Controversial call gives Cubs the pennant

Controversial call gives Cubs the pennant

On September 23, 1908, a game between the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs ends in 1-1 tie after a controversial call at second base. The officials ruled that Giants first baseman Fred Merkle was out because he failed to touch second base, a call that has been disputed ever since.

On September 21, 1908, the Chicago Cubs headed to the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan to play the New York Giants, who held a slim lead over the Windy City team for the National League pennant. The Cubs, however, were able to prevail in the first two games of the series due in large part to the fine play of pitching ace Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown. On September 23, the Giants sent their own pitching star, Christy Matthewson, to the mound. Matthewson held the powerful Cubs lineup in check all day, but the Giants were unable to score. Finally, in the fifth inning, Giants outfielder “Turkey” Mike Donlin misplayed a double by Cub star Joe Tinker to give the Cubs their lone run. However, Donlin redeemed himself in the sixth by hitting a home run to tie the game at 1-1.

The score remained tied into the ninth, and with Giant Moose McCormick on first base after a fielder’s choice and two outs, Fred Merkle hit a single that sent McCormick to third. With men on first and third and afternoon turning to evening, shortstop Al Bridwell hit a single to center, scoring McCormick. Unfortunately for John McGraw’s Giants, Merkle never ran and touched second, he instead ran off the field after watching McCormick score. Cub manager Frank Chance instructed his team to throw the ball to second base and touch the bag. Giant pitcher Joe McGinnity had noticed Merkle’s blunder as well, however, and, with fans crowding the field in celebration, he threw the ball into the stands. Chance somehow obtained a ball, apparently not the game ball, and when he threw the ball to second base, Merkle was called out. Umpire Hank O’Day then called the game a tie due to impending darkness.

Because the game could not end in a tie, it was replayed on October 8, 1908. In the makeup game the Cubs beat their rivals to secure the National League pennant and went on to beat the Detroit Tigers for their second consecutive World Series. Merkle stayed with the Giants until 1916, and although he went on to have a solid 19-year career in the majors, he continued to blame himself—both privately and publicly—for the Giants’ failure to win the 1908 National League pennant.

In 1912, Merkle was involved in another unfortunate incident when he, Matthewson and Giant catcher Chief Myers let a pop fly in foul territory fall between them during the World Series. The batter, Red Sox outfielder Tris Speaker, then singled, and the Red Sox rallied to beat the Giants 3-2 for their second World Series championship.


Steve Bartman incident

The Steve Bartman incident was a controversial play that occurred during a baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins on October 14, 2003, at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois, during Major League Baseball's (MLB) 2003 postseason.

The incident occurred in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series (NLCS), with Chicago leading 3–0 and holding a three games to two lead in the best-of-seven series. Marlins batter Luis Castillo hit a fly ball into foul territory in left field. Cubs outfielder Moisés Alou pursued the ball and leapt near the fence in an attempt to make the catch. Along with other spectators seated against the wall, Cubs fan Steve Bartman reached for the ball, but he deflected it, disrupting Alou's potential catch. If Alou had caught the ball, it would have been the second out in the inning, and the Cubs would have been just four outs away from winning their first National League pennant since 1945. The Cubs ultimately allowed eight runs in the inning, and lost the game 8–3. When they were eliminated in Game 7 the next day, the incident was seen as the "first domino" to fall in affecting the series's outcome. [1]

In the moments following the play, Cubs fans shouted insults and threw debris at Bartman. For his safety, security was forced to escort him from the ballpark. Minutes after the game, his name and personal information were published online, necessitating police protection at his home. He faced further harassment from fans and the media after the Cubs' loss in the series, as he was scapegoated for the continuation of the team's then 95-year championship drought. Bartman apologized for the incident and stated his desire to move past it and return to a quiet life. Many Cubs players came to his defense, emphasizing that their performance was to blame for their loss. In 2011, ESPN produced a documentary film exploring the subject as part of its 30 for 30 series. Titled Catching Hell, the film drew comparisons between the Bartman incident and Bill Buckner's fielding error late in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, and explored the incident from different perspectives. [2]


Controversial call gives Cubs the pennant - HISTORY

Just about everyone knows what Bucky Dent did at Fenway Park on Oct. 2 of that season. The Yankee shortstop had batted .140 over his previous 20 games, but he stepped up to the plate and hit a Mike Torrez pitch over the Green Monster for a three-run homer, giving the Yankees a 4-2 lead. New York won, 5-4.

The most famous playoff tiebreaker in history. The New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers had identical 96-58 records after the final Sunday, in a time when they played 154-game regular seasons. The first game was scheduled at Ebbets Field, and the second (and third if needed) at the Giants' Polo Grounds.

The Giants won the first game that Monday, the first game ever to be televised live coast-to-coast. In a bit of ominous portent, Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca served up a homer to Bobby Thomson. The Dodgers came back to win big the next day, 10-0. And they seemed to have a World Series date with the Yankees all sewn up when they took a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth.

It was not just any one-game playoff it was the result of arguably the most controversial game in Major League history -- the Sept. 23 game between these same clubs that was known for "Merkle's Boner." Fred Merkle, 19 and making his first start of the year for the Giants, was on first base in the bottom of the ninth inning with the score tied at 1-1. Harry McCormick was on third. Al Bridwell singled to score McCormick with what would have been the winning run, but as the crowd stormed the field, Merkle, halfway to second base, suddenly turned for the clubhouse out in center. The run was nullified and the game ended in a tie, taking away a win that would have given the Giants the pennant by one game.


1908 Pirates-Cubs Pennant Controversy

Claim

Rating

Every recounting of the 1908 National League pennant race focuses on the “Merkle game,” but whenever teams finish a long campaign locked in a tie, one can look back across all the year’s games and find numerous instances of errors, miscues, lapses in judgment, bad officiating calls, and just plain bad luck, any one of which could have changed the season’s final outcome had it turned out differently. Indeed, one such incident which took place near the end of 1908 season spawned its own urban legend.

On 4 October 1908, the Pittsburgh Pirates played their final game of the season against the Cubs in Chicago. Going into that contest, the Pirates held a slim half-game lead over the Cubs, and a one-and-half-game lead over the New York Giants. Had Pittsburgh emerged victorious that day, they would have eliminated the Cubs from pennant contention and forced the Giants to win their final four games of the season just to finish in a first-place tie. (As things turned out, the Giants won the first three of their remaining contests and then lost the make-up game against the Cubs, so a Pittsburgh win on would have clinched the National League championship for the Pirates.) But alas, that also was not to be: the Pirates dropped the contest to the Cubs, and finished the season in a second-place tie with the Giants.

The Pirates’ final-game loss was not without its drama, however. Trailing by three runs in the top of the ninth inning, Pittsburgh had a runner on first when second baseman Ed Abbaticchio swatted a pitch into the crowd behind right field. The umpire (coincidentally the same one who had officiated at the infamous “Merkle game”) ruled the ball foul, while the Pirates protested that it was fair and should have counted for at least a double and possibly a home run, thereby bringing the tying run up to the plate. Pittsburgh lost the argument and shortly thereafter the game, and with both their shot at the pennant.

Although a World Series appearance for the Pittsburgh Pirates did not follow the 1908 season, an urban legend did. According to rumor, a few months after that heartbreaking Pirates-Cubs game, a woman who attended the contest sued the Chicago Cubs ball club, claiming she had been struck by the ball hit by Ed Abbaticchio in the ninth inning and had been so seriously injured that she required hospital treatment. The kicker to the rumor was that the ticket stub the plaintiff produced to demonstrate her presence at the game showed her to have been sitting (or standing) in fair territory at the time, and thus her claim definitively proved that the umpire had blown the call by ruling the ball foul, thereby costing the Pirates a fair shot at the championship:

In late September [1908] the third team in the National League race, the Pirates, was playing the Cubs. In the ninth inning, with Chicago ahead and the visiting Pirates at bat with the bases loaded, second baseman Ed Abbaticchio hit a rocket down the right-field line. [Umpire Hank] O’Day ruled it foul, the Cubs won the game, and went on to win the pennant by one game over the Pirates as well as taking the playoff from the Giants.

Several months later, though, a woman fan brought a lawsuit to court, alleging injury suffered when she was struck by Abbaticchio’s smash, an occurrence attested to in sworn statements by various witnesses. But the court ending up ruling against because her story wasn’t believed, but because it was conclusively established that she had been sitting in fair territory at the time.

More than fifty years later, this rumor (in multiple variations) remained so prevalent that in 1965 the staff of Baseball Digest undertook the challenge of determining whether any element of truth might lie behind it:

[N]obody apparently ever has been able to ascertain the name of the woman fan, the name of the judge who made the intriguing decision, or the date of the hearing.

Absence of any definite details about the lawsuit made the story smack of an old wives’ tail [sic]. So the Baseball Digest staff took out its Sherlock Holmes cap and pipe and went to work.

