October 1, 2016
So… When do the CUBS get to be BLESSED?
They will be… this year, 2016.
Every team goes through times of blessing and cursing at one time or another. Just like nations… or groups of people… or cities. Sometimes at the same time: like Cleveland was blessed this year with an NBA Championship, but is being cursed with urban decay. Chicago is even more extreme: they will be blessed with a World Series Championship for the Cubs this year, but few cities are going through the war happening on the streets. In August, 91 people were killed – the bloodiest month in the city’s history.
I recently became aware of another source of cursing for the Cubs: the involvement of Cub-founder Cap Anson in the banning of African-Americans in 1884 and his “pioneering” work with establishing the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” to keep dark-skinned players out of Major League baseball. That was the first big curse on the Cubs: starting in 1885 (the first year blacks were completely banned) for 84 years (Seven times Twelve), leading us to…
If you don’t understand, get the book Miracle Collapse: The 1969 Chicago Cubs, by Doug Feldmann.
But – if the Cubs franchise was cursed in 1885, how did they win in 1907 and 1908? I thought cursed teams don’t win it all.
Typically, they don’t. If they get close, they usually lose in some ignominious way. But – there’s another rule: the Lord can relent on the curse – temporarily – if the team does something positive… He can relent of there is a repentance of some kind. This happened to the cursed New York Giants. They were cursed in 1923 (for Manager John McGraw’s public disrespect of Babe Ruth in the 1921 and 1922 World Series; for his disrespectful treatment of the Giants’ best player in the 1923 loss to the Yankees, Casey Stengel, and his disrespectful treatment of Mose Solomon, nicknamed “the Rabbi of Swat” because he was supposed to be the Jewish Babe Ruth) with an 84-year curse. The Giants would not win another World Series under McGraw. He suddenly retired in the middle of the 1932 season, his team in 7th place.
Enter the new manager: future Hall-of-Famer and All Star first baseman, Bill Terry. Terry, the last NL player to hit .400, added two rookies to the team in 1933: catcher Harry Danning and outfielder Phil Weintraub – yes, they were both Jewish. He didn’t add them because they were Jewish, though; he added them because they made the team.
The Lord relented… the New York Giants were World Champions in 1933. And before the next season even started, in spring training of 1934, Terry famously defended his Jewish players publicly. He threatened to take the whole team out of the hotel they were staying in when they refused to allow “those Hebrews” to stay there. Terry stood firm: his whole team or none of them. They stayed.
He also blessed the Giants later – relenting in 1951 to bless them with Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”, and allowing them to win it all again in 1954 (the year of Willie Mays’ A-mays-ing catch in Game One of the World Series).
That curse started after the 1922 season… it ended in 2007 when the Giants signed a young kid named Madison Bumgarner…
So – the Lord relented on the Cubs’ curse because: in 1904, they traded with the Cardinals to get the only Major League player ever to have the blessed name of Mordecai… but he was better known by his nickname, “Three-Finger” Brown. The Cubs treated him well and he became the winningest Cub pitcher of All Time. He played a crucial role in the Cubs’ Championship seasons of 1907 and 1908.
And: in 1902, the Cubs installed Johnny Kling as their regular catcher – a role he filled until 1908. Yes – he was the number one starter for 7 years. And – yes, he was Jewish.
OK, there’s some controversy about that in recent years, long after “Noisy John” retired – some say his real name was “John Kline” and he was German but not Jewish. There’s no doubt about his wife, however: she was born and raised Jewish and practiced her faith over her long lifetime. They were married by her Rabbi, in her Reform synagogue. During his career and his lifetime, he was often referred to as a “Jewish player.” Whether he was practicing his faith like his wife is not clear. Whatever the case, to the world during his lifetime, he was Jewish. And the Lord blessed the Cubs for keeping him over their most successful era.
Until 1909. After the World Championship season of 1908, Johnny thought he deserved more money, so he held out for higher pay. The Cubs refused to budge, so he ended up sitting out the 1909 season, playing pool to make money (he was an outstanding professional pool player, as well as being a champion catcher). He came back in 1910, but he wasn’t the same player he had been. He said later that he regretted sitting out a year – he could never catch up physically or mentally to where he had been. After a few years of bouncing around to other teams, he retired after the 1913 season with the Reds.
So – did the Lord reinstate the curse after the 1908 season, since they were so disrespectful to Kling, causing him to sit out a year and ruining his career? We do know one thing for sure: 1908 was, indeed, the Cubs’ last Championship. They played in World Series’ later, but kept finding ignominious ways to lose (see “The Mack Attack” in 1929, when the Cubs blew an 8 – 0 lead to Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s, allowing Jimmie Foxx to lead his team to win the game and, eventually, the Series).
The Cubs, of course, doubled down on that disrespectful move when they rudely cut Mordecai Brown after the 1912 season, after he won more games for the Cubs than any other pitcher (a record that still stands today).
But: all the curses are done. The Cubs will win this year.
PS: In a Wikipedia entry about Kling’s Jewishness, it says this:
But even earlier, the story of Kling’s Jewishness was given a vote of confidence by New York Giants owner-manager John McGraw, who knew Kling and referred to him as a Jewish ballplayer in a 1923 article, “Jewish Baseball Players Wanted” (American Israelite, 9 August 1923, p. 6). Among contemporary authors who believe he was Jewish is Dr. Gil Bogen, who wrote a book about Kling’s life.
Wow! John McGraw wrote that in 1923, shortly before Minor League slugger Mose Solomon joined the team. Yeah… “The Rabbi of Swat.” McGraw callously wanted a Jewish superstar to attract fans from the large New York Jewish population. He had the right idea, but for the wrong reason: money.