Time for the Legend to Live or Die

One of the Innocents at Minute Maid Park With His Sign from 7 Years Ago 2009

One of the Innocents at Minute Maid Park
With His Sign from 7 Years Ago
2009

 

The number “1908” means something on the north side of Chicago that it means nowhere else, even if those of us in the other hinterlands of the international baseball culture think we get it at first mention. Unless we grew up as fans of the Chicago Cubs – in Chicago – on the north side – as fans of the only club we’ve ever followed – with no chance of affixing our hopes to some other club playing for big stakes in some big deal sport they eventually won – and as fans of the same Cubs that our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great grandparents followed – from Wrigleyville to Skokie  – or thereabouts – without ever, ever seeing our Cubbies win a World Series – let alone, play in one – we don’t know jack about the deepest pure meaning of “1908”.

Do we really ever(s) think we should tinker with the chance possibility that all the people of our baseball world understand the figuratively earth-shaking possibilities of what is most likely to happen now, if the Chicago Cubs next reach and then win the 2016 World Series? Here at The Pecan Park Eagle, we think that the question is worth more than the few summary lines we tossed at that contingency yesterday in our last series column on the American League Wild Card race.

In the beginning of the 1903-t0-2016-forward World Series history – 1908, to be exact – the Chicago Cubs were at the top of their game – winning their second World Series in a row over the same club – the Detroit Tigers. The Cubs played in the new World Series a year earlier, losing a tough one to their south side rivals, the Chicago White Sox. – In the fall of 1908, however, three consecutive World Series appearances (1906-08) – and two consecutive wins in a row – looked pretty darn good and seemed to bode well for  the National League title town that seemed to be now so well-planted on the north side of the Windy City.

Something happened. The Chicago Cubs stopped reaching the World Series at all for a few years after 1908. By 1914, a fellow named Charles H. Weeghman built Weeghman Park on the north side as home to his new Federal League club, the Chicago Federals/Whales, the NL Cubs had returned to the World Series in 1910, but had lost to the Philadelphia Athletics, adjusting their overall record in the big one to 2 wins and 2 losses.

When the Federal League failed after two seasons, Charles H. Weeghman purchased the Cubs and moved them into his Weeghman Park in 1916. Weeghman’s Cubs captured the 1918 NL pennant in 1918, but then lost the World Series to Babe Ruth in his last hurrah for the AL Boston Red Sox. That loss dropped the Cubs World Series record to 2 wins and 3 losses. And 1908 was getting easier to remember. The last Cubs’ World Series victory was now ten years old.

The Wrigley family purchased the Cubs franchise and properties prior to the 1920 season and renamed Weeghman Park as Cubs Park. The cozy park at the corner of Clark and Addison was renamed Wrigley Field by the Wrigley family in 1926.

The Cubs returned to the World Series in 1929, around the time of the great stock market crash that plunged the world into an era that we still remember today as the Great Depression. The Cubs’ 1929 loss to the Philadelphia Athletics further demoted their overall World Series record to 2 wins and 4 losses – and 1908 was growing as an indelible memory on the north side as the birthdate of a now 21-year old fully grown one-generation nemesis reminder.

“What’s going on?” was the question on the minds of 42-year 0ld northsiders who had themselves been 21 years old in 1908. “We won then! Why can’t we win now? Are we cursed – or something?” And then some quietly wondered: “Was that questionable put out of Merkle 0f the Giants by Johnny Evers of the Cubs for failing to run out a game-winning hit that would have beaten the Cubs behind our failure to win since that 1908? – Maybe, we do have a curse on our back!”

The idea of a possible “1908 curse” certainly was reinforced in 1932. The Cubs returned to the World Series, only to be swept in four games by Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees. It was a legendary moment in Wrigley Field when credence grew around the idea that Babe Ruth actually “called his shot’ on a home run he blasted off Cubs pitcher Charlie Root. If that happened, the idea of a “1908 Curse” could have grown in plausibility with north side fans: “If the baseball gods were there to help Babe Ruth beat us with an announced home run this year, in 1932, it makes even more sense to believe that the baseball gods are punishing our Cubs for the chicanery that Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers pulled on Merkle and the Giants twenty-six years ago – back in holy-moley 1908. – And the punishment is – what? – we don’t get to win any more World Series title for a while! – And if so, how long is this curse supposed to last? Isn’t 26 years enough suffering? – C’mon, baseball gods, give us a break! We’ve lost 4 straight World Series matches since 1908 and our overall record has now slipped to 2 wins and 5 losses! How much punishment do we actually deserve?”

Not nearly enough, apparently. The Cubs go on from 1932 to lose again in 1935 to the Detroit Tigers in six games and again in 1938 to the New York Yankees in another four game sweep. The Cubs were now 2 and 7 overall in World Series appearances, with six of those seven losses coming since 1908 , and with 1908 now a date that all north siders knew as the fact that “the Cubs haven’t won a World Series in thirty years.” Only really old people of 50 or over even remember 1908 that well – and most of them with even faint childhood memories of same are beginning to think that losing is normal for the Cubs and that 1908 is some kind of younger child early north side bedtime story.

Then, just when everybody thought it couldn’t get any worse, here came the abyss.