A thorough, tedious search of all official records of all state and county courts in Chicago for two years following the game (after which the statute of limitations would preclude such a suit) failed to reveal any such lawsuit filed against the Cubs (in fact, no lawsuit against the Cubs by any fan). A day-by-day search of the Chicago newspapers from the morning after the game until well into 1911 failed to disclose any mention of any such legal action.

While 1908 legal records of both Chicago and Pittsburgh clubs have been lost in antiquity, no official of either club could recall ever having heard any mention of any such suit.

William E. Benswanger, officially associated with the Pirates from 1913 to 1946, their owner and president the last 14 of those years, and a rabid fan long before his formal association with the club, had never even heard of the story!

Lee Allen, historian of the Hall of Fame and undoubtedly today’s outstanding authority on the game’s history, has been unable to find any evidence of any such legal action.

The Chicago Tribune‘s Harvey Woodruff, one of the most respected and thorough reporters of all time, never even mentioned any fan’s being hurt at the he wrote dozens of notes as well as the long lead story on the contest [and even recorded that a woman had gone into labor and given birth in the stands during the game].

It is reasonable to assume that Woodruff, alert and thorough enough to record the intimate details of an accouchement in the grandstand, certainly would have reported any excitement in the crowd occasioned by a woman’s being hit by a line on a key play of the game.

The Digest also noted that it would have been particularly silly for the Chicago ball club to have taken such a minor case to court rather than settling it, especially since (whatever the verdict) it would have demonstrated their championship season to have been tainted and would have proved highly embarrassing to an umpire who would be officiating at their games for years to come.

As satisfying as this legend may once have been to fans of that long-ago Pittsburgh club, the plainer truth is that the Pirates lost the 1908 pennant because the Chicago Cubs were the better team on the field that day.


The aftermath

For the Chicago Cubs and Florida Marlins

Following the incident the Marlins scored eight runs, six of them unearned: Ζ]

  • Castillo, with his at-bat extended, drew a walk. Ball four was a wild pitch from Cubs starter Mark Prior, which allowed Pierre to advance to third base. singled to drive in the first run of the inning, making the score 3-1. hit a ground ball to Alex S. Gonzalez, who misfielded the ball. Had Gonzalez fielded the ball properly, the Cubs could have ended the half-inning with a double play. Instead all runners were safe and the bases were loaded. doubled, tying the score and chasing Prior from the game. Kyle Farnsworth issued an intentional walk, then gave up a sacrifice fly to give Florida a 4-3 lead. Another intentional walk again loaded the bases.
  • A bases-clearing double from Mike Mordecai broke the game open, making the score 7-3.
  • Pierre singled to put Florida ahead 8-3.
  • Finally Luis Castillo, whose foul popup initiated the controversy, popped out to second to end the inning. In total, the Marlins had sent twelve batters to the plate and scored eight runs. Florida won the game 8-3.

The next night, back at Wrigley Field, Florida overcame Kerry Wood and a 5-3 deficit to win 9-6, and win the pennant. Η] The Marlins would go on to win the 2003 World Series, beating the New York Yankees four games to two. ⎖]

The Cubs have not won a playoff game since the incident. They missed the playoffs in the following three seasons, were swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2007 NLDS, and were swept again by the NL West champions LA Dodgers in the 2008 NLDS.

For Bartman

Bartman had to be led away from the park under security escort for his own safety as Cubs fans shouted profanities towards him and others threw debris onto the field and towards the exit tunnel from the field. News footage of the game showed him surrounded by security as passersby pelted him with drinks and other debris. Bartman's name, as well as personal information about him, appeared on Major League Baseball's online message boards minutes after the game ended. ⎗] As many as six police cars gathered outside of his home to protect Bartman and his family following the incident. Α] Afterwards, then-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich suggested that Bartman join a witness protection program, while then-Florida Governor Jeb Bush offered Bartman asylum. Ώ] Many fans associated the Bartman incident with the Curse of the Billy Goat, allegedly laid on the Cubs during the 1945 World Series after Billy Sianis and his pet goat were ejected from Wrigley Field. The Cubs lost that series and have yet to return to the championship round. Ώ] Bartman was also compared to the black cat which ran across Shea Stadium during a September 9, 1969 regular season game between the Cubs and the New York Mets. The Cubs were in first place at the time, but after the cat appeared, the Cubs lost the game and eventually fell eight games behind the Mets in the standings, missing that season's playoffs entirely. ⎘]

Shortly after the incident, Bartman released a statement, saying he was "truly sorry." He added, "I had my eyes glued on the approaching ball the entire time and was so caught up in the moment that I did not even see Moisés Alou much less that he may have had a play." Α] Trying to maintain a low profile, Bartman declined interviews, endorsement deals, and requests for public appearances, and his family changed their phone number to avoid harassing phone calls. ⎙] He requested that any gifts sent to him by Florida Marlins fans be donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. ⎚] In July 2008, Bartman was offered $25,000 to autograph a picture of himself at National Sports Collectors Convention in Rosemont, Illinois, but he refused the offer. ⎛]


Chris's Corner

Did you know that the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals have only met twice in the playoffs before this year’s National League Division Series? No? Well let me tell you a funny story about one of the fiercest rivalries in sports history.

First, a little background on the franchises in this rivalry. The Chicago Cubs began their existence as the Chicago White Stockings in 1870. They played in the National Associaton for a year before taking a 2 year hiatus in 1871 and 72 because of the Great Chicago Fire. They returned to the National Association in 1874. They joined the National League as a founding team in 1876, and have played in the NL ever since.

The St. Louis Cardinals have a more complicated origin story. The St. Louis Brown Stockings began play in the National Association in 1875. They joined the National League the next year when the NA folded after 1875. They recorded a successful first year, including the first No-Hitter in National League history, against the Hartford Dark Blues. They lost their National League affiliation in 1877 because of a game fixing scandal. The team continued to play as a barn storming team, but went bankrupt by 1881 and were on the verge of not existing when Chris von der Ahe purchased and completely reorganized the club. In 1882, the team joined the American Association, a rival to the National League. They picked up Charles Cominsky as a new manager, changed their name to the St. Louis Browns and turned into the most successful franchise in the league, winning 4 consecutive league pennants.

With the success of the American Association, the owners of teams in both leagues decided to put on a series to decide the champion of professional baseball in the United States in 1885 They called this series the “World Series”. The Brown’s opponents? The Chicago White Stockings of course.

They arranged to play a best of 7 game series to determine the winner, and the series actually failed to do so. One game was called due to darkness and ended in a tie. In the second game, the umpire made a hugely controversial call, and Browns manager Charles Cominsky pulled his team off the field in protest, thus forefeting the game to the White Stockings. The remainder of the games were played and the series ended tied 3 wins a piece with one tie, the only series to end in a tie, and it is bitterly disputed to this day who actually won the series. This remains the only time a “World Series” was played and ended in a tie.

With bitterness towards each other, the team’s won the pennants on their respective leagues and met one more time in the World Series.

There was a clear winner this time, St. Louis won in 6 bitterly contested games. The final game of the series was quite exciting! The Browns tied the game at 3 in the bottom of the 8th inning, and forced the games into extra innings. In the bottom of the 10th inning, Curt Welch got on base, then came around to score on a wild pitch. His slide home was called the $15,000 dollar slide because winning the series earned the Browns about $15,000 dollars in prize money. It ended up being the most famous play in 19th century baseball, and another piece of the building rivalry between Chicago and St. Louis.

This was the last time the two teams met in the post season for 119 years. The World Series was played until 1891 when the American Association folded. When the Association folded, several teams, including the St. Louis Browns, were absorbed into the National League. The NL remained the only major baseball league until the American League was founded in 1901, and the rivalry between St. Louis and Chicago remained intense and personal. The clubs changed names a few times over, but the animosity remained. The White Stockings became the Colts in 1889, then the Orphans in 1898 before becoming the Cubs in 1903. The Browns became the Perfectos for one year, in 1899, then became the Cardinals in 1900.

The rivalry from the Cardinals rejoining the National League as the Browns in 1892 was one sided. The Cubs were much more powerful and dominated the Cardinals early one. The Cubs won most of the games and when the modern World Series began, the Chicago Cubs won 3 consecutive NL Penants from 1906-1908, and 2 straight World Series, in 1907 and 1908. They won 7 more NL Penants from 1910 until 1945, making it 10 NL Penants in the modern era. The Cardinals didn’t win a Pennant until 1926, and it took them until 1931 to tie the Cubs in World Series championships. But when the tide started changing, it shifted rapidly. To this day, the Cardinals have won a total of 19 NL Penants and 11 World Series titles. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908, and haven’t even won a Penant since 1945. The teams still draw huge crowds, increased attention for their meetings, and the upcoming meeting is the most significant in a long time.

I think the Cardinals are the better team of the two this year, but the Cubs will give the Cardinals a difficult match up in their 3rd ever post season match up. It’s quite striking that the first two meetings were in the original World Series. They couldn’t have met in the playoffs from 1892 until 1968 because there was no National League Championship Series yet, and they couldn’t match-up in a playoff series until 1995, when a 3rd division and the Wild Card slot were added. This is so far the only time the teams have met in the modern era of playoff baseball. It should live up to the rivalry the clubs and cities have built over the years, and should provide people like me, who don’t really have that big a rooting interest in the series, with some high quality baseball! They’ve made for some memorable fights from the 19th century to the modern day.


