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Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Cubs’

In the early days of the National League, the Chicago franchise was the class of the new circuit. Then called the White Stockings, the team won the championship in six of the league’s first 11 seasons. Led by Hall of Famers like Cap Anson, King Kelly, John Clarkson and Al Spalding (as well as a lesser known contributor named Billy Sunday, who would later gain notoriety as a world-renowned evangelical preacher), the Chicago teams of 1880s were one of the baseball’s first dynasties.

In 1876, the Chicago White Stockings were the first champions of the National League.

After a decade of futility, the Cubs, as they were now being called, had another run of success from 1906 to 1910. Over that five-year span, the team won two World Series and four pennants, and each season won at least 99 games. In fact, the one year the Cubs didn’t win the pennant, they won 104, but still finished six games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Since the second Cubs’ mini-dynasty, the team’s history has been mostly marred by ineptitude or sudden failure just before final victory. As a result, the entire organization has taken on the persona of hard luck losers. Some have attributed that fate to a curse, but Billy Goat or not, the last 100 years haven’t been very kind to the north-siders.

A Yankees series versus the Cubs is baseball’s study in contrast. On one side is the sport’s most storied and successful franchise, while across the field is a team best known for its epic futility. However, despite being miles apart from the Yankees in terms of accomplishments, the Cubs remain in the same ballpark when it comes to fan support.

In 1908, the Cubs won 99 games and repeated as World Series Champions, while the New York Highlanders, as the Yankees were then called, lost 103 games, the most in franchise history. At the point in time, the Cubs might have been considered the sport’s elite, while the Yankees would have been a candidate for laughing stock, but, needless to say, a lot has changed since then. Listed below are five interesting historical tidbits that help put the two franchises’ reversal of fortune in proper perspective.

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

The death of Osama Bin Laden sparked a wave of patriotic fervor that swept across the United States. One of the most vivid images of this spontaneous reaction took place at Citizens Bank Ballpark, where fans started to chant “U-S-A” during the tenth inning of the Mets and Phillies’ Sunday night game.

Over the last 150 years, baseball has been no stranger to patriotism. In wartime and peace, America’s favorite pastime has always seemed to rally around the flag. Just ask Rick Monday.

The 1970s were a different time in American history. The country was still reeling from the resignation of a president and still healing from the scars of the Vietnam War. In an unstable world, confidence in the American way seemed as if it had been lost.

Amid that backdrop, which was accentuated by an election year and the bicentennial, the Los Angeles Dodgers hosted the Chicago Cubs on April 25, 1976. The first three innings of the game were relatively uneventful, but in the bottom of the fourth, the turbulent politics of the time set the stage for one of baseball’s most memorable moments.

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January 31 is a red letter day in baseball history. Not only is it the birthdate of three Hall Famers, but the three figures (Ernie Banks, Jackie Robinson and Nolan Ryan) are among the most legendary in the game.

Cooperstown Trifectas: Birthdates Shared by Three Hall of Famers

January 31 Nolan Ryan Jackie Robinson Ernie Banks
April 2 Luke Appling Hughie Jennings Don Sutton
April 6 Bert Blyleven Mickey Cochrane Ernie Lombardi
May 14 Tony Perez Ed Walsh Earle Combs
August 22 Paul Molitor Ned Hanlon Carl Yastrzemski
September 9 Waite Hoyt Frankie Frisch Frank Chance
October 3 Fred Clarke Dennis Eckersley Dave Winfield
December 25 Rickey Henderson Pud Galvin Nellie Fox

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Robinson would have been 92, and Ryan turns 64, but the focus of this post is Banks, who reaches the milestone of 80 years on his birthday today.  

Despite all of his exploits on the field, Banks is perhaps best known for a famous catch phrase. Always an eternal optimist with an unbridled passion for playing the game, Banks would often try to lift the spirits of his teammates with three famous words of encouragement: “Let’s play two”.

We got the setting – sunshine, fresh air, the team behind us. So let’s play two”Ernie Banks, excerpted from his Hall of Fame induction speech, August 8, 1977

As it turns out, Banks was sort of an expert on the subject, having played in 665 doubleheader games. In fact, over 25% of his career at bats were taken during a doubleheader, and almost incomprehensible figure by today’s standards. Unfortunately, although Banks may have enjoyed playing in doubleheaders, his performance in them didn’t deviate much from the norm. Apparently, not even Mr. Cub’s enthusiasm could overcome a reversion to the mean.

