Heroes and heartbreak: 140 years of Chicago Cubs history

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The 1907 Chicago Cubs, above, would go on to be pennant winners in three successive years and be world’s champions in 1907 and 1908. | Chicago Daily News photo/Clyde T. Brown

In the beginning, they were the White Stockings. And they played on the South Side.

The team that would become the Chicago Cubs began playing baseball the same year Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer made a decision that would be seen as perhaps the most disastrous in United States military history.

The Cubs and their fans have learned a lot about the meaning of disaster since then. But back then, in 1876, the Cubs clinched the pennant with a 7-6 win over the Hartford Dark Blues on Sept. 26. At the time, they played on the South Side, at 23rd and State.

The following year, the team — in what some, in hindsight, might see as a harbinger of the many tough years to come — finished second to last.

The team later moved to Lakefront Park at Michigan and Randolph, before a switch to West Side Park at Congress and Loomis and then to Taylor Street and Walcott Avenue, where they remained for 22 years.

Wrigley Field during the 1945 World Series, the last time the Cubs made the Series before this year. | Sun-Times file photo

Wrigley Field during the 1945 World Series, the last time the Cubs made the Series before this year. | Sun-Times file photo

In 1879, the team lost their star pitcher in spectacular fashion.“Terry Larkin was struck on the head by a line drive, which not only ruined his pitching career but drove him to insanity and, eventually, suicide,” Art Ahrens and Eddie Gold wrote in their comprehensive 1986 book about the team, “The Cubs.”

The Stockings became the Colts, the Orphans, the Remnants. Finally, the name “Cubs” that stuck.

In 1903, the Cubs played the White Sox in the first city series. It ended in a tie.

Then, in 1907, behind the pitching of future Baseball Hall of Famer Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown, the Cubs won the first of two World Series titles, at the Taylor and Walcott stadium. They were the first team to win back-to-back titles.

Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown in 1909. | Chicago Daily News file photo

Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown in 1909. | Chicago Daily News file photo

Those teams included thedouble-play combo of Tinker to Evers to Chance — Joe Tinker, JohnnyEvers and Frank Chance — immortalized in a famous poem, “Baseball’s SadLexicon,” by Franklin Pierce Adams.

Nine years after the Cubs won their most recent World Series, chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. bought an interest in the Cubs, the same year the team moved to its present location. But the ballpark was called Weeghman Park and then Cubs Park.

By 1920, Wrigley had become sole owner of the club. In 1926, the ballpark was renamed Wrigley Field.

The 1930s saw the Cubs make the World Series three times — and lose each time. And Hack Wilson slugged 191 RBIs in 1930 — still a Major League record.

In 1937, the ivy on the outfield wall made its first appearance.

That decade also saw one of the greatest moments in Cubs history. On Sept. 28, 1938, the Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates were tied 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth, with darkness about to swallow Wrigley Field and the umpire threatening to call the game. That’s when player-manager Gabby Hartnett, another future Hall of Famer, hit “The Homer in the Gloamin,’” vaulting the Cubs past the Pirates into first place and on to the National League pennant that season.

It was 1945 — when World War II had seen many Major League players go off to fight — that the Cubs last appeared in a World Series, where they fell to the Detroit Tigers in seven games.

In 1953, the Cubs got their first African-American player, Ernie Banks, who arrived from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro leagues for $10,000. Five years later, the future “Mr. Cub” was the National League’s MVP. In 1959, Banks became the first National League player to win the MVP trophy in back-to-back seasons.

Ernie Banks completes a double play on May 9, 1970, in St. Louis. | AP file photo

Ernie Banks completes a double play on May 9, 1970, in St. Louis. | AP file photo

The 1960s was a largely forgettable decade for the Cubs, though Banks provided some thrills with 125 homers from 1960 to 1963. And 1969 brought a feeling of absolute certainty that — with Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ernie Banks hitting 73 homers among them and Santo kicking up his heels to celebrate their victories — that this finally would be their year. That lasted, though, only until September’s total collapse saw them surpassed by the New York Mets.

The following decade brought more mediocrity. But 1970 was also the year Banks hit his 500th home run, and in 1979, slugger Dave Kingman hit 48 home runs to lead the majors.

Champagne corks popped in 1984, when the Cubs won their first championship in 39 years — beating the Pirates to clinch the NL East crown. The same year, Rick Sutcliffe won the NL Cy Young Award and Ryne Sandberg the NL MVP award. But they lost the National League title to the NL West champs, the San Diego Padres.

Before a corked-bat controversy and questions about performance-enhancing drugs tarnished his image, slugger Sammy Sosa’s epic battle for home-run supremacy in 1998 with the St. Louis Cardinals’ Mark McGwire thrilled Cubs fans and the baseball world. Sosa ended up falling four short of McGwire’s 70 homers but led the Cubs to the playoffs for only the third time since 1945.

Mark Prior in 2003. | AP file photo

Mark Prior in 2003. | AP file photo

In 2003, Cubs fans once again dared to dream. A pitching corps led by Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Clement helped fuel the dream. After claiming the NL Central crown, the Cubs went on to face the Florida Marlins in the National League championship series.

On Oct. 14, 2003, the Cubs were leading the Marlins 3-0 in the eighth inning of Game 6 when left-fielder Moises Alou rose to try to snag a foul ball, and a hand reached out from the stands. The hand belonged to Cubs fan Steve Bartman. You know the rest of the story.

Thirteen years later — with an improved and expanding Wrigley Field; a club president, Theo Epstein, with a record of having turned around a losing team in Boston; and a roster that won a Major League-best 103 games — Cubs fans again are dreaming that this could finally, really be the year.

Contributing: Jordan Owen

Sources: “The Cubs” by Art Ahrens and Eddie Gold; Encylopedia of Chicago; chicago.cubs.mlb.com

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