Cubs' hibernation and awakening, Part 1

2025 will be the Cubs' 150th season in the National League.

In 2026, April 25 will be the 150th anniversary of their first NL game; May 10, of their first home game.

Those events no doubt will be celebrated, and rightly so.

But there is another sesquicentennial that will occur next year and is equally deserving of commemoration -- if not more so.

Had it not been for the rebirth of the franchise in 1874, it might never have been a founding member of the NL.



A group of Chicago businessmen founded (and funded) the team we know as the Cubs in October of 1869.

They did so with one goal in mind: to defeat the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first professional team, which had trounced several top local amateur clubs when it visited Chicago earlier in the year.

The businessmen declared in writing their intent to "get together a professional baseball nine; a nine which should play ball and nothing else, a nine which should beat the world."

In a few weeks, they raised $10,000 and signed the team's first player, second baseman Jimmy Wood, who had previously played for the Eckfords, based in Brooklyn. Wood was named captain and soon was joined by other experienced players, forming a roster of which the Chicago Tribune would say, "There is not a man of the ten who is not as good as the best of the other clubs. . . there is not a man the other clubs deem weak."



The team traveled to St. Louis for its first game in late April 1870 and won by the tidy score of 47-1.

It also acquired a nickname, the White Stockings.

In September, the "Whites" journeyed to Cincinnati, where, on the 7th of the month, they earned a 10-6 victory over the Red Stockings.

The Tribune's report of that game observed, "the mission of the White Stockings has been accomplished. The organization was affected with a direct view of beating the Red Stockings, and they have done it."

Upon their return, the White Stockings paraded through the streets of Chicago, showing off a month-old pig dressed in red stockings.

The Tribune reported, "It is contemplated to give this pig a suitable bringing up and when he has reached the enormous dimensions to which all things Chicagoan attain, his unctuous purpose will be forwarded to Cincinnati as a salve, for her wounded pride."


The Whites beat the Red Stockings again, 16-13, in a rematch at Chicago in October.

After the season, the Red Stockings disbanded, in part because of their losses to the Whites, but largely because their captain and star, Harry Wright, had jumped to a team in Boston and taken most of his players with him.

In an editorial on Nov. 28, the Monday after Thanksgiving, the Tribune urged that the Whites do the same.

Here is what it wrote:


The Chicago Base Ball Club ought to profit by the example and experience of their old rivals. Our club was organized to take the honors from the Cincinnati boys. It was organized, and after a sufficiently long coquetting with victory, declared its real purpose, and accomplished it.

It has beaten the Red Stockings, and all the other clubs, and now stands at the head of the game. This is the best of all times to disband.

If it is now disbanded, time nor man can rob it of its honors. Now is the time to die.

Had Napoleon died before he went to Russia, his glory would never have been dimmed by defeat, exile, and imprisonment. The misfortune of greatness is, that it does not know the proper time to quit.

The inglorious disbandment of the Red Stockings should admonish the White Stockings to avoid a demise under similar circumstances a year hence.

Our boys have the belt; let them die and the belt buried with them, and thus escape the humiliation of seeing it worn by their conquerors.



One can only imagine the reactions of the White Stockings' management and players. The Tribune never published a response from anyone associated with the team.

The Whites did not disband. In 1871, they became a charter member of the National Association, the country's first true league.

Each team was expected to play the 8 other teams in a 5-game series, with the championship awarded to the team that won the most series, not the most games. Once a team beat an opponent 3 times, they could play the 1 or 2 remaining games, but they were counted as exhibitions. As a result, individual teams wound up playing as few as 25 games and as many as 33.



After a 10-8 victory over Boston at home on Sept. 29, the Whites had won 4 series; Boston and Philadelphia, 3 each. Following a week playing amateur teams, the Whites were scheduled to host Troy, another NA rival, on Oct. 12 and 14. The games would be the first of the season between the clubs, which had only recently settled a dispute of the Haymakers' employment of catcher Bill Craver, who had been dismissed by the Whites the previous season.

Citing multiple acts by Craver, the Whites had declared they never would play any team on which he played. Ultimately, Troy agreed not to use Craver against the Whites.


"The event to which all Chicago is looking forward with intense interest, and the issue of which will be eagerly looked for throughout the country at large, is the White Stocking-Haymaker game, which takes place in this city on Thursday afternoon," the Tribune said on Sunday, Oct. 8.

"The number of tickets already purchased indicates that the attendance will be immense -- perhaps the largest of the season -- and those who wish reserved seats in the pavilion should lose no time securing them."



The night after that story appeared, the Great Chicago Fire began in a barn on the South Side owned by the O'Leary family. It laid waste to about one third of the city, almost 3.5 square miles. It destroyed nearly 17,500 buildings, leaving nearly 100,000 people homeless. It killed about 300.

And, as Glenn Stout notes in his magisterial book, "The Cubs", "The White Stockings were among the fire's victims. Virtually all tangible evidence of the ball club went up in smoke, including their ballpark, club office, and records."


