Kind of Blue

pernotWith the Cubs shocking the monkey in the early going, the cry goes out: Kris Bryant for president. Or Anthony Rizzo. Or Jake Arrieta. Alas, they are all too young and, in Arrieta’s case, too bearded. We could nominate Chicago manager Joe Maddon, but he’d probably choose an alpaca for his vice president, and we cannot have an camelid that competent one heartbeat from the Oval Office.

Only October can tell us whether the latest edition of the Cubs will deliver. Only future years will show if the dynasty-in-waiting becomes a dynasty in fact. But, surprisingly, it would not be the first Cubs super-team to frighten the National League. Yea, back in another era when men wore magnificent facial hair, the Cubs arguably invented the baseball dynasty.

In 1876, the team—known as the White Stockings in those quaint days—fielded a monster nine. The April 25 opener saw the Hose trounce the rival Grays 4-0 in Louisville. Laurent Pernot takes us back-back-back-back to the season in his book Before the Ivy to explain how Chicago’s team began its reign over the late 1800s:

For the inaugural year of the National League, 1876, the White Stockings for the first time had the luxury of a clubhouse, located a block from their 23rd Street Grounds at 23rd and Wabash Avenue. Previous teams had been showering and suiting up at home. Now they could boast of a locker room “furnished in the most gorgeous style of the furniture dealer’s art” in what the Chicago Tribune called it a “fine mansion” at 1030 Wabash that even featured a billiards table in the basement. The club was financed through $20,000 in shares.

cap ansonThe 1876 White Stockings, now managed by [Albert] Spalding, who himself won forty-seven games (pitching in a staggering sixty of the White Stockings’ sixty-six games), became the National League’s first champions, six games ahead of St. Louis and Hartford. Ross Barnes led the team with a league-best .429 batting average, followed by Cap Anson (.356), 1875 returnee shortstop J. P. Peters (.351), and former Red Stocking first baseman Cal McVey (.347), who also pitched in the team’s six non-Spalding games, winning five of them. [Owner William] Hulbert had won the fight; his new players were in a class all their own and the game’s image had been cleaned up.

That’s more than could be said about Hulbert’s own image, at least in one newspaper’s eye. The Tribune railed against him even as the team was wrapping the championship: “Mr. President Hulbert, while affable, is unsatisfactory, and any attempt to get an answer to a question from him about the future policy of the organization, of which he is the only visible head, is as fruitless as it would be to attempt to perceive a prominent bone in his well-fed body.”

The Evening Journal described the city’s sentiment toward the team itself: “They have won the coveted and Chicago is happy. Every man on the club has shown himself to be a gentleman as well as a ball player, and there has never been a breath of suspicion against them. They are a credit to the city of their adoption.”

The Inter Ocean announced the following season’s reshuffled lineup and predicted it would “comprise what is probably the strongest nine ever made up.” The Tribune had beaten everyone to the punch in mid-September, when it had declared the White Stockings champions with six games to go: “Enough is known and now announced to give good promise of the same success for 1877 that has attended the White Stockings of 1876.”