Cubs had near misses from 1909 to 1945

Cubs had near misses from 1909 to 1945

Just as Henry Ford was introducing the Model T, the vital parts of the well-oiled Cubs machine started breaking down.

Following the 1908 world championship, the club's second straight, time and injuries caused the stars to sputter. First baseman Frank Chance was unable to hit .300 again or play in 100 games in one season. Second baseman Johnny Evers missed the 1910 World Series due to a broken leg. Ace pitcher Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown entered his mid-30s and began the downside of his career.

"It definitely was a much tougher time," Cubs historian Ed Hartig said. "The Cubs didn't have a trainer until 1907, and that was just some guy who slapped on some massage oil. By that time, the pitchers had thrown a lot of innings. ... It was the end."

After their beloved team made three consecutive World Series from 1906 to 1908, Cubs fans witnessed some of the great players and plays from 1909 to 1945. What they did not see was another World Series championship. The Cubs lost seven Fall Classics in the 37 years after the 1908 title, beginning with the demise of a dynasty in 1910.

The Cubs drove away with the NL crown in the final two months and won at least 99 games for the fifth season in a row. Chance, who captured crowns in 1907 and 1908, was again at the helm as a player/manager. Outfielder Frank "Wildfire" Schulte was coming into his own a year before he won the NL MVP.

Brown notched 25 wins and a 1.86 ERA, numbers the aging future Hall of Famer would not be able to replicate again. Three Finger had a running mate in King Cole, who also won 20 games and bettered Brown with a 1.80 ERA. The Cubs had it all. Another World Series seemed possible, practical and probable.

The underdog Philadelphia Athletics planned otherwise. The AL champs took their opponents to the woodshed, four games to one. Philadelphia outscored the Cubs 25-9 in the first three games. They demolished old Three Finger in Game 2 with nine runs and 13 hits. Brown and Chance, both 33, faded away as did the dominant franchise of the early century.

"The question of a dynasty is one that people ask. What makes a dynasty?" said Tim Wiles, director of research at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. "One book says that you can only be a dynasty if you win three consecutive World Series. My problem with that is that there would only be about four and they would only be New York Yankees. For all practical purposes, I think you could say 1910 was the end of that era. Historians usually look at the Cubs from '06 to '10 and say it was one of the most successful periods any club has ever had."

It took eight years before the Cubs reclaimed their spot atop the National League. The 1918 season ended prematurely due to World War I and the Fall Classic was played earlier than usual, beginning Sept. 5.

The Red Sox topped the Cubs 4-2 in a series in which neither team scored more than three runs in any game. Pitcher George Herman Ruth -- you may know him as the Babe -- tossed a complete-game shutout in Game 1 and also won Game 4.

The Cubs endured an 11-year drought until returning to the World Series again in 1929 and enjoyed success during the Great Depression. In his first year in Chicago, second baseman Rogers Hornsby nabbed the NL MVP award with a .380 batting average, 39 home runs and 149 RBIs. Hack Wilson led the league with 159 RBIs. Right-hander Pat Malone was the only NL pitcher with at least 20 wins and led the league with 166 strikeouts.

Those pesky Athletics handed the Cubs another 4-1 World Series pounding and showed no mercy to the stars. Malone lost Game 2 and the decisive Game 5. Wilson infamously lost two fly balls in the sun in the seventh inning of Game 4 as Philadelphia plated all 10 of its runs in that frame.

Wilson rebounded with one of the greatest statistical seasons ever in 1930. He hit an NL record 56 home runs and a Major League-record 191 RBIs for the second-place Cubs. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa eclipsed Wilson's home run mark 68 years later, in 1998, but the RBI record still stands.

"Maybe the best ever," Wiles said of Wilson's season. "You've got to also remember, I don't want to take anything away from the record, but that was one of the most offensive eras in history. People were just crashing the boards in home runs and RBIs."

Wilson was gone in 1932 when The Great Bambino tormented the Cubs again, this time for New York instead of Boston and at the plate instead of on the mound. The Yankees swept the Cubs in the 1932 World Series, the Fall Classic best known for the Babe's controversial "Called Shot."