Controversial call gives Cubs the pennant

TSgt Joe C.

On September 23, 1908, a game between the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs ends in 1-1 tie after a controversial call at second base. The officials ruled that Giants first baseman Fred Merkle was out because he failed to touch second base, a call that has been disputed ever since.

On September 21, 1908, the Chicago Cubs headed to the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan to play the New York Giants, who held a slim lead over the Windy City team for the National League pennant. The Cubs, however, were able to prevail in the first two games of the series due in large part to the fine play of pitching ace Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown. On September 23, the Giants sent their own pitching star, Christy Matthewson, to the mound. Matthewson held the powerful Cubs lineup in check all day, but the Giants were unable to score. Finally, in the fifth inning, Giants outfielder “Turkey” Mike Donlin misplayed a double by Cub star Joe Tinker to give the Cubs their lone run. However, Donlin redeemed himself in the sixth by hitting a home run to tie the game at 1-1.

The score remained tied into the ninth, and with Giant Moose McCormick on first base after a fielder’s choice and two outs, Fred Merkle hit a single that sent McCormick to third. With men on first and third and afternoon turning to evening, shortstop Al Bridwell hit a single to center, scoring McCormick. Unfortunately for John McGraw’s Giants, Merkle never ran and touched second, he instead ran off the field after watching McCormick score. Cub manager Frank Chance instructed his team to throw the ball to second base and touch the bag. Giant pitcher Joe McGinnity had noticed Merkle’s blunder as well, however, and, with fans crowding the field in celebration, he threw the ball into the stands. Chance somehow obtained a ball, apparently not the game ball, and when he threw the ball to second base, Merkle was called out. Umpire Hank O’Day then called the game a tie due to impending darkness.

Because the game could not end in a tie, it was replayed on October 8, 1908. In the makeup game the Cubs beat their rivals to secure the National League pennant and went on to beat the Detroit Tigers for their third consecutive World Series. Merkle stayed with the Giants until 1916, and although he went on to have a solid 19-year career in the majors, he continued to blame himself—both privately and publicly—for the Giants’ failure to win the 1908 National League pennant.

In 1912, Merkle was involved in another unfortunate incident when he, Matthewson and Giant catcher Chief Myers let a pop fly in foul territory fall between them during the World Series. The batter, Red Sox outfielder Tris Speaker, then singled, and the Red Sox rallied to beat the Giants 3-2 for their second World Series championship.


Share All sharing options for: The 10 Greatest Trades In Cubs History

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Eleven years ago today, the Cubs traded a young, promising first baseman named Hee-Seop Choi to the Florida Marlins for Derrek Lee . At the time, the move was somewhat controversial, as Choi was both a fan favorite and a sabermetric darling. No one doubted Lee's ability, but the deal was seen as a sign that the Cubs (and Dusty Baker in particular) wouldn't give young players a chance.

I don't need to tell you how that one turned out. Choi showed flashes of promise in Florida and Los Angeles, but he was never able to establish himself as a major league regular and eventually went back to Korea to play. Lee was a two-time All-Star with the Cubs and lead the team to two division titles.

In any case, that got me to thinking. Is that one of the greatest Cubs trades of all time? Cubs history goes back a long ways and there have been a lot of trades. Does Lee make the top ten?

So I went over to baseball-reference.com and went through every trade the Cubs ever made. I tossed out outright purchases--before World War II it was quite common for teams to just sell players rather than trade them. So maybe I should have counted them. But it seems that in a purely baseball sense, there is little risk to buying a player.

I looked at both what the Cubs got, what the Cubs gave up and the situation that the Cubs were in. I certainly looked at WAR figures, but I'm not ranking them on a purely statistical basis. This list is subjective. You're welcome to make your own list if you disagree.

We can all hope that the Jeff Samardzija or Matt Garza trades end up on this list one day, but Choi shows the folly of counting your prospects before they hatch.

One thing I learned from this list. The Cubs should mainly trade with teams from Pennsylvania.

10. March 26, 1984: The Cubs acquire Gary Matthews, Bob Dernier and Porfi Altamirano from the Philadelphia Phillies for Bill Campbell and Mike Diaz.

When Dallas Green came over from the Phillies to become the Cubs GM, he made a series of trades with his old team where he plundered the system for players that he knew were better than the Phillies thought they were. More on that later. But coming out of spring training in 1984, the Cubs made one last adjustment to their roster when they picked up Matthews and Dernier, solidifying their outfield. Both Dernier and Matthews were only good for one season with the Cubs, but without the two of them the Cubs don't win their first title of any sort in 39 years.

Campbell was a veteran reliever who had signed with the Cubs as a free agent in 1982. He would have three more decent seasons as a middle reliever for the Phillies, Cardinals and Tigers before a short stint with the Expos and retirement. Diaz would eventually have one OK season for the Pirates, but that was about it.

9. June 13, 1984. The Cubs acquire Rick Sutcliffe, George Frazier and Ron Hassey from the Indians for Joe Carter, Mel Hall, Don Schultze and Darryl Banks.

This is the one trade on the list that the team on the other end wouldn't take back. It was a classic "win-now" move at the trade deadline where the Cubs gave up the future for a chance the present. It's also the only trade on the list where the Cubs gave up more, in terms of WAR at least, than they got back. Although one could argue that dumping Mel Hall (who would commit a series of sex crimes over the next 25 years) was worth it in the long run. When the Cubs acquired Dernier and Matthews, that meant they had no room in the outfield for Hall and Carter. So dealing them in a "win-now" move made a lot of sense.

Sutcliffe went 16-1 down the stretch for the Cubs. Frazier and Hassey weren't much, but giving up Joe Carter's career for a trip to the playoffs was probably worth it. It certainly would have been worth it if Leon Durham caught that ball. Sutcliffe would re-sign with the Cubs as a free agent at the end of the year and would alternate between being good and being injured for the Cubs until he left as a free agent after the 1991 season.

8. November 24, 2003. The Cubs acquire Derrek Lee from the Florida Marlins for Hee-Seop Choi and Mike Nannini .

I already covered this one in the introduction and in my mind it is indeed one of the ten greatest trades in Cubs history. Lee played seven seasons for the Cubs and had a career WAR of 22.5 with the Cubs. It's also a lesson that teams should not get too attached to their prospects.

7. July 23, 2003. The Cubs acquire Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton from the Pittsburgh Pirates for Jose Hernandez , Bobby Hill and Matt Bruback.

Before the Cubs got Ramirez, whenever anyone talked about Cubs third basemen, it was always preceded by "The Cubs haven't had a third baseman to do _______ since Ron Santo retired." Ramirez would be the Cubs third baseman for the next nine seasons and make two All-Star teams. Lofton gave them a center fielder and leadoff hitter that they needed when Corey Patterson went down for the season with a knee injury. (And he was better than Patterson, as you all know.)

Not only that, but they gave up nothing. Hill was a bust. Hernandez was through as a regular and Matt Bruback never made the majors.

6. December 11, 1917. The Cubs acquire Pete Alexander from the Phillies for Pickles Dillhoefer, Mike Prendergast and cash.

Always trade with Pennsylvania. The Phillies are somewhat excused from this one as Alexander was joining the Army and would spend most of the 1918 season fighting the Kaiser. The Phillies wanted to get something for him (and the money was the most important factor) so they took what they could get. No one even knew if there would be a 1919 season at the time.

But of course there was a 1919 season and Alexander would go on to be the Cubs ace for nine seasons. While he was never quite as good with the Cubs as he was in his youth with the Phillies, he was still plenty good.

5. November 27, 1927. The Cubs acquire Kiki Cuyler from the Pirates for Sparky Adams and Pete Scott.

Cuyler was one of the best outfielders in the National League with the Pirates and he was in his prime: a 4 to 6 WAR player. He regularly led the National League in steals. But he didn't get along with Bucs manager Donie Bush, who benched him for half a season, including the 1927 World Series. The Cubs took a chance on this troublemaker and got a Hall of Famer in his prime who would lead the team to two pennants.

Adams was a serviceable second baseman/utility infielder, but nothing special. Scott played 40 games for the Pirates.

4. March 30, 1992. The Cubs acquire Sammy Sosa from the Chicago White Sox for George Bell.

On WAR alone, this trade should be two spots higher but I knocked it down a bit because it's Sammy. But new Cubs GM Larry Himes loved Sosa. He traded for him from Texas when he was the White Sox GM, and he was going to get him again.

Bell had been the Cubs big free agent signing before the 1991 season after an impressive career with the Blue Jays, albeit one that was highly overrated because of that era's obsession with the RBI statistic. He was solid in 1991 with the Cubs, hitting .285 with 25 home runs, but the Cubs got rid him right on time. He was pretty mediocre with the White Sox. He'd play two seasons before retiring after the White Sox played in the 1993 ALCS. He sat on the bench the whole series.

