The first memory of the game, like many before and after, was with my Grandfather. A fervent baseball fan, he would be in the living room, sitting in his favorite corner chair (the ‘easy’ chair) where the game would be on the radio with Bert Wilson calling the action. He would always say, “I don’t care who wins, as long as it’s the Cubs!”. They were the first major league club I ever saw in an exhibition game against the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association.
What happened this past week was a milestone of sorts. Those loveable Cubs were not in the basement of the Central Division of the National League. What in Clark & Addison is happening?
For as long as one can remember, the one word you could use with the Chicago Cubs was ‘hope’. When Jack Brickhouse (‘Hey-hey!”) was calling the play-by-play, ‘hope’ was in the form of Dee Fondy or Ernie Banks (reminded me of legendary Crusader shortstop, Lenny); Phil Cavaretta or Stan Hack on WGN. Hack was my Grandfather’s favorite player. No wonder. He was a .301 career hitter. When it was Vince Lloyd calling the play-by-play (Holy mackerel!”) or ‘Harry’ in the booth, (“It might be…it could be…it is!”), ‘hope’ was Santo or Gracie; Ferguson or Sarge. Problem was…all of these teams rarely finished above level…above .500 for the season.
There were a few Cub teams that finished above .500, but in the 21st Century, the beloved Cubbies have only been above .500 for a season 6 times, including the heartbreaking 2003 season (we simply will not mention the guy’s name and you know who we are talking about). In the 1990s, there were only two seasons when they finished above level. Same with he ’80s; three times in the ’70s; four times in the 60; none in the ’50s and only twice in the ’40s in which they were in their last World Series. Since 1937, when Bill Veeck planted the ivy that grace the outfield walls of the ‘Friendly Confines’, the Chicago Cubs finished above .500 only 21 times in 76 YEARS. That brings a whole new meaning for the word ‘hope’.
This is a team that is celebrating their 137th year in the National League this season. The National League of Professional Baseball was formed with an eight-team circuit consisting of the Boston Red Stockings (now Atlanta Braves), Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs and starring A. G. Spalding, the sporting goods king), Cincinnati Red Legs (expelled after the 1880 season for marketing beer at their games and for playing on Sundays were reformed in 1881 and are today the Reds), Hartford Dark Blues (disbanded in 1878 due to one of the first gambling scandals in the game), Louisville Grays (disbanded in 1878), Philadelphia Athletics (expelled after 1876), Mutual of New York (expelled after 1776 season) and St. Louis Brown Stockings (folded after 1877).
There were great teams along the way. After the 1902 season, a group of young kids named Tinker, Evers and Chance gave the Chicago Daily News the distinction of renaming the team The Orphans. This band of superb players were legendary. In 1906 they won 116 games and lost to the rival White Sox in the World Series but won the World Series in 1907 (110 wins); in 1908 and 1910 (104 wins). They were no longer orphans but baby bruins and renamed the Cubs.
These beloved Cubs were last in a World Series in 1945. Who can forget ‘Curse of Bill “The Goat” Sianis’, with aging pitching star Lon Warneke; Hank Wyse who had a 22-10 record that season; Phil Cavarretta at 1st with a .355 BA; Stan Hack at 3rd with a .323 BA; Peanuts Lowrey with a .283 BA; Andy Pafko with a .298 BA, all of whom where managed by the legendary Charlie Grimm.
That was then.
Today it is up to a group of New Orphans named Rizzo, Castro, Wood, Samardzija, Valbuena, Feldman and Castillo. Led by Dale Sveum on the field and Theo Epstein in the front office, for a brief moment this past week the New Orphans were born. They were not in the basement of the Central Division.
Never being sure of what a season will bring, ‘hope’ this year may be more than a reminder of the past. Three wins in a row will do that. As of this Sunday morning, they are NOT in the basement.