Ruth, the Cubs and Cubs fans did not get along to the point that Ruth described Wrigley Field as a dump and the Cubs as cheapskates (for refusing to pay late-season pickup and ex-Yankee Mark Koenig a full World Series share). The Cubs taunted Ruth as "washed up" (dismissing his .341 average, 41 homers and 137 RBIs that year), and the fans hurled lemons at Ruth (what, no tomatoes?).

The Babe came up in the fifth inning of Game Three at Wrigley with the score knotted at 4. He took a called first-pitch strike and raised his index finger. After taking two balls, he watched another strike. Again, Ruth gestured, this time with two fingers. He rocketed the next pitch, a changeup low and away, into the center-field stands in what reportedly was the longest home run at Wrigley up to that point.

The debate raged before the ball landed and ever since. Did Ruth predict the dinger? Some say yes, Ruth selected a spot and bull's-eyed his target. Some say no, Ruth was pointing at Root, or the Cubs dugout or simply informing everyone of the count. That this play is still dissected 76 years later is a testament to Ruth and the game.

"Whether Ruth pointed or not, the fact that he could have, the fact that he was a character that was that much larger than life tells you a lot of what Ruth was and what baseball was like at the time," Wiles said.

For what it's worth, Root reportedly went to his grave denying the "Called Shot."

"Root said if Ruth had been saying anything to him, the next pitch he would have stuck in his ear," Hartig said.

Fact or fiction, it didn't change the truth that the Cubs had dropped their fourth series in a row. They got a chance to stop the skid three years later. The Cubs rolled to 21 wins in a row in September 1935 to surpass the Cardinals for the NL title.

They met AL MVP Hank Greenberg and the Detroit Tigers in October. Greenberg suffered a season-ending broken wrist in a home-plate collision in Game 2. Without their star, the Tigers still managed to win in a Game 6 walk-off.

In 1938, a Cubs theme became clear. Another three-year break between World Series appearances. Another depressing October finish.

At least September was exciting. Pittsburgh led the league for more than two months since July 12, but the Cubs finally surpassed the Pirates on the night of Sept. 28 at Wrigley.

The Cubs, down by half a game, hosted the Pirates and were tied at 5 through eight innings. With the sun setting and Wrigley lights still 50 years away, the umpires were determined to play one more inning. If the game was still tied after the ninth, it would be postponed because of darkness and replayed from the first pitch the next day.

Five outs later, Gabby Hartnett was one strike away from ending a meaningless nine innings. The Cubs catcher and manager reversed fortunes and parked an 0-2 pitch for the most meaningful home run in club history: "The Homer in the Gloamin'."

At 37, Harnett was an unlikely power source who had played just 88 games that season. He illuminated Wrigley in a twilight haze and propelled his team to an NL championship before suffering a four-game sweep to the Yankees in the World Series.

The Cubs aimed to avoid a seventh straight series loss in the 1945 Fall Classic and came closer than ever to snapping the streak. Third baseman Stan Hack forced the wartime matchup against Detroit to a seventh game with a walk-off double in the 12th inning of Game 6.

The North Siders failed to carry over the momentum, however. Tigers Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser recorded all 27 outs in Game 7. Chicago hurler Hank Borowy left without getting a single out. The Cubs lost 9-3 and watched their AL counterparts celebrate again. They may have been lucky to get as far as they did.

"The '45 World Series gets a bad name because there were so many guys in the military who weren't back yet," Hartig said. "A lot of people say that the Cubs weren't the best team, they just lost the least amount of players to the military. The Cardinals lost [Stan] Musial, and the Cubs were still 6-16 against the Cardinals."

To make matters worse, there's the curse. The "Billy Goat Curse" emanated from the '45 series. Local tavern owner William "Billy Goat" Sianis bought two tickets for Game 4 at Wrigley, one for him, one for his pet goat. After some squabbling, owner P.K. Wrigley told Sianis, "Let Billy in, but not the goat," according to the tavern's account.

"Why not the goat?" Sianis asked.

"Because the goat stinks," Wrigley said.

An incensed Sianis proclaimed that the Cubs would never win a World Series (or make it to one, depending on who you talk to) as long as the goat was not allowed admission. At last count, the curse has spanned 62 seasons. After the Cubs lost the 1945 series, Sianis sent a telegram to P.K. Wrigley with a now-famous message.

"Who stinks now?"

Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.