We at Chicago Downtown River North are thrilled for the spring! Sure, the tulips return to Chicago, the birds start chirping, and we’re able to abandon our heavy winter parkas, but that’s not what gets us really revved up for the vernal equinox. Baseball season is here! While we love looking forward to the future (maybe… eventually the Cubs will win a World Series, maybe?), it’s important to also look to Chicago baseball’s past.
The earliest recorded game of baseball in the Chicago area was played in August 1851 and took off like a rocket through the city. By 1867, there were a reported 45 teams playing ball in the area, and the city’s eight best clubs organized together in 1887 to form the Chicago City League. Though continuing to grow in popularity, the Chicago City League was disbanded in 1895 for a more lucrative option of playing and running teams independently. Though not yet professional, baseball was becoming a business.
Semi-pro play grew from 1900 to 1910 as some of the most famous Chicago teams of that era—the Logan Squares, the Gunthers, and the West Ends—were first organized. After this, the Chicago City League returned, larger with three “professional” clubs. August 27, 1910 brought the first successful night game against the Logan Squares and Rogers Park under the lights at Comiskey.
A discussion of Chicago baseball would not be complete without mention of the “Black Sox” scandal of the 1919 World Series, in which eight players from the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the World Series game against the Cincinnati Reds. Though Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Claude “Lefty” Williams, Buck Weaver, Arnold “Chick” Gandil, Fred McMullin, Charles “Swede” Risberg, and Oscar “Happy” Felsch were eventually acquitted of criminal charges, they were banned from professional baseball for life.
The White Sox carried on after the scandal, with the first perfect game in White Sox history thrown by Charlie Robertson on April 30, 1922. In 1927, Comiskey Park finished its expansion, adding over 23,000 new seats for spectators. The first All-Star Game was played at Comiskey on July 6, 1933 as part of the World’s Fair. Legend Babe Ruth hit a three-run home run to push the American League to win, 4-2. After World War II’s pause of professional baseball, the White Sox picked up where they left off, barreling through opponents and eventually winning the 1959 World Series against the Cleveland Indians. The 1983 White Sox stopped a losing skid to win 99 games and capture the AL Western Pennant by an unheard of 20 games above their competitors. New Comiskey Park was introduced in 1991, housing a sell-out crowd of over 42,000 fans ready for baseball. In the new millennium, the White Sox have made playoff appearances in 2000 and 2008 with a 2005 World Series win under manager Ozzie Guillen. In 2011, Guillen left to coach the Miami Marlins, replaced by former White Sox, Mets, and Yankees player Robin Ventura.
The Cubs began the 20th Century with big wins, setting a major league record for wins during the 1906 season and earning a pennant in 1906 and World Series wins in 1907 against the Detroit Tigers and 1908 again against Detroit. In 1916, what is now Wrigley Field, then dubbed “Weeghman Field”, became the Cubs’ official home, and seating was increased in 1926 to accommodate 40,000 cheering fans. After pennant wins in 1929, 1932, and 1938, more renovations were made on Wrigley Field, and the Cubs became the first team to play organ music in the ballpark in 1941. Interestingly, the Cubs would have been among the first teams to install lights at Wrigley for night games, but following the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941, P.K. Wrigley donated the recently-purchased lighting equipment to the War Department instead of installing them in his stadium. In 1947, Jackie Robinson made his Chicago debut before a largest single-game paid attendance in Cubs’ history of 46,572.
The Cold War period proved to be cold to the Cubs, with no postseason appearances from the later 1950s to 1984. The time was not without individual merits, though—in 1965, pitcher Bob Hendley tosses a one hitter while Sandy Koufax arms a perfect game, and in 1969, pitcher Ken Holtzman threw his first of two no-hitters, shutting out the Atlanta Braves. The Cubs clinched NL East titles in 1984 and 1989, as well as a NL Wild Card in 1998. In 1999, Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa became the first player in MLB history to hit more than 60 home runs in back-to-back seasons. 2003 marked an upset win against the Atlanta Braves, nabbing the Cubs their first postseason series win since 1908, but lost their quest for a ring, eliminated by the Florida Marlins. After winning NL Central Titles in 2003, 2007, and 2008, the Cubs finished second in the 2009 season.
Chicago baseball is rich with the history of the highs, lows, scandals, and growth of two different teams. Come by Wrigley Field or Comiskey Park this summer and check them out!