HOLY COW! CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN!
Written by Eric Plaut
“Holy Cow! Cubs win! Cubs win!” We all remember that battle-cry the late Harry Caray used to shout out after a Chicago Cubs victory. With his thick glasses and his enthusiasm, one would have thought Harry’s beloved Cubs clinched a Game 7 World Series win. While Harry Caray may be gone, his spirit was definitely there during the 2016 World Series.
To all those Chicago Cubs fans out there—the miracle of miracles happened on November 2, 2016. The Cubs, after a 108-year absence, are back on top of the baseball world after defeating the Cleveland Indians in seven games! The so-called curse of the Billy Goat has finally ended, even though you can always go to that namesake restaurant in the Windy City for a legendary “cheezbooga”. If the Boston Red Sox can be free of the Curse of the Bambino (Babe Ruth) after an 86-year title drought, then so can the Cubs!
A lot has happened in the past 108 years. In 1908, Henry Ford began the first of twenty years of mass production of the Model T. King Edward VII opened the Fourth Olympiad (modern-day Olympics) in London. Mother’s Day was first observed that year on May 10. Books published included The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz (Book 4) by L. Frank Baum. Following that banner year, Halley’s Comet soared past Earth twice in 1910 and 1986. There were two World Wars with the Great Depression sandwiched somewhere in the middle. Oh—and the New York Yankees won 27 World Series, which like leap year and the Olympic games seems to average once every four years. You do the math!
The World Series of the modern era began in 1903. The Boston Americans (now the Red Sox) won their first of eight pennants. Despite having 11 appearances in the Series, the Chicago Cubs only won three titles. Their first appearance was in 1906 against Chicago’s South Siders—the White Sox. The Chi-Sox defeated the Cubs four games to two. The Cubs, however, won their first two titles in 1907 and 1908 against the Detroit Tigers, making them the first of all the modern-era Big 4 teams to win back-to-back titles. The White Sox became World Series champions again in 1917 against the New York—now San Francisco—Giants and in 2005 against the Houston Astros.
Even if one includes the team’s entire history, the Chicago Cubs actually won six divisional titles and 17 National League pennants dating back to 1876. After 1903 though, the North Side Cubs appeared in eleven World Series—they won three and lost eight. They lost to the White Sox in 1906 and to the Boston Red Sox in 1918 after which began the Bo-Sox’s 86-year “Curse of the Bambino.” In the meantime, the Detroit Tigers avenged both of their losses to the Cubs in the 1935 and 1945 World Series. The Cubs also lost two World Series a piece to the Philadelphia (now Oakland) Athletics in 1910 and 1929; and to the New York Yankees in 1932 and 1938.
Some North Siders, however, may gripe about the Cubs’ 71-year absence from the World Series. Some may blame the Curse of the Billy Goat during this reign. In 1945, however, World War II had ended and there were then eight teams in each of the National and American Leagues. (Six of those teams would move to different cities, and two of those teams also changed to different names.) The national pastime of baseball would go from 16 teams to a total of thirty teams within that 71-year time-span! The late “Mr. Cub” (Ernie Banks) stated in a 2014 interview with Sports Illustrated that the Cubs’ losing streak in playoff games had to do with the wind and the way the structure of Wrigley Field was built.
Yet one must realize that the Cubs currently play in the Central Division, which has the most competitive roster in the National League. The St. Louis Cardinals—the Cubbies’ main rivals—always play their divisional foes like it’s (dare I say it?) the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series. But that might explain the Cardinals’ 19 National League (NL) pennants and 11 World Series rings. Their other Central Division foes include the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates (who have nine NL pennants and five World Series rings each). The Milwaukee Brewers, who switched over from the American League to the National League in 1998, won their only American League pennant in 1982. The Brewers then lost in the ’82 World Series to—who else?—the St. Louis Cardinals!
There has been quite a lot of folklore involving the Cubs for over the past century. There was a poem parodied from Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.’s Old Ironsides (1830). Written in 1931 by a Cubs fan, it was titled Old Hack, in honor of centerfielder Lewis R. “Hack” Wilson. (More on Hack later!) Then you had one unforgettable play the following year: Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot” in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series when the Bronx Bombers visited Wrigley Field. During the fifth inning, the Yankee legend pointed to centerfield before he hit one of the greatest homeruns in baseball history. First baseman Lou Gehrig, batting next, congratulated the Sultan of Swat as he crossed home plate.
