It’s hard to believe one of the most storied franchises in the game has a recent lovable loser status. After their World Series title in 2016, their status has gone from lovable loser to feared alpha dog. How did the Chicago Cubs go from winning 16 NL Pennants in their first 69 years to waiting 71 years for their 17th NL Pennant?
I will try to answer that question, along with many others in this article. This is the first weekly publication in which we will review the history of every MLB club. What better place to start than with the World Series champion Chicago Cubs?
A Fast Start (1876 to 1918)
Owner William Hulbert made the club a charter member of the National League after being founded in 1876. Oddly enough, they were christened the Chicago White Stockings. Stars of the day like pitcher Albert Spalding and first baseman Cap Anson were signed, and the team won the inaugural NL Pennant in 1876. Five more would follow in the next 10 years, and the team began to gain prominence.
After a poor 1897 season, management let player-manager Cap Anson go. Anson’s influence on the club was so great that many journalists began calling the team the Chicago Orphans after his departure. Chicago would be back on top within the next 10 years.
The club officially became the Chicago Cubs in 1903, and followed up with a NL Pennant and World Series appearance in 1906. This was the beginning of a spectacular run by the Cubs, with a roster constructed by former player Albert Spalding.
After losing the 1906 World Series, they captured their first World Series title in 1907. They were 107-45 in the regular season and beat the Detroit Tigers, winning four games and tying one. They repeated as World Series champions in 1908, and made another World Series appearance in 1910.
The Cubs made four World Series appearances from 1906-1910 and won two titles. However, the Cubs would win their last NL Pennant of the decade in 1918. It marked the end of one era and the beginning of another.
Every Three Years… (1919 to 1945)
Before the San Francisco Giants were winning the World Series every even year, the Cubs made a streak of their own. They won the NL Pennant every three years starting in 1929 and ending in 1938 for a total of four NL Pennants.
While they did make four World Series appearances, they were thwarted by their AL opponents each time. Many of the Cubs players found individual success in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field even though the team didn’t find success in the World Series.
Hack Wilson was one of the most potent hitters of the decade. He smashed 56 homers and drove in a record 191 RBIs in 1930. That record still stands to this day as the most RBIs in a single season.
That 1930 team was one that set the groundwork for the three-year stretch. Their last World Series appearance of the era came in 1945. It was so decisive that it impacted the next 71 years of Cubs baseball.
After winning the first two games of the series in Detroit, the Cubs returned to Wrigley Field for games 4-7. The Cubs couldn’t get over the hump, even with a 2-1 series lead and eventually lost the series.
Billy Sianis had bought two tickets to game four of the series, one for him and one for his goat. The Cubs staff kicked Sianis and his stinky goat out of the ballpark. Sianis is rumored to have cursed the team to “win no more.” It seemed to work, as the Cubs lost the World Series and kicked off 71 years of heartache.
The Drought (1946 to 2010)
The curse of the billy goat held on for quite some time. The Cubs entered a bleak era, whether it was truly the curse or a mixture of poor performance and poor judgement by management. Star players were hard to come by, and the 1950s and 1960s passed through Chicago without much of a whimper. One player shone bright through that dark era.
He was a superstar shortstop named Ernie Banks. “Mr. Cub” played 19 seasons with the Cubs and smashed 512 homers and won two NL MVP awards. Even his Hall of Fame level of play wasn’t enough to help the Cubs return to the World Series.
The Cubs continued to march on through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, earning the moniker “the lovable losers.” Even though the World Series drought would continue, Cubs fans had someone to root for in Ryne Sandberg.
The second baseman would put up Hall of Fame numbers for the Cubbies after coming into the league in 1981. He provided hope for 15 years while in Chicago, but never could make due on his immense talent.
The late 1990s and early 2000s were good times for Cubs fans. With playoff appearances and winning seasons in the books, the Cubs seemed to be back in contention. All of their talent and success in the 1990s and 2000s still wasn’t enough for a World Series appearance.
It wasn’t until a bunch of young guns arrived in the Cubs’ clubhouse that they would return to their century-old winning ways.
Triumphant Return (2010 to …)
Before the Cubs could return to the mountaintop, they would have to hit rock bottom. Boy did they hit it hard.
After a dismal 2011 season in which the Cubs lost 91 games, new owner Tom Ricketts signed general manager Theo Epstein away from Boston. His spectacular rebuild of the Red Sox earned them the 2004 World Series title, their first since 1918. After breaking the “Curse of the Bambino,” a little old billy goat would be no problem, right? Not so much.
In Epstein’s first season in Chicago, the Cubs lost 101 games. That dismal record was one of promise though, as young players Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro continued to get much needed at bats. It wasn’t until 2015 when it all finally came together.
Epstein had a crop of young talent, headlined by phenoms Kris Bryant and Addison Russell. A strong group of veterans, headlined by Jake Arrieta and Dexter Fowler, joined them. Now all he needed was the right man to lead the ship. He wouldn’t have to wait too long before his ideal captain became available.
After manager Joe Maddon was fired from the Tampa Bay Rays after the 2014 season, Epstein was quick to scoop him up. His leadership and analytical approach to the game meshed well with Epstein, and together they helped lead the Chicago Cubs to their first World Series appearance in 71 years in 2016. They didn’t just make the World Series. They won the 2016 World Series in dramatic fashion, besting the Cleveland Indians in seven games.
With a stable of young talent, don’t expect the Cubs to endure another drought anytime soon.
“From Our Haus to Yours”