Ernie Banks Performance in Doubleheaders

Year G AB HR RBI R BA OBP SLG OPS
1953 2 7 0 0 0 0.143 0.250 0.143 0.393
1954 60 229 7 34 29 0.306 0.343 0.467 0.810
1955 44 170 15 32 31 0.324 0.364 0.659 1.023
1956 57 213 11 24 36 0.291 0.366 0.535 0.901
1957 60 217 18 36 43 0.272 0.360 0.562 0.922
1958 40 157 7 24 28 0.287 0.349 0.497 0.845
1959 28 111 5 17 9 0.189 0.268 0.351 0.620
1960 38 142 7 23 19 0.254 0.341 0.479 0.820
1961 36 136 6 16 21 0.287 0.358 0.478 0.836
1962 36 138 10 26 22 0.304 0.342 0.609 0.951
1963 31 98 4 17 10 0.235 0.284 0.398 0.682
1964 37 135 7 22 15 0.311 0.354 0.556 0.910
1965 41 143 9 27 24 0.252 0.337 0.503 0.841
1966 35 126 1 14 7 0.198 0.226 0.270 0.495
1967 40 146 10 30 24 0.288 0.327 0.548 0.875
1968 33 119 8 30 18 0.311 0.357 0.571 0.928
1969 29 101 3 22 8 0.307 0.377 0.436 0.813
1970 12 32 2 5 3 0.281 0.303 0.500 0.803
1971 6 14 1 4 1 0.214 0.214 0.429 0.643
Total 665 2434 131 403 348 0.279 0.337 0.503 0.840
Career 2528 9421 512 1636 1305 0.274 0.330 0.500 0.830

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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The baseball world, but particularly Chicago, lost another giant figure today when Ron Santo succumbed to bladder cancer at the age of 70. After spending his entire 15-year career in the windy city (14 seasons on the North side and one on the South side), Santo added to his legend in Chicago when he joined the Cubs’ radio broadcast team in 1990. During his 20 years as an announcer, Santo’s vocal on-air support of the team became a hallmark of Cubs baseball, which unfortunately elicited more groans than wild cheers from the team’s number one fan.

As an announcer, Santo introduced his passion for Cubs baseball to a whole new generation of fans

Although Santo’s later tenure as a broadcaster overshadowed his playing career in the eyes of many younger fans, his prowess on the field was not forgotten by either those who saw him play or had the opportunity to seriously scrutinize his record. As a result, Santo is believed by many to be the best eligible player not currently inducted into the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, if the All Star and gold glove third baseman is ever able to win enshrinement, it will have to be in a posthumous manner.

After repeatedly falling short of election to Cooperstown, Santo learned to deal with the disappointment. One thing he never seemed able to fully accept, however, was the Cubs repeated failure to at least make, no less win the World Series. Sadly, Santo was unable to see either dream fulfilled.

Santo’s career disappointments paled in comparison to his health-related struggles. In addition to the cancer that eventually claimed his life, Santo also suffered 15 surgeries, including two leg amputations, stemming from his life-long battle with diabetes.

Before he was a Cub, Santo was a diabetic. At the age of 18, he was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes on the very day he signed his first contract. However, afraid that it might derail his career, Santo kept his affliction a secret. Even after learning the seriousness of the disease, he pushed it to the background and went about becoming an All Star baseball player.

I headed straight to the library. What I read was frightening. Diabetes could lead to blindness, hardening of the arteries and kidney failure, among other things. One book even said, ‘The average life expectancy, from the time of diagnosis, is twenty-five years.’ Does that mean I’m supposed to die when I’m forty-three? Ron Santo, Guideposts, June 2003

Santo’s retired number #10 is lowered to half staff outside Wrigley Field (Photo: @CubsInsider).

Living in secrecy had become a burden, and Santo eventually decided to make the Cubs and his teammates aware of his condition after the All Star Break in 1963. However, he still wasn’t ready to let the outside world know about his diabetes, and swore those he told to the same silence he had lived with for years.

The public didn’t learn about Santo’s condition until August 1971, around the time the Cubs held a day in his honor. Part of the reason to go public was so Santo could use the event to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a cause he would champion throughout his life. According to Santo, however, the impetus for his revelation dated back three years earlier.

On September 25, 1968, Santo’s Cubs faced the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field. Bill Singer has been pitching a 1-0 shutout against the Cubbies, but the home team had mounted a rally that brought Santo to the plate with no outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. As he awaited his at bat, Santo started to tremble. Then, he broke out into a cold sweat. Finally, he had pains in his stomach, dryness in his throat and blurriness marred his vision. Santo wasn’t suffering from the strain of a pressure-packed situation. He was suffering from hyperglycemia.

He briefly weighed taking himself out of the game. But how would that look? ‘Gutless!’ the fans would scream at him. ‘Hey, Santo, whatsa matter, ya afraid of a knockdown?’ he could hear in his mind. So he settled into the batter’s box.” – Jim Murray, Los Angeles Times (syndicated by the Washington Post News Service), June 13, 1972

Although every shred of his common sense demanded that Santo remove himself from the game, he was afraid of what the reaction from his teammates and the crowd would be. So, instead, he walked to the plate and, after taking a strike, belted the second pitch for a game winning grand slam. The fans went wild and his teammates jumped in celebration. Santo, however, quickly circled the bases. There was no time to enjoy the accomplishment. He was in a race to stave off a diabetic coma.

After revealing to the word that he was a diabetic, Santo became a tireless advocate for the cause as well as an inspiration to other player suffering from the disease. So, instead of mourning his death by lamenting the Hall of Fame’s failure to induct him or the Cubs hapless inability to win a championship, it seems much more appropriate to celebrate his life. And, what better way to do that than by making a donation to the JDRF in his name (perhaps a small prayer for the Cubbies wouldn’t hurt either)?

Santo’s exuberance for baseball was evident even during his playing days.

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