Ernie Banks is synonymous with the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs are synonymous with Ernie Banks. Perhaps no other hall of fame player is more indentified with a team and perhaps no team is more identified with a player than Banks and the Cubs.
Banks joined the Cubs in September of 1953 as the franchise’s first African-American player. During his tenure in Chicago, Banks played in 11 All-Star games, won 2 MVP awards, hit 512 home runs and amassed 1,636 RBI’s.
Beyond the numbers, Banks is one of the most popular players to have ever worn a uniform. Banks’ love for baseball is best exemplified in his quote, "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame... Let's play two!" The longtime shortstop also dubbed famed Wrigley Field as the “friendly confines.”
His number 14 was the first number ever retired by the Cubs organization. In 1977, Banks was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Even to this day, Ernie Banks is known as Mr. Cub.
Like Banks, the Cubs are very popular amongst baseball fans. In fact the Cubs maybe America’s team, an epitaph that’s not earned through their on-the-field accomplishments but granted out of pity for their historic, century long bout of failure. It wasn’t always that way. The Cubs franchise began in 1870 as the White Stockings. That team won its first game, an exhibition against the St. Louis Unions, 47-1. They finished that year by winning the last National Association of Base Ball Players championship.
In 1876, Chicago joined National Base Ball League, better known today as the National
August 19th, 1969, the Cubs had an eight and half game lead in their division but they finished th League. The Cubs, along with the Atlanta Braves (then known as the Boston Red Stockings), are the only two original National League teams still left in the Major Leagues.
The Cubs of the 19th century were pretty good. From 1876 to 1900, the franchise won six National League pennants. They even played in the precursor to the World Series against the pennant winner of the American Association.
In 1885 and 1886, the Cubs played the St. Louis Browns in these early “world series.” Battling a team from St. Louis would lay the ground work for their future rivalry with the Cardinals. During this time, the Cubs went by a few other names. Starting in 1890, the franchise stopped being called the “White Stockings” and instead became known as the “Colts.” In 1898, they adopted the sobriquet “Orphans.” In 1902, John Hart bought the club and changed their name to the “Cubs.”
They’ve been called the “Cubs” ever since and a few more things, some of which you can actually repeat: “The Cubbies,” the “North Siders,” “The Boys in Blue,” and sadly “The Lovable Losers.” However, at this point in their history the Cubs still have some winning years ahead of them.
With the legendary double play combination of Joe Tinker to Johnny Evers to Frank Chance, the Cubs dominated the first dozen years of the 20th century. On the mound for the team during these glory years were the colorful characters of Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, Jack Taylor, Ed Ruelbach and Orval Overall.
Yes, Mordecai Brown did have just three full fingers. He lost parts of two digits in a farm accident.
The Cubs won 116 games in 1906 as well as the 1907 and the 1908 World Series. They also won another pennant in 1908.
In 1914, the Cubs moved into a new ballpark called Weeghman Park located in the Chicago neighborhood of Lakeview. In 1926, the park changed its name to Wrigley Field.
The Cubs would return to the World Series in 1918 only to lose to the Boston Red Sox. It would be the last World Series win for the Red Sox in 86 years. A feat the Cubs would eventually surpass. >With a new owner, William Wrigley Jr., and a great baseball mind in William Veeck, Sr. running the team, the Cubs rolled off a stretch where they won the NL Pennant every third year, 1929, 1932, 1935 and 1938.
The 1932 World Series featured Babe Ruth’s famous “called shot.” The 1935 season saw the Cubs winning 21 consecutive games in September. Late in the 1938 season, during a pivotal game, Gabby Hartnett hit a walk-off home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates now known as “The Homer in the Gloamin.”
After the death of both Wrigley and Veeck, the Cubs had a few down years but once again reached the World Series in 1945. Game four of that series, played at Wrigley Field, was attended by Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, and his pet goat. Even though Sianis had bought a ticket for his pet, the Cubs owner at the time, Philip K. Wrigley, ejected the restaurant owner from the ballpark due to his goat’s foul odor. On his way out of Wrigley, Sianis is alleged to have said, “Them Cubs, they aren’t gonna win no more.”
Sianis’ “hex” is now known as the “Curse Of the Billy Goat.”
The Cubs lost the 1945 World Series and as of 2008 have not returned to another Fall Classic. The years since the “Curse of the Billy Goat” have been filled with failure and disappointment.
In 1961 and 1962 the Cubs used a “College of Coaches.” Instead of one full time manager, the Cubs rotated eight coaches throughout the organization. It was a disaster.e season eight games out of first place. During a game against the Mets at Shea Stadium, a black cat ran out onto the field. Many people believed this furthered the curse on the Cubs.
Between 1977 and 1979, the Cubs started the season strong only to falter in July, August and September. In 1977, the Cubs had an eight and half game lead at the end of June but eventually finished in fourth place with a .500 record. The Cubs penchant for early season success and late season failure became known as the “June Swoon.”
In the 1984 NLCS, a Cubs team featuring NL MVP and future hall of famer Ryne Sandberg (10-time All-Star, 9-time Gold Glove Award winner) squandered a two game lead to the San Diego Padres.
In Game 4, one of baseball’s top closers, Lee Smith, gave up a walk-off home run to Steve Garvey. Then in Game 5 shortstop Leon Durham allowed a grounder to go through his legs. The error eventually helped the Padres win the National League pennant.
In 1989, the Cubs once again returned to the NLCS and once again melted down. The San Francisco Giants got the best of the Cubbies in just five games. The Cubs had the lead in each of the final three games of the series.
The Cubs would return to the postseason in 1998. That was the same year slugger Sammy Sosa and Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire chased Roger Maris’ home run record. Not only did Sosa lose out to McGwire in the chase for history, but the Cubs lost to the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS via a sweep.
Revenge against the Braves would come in 2003 when the Cubs defeated them in a dramatic NLDS. It was the Cubs first postseason series victory since 1908.
In the NLCS, the Cubs were five outs away from the World Series when a fan, Steve Bartman, interfered with Moises Alou as he attempted to catch a foul ball. Before you knew it the Florida Marlins had scored eight runs. The Cubs would lose that game and eventually the series.
The Cubs reached the playoffs again in 2007 but were swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks. The series is noted for manager Lou Pinella pulling Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano after six innings so he could pitch in a potential Game 4.
The following season, the Cubs won their 10,000th game as a franchise, Zambrano pitched a no-hitter and the Cubs won their division with a 97-64 record. It was the first time since 1906-08 that the Cubs made consecutive trips to the postseason.
However, the Cubs were swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers and outscored 20-6. With poor hitting and fielding the series defeat was humiliating and embarrassing even for the Cubs.
There have been several theories as to why the Cubs have endured a century of losing. A large majority of the Cubs games are played during the day (the first full season of night baseball at Wrigley Field wasn’t until 1989). Chicago can get very hot in July and August and the heat may be a contributing factor to the team’s late season swoons.
Another possible reason for the Cubs lack of success is Wrigley Field. Fierce winds from Lake Michigan often turn home runs into fly outs and fly outs in home runs. There’s also a basket that lines the entire outfield and extends four feet into play. It’s been said that this basket has turned doubles, triples and even fly outs into home runs.
The Cubs’ ownership and management has also faced heavy blame. The Cubs made the worst trade in baseball history sending Lou Brock to rival St. Louis for Ernie Broglio. Until the late 1990’s they had one of the worst farm systems in all of baseball and for years the Wrigley’s refused to pay for scouting.
The Cubs play in the central division of the National League. Their main rival, and one of the best rivalries in all of sports, is with the St. Louis Cardinals.