The team did not play again until Oct. 21, at Troy. Wearing mismatched, borrowed shirts, pants and stockings, the Whites defeated the Haymakers.

"The audience was a large one; and, as might have been expected, strongly partisan," said a story in the Tribune, "though much less feeling was manifest than might have been expected. The misfortune of the visiting club had undoubtedly much to do with this."

But in a rematch 2 days later, the Whites lost, 19-12. Meanwhile, Boston and Philadelphia both had wrapped up 2 more series, giving them 5 apiece to the Whites' 4. Philadelphia's victims included Boston, giving it the tie breaker between those teams.



The Whites headed for Brooklyn, the neutral site selected for their final game against Philadelphia, the teams having split 4 contests. The Athletics won, 4-1, holding the Whites to just 4 singles.

"The game was devoid of interest except from one circumstance," declared the Philadelphia Inquirer, "that it promised to end in the White Stockings being unable to score at all. The run they made in the last inning was through an error."

The Tribune's account of the game appeared on the last of its 6 pages, two thirds of the way down the first column, beneath a lengthy account of the regular meeting of the city's Common Council:



Base Ball.

New York, Oct. 30 -- The deciding game of the champion series between the Athletics, of Philadelphia, and the White Stockings, of Chicago, was played this afternoon at the Union Grounds, resulting in favor of the Athletics, by a score of 4 to 1, as follows:

[After printing the line score, the story concluded:]

This gives the championship of the United States to the Athletics.


Philadelphia's victory gave it 6 series wins. The Whites might have matched that number with 2 more wins over Troy, then a third win at Cleveland. But since the Athletics held the tie breaker over the Whites, there was no reason to play those games. The Whites returned to the ruins of Chicago, their season at an end.

Their final records were 19-9 in official NA games, 26-16 in all games against professional teams, 31-1 against amateur clubs and 57-17 overall.

The National Association would start its second season, 1872, with 2 new members, making a total of 11. The Whites would not be among them.



On Nov. 13, 1871, just 2 weeks after the loss to the Athletics, the Tribune reported on a meeting of the stockholders of the Chicago enterprise.


The Secretary of the Club, J. M. Thatcher, stated that the records, books, accounts, etc., of the club had been destroyed by fire, and it was impossible for him to present anything like an accurate report of the condition of the club's affairs.

From recollection mainly he reported that about $1,500 had been disbursed since the fire, principally to members of the nine, on salary account; that there was no about $2,000 in the treasury; that the grounds had been insured in the Commercial, of Chicago, for $4,000, of which about 10 percent would probably be paid.

He also stated that $800 had been advanced to McGeary on his next year's contract, and $50 to Cuthbert, and suggested that some action be taken with reference to these matters.



The story concluded:


The subject of retaining the club organization and securing players for next year was broached, but no action was taken, it being deemed essential that the stockholders should be advised of the present condition of affairs before taking any steps for the future.

It would seem as though Chicago would, for next year, have enough on its hands in the care of its destitute and in the work of rebuilding, without any further dabbling in professional base ball.

Even if it were possible -- which it is not -- to reconcile with our present position of alms-takers from the entire world, the maintenance of an expensive professional nine, we have no grounds on which to play our games, and to fit up grounds will cost from four to five thousand dollars.

The year 1872 will be a season of work in Chicago -- hard, unceasing work for everybody, and we shall have little time to devote to an amusement, the enjoyment of which takes an entire afternoon.

There will be no afternoons to spare, for some time to come, in Chicago. Base ball is a luxury, which we can dispense with for at least one year, and there should be no further steps toward the reorganization of the White Stocking nine.



On Nov. 26, the "Games and Pastimes" column at the top of page 2 of the Tribune began with this headline:

The White Stockings No More

The top item in the column began:




At a recent meeting of the stockholders of the Chicago Base Ball Club . . . it was by resolution declared that the stock of that club is canceled and surrendered, and a committee was appointed to wind up all the affairs of the club . . .


This was the end of the story:



It is said that certain parties -- mainly those most hostile to the management of the late Chicago Club -- still cling to the idea of getting up a professional nine for 1872, in Chicago, and that, provided suitable grounds can be secured, steps will at once be taken for the engagement of players.

As a private speculation, whereby the parties interested hope to make a few dollars out of the gate receipts with visiting clubs, we have nothing to say; but it should be remembered that such a scheme is purely individual, and in no way represents the honor and credit of base ball in Chicago.

As a city, Chicago had dropped base ball for a time, but there is no law against the formation of a one-horse professional nine, for purposes wholly mercenary.

It is not probable that the public would take much interest in such a speculation, nor that it would yield any considerable profit in a legitimate way, but if the organizers of the professional nine for 1872 think differently, or have other objects in view, nobody hinders them from proceeding with their little game.


TOMORROW: In limbo

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