I still remember talking to a White Sox fan after the 1992 season where he teased me about the Cubs giving up George Bell for Sammy Sosa. My comment then was "just wait." I was right in so many ways.

3. April 21, 1966. The Cubs acquire Ferguson Jenkins, John Herrnstein and Adolfo Phillips from the Philadelphia Phillies for Bob Buhl and Larry Jackson.

Once again, the Cubs trade with a Pennsylvania team and get a Hall of Famer. The Phillies still thought of themselves as a contender going into the 1966 season, and the lesson of their 1964 collapse is that they didn't have enough starting pitching. But trading for pitching on the wrong side of 35 is always a dubious proposition. Buhl was pretty much finished, although Jackson did give them three solid seasons. But the Phillies only won two more games in 1996 than they had in 1965.

Jenkins would pitch the next eight seasons for the Cubs. He would win 20 games six times and win the Cy Young Award in 1971. He even provided value on the backside as when he turned 30, the Cubs shipped him off to Texas for Bill Madlock.

To add insult to injury, Phillips would end up being a solid center fielder for three years and a very good one in 1967, even if he and Leo Durocher didn't get along. Phillips got hit by a pitch in 1968 and missed time with an injury that Durocher said he was faking. That was the end of his productive time in Chicago.

2. December 3, 1903. The Cubs acquire Mordecai Brown and Jack O'Neill from the St. Louis Cardinals for Larry McLean and Jack Taylor.

The next time a Cardinals-fan co-worker brings up Brock-for-Broglio, just shoot back with Brown for MacLean and Taylor. Yeah, that's not going to work. Sorry. Don't try it.

But in reality, Miner Brown (I won't call him "Three-Finger." That's what the New York newspapers called him, not his friends.) was a far better player than Lou Brock ever was. Along with Christy Mathewson, Brown was one of the best two pitchers of the first decade of the 20th century. He led the Cubs to four pennants and two World Series titles. Not only was he the best Cubs starter, he was their best reliever as well as he would often come in to finish out games on the days he didn't start. It was a different time back then to be sure, but the Cubs have still never had a better pitcher than Miner Brown.

Taylor was actually a decent pitcher and he did win 20 games for the Cardinals in 1904. But again, he was on the wrong side of 30 and the Cardinals would trade him back to the Cubs for their 1906 and 1907 pennant winners.

McLean would eventually have a long career as a catcher, but not for the Cardinals who would sell him to Cincinnati.

1. January 27, 1982. The Cubs acquire Larry Bowa and Ryne Sandberg from the Philadelphia Phillies for Ivan DeJesus.

When this trade was announced, it was Bowa for DeJesus. Sandberg was the throw-in. Bowa was an aging shortstop who had worn out his welcome in Philadelphia (surprise, surprise) and whose defensive ability didn't match his reputation at the time, which was based on his stellar fielding percentage. It's hard to make a lot of errors when you don't get to anything that's not right in front of you. DeJesus had been a promising young shortstop for the Cubs in the late-70s, but he had a miserable season in 1981 and he wasn't Dallas Green's type of player anyway.

Sandberg, of course, was why you should never trade with a team that knows your system better than you do. You wonder if the Padres won't regret allowing Jed Hoyer to take Anthony Rizzo with him to Chicago. Maybe that trade will end up on this list in 25 years. But for today, the Cubs stealing a Hall of Fame second baseman who would play 16 seasons in Chicago ranks as number one on this list.

And if the Cubs acquire Cole Hamels from Philadelphia? From history, I like the odds of that deal turning out nicely.


Ruth, Gehrig…and Those Other Yankees

From 1927-32, the Yankees participated in three World Series and swept their opponents each time. The team’s 12-0 Fall Classic mark couldn’t possibly have been accomplished without the explosive efforts of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, who annihilated the opposition—while the rest of the Yankee hitters meekly tagged along.

Alas, Ruth’s called shot is probably a sentimental case of myth over fact. Had he truly called his home run, Ruth would have bragged endlessly about it to the press afterward until his voice box gave out. Instead, he was unusually coy in giving his version of events as if caught off guard, and only as the years went by did he occasionally tell people behind the scenes that it never really happened.

But, as Ruth would add, it made for one hell of a story.

Forward to 1933: Making Little Napoleon Proud An ailing John McGraw hands the managerial reins to first baseman Bill Terry—who promptly rides the New York Giants back to triumph.

Back to 1931: The Peppering of Philly Aggressive and colorful, Pepper Martin leads the St. Louis Cardinals in ending the Philadelphia A’s two-year rule over baseball .

1932 Leaders & Honors Our list of baseball’s top 10 hitters and pitchers in both the American League and National League for the 1932 baseball season, as well as the awards and honors given to the game’s top achievers of the year.

The 1930s: Dog Days of the Depression The majors take a hit from the Great Depression as both attendance and bravado are on the wane—until newborn icons Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams emerge to rejuvenate the game’s passion for the fans.


The 1906-10 Chicago Cubs: The Best Team in National League History

Once upon a time, the Chicago Cubs dominated the world. They were the best team in baseball not just for the one incredible year of 1906, but for five years, winning nearly 70 percent of their games, four National League pennants, and two World Series. Once upon a time, the Chicago Cubs dominated the world. They were the best team in baseball not just for the one incredible year of 1906, but for five years, winning nearly 70 percent of their games, four National League pennants, and two World Series. Let’s go to the bullet points:

  • In 1906, the Cubs won 116 games and—not counting Union Association or National Association teams—posted the highest season winning percentage in history (116-36, .763), finishing 20 games ahead of the New York Giants—coming off back-to-back pennants of their own— whose 96 wins in any other year would have had them in contention at the very least. Chicago moved into first place for good May 9 and was virtually unbeatable the last two months of the season. From the beginning of August until the season ended on October 7, the Cubs went 50-8, running off winning streaks of 11, 14, and 12 games. Their longest losing streak of the year was three games in May. Prior to the World Series, the last time they lost back-to-back games had been on July 23–24.
  • In 1907, Chicago repeated with 107 wins, finishing a comfortable 17 games up on the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs took over first for good on May 28, and on July 4 already held an 11½-game lead. In 1906 and 1907, the team had a streak in which it won 122 of 154 contests.
  • In 1908, Chicago fought a three-way pennant race for the ages—maybe the greatest ever—winning by one game over arch-rivals New York and Pittsburgh. From there, Frank Chance’s men captured what is famously their second (and last) World Series. August had ended with the Cubs and Giants tied and the Pirates down by a mere halfgame. Despite starting September 14–6, the Cubs found themselves in second place, 4½ games behind the Giants, on the eighteenth. With only 16 games remaining, the deficit seemed so difficult that even firebrand second baseman Johnny Evers doubted their chances of winning a third straight pennant. Undaunted, and helped by Fred Merkle’s rookie “boner” on September 23 of failing to touch second base on a game-winning hit, the Cubs won 14 of their last 16 (excluding two ties) to eke out the pennant. At 99 wins, this was the only year of the five the Cubs failed to win 100.
  • In 1909, the Cubs improved their victory total to 104. It so happened, however, that Pittsburgh won 110.
  • Chicago again won 104 games in 1910, which this time was good for a fourth pennant as they ended 13 games ahead of second-place New York. The Cubs went into first for good on May 24 and led the Pirates by 10 games and the Giants by 12 games by the end of August. The 1910 Cubs were also the inspiration for that greatest of American poems—at least according to me—Franklin Pierce Adams’ ode to that “trio of bear cubs,” Tinker, Evers, and Chance, suitably entitled “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon.” The poem was printed in the New York Evening Mail on July 12, when the Giants were in Chicago. John McGraw’s men trailed the Cubs by only 1½ games, but the writing was perhaps apparent on the wall. The Giants’ loss to the Cubs on July 11 was the first of five straight defeats and nine losses in 12 games, effectively finishing them for the season and allowing Chicago to cruise to pennant number four in five years. (You may have gathered by my calling this the greatest of American poems that literary criticism is not my day job.)

The extent to which the Cubs dominated the league from 1906 through 1910 leads one to wonder whether they are the best National League team since the advent of what is called the “modern era” at the start of the twentieth century. But consider the time. This was the dead ball era. It was also a time when baseball was still developing its professional skills. There was much greater variability than today in the quality of teams and players in the major leagues. The refined skills of players and the absolute quality of baseball itself inexorably improved as the game became ever more scientific, markedly diminishing that variability. Taking into account, therefore, some of the great National League teams that followed—the New York Giants from 1920 to 1924 that won four consecutive pennants the St. Louis Cardinals from 1942 to 1946, winners of four pennants and three World Series in five years the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1949 to 1956 with five pennants in eight years the Cincinnati Reds’ 1972 to 1976 “Big Red Machine” that won four division titles, three pennants, and two World Series in five years and the Atlanta Braves with their 14 consecutive division titles from 1991 to 2005—where do the 1906–10 Cubs stand among the best NL teams since 1901?

