Cub-hating at its core: How sly scheme tried to bring down 1907 Cubs

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CT scans of final-out baseballs from (left to right) the 1907 World Series, 1908 World Series, 1908 NL clincher and 1945 World Series, plus Addison Russell’s grand slam ball from last Nov. 1. | University of Chicago Medical Center

Even after a blah start and with improving play lately, the Cubs (25-21) are pretty close to where they need to be to get into the postseason a few months from now.

Once in the postseason, who knows? They could win another World Series and be called a mini-dynasty.

Would baseball, in general, like that? Hmmm.

Let me remind partly sated but ever-desirous Cubs nuts here: Not everybody loves your marching Cubs Nation. The Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals and Dodgers come to mind quickly as franchises that might not be thrilled with all the North Side noise.

Here’s what’s interesting.

There was a time long ago, before even your trusted scribe was born — the early 1900s, to be precise — when the Cubs were a dynasty, and some folks were getting quite upset about it.

How upset? After the 1906 and 1907 seasons, in which the Cubs won a combined 223 games, including a major-league-record 116 in 1906, there was an MLB memo, reported by the Chicago Daily News in October 1908, that claimed the Cubs were continuing to win “in spite of the ‘Good of the League’ policy, which was announced at the opening of the season, meaning the defeat of the Chicago club.”

You talk about your run-of-the-mill CIA conspiracies; this was the whole world against the Cubs.

The essence of the complaint was that the Cubs were so dominant, people were bored and attendance was dropping (as depicted in a Tribune cartoon showing a lone fan in the empty bleachers, sighing “Ho-hum” above an outfield wall that read “1907”).

So what happened?

It gets interesting. According to research done by amateur baseball sleuth and maniac memorabilia collector Grant DePorter, CEO of Harry Caray’s restaurants, in 1907 the Detroit Tigers — and maybe baseball itself — did something to attempt to stop the Cubs: They messed with the World Series ball.

DePorter owns not only the final-out World Series balls from 1907 and 1908 (both games won by the Cubs against the Tigers, in Detroit), but also the grand-slam ball from the Cubs’ Game 6 World Series victory against the Cleveland Indians last November.

Doing what only DePorter would do, he had the balls CT-scanned at the University of Chicago Medical Center and, with the aid of radiologists Dr. Richard Heller and Dr. Kate Feinstein, discovered the 1907 ball was the only one with no center to it. That is, it was wadded with something other than the mandatory cork or rubber, and it was essentially, it appeared, a “mush” ball.

Enter Dave Wiley, president of McCrone Associates, a laboratory specializing in microanalysis of materials. Wiley determined the particles inside the ball were, indeed, not rubber or cork but a plant leaf mixed in with the yarn.

A manufacturer in New York declared around the turn of the century that its own “professional dead balls are made of all yarn without rubber and are the deadest balls made.” Those balls were floating about in the early 1900s.

Back in that day, the home teams provided the balls for all games, and the assumption here is the sneaky Tigers — or somebody in cahoots with them — used some dead balls in an attempt to stop the Cubs’ high-powered offense.

In the first three games of the 1907 World Series, played in Chicago, there were an average of 18 hits a game. In the final two in Detroit, there were 13 per game, a sharp drop. The Tigers started bunting in the first game at home, and, by the end, the Cubs seemed to catch on, and there were 10 total bunts.

But the deviousness, if that’s what it was — and it surely seems so — didn’t work. The Cubs swept the Tigers (with a tie thrown in) 4-0-1 in 1907 and beat them 4-1 in 1908, with a clean ball. For the decade from 1904 to 1913, the Cubs averaged 98.6 victories in a 154-game schedule. Juggernaut they were, even if 1908 would be their last World Series victory until last season.

Cheating was a little more blatant back in olden baseball days. You’ll recall that 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal, I’m sure. But how about a sinister ball being used on you?

DePorter has CT-scanned many other Cubs baseballs through the years, and the 1907 “streak-stopper” is the only one he has found with no legitimate center.

Bottom line? A cheating ball is something you only have to worry about if you’re the best.

The Cubs need to get there again, just to think about such happy stuff.


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