory, bowel disease and a very bad umpire

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