As members of the Central Division and one of two baseball franchises in Chicago, the Cubs have the unenviable task of proving their supremacy in their division and their own city. However, as the current Central champions, it is a task they’ve recently been more than up to.
Unfortunately, their history tells a different story, with their only World Series victories coming right at the start of the 20th century and one of their nicknames being the Loveable Losers. However, as the only franchise to remain in the same place since the formation of the National League in 1876, there is more to the Cubbies than mere trophies.
Foundation and early years
As with so many MLB sides, the Cubs were established off the back of a series of ancestors. The first of these was the Chicago White Stockings, formed in 1870, and they were followed by the Colts and the Orphans, before finally the Cubs were founded in 1902.
Prior to this, the aforementioned sides had picked up their fair share of success. The White Stockings, in particular, proved dominant, picking up the pennant on six occasions between 1876 and 1886.
The Loveable Winners
Once the nickname the Cubs had stuck, they continued this pedigree of success. The 1906 season especially was one to remember. Guided by the phenomenal quartet of Joe Tinker, Frank Chance, Harry Steinfeldt and Johnny Evers, the Cubs were dominant on their way to picking up the pennant, notching up a record that endures today of 116 victories.
What was more remarkable was the individual contribution of Chance, who took over as manager the previous season and inaugurated comfortably the most successful period in their history.
The feat of winning 116 games in 1906 was dulled by the agony of losing to their arch-rivals, the White Sox, in the World Series. However, the following year proved to be a different story, as the Cubs took the pennant with 107 wins in the regular season and marched into the World Series once again. Coming up against the Detroit Tigers, the Cubs were dominant, courtesy of heroics from personnel like Mordecai Brown, and duly swept the series 4-0.
They didn’t have to wait long for their second World Series victory either. Although their tally of 99 games was down on the previous campaign, it was enough to take the pennant and the World Series was almost a replica of the previous one. Facing the Tigers again, the Cubs were irresistible and took the series 4-1.
The Cubs’ success during this period was unprecedented but, as is the way in sport, it wasn’t to last. The euphoria of the previous season was followed by a degree of disappointment in 1909, as injuries to key players like catcher, Johnny Kling, scuppered their regular season form.
Despite winning 104 games, they would finish second for the first time in four years. They rectified this in 1910 by taking the pennant, despite losing more games than in 1909, but their form in the World Series deserted them, as they were hammered 4-1 by the Philadelphia Athletics.
There and thereabouts
The World Series in 1910 would prove to be the climax of the Cubs’ glory years and thus ensued a series of frustrating seasons. With the exception of the 1918 season, when the Cubs took the pennant, only to succumb to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, the franchise started to earn its nickname as the Loveable Losers.
It was only with the introduction of William Wrigley (of chewing gum fame, and whose name is emblazoned on the club’s home, Wrigley Field) as majority owner that the Cubs received the requisite investment to start competing again.
Gradual improvement in the 1920s culminated in 1929 with their first pennant in over a decade. This would be followed by further pennants in regular three year intervals in 1932, 1935 and 1938. However, on each occasion, the Cubs’ fans would suffer the pain of defeat in the World Series, to the Philadelphia Athletics again, then the New York Yankees, the Detroit Tigers and finally the Yankees.
The golden touch of Wrigley proved to be a 1930s phenomenon though, as the club struggled throughout the 1940s. Although they would pick up the pennant in 1945, and once more lost the World Series, again to the Detroit Tigers, but with the added frustration of defeat only coming in Game 7, the story thereafter was one of sad failure.
The Loveable Losers
The subsequent decades proved to be decidedly mediocre ones for the Cubs and their supporters. The only notable moments were ones of dramatic collapse, most remarkably in 1969, when the Cubs completely fell to pieces towards the end of the regular season and squandered an 81⁄2 game lead to finish second in the Division.
Although they would flirt with the Division title again in 1972, it would be another 12 years before they would re-enter the spotlight. Having taken the Central Division in 1984, they came up against the San Diego Padres in the Championship game for the pennant.