A FRAMEWORK FOR ANALYSIS

I begin this analysis with a structured methodological approach that attempts to balance quantitatively these teams’ records of achievement and assess their relative dominance over the National League in their time. It is necessary to rate the performance of their core players relative to the league in both contemporary and historical context. I deliberately did not assign greater or lesser weight to any of the three categories—achievement, dominance, or players—because their relative importance may be variable according to time (or era) and circumstance, such as the extent to which pitchers were allowed to finish what they started.

The methodology yields a “score” for each category as well as a “total” score for comparative purposes. The specifics for each category will be discussed when I use this methodology to provide a baseline for evaluating the 1906–10 Cubs’ place in history. First, some ground rules.

My one basic requirement is that the teams being considered—those mentioned above—have a consistently strong record of no less than five consecutive years. All of the teams being considered in this analysis won or could have won five consecutive pennants. Were it not for the Pirates and their 110 victories in 1909, the Cubs would have taken five flags in a row.

(Click table images to enlarge.)

Teams are defined by their core group of regular position players and pitchers for the years under consideration. In all but one case, the core group of players corresponds with the teams’ consecutive years of remarkable success. The exceptions are the 1991–2005 Atlanta Braves, which I break down into two different teams—1991 to 1997 and 1998 to 2005—based on a nearly wholesale turnover of their core position players by 1998, although their stellar trio of starting pitchers in Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz overlapped both teams. Core players must have been on the team for at least four years, including at least half of the years being considered in this analysis. Table 1 identifies the core players on their team for at least half the years under consideration for the teams (besides the Cubs) mentioned above.

Finally, and most important, this structured approach is intended only to inform, not dictate, the final analysis. My final analysis will use this structured methodological approach for each team as the foundation for evaluation, but other data-based factors are surely in play to test the proposition that the 1906–10 Chicago Cubs, despite playing in the deadball era at a time when the game was still discovering itself, were the National League’s best team ever.

This analysis would not have been possible without the indispensible website Baseball-Reference.com.

ACHIEVEMENT AND DOMINANCE: THE CUBS WON OFTEN AND WON BIG

I measure “achievement” by what a team accomplished over a period of no less than five years, with greatest emphasis on accomplishment during the regular season rather than post-season success. Achievement is weighted according to accomplishment: three points for each time finishing first two for each second-place finish and one for every third-place finish.

Winning the World Series (and, since 1969 when divisional alignments began, winning the pennant) count for only one point in my methodology. Total achievement points are divided by the number of seasons (at least five) for the team under consideration, multiplied by ten (in order to deal with double-digit numbers).

The obvious point of controversy is that winning the World Series, and (since 1969) even the pennant, counts the same as finishing third during the regular season, and for less than finishing second. But while winning the World Series is the ultimate achievement in any year, it is also valid to evaluate teams by which are the best over the course of l-o-n-g baseball seasons. World Series and League Championship Series are short series, and sometimes a team which has established itself as the best or even dominant over a long season doesn’t win in the post-season, because, as is so often stated, anything can happen in a short series. The 1973 Cincinnati Reds, for example, with 99 wins, were upended in the NLCS by the New York Mets, who with a mere 82 victories had posted the fourth-best record in the National League.

The 1906-10 Chicago Cubs’ achievement score by this methodology is shown in Table 2.

I define a dominant team as one so superior to its rivals that it is unlikely to be seriously challenged for first place except on rare occasions (usually by another dominant team). To put it another way, a dominant team typically blows away the competition and cruises to the finish line. I measure a team’s “dominance” by four equally weighted factors: the number of 100-win seasons, the number of times finishing first by a margin of at least eight games, the number of times leading the league in runs, and the number of times leading the league in fewest runs allowed. Total dominance points are divided by the product of four (for each dominance factor) times the number of seasons (at least five) for the team under consideration, which I multiplied by ten in order to deal with double-digit numbers.

Why use these four factors? A team that meets any one of these factors is very good, but dominant teams have to indeed dominate. The first two factors are related but not mutually exclusively in none of the blowout pennant races won by Stengel’s Yankees, for example, did they win 100 games or more. The one year they did win 100—1954—they finished second. The second two factors are related to number of wins according to baseball’s Pythagorean Theorem, but not necessarily in reality. The 72–76 Reds won four division titles, had the best record in the NL three times, but led in scoring only once and were never better than third in runs allowed. The McCarthy-era Yankees were great not only because of their six 100-win seasons and eight blowout pennants, but also because they led in runs seven times and in fewest runs allowed seven times. Taken together, this represents a dominance that would be lost if we just went with 100 wins.

I chose 100 victories rather than 90 as my first benchmark for dominance a 100-win team is far more likely to dominate. From 1901 through 2000, 163 NL teams won between 90 and 99 games. Of those teams, 87 (or 53%) finished first on the other hand, 35 of the 39 NL teams (90%) that won 100 or more games finished first. The 1909 Cubs were the first of the four that did not.

I chose finishing first by a margin of at least eight games as a reasonable standard for dominating the league (or, since 1969, the division). Including division titles since 1969, not counting the 1981 split-season and the terminated-by-strike 1994 season, there were 134 pennant races in each major league in the twentieth century. In the National League, 49 of those 134 pennant races were decided by margins of at least eight games. That’s 37%, virtually the same as the 47 of 134 pennant races decided by three games or fewer.

The 1906–10 Cubs were well-balanced, and with few weaknesses, dominated in every facet of the game. We’ve already seen their dominance in the win column and in claiming three pennants by decisive margins (and a fourth in the tightest of pennant races, which can be cited as a mark of greatness). The Cubs’ pitching and fielding were phenomenal. Four times during this five-year run, Chicago led the NL in fewest runs allowed, and did so by substantial margins. In 1906, the Cubs allowed only 381 runs, 89 fewer than the next club, Pittsburgh. In 1907, Chicago’s 390 runs allowed were 86 fewer than the Philadelphia Phillies’ second-lowest total. In 1909, the Cubs allowed a mere 390 runs while the pennant-winning Pirates allowed the second fewest runs, 447. And in 1910, Chicago again led the league in fewest runs allowed with 499, New York coming in second with 567. These are big differences. (The Cubs did not lead the league in fewest runs allowed in 1908, ceding 16 more runs than the Phillies, who had the lowest total.)

One reason the Cubs’ pitching was so great was their team fielding. According to data available on Baseball-Reference.com, Chicago led the league in defensive efficiency—making outs on balls put into play—every year of the five except 1908. Their rate of making outs on 72.6% of playable balls in 1906–10 was far better than the league average of 69.9%. In 1906 and 1907, the Cubs’ defensive efficiency rated 4.2 and 3.0 percent better than the second-best NL team. While the Cubs never led the league in double plays—thanks in large part to their stinginess in allowing base runners—“Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance” deserved to have a poem written about them for their overall defensive prowess.

The 1906–10 Cubs also had an impressive offense to go along with great pitching and terrific defense. They led the league in runs scored only once—in their incredible 1906 season—but finished second each of the next four years. Arch-rivals Pittsburgh and New York both led the league in scoring twice. Of no small significance, however, was the offensive efficiency of these Chicago Cubs in taking advantage of scoring opportunities. The Cubs had the best ratio of runs to hits, as well as runs to total base runners (determined by total hits, walks, and hit batsmen), of any NL team from 1906 through 1910, besting the league average by 12.6 and 12.8 percent, respectively. This team not only won blowouts—a record of 147-49 in games decided by five or more runs, a five-year percentage of .750—but also the close ones they were 146-82 in one-run games for an excellent .640 percentage.

The 1906–10 Chicago Cubs’ dominance score, the highest of any National League team for a five-year period since 1901, is shown in Table 3.

THE PLAYERS: CUBS STRONG AT THE CORE

A great team’s players go a long way toward establishing its legacy. The 1906–10 Cubs, for example, are perhaps even better known for their double play combination of Tinker, Evers, and Chance than for their accomplishments (except, of course, for that historical trivia about 1908 being the last time the Cubs won a World Series). The great teams are often identified by their Hall of Fame players, but what really matters is who the best players on the team were and how good they were relative to their contemporaries and others in baseball history. It is that three-part question that the “players” component of my methodological approach attempts to answer.

To measure quantitatively the “players” part of the methodology, I rely on the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric developed by Sean Smith of Baseball-Projection.com. I believe that three elements must be considered: first, the relative importance of the core players to their team’s success for the years under consideration second, the number of core players on that team who were the best at their positions at the time of their team’s achievement and third, the number of players on that team who were among their league’s best in the surrounding decade, in the half-century, or in the full century based on their performance (particularly as captured by the WAR metric) specifically during the five or more years under consideration for their team.

WAR presents the number of wins any specific player added to his team above what a replacement-level player from Triple-A, or one shuttling between the major leagues and Triple-A, would contribute. WAR data for players and team rosters are both readily available at Baseball-Reference.com.

