My grandfather named the Cubs. That’s what my dad told me when I was a kid growing up on the South Side.
Of course, I told this to everybody I knew. And since this was the South Side, nobody believed it, and nobody cared. After all, in the late ’50s and early ’60s, the Cubs stunk, and the Sox didn’t — they won the pennant in 1959.
But now it seems like a good time to tell the story.
There are two reasons behind the Cubs’ name. One is straightforward, even obvious, and the other has nothing to do with baseball. My grandfather was central to both.
As a charter member of the National League in 1876, the Cubs were first called the White Stockings. By 1890, they were nicknamed the “Colts” because they were left with a bunch of young players after veterans were lured away by the short-lived Players League. They also were called Cap Anson’s Colts in honor of their player-manager and future Hall of Famer Adrian “Cap” Anson. When Anson, who was also called “Pop,” was fired, the team was dubbed the Orphans — you know, since they lost their Pop.
Other nicknames were floated, including Rainmakers, Remnants, Cowboys, Broncho Busters and Murphy’s Spuds.
When the American League began in 1901, the team’s best players took off for the new league, leaving them again with a bunch of youngsters, hence the popular nickname “Cubs,” which also fits today’s young team.
And that’s where my grandfather comes in.
Fred A. Hayner was a reporter for the Chicago Inter-Ocean and later the Chicago Daily News, where he covered baseball, football, boxing and six-day bicycle races.
As a high schooler on the West Side in 1890, Fred was recruited for a tryout with the struggling Pittsburgh Alleghenys, in town to play Chicago at their old ballpark on the Near West Side. Fred pitched four innings and was rocked for nine runs, six earned. After working an 0-and-2 count on Anson, he walked him.
But Fred’s real piece of Cubs history came when he was a young sports editor in the early 1900s.
Some sources say there was a newspaper contest for the name, and some say nobody knows — probably Sox fans. But whenever somebody is given credit for the origins of the Cubs’ name, it seems to be either my grandfather or my grandfather along with Daily News sportswriter George Rice.
Fred started championing the name Cubs in 1901, according to a 1934 team booklet — a treasured family heirloom that’s useful in bar bets.
Other sources cite one of the name’s first appearances as March 27, 1902, (in a Daily News article). And some, including “The Dickson Baseball Dictionary,” credit both Fred Hayner and George Rice as coming up with the name in 1901, along with a logo of a bear cub to go with it.
By 1907, the new team name had stuck.
A second reason for the name can be found in a 1972 Chicago Tribune interview with James Gilruth, an old Daily News sports reporter who described a 1904 meeting he had with Fred, George and Charles Sinsabaugh, the assistant sports editor.
“Hayner complained that the names Orphans and Capt. Anson’s Colts were too hard for the headline writers to use and he wanted a shorter name,” Gilruth said.
“We tried one name and another, then one of us, I don’t recall who, came up with the nickname Cubs, and Cubs it was and Cubs it is even today.”
Unfortunately, I never got to ask my grandfather for details. On the bitter cold night of Jan. 14, 1929, Fred’s Lake Forest house burned down. My dad, James, 11, my Uncle Francis, 15, and my grandmother Jeannette were pulled from the house, but Fred died trying to save the family dog. His body was found in the basement with the remains of their black-and-white poodle. Fred was 57.
I have only a few things of my grandfather’s: a watch he was given by Charles A. Comiskey, a porcelain greyhound with a broken nose — and the story of how the Cubs got their name.
Don Hayner is a former Chicago Sun-Times editor in chief.