The First Chicago Cubs Postseason Ended How You Expect

1885 Chicago White Stockings, courtesy

1885 Chicago White Stockings, courtesy

The Chicago White Stockings were an early National League powerhouse, winning the first-ever NL pennant in 1876. In 1880, they won a then-record 21 games in a row en route to their first pennant, playing a game that we would call a weird form of softball (underhanded pitching 45 feet from home plate, batters could call for where they wanted the ball, fielders didn’t use gloves, and so forth). The Chicagoans also won the pennant in 1881 and 1882.

But there was no one to play once the pennant was won until the American Association formed in 1882. It then took two years before the rival leagues agreed to a peace treaty and series of postseason contests between the two pennant winners, even though they were officially exhibition games. The first postseason, the 1884 “World’s Series,” is generally the only reason casual fans remember the Providence Grays and their ace, Old Hoss Radbourn (whoever runs that twitter account is a genius).

The first series was a big deal, and Providence raked the New York Metropolitans in three straight. When the White Stockings won the 1885 NL pennant and faced the St. Louis Browns of the Association, it was a different story for the Chicago players. According to Peter Golenbock’s fantastic but factually fatally flawed history of the Cubs, “Wrigleyville,” (several key date and number typos and confusing paragraphs that include the same information- clearly not edited and combined- indicate a rush to print) several of the White Stockings treated it like spring training- they partied as they pleased and were in questionable playing condition.

The rosters on both sides included several Hall of Famers. Chicago was owned by baseball’s first superstar, Al Spalding, and managed by Cap Anson (you want to blame any one person for baseball’s color line, he’s the guy) with Mike “King” Kelly, Billy Sunday and ace John Clarkson. St. Louis was managed by Charles Comiskey (yes, the future White Sox owner) and included several good players that you’ve probably never heard of, including Arlie Latham.

The first game, the only one in Chicago, was called a tie on account of darkness. During the second game at the original Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, the umpire reversed his own call on a crucial late-inning fair-or-foul play not once but twice, causing St. Louis fans to rush the field and the game to be called. In the safety of his hotel, the umpire forfeited the game to Chicago.

The Browns refused to allow that umpire back for game three- also in St. Louis- and won handily. The White Stockings refused to allow *that* umpire back for game four, so they- and I’m not making this up- pulled a guy out of the stands to officiate.

Since the game was also in St. Louis, that went as about as well as you would expect for Chicago. Every close play was in St. Louis’ favor, and by the end of it even Billy Sunday- who eventually left baseball to become a preacher, mind you- tried to beat the guy to a pulp. The Browns won, but only by a run, showing how good the White Stockings were even when everybody was against them.

For game five, they found a legitimate umpire as the series shifted to Pittsburgh. Remember, these were exhibitions, and they play exhibition games everywhere in an attempt to draw crowds. Predictably, that attempt failed. Only 500 people saw Chicago’s ace, John Clarkson, throw a four-hitter. The series was tied, but only if the forfeit counted.

A sixth game was necessary anyway because of the first game tie. They played that one in Cincinnati and the White Stockings rolled behind a Jim McCormick two-hitter. If the forfeit counted in Chicago’s favor, then the series was over, 3-2 in favor of the White Stockings. But Cap Anson and Charles Comiskey wanted more cash. They agreed that the forfeit didn’t count, and a seventh game was scheduled for the next day.

(In the factually fatally flawed “Wrigleyville,” Golenbock says the first game in Cincy was the fifth contest and they agreed to play a sixth when he has clearly already described the outcomes of six games- the tie in Chicago, the three in St. Louis, the one in Pittsburgh and the first one on Cincinnati. I’m bad at math, but that is silly. Unfortunately, the whole book is riddled with errors like this.)

Anson scheduled Clarkson to pitch, but he showed up five minutes late and was very likely not at all sober. Cap tabbed McCormick, who had pitched the day before, and that worked out as well as you would expect it to. St. Louis routed the White Stockings, 13-4, and publicly were declared World’s Series Champions.


Except Browns owner Chris Von der Ahe privately declared that the forfeit counted and the series was a tie, so his players did not receive the $1000 bonus they had been promised for winning the series. (At and even Wikipedia, the Series is listed as a tie.) And that $1000 wasn’t per man- it was total. Comiskey and his squad predictably fumed because they weren’t awarded the bonus on a technicality. And yet, Comiskey apparently never learned his lesson, shorting his players so much as an owner that he’s the one that essentially caused the Black Sox scandal of 1919.

The White Stockings and Browns won the pennant the next year, 1886, and again met for the World’s Series. Again St. Louis won a hotly disputed series.

No other National League team lost to the American Association pennant winner in the other early World’s Series (through 1890), starting Chicago’s run of postseason futility early.

There is an important footnote to the White Stockings and Browns postseason meetings. In 1892, when the American Association collapsed, the National League allowed the four most successful AA franchises to join them. St Louis was one of them. At the time, they were still known as the Browns. By 1900, their name had changed.

They were known as the Cardinals.

So when somebody wants to know why the Cards and Cubs don’t like each other, it starts with the 1885 World Series. And continues to this day.

When the Cubs beat the Cards in the NLDS this year, it wasn’t the first time the two teams had played each other in the first season- it was just the first time the Cubs had won.

One curse at a time.

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