1900 – Present
The Cubs have played continuously in one city longer than any other franchise. Originally an amateur club, the team, then called the White Stockings, played in the National Association‘s inaugural season in 1871 but dropped out for two years after that. After rejoining in 1874, the franchise has continued to the present day. The National League was formed in 1876 by White Stockings president William Hulbert after four stars of the dynastic Boston club were lured to Chicago; Hulbert feared reprisals by the Red Stockings and the NA. The team won the pennant that year on the strength of the four Boston stars, especially the pitching of Al Spalding. Superstar Adrian Anson earned his nickname “Cap” when he was named manager in 1879. Often less than admirable (he was a major force in the creation of the color line), he was nonetheless one of the best players in the NL, winning three batting titles and leading in RBI four times. He spent 22 years playing in the NL, all for Chicago and led the team to pennants in 1880-82 and 1885-86.
After the elimination of competing leagues and the adoption of a 12-team structure in 1892, the team, now called the Colts for their young players, was frequently below .500. Anson was fired in 1898, his only non-playing year as a manager. The team was rebuilt by Frank Selee and came to fruition under playing manager Frank Chance, “The Peerless Leader.” He led the club, finally called the Cubs, to an ML-record 116 victories in 1906 (against 36 losses) as they won the first of three straight NL pennants. Featured was the immortal double-play combination of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and leader Chance, with a pitching staff starring Three-Finger Brown. They beat the Tigers in the World Series in 1907 and 1908 and won another pennant in 1910. Contending for much of the following decade, the Cubs won again in 1918, mostly on the strength of a rotation of Hippo Vaughn, Lefty Tyler, Claude Hendrix, and Phil Douglas. The team had been invigorated by the absorption of much of the Chicago Whales’ roster after the Federal League folded and by the purchase of the Cubs by Whales owner Charles Weeghman, who moved them into the Whales’ ballpark. Chewing-gum mogul William Wrigley, Jr., already a shareholder, bought controlling ownership of the club in 1921 and renamed the park Wrigley Field.
The Cubs were again strong in the late 1920s and won a pennant in 1929 under manager Joe McCarthy. A Hall of Famer himself, McCarthy had three other Hall of Famers on his roster: Rogers Hornsby, Hack Wilson, and Kiki Cuyler. Wilson set the NL RBI and HR records of 190 and 56 in 1930, but declined due to poor conditioning and was out of the majors four years later. Hornsby managed the club from the end of 1930 into the middle of 1932, but it took the relaxed leadership of “Jolly Cholly” Grimm, the team’s first baseman, to bring another pennant in 1932. Wilson was gone and Hornsby semi-retired, but two other Hall of Famers took up the slack, Gabby Hartnett and Billy Herman. They were swept in an acrimonious World Series that featured Babe Ruth‘s “called shot” off Cub pitcher Charlie Root. That year, William Wrigley died and Philip Wrigley inherited the team. Another mid-season managerial change sparked the team to another pennant in 1935, as Hartnett took over the reins and the team won an NL-record 21 straight games (no ties). Hartnett won the NL MVP award, and Phil Cavaretta became a regular at the tender age of 18 and went on to become a Chicago institution, playing 20 seasons with the Cubs. Another pennant came in 1938 when Hartnett delivered his famous “Homer in the Gloamin’ ” off the Pirates’ Mace Brown in a crucial late-season game. However, an ominous pattern developed as the club lost another World Series; they had not had a World Championship since 1908, despite their many pennants.
They would have far fewer chances from then on. A freak pennant in war-weakened 1945 led to another WS loss to Detroit, in a Series that led one reporter to express doubts that either team could win. The Cubs started building the losing reputation that is their latter-day heritage. From 1940 to 1966, the franchise had only three winning seasons (1945, 1946, and 1963) and finished last six times; they were lucky that first the Pirates and then the expansion Mets monopolized the cellar. Even Ernie Banks‘s consecutive MVP seasons in 1958 and 1959 could only lift them to sixth place. Banks took over from Cavaretta and Stan Hack as the fans’ favorite and became known as Mr. Cub. His 47 HR in 1958 set the ML record for home runs by a shortstop and came among four straight seasons of 40 or more HR.
The Cubs’ desperation led them to the infamous College of Coaches, a system of revolving managers. Used in 1961 and 1962, it “helped” them finish next-to-last both seasons. They went 82-80 in 1963 but blundered in June 1964 when they traded Lou Brock to the Cardinals in a six-player deal in which the best player they got was pitcher Ernie Broglio.
Leo Durocher took over in 1966, promising that “this is not a ninth-place club.” He proved himself correct by finishing tenth, but the team contained the nucleus of a contender in regulars Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Don Kessinger, Randy Hundley, and Glenn Beckert. When Fergie Jenkins developed into a great pitcher in 1967, the Cubs moved up to third place for two years and looked like they’d win it all in 1969. Rooted on by the fanatical Bleacher Bums, they led the league for much of the season, but Durocher overworked his regulars and they wilted in the stretch, perhaps drained by being the only team that played all their home games in the day (when the temperature took more out of them than night games would). They finished second to the Miracle Mets that year, and second to the Pirates in 1970 and 1972; Durocher was replaced by Whitey Lockman in mid-1972. A fifth-place finish in 1973 signaled another era of losing ball. From 1973 through 1983 they had no winning seasons and finished last four times. Philip Wrigley died in 1977 and the Wrigley family sold the franchise to the Chicago Tribune in 1981.
GM Dallas Green, who came over from the Phillies, raided his old team for talent and came away with Ryne Sandberg as a throw-in in the swap of Larry Bowa for Ivan DeJesus. Just before the 1984 season, Green acquired outfielders Bob Dernier and Gary Matthews, and they combined with 90-RBI men Ron Cey, Jody Davis, and Leon Durham to put the club in contention. A mid-season trade brought pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, who went 16-1 for the Cubs and led them to a division title as the Cubs beat out the equally surprising Mets. But the Padres upset the Cubs in the LCS after Chicago had won the first two games, and Jim Frey‘s managing was criticized by many observers. The Cubs returned to their losing ways in 1985 and dropped to last place again in 1987. The 1988 season was brightened only by the installation of lights at Wrigley Field, which offended baseball purists but may have saved Wrigley as the venue for future Cubs games. The talent developed under Green’s administration (Mark Grace, Damon Berryhill, Jerome Walton, Greg Maddux, Dwight Smith) combined with Frey’s acquisition of Mitch Williams and Mike Bielecki and the unorthodox managerial style of Don Zimmer to bring an unexpected division title in 1989.