However, their poor post-season form had remained throughout the decades and they experienced a narrow 3-2 defeat. They would repeat the feat in 1989, reaching the Championship game against the San Francisco Giants, only to receive a 4-1 thumping.
Hope for the future
With no pennant since 1945 and no World Series since 1908, the mood amongst Cubs’ fans by the turn of the century was understandably rather low. However, there have been signs since then of a return to the glory of their heyday.
The first Central Division title came in 2003, although they would again be on the receiving end of a heartbreaking defeat, courtesy of the Florida Marlins in the Championship game. This was followed in 2007 with their second triumph, although they would again fail to build on their potential by inexplicably falling to bits against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Nevertheless, with manager Lou Piniella developing a side of winners around men like Rich Hill, there is some reason to think the good times may be coming back to Chicago and, more specifically, to those long suffering Cubs fans.
Having been around for over 130 years, the Cubbies have picked up a host of rivals and been a part of some of the most significant contests in baseball history.
The White Sox
Known by a host of names like the Crosstown Classic/Series/Showdown, the Cubs’ regular clashes with the White Sox for supremacy in Chicago represent the best example of a derby match in baseball. The contest literally divides the city in two, as the Cubs represent the North side from their Wrigley Field base, while the White Sox are situated on the South side at the US Cellular Field.
The history of this rivalry stems back to 1900 with the foundation of the American League, when the Cubs’ fans took umbrage at the decision of Charles Comiskey, who would become infamous across America for his association with the Black Sox scandal, to move his minor league Saint Paul Saints to Chicago.
The acrimony between the two sides culminated in their battle in 1906 in the biggest game of them all, the World Series. Chicago understandably focused all its attention on baseball during the contests, which ended with a victory for the White Sox.
With this exception though, competitive matches were rare between the two sides. Prior to the introduction of interleague play, the City Series and charity exhibition cases (usually on Memorial Day) were the only opportunities for the clubs to play for bragging rights.
Fortunately, from 1997 onwards, interleague games have been accepted and, by consequence, the two sides play each other six times a year. Befitting such a rivalry, the teams are practically deadlocked in terms of victories.
Passions run high regularly and, therefore, it was not surprising that a brawl broke out in 2006, when the Cubs’ Michael Barrett chose to make the contest physical by punching A.J. Pierzynski.
Although going beyond what was acceptable, it shows the intensity of this rivalry and the media attention which accompanies it is reflective of just how significant the White Sox-Cubs rivalry is in the sport of baseball.
The St. Louis Cardinals
Known as the I-55 series, the games with the Cardinals have a much longer lineage, with the franchises both having taken over a thousand games each (although the Cardinals have the advantage).
Unfortunately for Cubs’ fans, the Cardinals have been far more successful in the World Series, picking up no fewer than 10 victories. However, this hasn’t stopped the two sides engaging in fascinating races during the regular season, most recently in 2003, when the Cubs ran out victorious in the Central Division.
Having endured, despite the split in the National League, the rivalry is one of the longest lasting in baseball and continues to draw in neutrals, particularly in 1998 when the focus was on the home run fortunes of the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa and the Cardinals’ Mark McGwire.
The Milwaukee Brewers
A more recent rivalry, it came about courtesy of the Brewers’ move to the National League in 1998. However, with the sides regularly exchanging victories and often contesting the Central Division title, the stakes have quickly become high. There’s little reason to think it will become anything but more intense in the future.
- World Series Titles – Winners (1907, 1908)
- NL Pennants – Winners (1876, 1880, 1881, 1882, 1885, 1886, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, 1945)
- Central Division Titles – Winners (2003, 2007)
- East Division Titles – Winners (1984, 1989)
- 10 – Ron Santo
- 14 – Ernie Banks
- 23 – Ryne Sandberg
- 26 – Billy Williams
- 42 – Jackie Robinson (as part of the NL’s general retirement of the number)