Today, the Fall Classic begins in Cleveland, with the Indians matching up against the Chicago Cubs. The series will indeed be an historic one, regardless of who wins, thanks to the long histories of these two teams and their World Series woes.
The Chicago Cubs – 1908
In just over a week, the longest championship drought in professional sports may come to an end. The Chicago Cubs last won the Series in a 2-0 decisive Game 5 victory over the Detroit Tigers on October 14, 1908. A few fun facts:
1. The final game of that series—the last time the Cubs won the championship—is closer in time to Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural than it is to today. The win was 108 years, 12 days ago (or 39,458 days ago). Jefferson first became President 107 years before the game.
2. The 1908 Cubs team included the famous in-field trio of Tinker and Evers and Chance, immortalized in the poem by Franklin Piece Adams, although the poem wasn’t to be written for another two years. All three men in the trio are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
3. Mark Twain, Geronimo, Harriet Tubman, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were all still alive when the Cubs last won. Construction on the Titanic hadn’t yet begun.
4. Only 6,210 people were in the stands during the final game. They were the only ones who heard it, as the first radio broadcast of a baseball game wouldn’t occur for another 13 years.
5. The oldest living person today, Italian Emma Morano, was seven years old in October of 1908. It’s estimated that between 150 and 600 people alive today were alive then.
But the Cubs’ woes don’t just extend to winning the World Series. The last time they even made it to the Series was in 1945.
6. The 1945 Cubs were beaten in seven games by the Detroit Tigers—ironically, the team they had beaten 37 years earlier in 1908.
7. Game 6 of that series, played on October 8, was the last time a Wrigley Field saw a World Series game victory. In fact, it was only the second World Series game won at Wrigley Field ever (the other was during the 1935 Series.)
8. The last time time the Cubs played a World Series game at all was game 7, on October 10—71 years, 16 days ago.
9. No member of that team is still alive. The last, in-fielder Lennie Merullo, died on May 30, 2015, aged 98.
10. The last pitcher of the Cubs to win a World Series game was Hank Borowy, who won game 6. Roy Hughes’ ninth inning single during game 7 was the last time any Cub got a hit in the Series, and Don “Pep” Johnson, who grounded out to end the game, has the distinction of being the last Cub to come to the plate in the Series.
11. Center fielder Andy Pafko is one of the few Cubs from that year to eventually win a championship, which he did a decade later while playing with the Milwaukee Braves. By coincidence, his 1952 baseball card was number 1 in the set. Because kids back then tended to keep their cards secured with a rubber band, his tended to get the most damage, making it among the rarest of cards. One of these sold in 1998 for $84,000. Pafko was also in the outfield when Bobby Thompson hit the famous “shot heard ’round the world” in 1951.
12. Outfielder Frank Secory would return to the World Series four more times, but as an Major League Umpire. He has the distinction of having been an umpire during the most no-hitters in the National League (4 times), and he was an umpire on May 31, 1964 in the game between the New York Mets and the San Francisco Giants. That game lasted a record 23 innings, and at 7 hours, 23 minutes, which set a Major League record for the longest game up to that point.
13. In fielder Phil Cavarretta, who died in 2010 at age 94, was the league’s Most Valuable Player that year. He also had the distinction of being the last living player to have played against Babe Ruth.
14. No member of that team is in the Hall of Fame.
15. Not only were the balls white that year, so were all of the players—Jackie Robinson wouldn’t break baseball’s color barrier for another two years. The Cubs starting catcher in the ’45 series, Mickey Livingston, would be the only member of that team to play with Robinson. This year, Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward, and Addison Russell will become the first African-Americans to play in the World Series in a Cubs uniform.
Earlier this year, the Cleveland Cavaliers broke the city’s then-record drought for professional sports championships—prior to that, no Cleveland-based team had won a championship in any organized sport since the Browns won on December 27, 1964. But the Indians have had an even tougher time making it to the top. While there are Indians fans that can remember the last time the Indians played in the Series, when they came within two outs of winning in 1997 before blowing a ninth-inning lead to the Florida Marlins (they ended up losing game 7 in 11 innings), only the oldest will recall their last victory.
Three years after the Cubs last appeared in the Series, the Indians won the 1948 championship (against their eventual 1995 opponent, the Braves). They have not won since.
16. The Indians’ drought is 68 years, 14 days long.
17. The series between the Indians and the Braves was the first to be nationally televised.
18. Both teams had only previously appeared in, and won, one other Series (the Indians in 1920, the Braves in 1914). That had never happened before, nor has it since.
19. First baseman Eddie Robinson, who is currently 95 years old, is the only surviving member of the team. He is also the oldest living man to have played in any World Series game. He lives in Texas.
20. Five members of the 1948 Indians World Series team were inducted into the Hall of Fame: Lon Boudreau, Larry Doby, Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, and then-rookie Satchel Paige, who came in to finish the 7th inning of game 5. He faced three batters, getting the final two outs but giving up a balk in between.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Cubs eliminated the Dodgers to make the Series, but that created one final historic footnote for 2016: this was the 10th consecutive time that Dodgers have made it to the playoffs but failed to advance all the way to the World Series, a new Major League record. As a San Francisco Giants fan, that is without a doubt my favorite fact about this whole thing.