In film and television, there’s also Cubs references mentioned. In what year it all began, I have no idea. In the 1939 Three Stooges short We Want Our Mummy, there is a bit between Curly Howard and Dick Curtis. Curly disguises himself as the Egyptian mummy “Rootintootin” and has a then-recent newspaper hidden in his clothes. Curtis, as the grave-robbing villain Jackson, “uncovers” this mummy and finds Curly’s newspaper. Disgusted by the Cubs losing the 1938 World Series, Jackson shouts: “Can you beat that?” Curly, as usual, blows his cover and tells the thief: “And I won five bucks!” Pandemonium follows.
Other movies referring to the Chicago Cubs include Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Blues Brothers and Back to the Future II. Who can forget the truant Ferris (Matthew Broderick) catching a fly ball while his disgruntled principal just misses the play on live television? Or in The Blues Brothers when Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) falsifies his address as 1060 West Addison Street, his brother Joliet Jake (the late John Belushi) shouts: “That’s Wrigley Field!” Or in Back to the Future II, which takes place in 2015 and shows the Cubs win the World Series? Well, okay it’s only a year later, but the film’s star Michael J. Fox’s tweet from last November third is still memorable: “Only off by a year, not bad. Congrats @Cubs. This is so heavy. #FlyTheWOnly off by a year, not bad. Congrats @Cubs. This is so heavy. #FlyTheWOnly off by a year, not bad. Congrats @Cubs. This is so heavy. #FlytheW” (@realmikefox).
The small screen tended to poke fun at the Cubs as well. In one episode of Perfect Strangers, Balki (Bronson Pinchot) is cooking a dinner derived from his hometown in fictional Mypos—ding-ding machmud (pig’s snout in saffron). His cousin Larry Appleton (Mark Linn-Baker) is appalled that Balki will serve this dish to their girlfriends. Larry tries to tell Balki to wait and prepare this Myposian dish when the Cubs win the World Series. “But, Cousin,” Balki protests, “the Chicago Cubs don’t even have a good quarterback.” Notice in many sitcoms when two people are talking about any sport other than American football that one of them will refer to the quarterback.
And don’t forget the Fox sitcom Married With Children (MWC). The show took place in Chicago where the hapless Bundy family loved their North Side Cubs. One episode showed Al and Peggy (Ed O’Neill and Katey Sagal) arguing about when they tied the knot. “Al,” Peggy grumbled, “you know when the Cubs last won the World Series and yet you can’t remember the year we got married!” Al: “Same year—1908!”
Other MWC episodes showed Ernie Banks guest-star alongside the Reds catcher Johnny Bench and New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath in Dances with Weezy. Taking place at a newly opened sports bar, “Mr. Cub” had a running gag where he’d be blinded by Jefferson’s (Ted McGinley) camera and he’d crash into something offstage. Then there was the 1994 show titled A Man for No Seasons. Due to the ’94 major-league baseball strike, Al—dubbed “Al Birdie” by the media—crashes Wrigley Field with his “NO MA’AM” friends and winds up forming a league of his own sponsored by a Chicago strip-club.
This baseball frenzy catches on throughout the United States and, like their predecessors, it eventually comes to a crashing halt due to the Almighty dollar. Major leaguers who appear in the episode include: Reds second baseman Joe Morgan (as a sports TV announcer); Kansas City Royals pitcher and 1985 World Series MVP Bret Saberhagen (as a delivery guy for Sneezy’s Pizza); and as Morgan’s cameramen, Yankee right-fielder Dave Winfield and New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza, who’s “trying to make an honest buck.”
Thankfully, major-league baseball resumed its place in 1995. Through the remaining decade, we’d seen interleague play between the American and National League teams. Also, Brooklyn (now Los Angeles) Dodger second baseman Jackie Robinson’s number 42 was being recognized and retired throughout the major leagues in 1997. This honored the 50th anniversary of Robinson, a former Negro League player for the Kansas City Monarchs, being the first African-American admitted into Major League Baseball.
