Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Cubs 101 - Cap Anson and the bar bet

True story - I have a friend who, back in the 90's (when things were their roughest for us hapless Cub fans) used to take Cardinal fans for their money by making a simple bet.

He would take their money by betting them that the Cubs had won more NL pennants. Any Cardinal fan with half a brain - admittedly that's asking a lot of them - would spring at that opportunity for "easy money." After all the Cubs went nearly 40 years without so much as reaching the playoffs, and in that span the Cardinals had won four World Championships and lost three more. The only problem is the stuff that happened before the turn of the 20th century - while the Cardinals were pissing around in the American Association, the "White Stockings" were perennial contenders who'd finish first six times before they became the Colts in 1890.

A lot of this had to do with player manager Cap Anson. As a kid, my easiest point of reference was comparing him with Mark Grace. Both were first basemen. Both exhibited displays of leadership. Both racked up hits like crazy. But there were at least two major differences between the first baseman of my boyhood and the first baseman who built the first Cubs dynasty - Cap Anson didn't burn out and lose his skills before he turned 40, and Mark Grace wasn't a cross-burning racist who was hugely responsible for keeping blacks out of baseball for more than half a century.

Anson was a guy who did not keep his displeasure quiet when it came to African Americans. On more than one occasion he'd refuse to take the field if a black player was with the opposing team. Consequently the baseball owners elected not to allow African Americans into the sport by a vote of 6 to 4 and, karma being the ultimate bitch, Anson would eventually retire from baseball and lose all of his money on one poor business venture after another.

As a further sign of karma having it out for Anson - who was also renowned for having hairy finger nails* and for having grown a tail late in life** - when he retired from the sport he was recognized as having collected 3,000 hits. But intense record scrutiny has reduced that total to 2,995 throughout the years. Then again, the bastard died in 1922 so it's pretty unlikely that he cared.

Anyway, Anson is a keen example of this dichotomy we experience as Cub fans. I want to feel proud that the Cubs had such a solid organization early on, and that Anson was a legendary player and manager. But he's also tainted because of his life of prejudice. (Then again, find me one star player who was a saint ... eh, besides Roberto Clemente.)

Nevertheless, up until 2004 the Cardinals had 15 NL Pennants and the Cubs had 16. Unfortunately the Cardinals have since made two trips to the World Series, winning once, leaving the Cubs in their dust again. And in one final fitting example of how nothing is ever easy for Cubs fans, Chicago and St. Louis actually met each other in the second-ever played World Series ... and counting a Game Two forfeit, the Cubs won. Of course naturally the Cardinals claimed that Game Two didn't count, and they won Game Seven, so the teams split the bonus money.

Such is the life of a Cubs fan. Up next, the first "modern era" Cubs Dynasty.

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