The Cubs are the second of the original NL clubs in our Mount Rushmore series. Your task is to choose the four players who best represent this franchise that has operated continuously since the NL was founded in 1876. Have fun!
While the Cubs’ persona of being lovable losers is well earned, it hasn’t always been thus. Indeed, Chicago, then known as the White Stockings, was the NL champion in the league’s inaugural 1876 season. Led by star first baseman Cap Anson, the White Stockings were the dominant team of the 1880s with 5 championships in 7 seasons (1880-86), and only one season in the 1880-91 period finishing lower than 3rd or with a winning percentage below .550.
The White Stockings’ nickname changed to the Colts in 1890 and to the Orphans in 1898. But, new nicknames couldn’t mask a bad club as Chicago finished no higher than 4th from 1892 to 1902. Fortunes started to change with the adoption of the Cubs nickname in 1903 and shortly thereafter came 4 pennants in 5 years (1906-10) including two world championships by teams noted for their pitching and defense, particularly staff ace Mordecai (Three Finger) Brown and the famous infield of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance. Chicago won another pennant in the abbreviated 1918 season, but that was their only finish higher than 3rd from 1912 to 1928 despite fielding competitive teams in most of those seasons.
The Cubs won 4 pennants in 10 seasons from 1929 to 1938 but it was an unusual sort of dominance in that each of those championships was separated by three seasons from the one preceding it. Still, their worst record in that stretch was 84-70 in 1931, aside from which they never finished more than eight games back. Notable players on those teams included future HOFers Gabby Hartnett and Billy Herman, and All-Stars Stan Hack and Lon Warneke.
The Cubs struggled through the war years, posting five straight sub-.500 seasons (1940-44) for the first time in franchise history, but breaking that string with another pennant in 1945, their tenth since 1901. Notwithstanding an impressive pennant count, Chicago had lost 7 straight World Series by 1945, a point driven home by an unusual incident during that year’s series when an eccentric fan was denied entry to Wrigley Field because of his companion goat (for which the fan had purchased a ticket). Outraged, the fan is reputed to have angrily shouted that the Cubs would never again win a World Series, an utterance forever after known as the Billy Goat Curse. That “curse” is still holding, almost 70 years later.
The transition from contender to doormat came swiftly with 20 straight seasons (1947-66) finishing no higher than 5th, including only two at .500 or better (both just so, at 77-77 in 1952 and 82-80 in 1963). Charlie Grimm’s dismissal as manager during the 1949 season was the first of many to follow with no Cubs skipper lasting more than 3 years until Leo Durocher took the helm for 6+ seasons starting in 1966. The revolving door was spinning fastest from 1960 to 1962 when no fewer than 7 men held the manager’s chair at one time or another during just those three seasons.
Cub fortunes revived in the late ’60s and early ’70s with the emergence of four future HOFers in Ferguson Jenkins, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Billy Williams. Despite competitive teams, the Cubs’ failure to make the post-season would cost Durocher his job in 1972. Most disappointing was the 1969 season when a 5 game division lead starting September quickly disappeared when an 8 game Cub losing skid coincided with a 10 game winning streak by the Mets. Since then, Chicago has been a perennial also-ran, with only brief periods of respectability, among them five division titles (1984, 1989, 2003, 2007, 2008), the latter two part of a three-year run of .500 seasons in 2007-09, the first time with that very modest accomplishment since 1967-72 under Durocher.
The 2003 season was the closest Chicago has come to the World Series since the “billy goat” incident in 1945. Leading 3 games to 2 in the best of 7 NLCS, Chicago took a 3-0 game 6 lead into the eighth inning when another incident involving a home fan occurred. With one out, the Marlins’ Luis Castillo hit a foul pop behind 3rd base that drifted towards the seats. Left fielder Moises Alou leaped to make the catch only to have the ball deflected away from his waiting glove by a Cub fan sitting in the front row. Steve Bartman would become infamous for depriving Alou of a chance at that out, but it was the Cubs who self-destructed from that point, allowing 8 Marlins to cross before the fourth pitcher of the inning finally put out the fire.
Here are the top 15 career WAR scores as Cub batters.
And the top 15 pitchers, by career WAR as a Cub.
Please choose 4 players, or write in your own. Polls are open until midnight Pacific time on Tue, Nov 25th. You can check on results using the link at the bottom of the ballot.