Measuring the overall impact of a team’s core regulars to the success of their team is key because, notwithstanding that teams lacking depth are much less likely to have sustained success—especially over multiple years—this analysis is intended to determine the best team, at least in part, by who had the best core players. The first part of my “players” equation represents, for the years under consideration, the core regulars’ combined WAR as a percentage of the total WAR earned by the team’s entire roster. The equation begins by adding the percentage of the team’s core regulars’ collective WAR to the average annual total WAR of the team’s entire roster for the years under consideration and dividing by ten, thereby attaining a single digit number to serve as a baseline for building a total “players” score.

The 1906–10 Cubs had remarkable stability among their core regulars, with eight position players and four pitchers on the roster for all five years. In this era, core regulars received nearly all of the playing time, and with rosters at just 18, bench players filled in only when necessary. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that the Cubs’ core players—eight position players and five pitchers (see table below), including Carl Lundgren who was on the team only through 1908—accounted for 96% of the team’s total WAR over those years. In 1906, for example, aside from their eight starting position player regulars, Chicago had only three position players appear in more than five games: second catcher Pat Moran, who caught 61 games infielder-outfielder Solly Hofman, who appeared in 64 games and outfielder Doc Gessler, who appeared in 25. Only Moran and Hofman made more than 100 plate appearances.

For the second element of my players score, I made an informed judgment based primarily on the WAR metric as to how many of the team’s core regulars were the best in the league at their positions, with the stipulation that the player must have been the best in the league at his position for at least five consecutive years (to avoid one- or two-year wonders). Being best in the NL at his position takes into account one player for each fielding position (including three outfielders) a multiposition regular (Stan Musial, alternating between first base and the outfield throughout his career, may be the most notable multi-position regular in league history) and five starting pitchers and a dedicated relief ace (the concept of which really did not come into vogue until after WWII). Each player must have been the best in the league at his position for at least half of the years of achievement for the team being considered, meaning that a minimum of three of the player’s five-or-more years as the best in the league must correspond with his team’s run of success. The number of players who were the best at their position is divided by the total number of the team’s core players.

I count the Cubs with four position players (first baseman and manager Frank Chance, second baseman Johnny Evers, catcher Johnny Kling, and outfielder Jimmy Sheckard) and two pitchers, Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown and Ed Reulbach, with five or more years as the best in the league at their position including at least three consecutive between 1906 and 1910. And were it not for Honus Wagner at shortstop, Joe Tinker would have made five. Chicago’s pitching ace, Three Finger Brown, could have been counted as the National League’s best reliever as well as one of its best starting pitchers during these years. From 1908 to 1910 in particular, Brown was a workhorse out of the bullpen in addition to starting and completing more games than any other pitcher on Chicago’s formidable pitching staff. Brown started 96 of the 467 games the Cubs played those three years, completing 86, but also finished 41 games started by other pitchers, going 7–5 and collecting 19 retroactively-awarded saves. To put his role in perspective, Three Finger Brown was in at the finish of 27 percent of the Cubs’ games and with a record of 81–32 and those 19 saves, had a direct stake in 100 of the Cubs’ 307 victories—almost exactly one-third—from 1908 to 1910.

The third and final part of my “players” equation uses a point system for core regulars on the team who have a place among the best players in their league during all or part of the twentieth century. If a player on the team under consideration, based on his best consecutive years, was one of his league’s ten best position players, five best starting pitchers, or the best reliever in the decade surrounding his team’s run of success—which is always in the middle of that ten-year period—that counts for one point. The 1906–10 Cubs had four players and two pitchers among the NL’s ten best position players and five best pitchers in the surrounding decade, as shown in Table 4.

The team under consideration earns an additional two points if the player—based on his best consecutive years performance in the surrounding decade—was also one of his league’s 25 best position players, 15 best starters, or three best relievers in the first half of the twentieth century (1901–50) or one of his league’s 30 best position players, 18 best starters, or six best relievers in the second half-century (1951–2000). (The number of best players in each league is higher for the second half-century because of expansion, and I selected only three relievers in the first half-century because few teams had a dedicated relief ace over many seasons until the mid-1940s.)

Finally, teams under consideration receive three more points if a player was also one of the 50 best position players, 30 best starting pitchers, or six best relief pitchers in his league from the beginning of the twentieth century to date (a century-plus legacy) based on his best consecutive years performance in the decade surrounding his team’s specific five years (or more) of achievement. These totals are added to the baseline number, based on WAR, and to those for best in the league at their positions to comprise the total “players” score.

My position player and pitcher rankings are based on their highest sustained level of performance for five or more consecutive years, within which, of course, might be a sub-par season or two. I examined the pattern of WAR scores falling within the range of bookending (for the most part) All-Star quality seasons—defined on Baseball-Reference.com as five wins above replacement—that determine a player’s best consecutive years, looking at high and low anomalies, their frequency, and level of performance he maintained for most of those years. I looked for consistency at a high level over at least five consecutive years, not just highest average annual WAR because averages can be skewed by exceptionally good or bad years. Allowance is granted for “best years” to be interrupted by complete or nearly complete seasons lost to military service, injuries, or illness (realizing that some may question equating military service with the other two).

All of these judgments are mine, informed (once again) by WAR. They are not based on the totality of the player’s career, but on the player’s five or more best consecutive seasons, with at least three years corresponding with his team’s five-year run of success, or four years for teams (like the 1949–56 Dodgers or the 1991–97 and 1998–2005 Braves) whose achievements span seven or eight years. In this construct, Cubs’ first baseman Frank Chance—who, based on WAR for his best consecutive years, has not only a half-century legacy as one of the 25 best position players in National League history, but also a legacy as one of the league’s 50 best since 1901—does not, repeat not, count for any historical legacy points for the 1906–10 Cubs because his five best consecutive years began in 1903 and overlapped only the first two of his team’s five-year run of greatness.

Unlike the factors I considered for achievement and dominance scores and the use of WAR to measure the direct contribution of core players to their teams’ success, where the numbers are objectively what they are, I acknowledge that my determinations of the league’s best players at each position and, even more, about their historical legacy—whether for the ten-year period, the half-century, or century-plus—are necessarily subjective. While based primarily on the WAR metric, they are also informed by historical narratives about the teams and their players which touch on leadership or baseball intelligence that cannot be easily, if at all, captured in an all-encompassing metric. Consequently, I expect some disagreement with my judgments about players this methodological framework should be considered a shared framework which allows readers to make their own subjective determinations about players and see how they fit within this construct.

Only one of the eight core position regulars on this team—second baseman Johnny Evers—has a century-plus legacy in my considered opinion, and no other has even a half-century legacy for his best consecutive years as a player covering at least three between 1906 and 1910. Of the five pitchers on the Cubs’ roster for all or most of those years, Three Finger Brown has a century-plus legacy and Ed Reulbach a half-century legacy among the NL’s 15 best pitchers.

The 1906–10 Chicago Cubs’ players score by the methodology just explained is in Table 5.

1906–10 CUBS ARE NL’S BEST BY THIS METHODOLOGY

Using this methodological framework, here is how the 1906–10 Chicago Cubs—who had by far the best winning percentage—compare to the other National League teams considered in Table 6. It is important to note that the advent of divisional play in 1969 forced me to adjust for calculating “achievement” scores in the divisional era. Winning the division after 1969 counts for the same three first-place points as winning the pennant before then, to which I also add half-point (.5) if the division winner had the best record in the league, and an additional point if the division winner went on to win the pennant (which now counts the same as winning the World Series) in the league championship series (LCS).

This means that teams in the divisional era can have a higher achievement score than teams before, despite having exactly the same accomplishments over the same number of years, because their pennants count for four points (three for finishing first in their division, plus one for winning the LCS) compared to only three for teams like the 1906–10 Cubs, to whom I give no additional point for winning the pennant by virtue of finishing first. This seeming inequity should not be considered discriminatory against teams prior to 1969, because the current setup makes it more difficult to win a pennant than in the days when finishing first and winning the pennant were one and the same. Modern teams deserve credit for the increased difficulty.

My inclusion of Johnny Evers as a “century-plus” player for the Cubs, based on his best consecutive years beginning in 1907 and an understanding derived from historical accounts of his leadership on the team, is bound to be controversial. The argument has been advanced, after all, that neither he nor double-play partner Joe Tinker were deserving of Hall of Fame enshrinement based on their career performance. I’m comfortable with my selection, but should I concede that Evers was not a century legacy player based on his best consecutive years (including 1907 to 1910), the 1906–1910 Cubs would still have the highest overall score (121) of any National League team in history by my methodological approach. It would still be true even if his best consecutive years did not make Evers one of the NL’s 25 best position players in the first half-century, which would give the Cubs a total score of 119.

My analysis does not end here, however, because, as I already mentioned, this multidimensional structured methodology is intended to inform, not dictate, the results as to which National League team was the best in history. Let’s examine the 1906 through 1910 Cubs relative to each of the other teams under consideration with the results of this methodology as a foundation. The following analysis is data-based so that conclusions may be seen as substantiated rather than merely subjective.