Baseball also enjoyed a memorable season the following year. Within the National League’s Central Division, there was the home-run derby between the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa and the Cardinals’ Mark McGwire. It was a race to break the late Yankee Roger Maris’s 61 home run record set in 1961. On September 8, 1998, McGwire hit home-run number 62 against Lee Trachsel and the Cubs. Sosa hit number 62 four days later against the Milwaukee Brewers. McGwire finished the season with 70 home-runs while Sosa hit 66. For their efforts, Sports Illustrated honored both major-league sluggers as 1998’s Sportsmen of the Year. The dynamic duo appeared on the cover wearing togas and laurel wreaths. Another memorable photo in the issue showed the two fellows sitting in lounge chairs and sporting hats, sunglasses and loud Hawaiian clothing. Sosa wore a Cardinal red shirt with a matching drink while McGwire sported a Cubbie blue shirt and blue drink.
During the historic home-run race in ‘98, my hometown paper, the Highland Park (IL) News, mentioned about the 1978 biography Hack. Co-written by two former local English teachers and Chicago Cub fans, Robert S. Boone and Gerald Grunska, the book chronicled Hack Wilson’s “meteoric life” and “short, burning career” as a pro-baseball player. Each of the 12 chapters contains a title referring to fire—from “Fused” and “Tempered” to “An Aura” and “Extinguished”. Each chapter begins with a quote and mentioned about the time in Hack’s life. (Born in 1900, Lewis Robert Wilson received his nickname “Hack” due to resembling the Russian wrestler George Hackenschmidt.)
In 1930, Hack set a National League record for home runs in a season with 56. (McGwire broke the record on September 1, 1998 against the Florida Marlins; Sosa against the Pirates three days later.) Hack still holds the major-league record with runs batted in (RBI’s) with 191 which he also set in 1930. Wilson was elected by the Veterans’ Committee to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979, 31 years after his death.
Somehow I have an idea that former members of the Cubs would’ve been thrilled to see their team hoisting last November’s World Series trophy. While Billy Williams, Greg Maddux, Fergie Jenkins and other past players were ecstatic about the long-awaited victory, I think Cubbies like Ernie Banks, Cap Anson, Johnny Evers, Mordecai Brown, Hack Wilson and “Diamond Zim” (the late manager Don Zimmer) are also smiling somewhere. And I know up there that Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse are making headlines with this news.
Hopefully we won’t need to wait another 108 years for the Cubs to win the 2124 World Series. With the same time span, the same thing applies to the White Sox and the 2113 World Series and for “Da Bears” to win Super Bowl 128 (CXXVIII) in 2094. Maybe the Cleveland Indians can also reach the promised land of a World Series victory within the next forty years. The waiting of 108 years of ANY sports team is way too long enough!
In the meantime—Balki, you may feel free to make that ding-ding machmud. You’ve already waited over three decades to serve it! And while you’re at it, make sure that Cousin Larry gets a double helping of pig’s snout in saffron!
Some may say that this article took 108 years to write—and yet no writer is a mountain.
It was nice to reflect on the history of the Chicago Cubs and several of their most prominent moments of all time. Some of these reflections were taken from memory though I need to give credit to all the additional resources. Here are the following resources that deserve credit: Sports Illustrated for documenting awesome articles and printing great photos for over six decades; the Highland Park (IL) News on their ’98 editorial on Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire’s home-run chase of Hack Wilson’s National League 56 homers and Roger Maris’s 61 homers; YouTube; Michael J. Fox’s November 3rd quote from his Twitter account (@realmikefox); and also to Wikipedia.org for their accuracy and fact-checking on the Cubs and baseball history in general.
I also need to thank two retired English teachers and Chicago-area authors. Dr. Robert S. Boone and Dr. Gerald Grunska wrote an amazing biography Hack about Cub legend Lewis R. “Hack” Wilson. I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Grunska and his writing for a speech during my sophomore year of high school in 1986. Dr. Grunska gave me an autographed copy of Hack as well as a photocopied article he’d written for a magazine. Even though my speech and the article are long gone, I still occasionally read my copy of Hack.
I’d met Dr. Bob Boone a year later. He proctored an English study to high-school students for the SAT and ACT. Using multiple-choice practice tests, Dr. Boone would give us four choices from A to D. Whenever the answer was D, he’d say: “D—(center-fielder #20 Bob) Dernier, (shortstop #12 Shawon) Dunston, (outfielder #8 Andre) Dawson!” With the 1987 Cubs line-up, Dr. B could’ve added: first baseman #10 Leon Durham; catcher #7 Jody Davis; outfielder #24 Brian Dayett; and two pitchers, #39 Ron Davis and #33 Frank DiPino. Oh well!
A Happy New Year to one and all! See you down the written path.