The Journey Back to the Summit
The Cubs are champions, but what will it take to make them a Dynasty?
The first team to repeat as World Champions in Major League Baseball was, in fact, the powerhouse Chicago Cubs between 1907 and 1908. Cubs fans are well aware of their storied history at the onset of the modern baseball era, being crowned National League Champions 11 times throughout their history.
In 1906 the Chicago Cubs had established themselves as the preeminent powerhouse of the National League by winning 116 games in the 153 game season. It was a feat that would never again be matched to this day. After losing the series in 1906, the Cubs returned again to the fall classic in 1907, victors over the Detroit Tigers. The Chicago Cubs celebrated their first World Championship under the watch of the aggressive player/manager Frank Chance, who would often bark, “You can do things my way, or you can meet me after the game.”
The Cubs repeated the feat the next year in 1908, beating Ty Cobb’s Tigers in 5 games for their second consecutive World Series championship. The National League president Harry C. Pulliam told the Cubs owner Charles Murphy to simply reuse the World Series trophy from the year prior. The Cubs won another pennant for their dogmatic manager/first baseman in 1910 to end the Cubs dynasty following the turn of the century.
What does it take to win the World series, and more pressing for the 2017 Cubs iteration; what does it take to repeat the journey to the summit that for so long seemed out of reach?
Tinker to Evers to Chance was the poetic hailing for all Cubs fans throughout the early 20th century dynasty. Unbeknownst to those who did not witness the daily goings-on, it was a fact that these players hated each other. Shortstop Joe Tinker was a brawler. It is legend that he met with Dick Egan of the Cincinnati Reds in an alley after a game and spent 5 minutes pummeling him to a bloody pulp. Onlookers remarked how Tinker’s hair wasn’t even ruffled following the beating.
Johnny Evers (pronounced like ‘beavers’) was a scrapper with a disposition that would rival Ty Cobb on the diamond. The feud began after Tinker had driven to a game in 1905, leaving Evers and Chance at the hotel without transportation to get to the ballpark. When the duo eventually made it to the field for the game, Tinker and Evers decided to hash things out during the game, halfway between second and short, in front of God and everyone on the baseball diamond. After the fight had been broken up by the other Cubs players, Evers shouted from second base “Better off we just play ball and not talk to each other!” To which Tinker looked at him from shortstop, turned to spit and shouted back “Suits me!”
The rivalry to outdo the other player drove the trio to be the best defensive infield professional baseball had seen. Mutual dislike, while respecting each other as ballplayers, drove Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance to become World Series champions, team managers, and Hall of Famers.
Cubs pitchers were lead by future Hall of Famer Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown. H was joined by the likes of Jack Pfeister, Orval Overall, Ed Reulbach, and Carl Lundgren. Brown’s three-finger curve ball was called “The most devastating pitch I’ve ever faced,” by Ty Cobb following the Tigers repeated trouncing in back to back fall classics.
Repeating as Major League Champs is difficult, but as history has proven, not impossible. The list of repeat champs includes:
Philadelphia Athletics 1910–1911, 1929–1930
Boston Red Sox 1915–1916
New York Giants 1921–1922
New York Yankees 1927–1928, 1936–1939, 1949–1953, 1961–1962, 1977–1978, 1998–2000
Oakland Athletics 1972–1974
Cincinnati Reds 1975–1976
Toronto Blue Jays 1992–1993
What one notices when reading the list of repeat champions is that the same team that wins back to back usually has at least made the playoffs in the surrounding years. The best teams aren’t flash in the pan, and although it is possible for NHL teams like the Los Angeles Kings to barely make the playoffs and sweep to the title on minimal talent, it is a much tougher road to walk in baseball. The Commissioner’s Trophy is arguably the most difficult trophy to attain in the world of sport. It has the longest regular season in modern sports, tumultuous multi-game series in the playoffs that stretch into the cold of November and elite rosters that await throughout the grueling playoff run. Teams that win the world championship are not flukes, and much like the Cubs 2015 run to the NLCS, this team has been pegged as championship caliber for the past few years.
It is said in the modern era of baseball that “Good pitching beats good hitting.” I will amend that statement to say that good defense turns good pitching into great pitching. Tinker to Evers to Chance may have made baseball lore, but little did anyone know that a century later, Russell to Baez to Rizzo would again re-establish infield dominance that would turn good pitching into great pitching.
Jon Lester is a future Hall of Famer, albeit a crafty lefty who cannot make a pick-off throw to first base to save his life. Nevertheless, like Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown from over a century earlier, he is the bedrock of the Cubs leadership and sets the table for the remainder of the Cubs stellar pitching staff. Names like Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, and John Lackey strike fear into batters across the major leagues.
Tenacity defines Cubs defense — it’s the aggressiveness of pitchers who don’t give an inch, and infielders who don’t miss an out, that give a ball club the best opportunity to leverage the mistakes of opposing hitters. This is the key to success in the regular season as well as the postseason — defense driven to perform at an elite level.
Joe Maddon isn’t Frank Chance, he isn’t a player/manager carved tough with the on the field and back alley scraps that peppered the early days of Major League Baseball. But he has brought this young team into maturity with his managing style that trusts players to perform. The leadership in the locker room begins with Anthony Rizzo, the last remaining Cub from the 101 loss team in 2012. Included in this is the new blood, Wade Davis and Brett Anderson, that re-infuse the drive to compete back into the World Champions.
The window is open for the Cubs to repeat as World Champions, and the blueprint for championships remain mostly unchanged from the last Cubs dynasty. Good defense makes good pitching great pitching. Instilling drive from the veterans and Hall of Famers will keep the young players hungry. This keeps the team focused on the grind of trying to win every day.
Can the cubs repeat? Yes. Will they? This Cubs fan remains optimistic. Complacency is what separates a Yankees team that wins 5 straight World Series titles, and a Giants team that wins 3 World Series in the same 5 year span with arguably comparable talent. What separates those who scale the mountain with those who take a year off is the drive to never accept winning a championship as an excuse to not push to get better.
After the 108 year drought that preceded it, any player that puts on the blue pinstripes knows the one thing that complacency brings in the game of baseball, and more importantly that winning is the only way out.
Big Ben Martin has a big deep love for his Chicago Cubs. They say that everything is bigger in Texas, and based on Big Ben’s love for the Cubs we would have to agree. When not playing the role of Big Ben he might be found as his alter ego Big Cynical Ben on Twitter.