1920–24 NEW YORK GIANTS: A WEAK CASE

In becoming the second major league team in history (the first since 1885 through 1888) to win four consecutive pennants (1921 to 1924), the 1920–24 Giants accomplished something even the 1906–10 Cubs, great as they were, could not. New York’s five-year stretch began with a second-place finish behind Brooklyn. The Giants won the World Series in 1921 and 1922, and—but for catcher Hank Gowdy tripping over his mask and failing to catch a pop foul, and a bad hop over third baseman Freddie Lindstrom’s head—might have won the 1924 Series as well.

Notwithstanding four straight pennants, the 1920–24 Giants were hardly dominating. Their .601 winning percentage over the five years was the lowest of any of our teams under consideration, and they have by far the lowest dominance score by my methodology of any of the teams. The Giants had no 100-win seasons—the most games they won was 95 in 1923—and their pennant winning margins were by 4, 7, 4½, and 1½ games. In 1921, New York had spent only eight days in first place (excluding off days) before taking over for good on September 9 amid a 10-game winning streak. They did not command the 1922 pennant race until the end of August. Only in 1923 were the Giants comfortably ahead for most of the season, and in 1924 New York squandered a 9½-game lead on August 8, spending all of September never more than 2½ games ahead of pennant rivals Brooklyn and Pittsburgh.

This Giants team did not overwhelm the competition, and their pennant rivals were not as strong as those of the 1906–10 Cubs. It is true that Chicago played against 13 teams during their five-year run that lost at least 90 games, while the Giants played against only nine such losers. The 1906–10 Cubs, however, also faced eight other teams that won 90 or more games, while only five other teams won as many as 90 during the Giants’ run. Even more significantly, the Giants’ record against their rivals for the National League pennant—including the 1922 second-place Reds (winners of only 88)—was barely above .500, at 68–64. The 1906–10 Cubs, on the other hand, played exceptionally well against their pennant rivals, all with 90 or more wins, posting a 98–77 record. Put another way, extrapolated over the full 154-game season played at the time, the Giants would have won only 79 games, compared to the Cubs’ 86, against the other contemporary best teams in the league.

1942–46 ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: A LEGACY DIMINISHED BY WAR

By winning one more World Series than the 1906–10 Cubs, the 1942–46 Cardinals’ four pennants and three World Series championships in five years exceed the Cubs’ combined achievement and dominance scores. The Cardinals finished second to the Cubs in 1945 by three games, which of course led to the last World Series sighting of Chicago’s north side team.

The Cardinals’ first and last pennants in this stretch were clearly legitimate because U.S. involvement in World War II had yet to claim many major leaguers in 1942 by 1946, the war was over and most of the players were back home. The middle two pennants, however, came when the war had stripped teams of many of their biggest talents. They probably would have been the first team in history to win five straight pennants had Stan Musial not spent 1945 in the uniform of his country instead of that with a bird balancing on a bat—finally, the team had lost its own biggest star, as others had.

Those players included Cardinals right fielder Enos “Country” Slaughter, who was in the service from 1943 through 1945, and therefore does not meet my requirement of playing for his team in at least half of their years of achievement. Even accounting for his three years in the military, I consider Slaughter to have been one of the National League’s three best outfielders from 1939–49, and his best consecutive war-interrupted years, 1940 through 1948, give him a half-century legacy. Without him, the Cardinals have the lowest players score of the teams under consideration in this analysis with him—by beginning St. Louis’s run in 1941, when they won 97 games and finished 2½ behind Brooklyn—their players score is slightly better (23 to 22) than that of the 1920–24 Giants.

Putting World War II aside for a moment, the 1942–46 Cardinals’ winning percentage of .659 is the closest to the 1906–10 Cubs’ .693 over any five-year period for an NL team. With three consecutive 100-win seasons, two blowout pennant races, and three times leading the league in scoring and four times in fewest runs allowed, the Cardinals were as dominant in their time as the Cubs in theirs. Moreover, the relative balance between offense and pitching as a percentage of team WAR for both the Cubs and Cardinals over their five-year runs is virtually identical. Coincidentally, their records were nearly comparable in run differential against game opponents the Cubs outscored their game opponents by 226 runs over their five years, and the Cardinals outscored theirs by 221.

At .598, St. Louis had a better winning percentage, going 67–45 against their four runners-up and the 1945 NL champion Cubs, than Chicago’s .560 (98–77) record against its rivals for the pennant, but the 1906–10 Cubs played against eight other teams with 90 or more wins, twice as many as 1942–46 Cardinals. And we cannot overlook that the Cardinals’ two runaway pennants came in 1943 and 1944, when arch-nemesis Brooklyn was particularly hard hit by our country’s call to arms.

1949–56 BROOKLYN DODGERS: “BOYS OF SUMMER” LESS IMPOSING

The 1949–56 Dodgers won five pennants in eight years, but were a hair’s breadth from winning seven, including potentially five in a row (which would have matched the 1949–53 New York Yankees). They had a chance to tie for first and force a playoff on the final day of the 1950 season, but lost to the pennant-winning Phillies, and then of course blew a 13-game lead the next year and lost on Bobby Thomson’s legendary home run.

If extended to an eight-year period during which the 1906–10 core players were intact—which includes 1903 to 1910 for Tinker, Evers, and Chance—the Cubs were not as successful as the 1950s Dodgers. We are focused, however, on each team’s best seasons. Brooklyn had eight years, while Chicago claims only five the New York Giants captured three straight pennants after 1910.

Few teams in history had as many dominant players as the 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers. Their core regulars included the likes of Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, Preacher Roe, Carl Erskine, and Clem Labine, who were together for all or most of the eight-year run. Seven of Brooklyn’s twelve core players during these years were the best at their position for at least four years, five counted among the league’s ten best position players and two among the five best starting pitchers in the surrounding decade (1948–57), and Robinson, Snider, and Campanella all have a century-plus legacy. These “Boys of Summer” give the 1949–56 Dodgers the highest “players score” of all teams being considered in this analysis, including the 1906–10 Cubs. Moreover, Newcombe’s record over his best consecutive years from 1949 to 1956 suggests he might well have had a century-plus legacy had he not lost two seasons to the Korean War. It would be reasonable to suppose that any team with those four guys, not to mention Reese and Hodges, should get the nod over Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance and Three Finger Brown. (See Table 7.)

Despite their star power, the Dodgers were not as balanced as the 1906–10 Cubs. While Dem Bums were an offensive powerhouse, leading the league in scoring six times and finishing second the other two years, their pitching was merely good, not great. During their eight-year run, Brooklyn was one of the top three teams (in an eight-team league at the time) in fewest runs allowed five times, only once the stingiest in giving up runs. Chicago, of course, was most conspicuous for its superb pitching and fielding—four times giving up the fewest runs in the league—but was also first (although only once) or second in scoring every year between 1906 and 1910. The Dodgers’ position players had a lopsided 74-to-26 advantage over their pitchers in their percentage contribution to Brooklyn’s team WAR between 1949 and 1956, whereas the 1906–10 Cubs had a much more balanced 58-to-42 ratio making up their team WAR. The Cubs’ combination of
offense, pitching, and fielding play was more impressive. This was reflected in the Cubs outscoring their game opponents by an average of 226 runs during their run, while the Dodgers did so by an average of 167 runs during theirs.

As formidable as the Boys of Summer were, their team did not dominate the league to the extent of the 1906–10 Cubs. They won 100 games only once—in 1953—compared to four 100-win seasons for the Cubs, and won the pennant by blowout margins of eight games or more only twice in winning five pennants (by 13 in 1953 and 13½ in 1955), while the Cubs did so three times in winning their four. The Dodgers were not as dominant despite the Cubs facing a tougher competitive environment for the pennant. Pittsburgh and New York combined for eight 90-win seasons during the five years the Cubs won four pennants, while Brooklyn faced off against only eight 90-win teams over eight years. Only once did the Dodgers have to contend against two 90-win teams (in 1956 when Milwaukee won 92 and Cincinnati 91 to Brooklyn’s 93).

Finally, the Cubs played their toughest rivals better than the Dodgers played theirs. Chicago won four of their eight season series between 1906 and 1910 against teams with 90 or more wins, split two others, and lost only two. For their part, against the eight other teams that won 90 or more games between 1949 and 1956, Brooklyn won the season series only twice, split the season series twice, and had a losing record four times. The Dodgers’ winning percentage against 90-win competition was a losing .480, and they posted losing records against 90-win teams in three of their five pennant-winning seasons.

1972–76 CINCINNATI REDS: ONE-DIMENSIONAL “MACHINE”

The Cincinnati Reds of the mid-1970s are always in the argument about baseball’s best teams, and deservedly so—particularly for their blowout NL Western Division championships in 1975 and 1976 that resulted in back-to-back World Series triumphs. Many would say they were the best National League team in history. Their 108 wins in 1975 is the third-highest victory total in their league’s history (tied with the 1986 Mets) after the 1906 Cubs and the 1909 Pirates. The cornerstone players on the 1972–76 Reds that won four division titles, three pennants, and the two World Series in five years were Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, and Dave Concepcion. The team became even stronger when Ken Griffey Sr. and George Foster became outfield regulars in 1975 they are not counted by me as core players on the 1972–76 Reds, even though they played important roles when the Big Red Machine was at its very best, because they were regulars only the last two years.

