Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What if the Cubs won the 1918 World Series: The Rise of Sweetbread

Ninety years ago today, the Boston Red Sox defeated the Chicago Cubs in Game 5 of the World Series and won the series 4 games to 1. But how would baseball history be different if the better team won?

(Cue the Scooby Doo alternate ending)

September 11, 1918

The Chicago Cubs, the best team in baseball, won the 1918 World Series by defeating the Boston Red Sox 4 games to 1. The Cubs battered Red Sox pitching to a tune of 4 runs a game, slightly under their league leading 4.11 runs per game. It was the Cubs’ third title in 11 years.

Among the heroes of the Cubs was Fred Merkle, who atoned for his “boner” during the 1908 Series by hitting nearly .300 against the Red Sox and driving in game-winning runs in Games 2, 3, and 5. Merkle quickly became a Cubs favorite, as fans all across Chicago chanted his name and dubbed themselves “Merkle’s Marauders” or “Boner Buddies”.

On the mound, Cubs left-hander Hippo Vaughn proved himself to be one of the best arms in the National League by winning Games 1, 3, 4. Vaughn’s wins, including a five-hitter in Game 4, solidified his reputation as one of the best-big game pitchers in the early 20th Century. Vaughn pitched 27 innings during the Series, allowing only 3 runs. Vaughn would continue his dominance throughout the next few years, and would be elected into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans’ Committee during the 1970s.

For the Red Sox, most of the burden for loss fell on 23-year old Babe Ruth. After losing three games for the Sox, the Boston press dubbed Ruth “a fat loser”. After the Series, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee forbid Ruth from playing right field, claiming, “Ruth needs to focus more on his pitching than his hitting. Any player can hit, and he is a burden on the basepaths.” Ruth would stay on the mound for his entire career with the Red Sox, never recovering from his embarrassment in 1918 and eating his way out of the league by 1928.

Following their 1918 championship, the Cubs continued their dominance in the National League. With ace Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander returning to form following his year-plus stint in World War I, the Cubs pitching staff was the mainstay of the new Cubs dynasty.

Under Alexander's guidance, the real hero in the Cubs continuing lock on the National League was young right-hander Abraham Lincoln “Sweetbreads” Bailey. Bailey, who debuted the year after the 1918 championship, paired with Grover Cleveland Alexander to form not only the most Presidential duo in baseball history, but also the most dominant. A one-time hero in the Joliet, Illinois City League, Sweetbreads Bailey dominated the National League like no one earlier, throwing 5 straight no-hitters, winning 30 games every year until 1938, and inspiring then-Mayor Edward Joseph Kelly to declare everyday “Sweetbread's Day”.

Sweetbread's popularity would grow so epic, he and the Cubs would be the biggest draw in baseball throughout the 1920s. Presidents would know his name, and in WWII Japanese soldiers would attempt to torment American troops would chants of “To Hell with Sweetbread”.

If only the Cubs’ bats hadn’t gone silent 80 years ago today.

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