Seven years later, the Cubs failed again in what probably was their best chance to win a World Series and bury the memory of 1908. Facing the Detroit Tigers in 1945, the last year of MLB lineups crippled by “stars off to war”, the Cubs fell a game shy of winning in a seven-game failure, but that wasn’t even the most grim outcome of defeat seizing a prize from the jaws of victory in behalf of the Cubs. After 1945, the Cubs fell off a high cliff into the abyss of losing. They haven’t even made it back to a World Series since 1945, a fact that many north side Chicagoans now attribute to bar owner Billy Sianis’ “Billy Goat Curse” when Cubs owner Phil Wrigley barred him from bringing a goat into the World Series at Wrigley Field to place a curse on the Tigers. Angry about his rejection, Sianis placed the curse on the Cubs, declaring that the Cubs would never win another World Series for as long as his goat remained banned from games at Wrigley, even when he had a ticket.

Since 1945, the Cubs have had a couple of close calls, but they have never been back to improve upon their longstanding 2 win and 8 loss World Series record. If the current NLC champion Cubs make it to the 2016 World Series, two time frame numbers to two landmark dates now occur: (1) It has been 108 years since the Cubs last won a World Series in 1908; and (2) It has been 71 years since the Cubs even appeared in a World Series back in 1945.

Every Cubs fan from 1908 who actually saw the Cubs play is now long dead; and almost every Cubs fans who could have seen the Cubs even play in a World Series is also now pushing up daisies.

So, how has this club been able to keep a fan base on the north side amidst all the losing, curse or not?

What’s happened, intended or not, is that north siders have settled into celebrating the Cubs as “”Lovable Losers” and romancing Wrigley Field as the NL’s “Shrine of Baseball Nostalgia.” In Chicago, people have their own time machine back into childhood. All they have to do is call in sick or take the day off legitimately and go spend the day at a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Day games are more nostalgic, but the night games work too. So, sometimes, you don’t need an excuse to make the trip honestly.

The WGN national cable broadcasts certainly have supported and probably promoted the expansion of the “Lovable Loser” Cub image, as did the daily presence for so many years of  TV voice and personality of the late Harry Carrey sell the deal with language that mangled worse as the game moved on each game to the revered singing by Harry of “Take Me Out to The Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch. – To fans who never had known anything else, it became OK to lose. – Winning, of course, would have been fine, but, of course, nobody on the north side had ever seen it from the Cubs, so nobody was surprised or too disappointed when it didn’t happen.

But what happens now?

If the Chicago Cubs win the 2016 World Series, 1908 will still be an historical reference in Cubs history, but it will lose its joyful stinger as that date that celebrates not only the Cubs last World Series win, but also their true birth as Baseball’s “Lovable Losers”.

Living Cubs fans will now have a personal experience with watching their team “win the big one”, and, like the sharks that all fiery allegiant baseball fans truly are, their taste for all the jaws-like thrusting that comes after the first swallowed bite becomes insatiable.  Cub fans, like the rest of us, will no longer be satisfied with settling for “Lovable Loser” talent on the field – or a trip to Wrigley Field as enough entertainment in itself for the money.

Expectations about winning are the death of easy-does-it “lovable losing”.

Be careful of what you dream of, Cub fans. You are standing on the brink of all that comes with it. And what comes with it – is a sign that reads this way in our minds under all like passages from innocence. – It reads: “You can’t go home again”.

____________________

eagle-0range
Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas

 

 

 

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5 Responses to “Time for the Legend to Live or Die”

  1. Doug S. Says:

    Long live the Billy Goat!

  2. Tom Hunter Says:

    Thomas Wolfe, the author of “You Can’t Go Home Again,” died on September 15, 1938. A little over three weeks later, the Cubs were swept in four games by the Yankees in the World Series. Game 2 on October 6th was lost by former Houston Buff pitcher Dizzy Dean in what was his last appearance in the World Series, and was also the last time the Yankees played at Wrigley Field for another 65 years, when interleague play began.

    The last time the Cubs won the World Series, Mark Twain was still alive.

  3. bhick6 Says:

    Here’s the view of this old Cub fan:

    1. I didn’t see the 1945 World Series. No TV in our house (or most homes at the time). But I heard it on my parents’ car radio. Those were my first impressions of major league games.

    2. Growing up around Chicago, I never heard about a curse. We kids simply rooted for the Cubs because we were on the north side. Not much different from all you Houston fans cheering for the Astros, despite some frustrating seasons.

    3. I still don’t believe in a curse. A close examination of Cubs’ history will show ownership and management deficiencies for most of the past 70 years. Certainly during the Wrigley and Chicago Tribune ownership periods, there was a governing philosophy which wasn’t conducive to putting together the best team. Day baseball, while rival teams were playing night ball at home, may have contributed to the problem.

    4. At my age, I’d be happy to see the Cubs in the World Series again, much less than aspire to win the whole shebang. Of course, it would be terrific to break the streak of not winning the Series since 1908, but even the National League Championship would be a treat.

    5. “Lovable Losers” is in the eye of the beholder. To someone who has pulled for the Cubs for more than 70 years, they are simply “the Cubs.”

    Bill Hickman

  4. Wayne Roberts Says:

    Cubs will lose in the Division series and blame Donald Trump. They always have to blame something or someone for being even bigger losers than Houston. So why not Trump?

  5. Go Cubs! Take the World Series Too! | The Pecan Park Eagle Says:

    […] Time for the Legend to Live or Die […]

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