Tonight, the world once again courts apocalypse, as the Chicago Cubs put on their best woolens to embark on the long, untrod road to the World Series. Winners of over 100 games for the first time since the Great Depression, the Chicago nine have stoked expectations while setting up a flame-out that could only eclipse the most crashing disappointment in city sports history. The last time the Cubs made the Series, Harry Truman was listening distractedly to the wireless as he tried to figure out FDR’s terrible handwriting.
Just competing for the World Series opens the door to, in theory, winning the World Series, an event some believe must bring about the end of the world. My personal theory is that an asteroid will strike the earth just as Kris Bryant connects for a title-clinching homer in the fourteenth inning of Game Seven, a catastrophe that will scotch his chance to pose on a bearskin rug for Cosmo.
This will seem hard to believe, but Cubs postseason baseball did not always bring on a fearsome Time of Portents. Yea, in an earlier time, the Cubs won pennants so often their presence in the postseason became tiresome. Laurent Pernot, in his UIP charmer Before the Ivy: The Cubs’ Golden Age in Pre-Wrigley Chicago, even called one of his chapters “Again, Chicago is Champion” without being hooted down by Leon Durham-scarred hecklers. Of course, in true Cubs fashion, Pernot is referring to the other Chicago team.
It was an era when men were men. How manly? They pitched even if they only had three fingers. Mordecai Brown, aka Three-Finger Brown, anchored a Cubs pitching staff that in 1906 helped the team to a record-setting 116-win season.
As summer wound down, it became apparent the Cubs would face their crosstown rivals the White Stockings in the World Series. The White Stockings had taken a nickname discarded by the Cubs at the end of the nineteenth century, marking them forever as second-raters in their own city, though probably the number one team among dogs. They were run by Charles Comiskey, a preposterously villainous sports plutocrat even by the standards of the Gilded Age.
September turned to October. As Pernot reports, the city stopped to watch the sports spectacle of the ages. The weather, sportswriters, and livestock did their part to add local color to the proceedings:
Thirty-five years to the day after the city had been ablaze, the two Chicago teams made their way to the West Side Grounds for the opener of a seven-game, seven-day series. Snow flurries and cold, piercing rain greeted the brave souls who had decided to attend the game. The next day, Dryden would write, “Twelve thousand and odd pin wheels buzzing in their lids kept the brains of the chivalry and beauts from congealing.”
For those who could not or would not attend the games outdoors, the Tribune had prepared huge viewing parties at the First Regiment Armory and McVicker’s Theater that could accommodate five thousand fans per game. At the theater, private wires fed the action to “baseball experts” who provided the play-by-play by megaphone, while the situation on the field was displayed on a twenty-square-foot scoreboard complete with an interactive diagram of the diamond.
The Cubs had prepared with a grueling two-hour practice, while the Sox took in some vaudeville. Perhaps Chance, now the Cubs manager, should have listened to his own advice to save some hits for games by cutting good workouts short. The Sox beat the Cubs and “Three Finger” Brown 2-1 with the help of a triple by third baseman George Rohe, who had spent most of the season on the bench. The Tribune, which all year had referred to the West Siders as “Spuds” in honor of their new owner, Charles Murphy, who had bought the team from Spalding in 1905, summed up the game in two words: “Mashed Potatoes!” Dryden wrote what would become a double entendre more than one hundred years later: “The Cubs got the Rickets.”
Chance promised a victory in five games, and he looked like a fortune teller when the Cubs crushed their rivals at Sox Park the next day. Dryden summed it up in the October 11 Tribune: “Over in the stockyard district, where gentle deeds and smells are rare, the Cubs dragged the Sox around their own killing beds and slaughtered them to a finish. Score: 7 to 1. Surrounded by another 12,000 bunch of cold storage ladies and gentlemen and quite a lot of policemen, the losers of the first game showed the Sox how the national pastime should be exploited.”
Now that’s poetry. Onward:
Thanks in part to Sox pitcher Ed Walsh’s mastery of the spitball—the result of a mix of saliva, chewing gum, and tree sap—the Sox gained the edge with a 3-0 win on the West Side in game three. Someone let a hen in white stockings loose in the West Side Grounds outfield; though it was meant to mock the Sox, it failed to lay golden eggs for the Cubs. Dryden reported the Cubs had been “beaten by a nose,” that of Sox outfielder Ed Hahn, who was hit by a pitch; “The blowing away of the nose filled the bases” and set-up Rohe’s game-winning triple in the sixth inning. Everything seemed on the side of the White Sox—the hen spent much of the game near Hahn, whose name means “rooster” in German.
The Sox would go on to win the Series.