Considering that Bench, Morgan, and Rose all have a century-plus legacy that the Cubs can really only rival with Three Finger Brown (I count Evers as having a century-plus legacy also, but his best consecutive years are not close to their class), and that their overall players score may be depressed relative to the Cubs’ because the National League had expanded from eight to twelve teams—representing a 50 percent increase in potential players competing for best at their position and best in the surrounding decade—it would be hard to dispute that the Reds did not have a better team, at least as far as their players, than the deadball-era Cubs. (See Table 8.)

Cincinnati batters dominated their team’s collective WAR over those five seasons to an even greater extent than did Brooklyn’s sluggers in the 1950s. When compared to the 1950s Dodgers, therefore, the Cubs’ excellence in all facets of the game—pitching, fielding, and offense—made them more multidimensional, and hence better all-around relative to their time, than the 1970s Reds. While the Big Red Machine had a deadly efficient offense (with Rose, Morgan, Bench, and Perez as headliners) combining ability to hit, run, get on base, drive in runs, and hit for power that may even have been more dynamic than any of the great Yankees’ teams, their pitching was much less imposing, even pedestrian. Cincinnati’s adjusted earned run average—which normalizes ERA to the context of the time and the team’s home park—was always around the league average, and only in 1975 much better. The Reds’ starting rotations were weak, especially when either of their two best pitchers—Gary Nolan and Don Gullett—was on the disabled list (which was often). Manager Sparky Anderson earned the moniker “Captain Hook” for his extensive use of his bullpen to secure victories.

The Cubs, however, were more dominant in their league than were the Reds. Most notably, Chicago outscored its opposition—which included two perennial 90-plus-win teams in the Giants and Pirates—by 53% the Reds scored 29% more than their opponents.

It would be fair to argue on the Reds’ behalf that the major leagues were much more competitively balanced in the 1970s than they were in the first decade of the twentieth century. One-third of the National League teams that took the field of play from 1906 to 1910 lost 90 or more games, compared to less than 25 percent of NL teams from 1972 to 1976. That being established, however, the Cubs still had to compete against a greater number of very good 90-plus wins teams (eight) relative to the league than the Reds. Cincinnati faced off against seven other 90-win teams over five years in what was now a twelve-team league, but only three of those teams (the Dodgers in 1973, 1974, and 1976) were in the Reds’ division. Their winning percentage against such teams was almost exactly the same—.560 for Chicago, .559 for Cincinnati—but the Cubs played 23 percent of their total games from 1906 to 1910 against 90-win teams, while the 1972–76 Reds played 90-win teams in only 13 percent of their games.

All things considered, therefore, these are the saddest of possible words for the Big Red Machine to have to hear: “Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance” and Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown.

1991–2005 ATLANTA BRAVES: LONGER BUT NOT BETTER

The 1991–2005 Atlanta Braves are famous for winning their division 14 consecutive years (not counting 1994, when division titles were not awarded on account of the players’ strike) and infamous for coming away with only five National League pennants and one World Series championship for their efforts. I split the Braves into two separate teams—1991 to 1997 and 1998 to 2005—based on a wholesale turnover of position players by 1998. Chipper Jones became the Braves’ regular third baseman in 1995, playing only three years on the 1991–97 Braves, and Andruw Jones became a regular in the outfield in 1997, so both are counted as being part of the 1998–2005 Braves.

Both Atlanta teams dominated the National League. In winning six division titles, the 1991–97 Braves had the best record in the league five times, won over 100 games twice—including in the last of the pre-1994 pennant races (when a team had to finish first just to get into the playoffs), when they needed every one of their 104 victories to beat the 103-win Giants—and four times won their division by at least eight games. In winning eight division titles, the 1998–2005 Braves had the league’s best record four times, won 100 or more games four times, and four times finished eight games ahead of their division rivals. On top of that, with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz anchoring the starting rotation from 1993 through 2002 the Braves led the league in fewest runs allowed for 11 consecutive years between 1992 and 2002.

If the strengths of the 1950s Dodgers and 1970s Reds were overwhelmingly centered on their offense, superb pitching was the particular calling card of the first Atlanta team. The balance between position players and pitchers was almost exactly 50/50 in the Braves’ collective WAR between 1991 and 1997. This equilibrium, however, is not a good thing in comparison to the Cubs because, as implied by Bill James when he developed “win shares” to measure players’ contributions to their teams’ success, position players collectively should contribute more. The near 60/40 split between position players and pitchers for both the 1906–10 Cubs and 1942–46 Cardinals seems closer to the optimum for a truly dominant team. The 1991–97 Braves are the only team being considered here that did not have a single position player among the league’s ten best in the surrounding decade. The second Braves team, despite winning only one pennant for their eight division titles from 1998 to 2005, carried over their great pitching—at least until 2003, after which both Maddux and Glavine were gone—but were more well-rounded, with both Joneses having century-plus legacies for their best consecutive years during that run.

The winning achievements and relative dominance of the National League by both Atlanta teams can fairly be said to match up well with the 1906–10 Cubs, notwithstanding their relative paucity of pennants. It’s important to remember that, unlike the Cubs, the Braves had to survive first one and then two rounds of National League postseason series to even get to the World Series. The 1998–2005 Braves compare favorably to the 1906–10 Cubs in numbers of players who were the best at their position and with century-plus legacies. The Cubs, however, were much more dominant in their games they outscored their opponents by 53 percent from 1906 to 1910, compared to the 1991–97 Braves outscoring their opponents by 24 percent between 1991 and 1997 and 22 percent between 1998 and 2005. More significantly, although a much higher percentage of teams lost 90 or more games in the Cubs’ era, the 1906–10 Cubs still played 23 percent more games against teams with 90 or more wins because of a balanced schedule calling for 22 games against each team, and had a better record (a .560 winning percentage) playing the league’s best competition. The 1991–97 Braves played 18 percent of their games against 90-win teams to the tune of a .524 winning percentage, while the 1998–2005 Braves’ .545 record against 90-win competition (which now also included American League teams on their schedule with the inauguration of inter-league play in 1997), accounted for only 19 percent of their games.

CUBS ONCE HAD THE BEST TEAM IN NATIONAL LEAGUE HISTORY

Whatever misfortunes have plagued the Cubs over the last one hundred years, whatever curse devoted Cubs fans may believe has stricken their team because they have not won a World Series since 1908 and not even been to one since 1945, from 1906 to 1910 the Chicago Cubs had the best team in National League history.

The Cubs were so dominant in all aspects of the game that no other NL team in the modern era over any five-year period is even close to the percentage by which they outscored their opponents. The team that comes closest—the 1942–46 Cardinals—did so during World War II years that stripped the major leagues of both established veterans and promising young players, and only two other teams even approached outscoring their opponents by 30 percent. Finally, though this was the dead ball era and the dregs of the league were probably as bad as they ever were, the 1906–10 Cubs played a much higher percentage of their games against teams with at least 90 victories than the other teams considered, and were very successful in those games they have by far the best combined total of percentage of games played against 90-win teams and winning percentage against them. (See Table 9.)

Are the 1906–10 Cubs the best team in major league history? Well, there is the matter of the New York Yankees, and given what happened to the Cubs in the 1932 and 1938 World Series, it’s probably best not to go there.


Chicago Tribune Sports Newsletter

The Pirates first also opened with a double by Gionfriddo and he scored on Barrett's single to right.

Pafko, who singled with two out in the fourth, was the only Cub to reach base from the first to the fifth inning. With one out in the fifth, Merullo walked and moved up on Borowy's sacrifice. Gustine came up with Hack's grounder but threw low to first, Merullo scoring and Hack reaching first. Hughes singled to left, Hack stopping at second. Coscarart threw out Lowrey.

Pirates Lead Briefly

Here's the way the Pirates took a 3 to 2 lead in the sixth: Salkeld drew Borowy's fourth pass and stopped at second on Elliott's single, sixth Pirate hit. Gustine, attempting to sacrifice, forced Salkeld, Borowy to Hack. Dahlgren walked after a three and two count, loading the bases. Frank Colman batted for Coscarart and flied to Pafko, Elliott scoring the tying run. Ostermueller beat out a single to deep short, Gustine scoring. Then Gionfriddo rolled to Cavarretta.

An odd double play hindered the Cubs in the seventh, but they nevertheless scored the tying run. Merullo was safe on Elliott's fumble and Borowy beat out a bunt. Hack missed in an attempt to bunt on the third strike and Merullo was doubled off second, Salkeld to Zak. Hughes walked and Lowrey lined a single to left center, scoring Borowy. When Hughes tried to get home on Gionfriddo's throw to second, he was out at the plate, Gionfriddo to Gustine to Salkeld.

All the runs in the 5 to 0 Cub victory in the anti-climax second game were scored off Rip Sewell in the fourth inning.


Watch the video: Cubs turn two to win the pennant