Now that the 2019 baseball season is well underway, let’s look back at 1908 for a few minutes–a glimpse at the setting for our book Public Bonehead, Private Hero…
The Cubs were a top team. They had won the World Series in 1907 and lost it in 1906. Going back to 1903, they placed third or better in the National League. Going forward from 1908, they would place no worse than third up until 1914.
The Cubs were the team of Tinker, Evers, and Chance—the three infielders immortalized by Franklin P. Adams poem of praise to the trio that appeared in the New York Evening Mail in 1910:
Baseball’s Sad Lexicon
These are the saddest of possible words
Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Trio of Bear-cubs, fleeter than birds
Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double
Words that are weighty with nothing but trouble:
Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Frank Chance was the player-manager of the team and a bit of a brawler. He played first base and he is remembered as the Cubs’ “Fearless Leader” and also called “Husk” for his muscular frame in those days. Johnny Evers was hyper—nervous and skinny—so much so that he snacked on candy bars to keep his weight up. Joe Tinker was an excellent shortstop. Not mentioned in the poem was the Cubs third baseman, Harry Steinfeldt.
On a personal note, young boys years ago, would sometimes acquire famous ballplayers nicknames/names as they played out in the sandlots. Sometimes the names stuck. My dad was Husk all his life. One of his brothers was called Tink. As far as I know Evers was not picked up by one of my dad’s remaining brothers.
Cubs’ ace pitcher was Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown who as a 7-year old on the farm had stuck his right hand in a corn-shredder and damaged three fingers. Somehow Brown became a pitcher and he used his odd grip to give him extra spin and a devastating drop pitch. Another excellent pitcher for the Cubs was Ed Reulbach.
The Cubs, Pirates and Giants would battle for the Pennant most of the season, but the Cubs and Giants were tied right at the end. The Giants had tenacious John McGraw for their manager and Gentleman Christy Mathewson as their ace. Outfielder Mike Donlin was a .334 hitter, handsome, flamboyant, and a sports car driver.
September 23, 1908 is a day that many sports historians and baseball fans note on their calendars. It is the date of the most famous baseball game of all time. On that day, a 19-year old Fred Merkle of the New York Giants baseball team was slotted into the lineup at first base to replace a wounded veteran against the mighty Chicago Cubs.
The teams were tied at 1—1 in the bottom of the ninth inning when Merkle came up to bat with two outs. Moose McCormick was on first. Merkle rifled a single to right field that advanced the slow-footed Moose McCormick to third. Shortstop slugger Al Bridwell, up next, whacked a low liner that knocked the second base umpire down on its way to shallow center field. As McCormick crossed the plate with the “winning run,” Merkle turned from the base path and raced towards the clubhouse.
Modern fans, including most kids who play baseball, know that even if a team scores on such a play, the runner should advance to the next base and tag it to avoid a force-out. The score is nullified on the force out.
Unfortunately for Fred Merkle, in 1908 this rule had not been enforced, especially when the winning hit traveled to the outfield. September 23, 1908 however, was different. Merkle was called out, the game was ruled a tie, a protest ensued and at the end of the season a rubber match was played for the Pennant. The final extra game was necessary because the mighty Cubs and feisty Giants had identical records for the season.
The Mighty Cubs won the rubber match, the Pennant, and the World Series. But it would take the Cubs over 100 years to win another World Series. You might say it was a long draught. The 1908 season was absolutely historical in every way. Author Mike Cameron of Public Bonehead, Private Hero does a wonderful job giving readers the flavor of the times and the importance of baseball in the days current events.
When we published Cameron’s book in 2010, the 1908 Series has still the last one won by the Cubs. Mike was a mighty Cubs fan and like many such fans he longed for better days for his team. He saw the Cubs come back to glory in 2016. Mike died in mid-season 2017 and he is sorely missed. Thankfully, we published his great book–a beautiful historic page-turned, which I believe was his “magnum opus.”
For the 1908 season, the Cubs were 99-55. In 2016, the Cubs surpassed 100 wins with a few games remaining.
The 1908 World Series was the third in a row from the Chicago Cubs. They lost to the “hitless wonders” White Sox in 1906 and swept Detroit in 1907. For 1908, it was a Cubs-Tigers rematch.
In game 1, the Cubs came from behind to win with a 5-run ninth. The Cubs came on strong in the latter innings of game 2 and won that one, 6-1. Game 3 saw the Tigers take an 8-3 victory. Game 4 was won by the Cubs’ Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown in a 3-0 shutout. Orval Overall and the Cubs won the 5th game in another shut out, 2-0. In 1908, the Cubs were a dynasty.
Public Bonehead can be seen in the product section of this site, where it can be ordered.