Gather round friends and Cubs fans. Northsider groupies, including Smile Politely scribe Adam Fein, are getting their hopes up thanks to an MLB-best start. So now is as good a time as any to remind them that the Cardinals are just two games back in the win column, and the Cubs, as their faithful surely know, have this little thing called history working against them. Speaking of history, shall we take a quick walk down memory lane and recall some of the Cubs more memorable regular-season collapses?
1911: The Cubs remained competitive all season long, and on the strength of a ten-game win streak in late July boosted the club’s lead to three games over the Phillies. A rocky August dampened the team’s hopes, then a six-game win streak in early September rebounded spirits and boosted the team to 29 games over .500. But the Cubs of Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown and Frank Schulte couldn’t win more than two in a row again until the final week of the season, and by then John McGraw’s red-hot Giants had buried the Cubs in second. Chicago finished 30 games over .500 and 7.5 games back.
1930: Joe McCarthy was in his final season as Cubs skipper and managing a talented club that featured Hack Wilson (pictured), Rogers Hornsby, Kiki Cuyler and Gabby Hartnett. (This was Wilson’s famed 191-RBI season.) On the strength of a nine-game win streak in early June, the team climbed into contention before stumbling some in July. Chicago used a 19-win August to propel itself to a five-game lead over the Giants by the end of the month. The Dodgers and Cardinals sat six games back in a tie for third. That’s when Gabby Street’s Redbirds took over, going 21–4 down the stretch to pass the Cubs, which played just .500 ball in the final month. Chicago won its final six games, but finished two back.
1936 and 1937: Skipper Charlie Grimm had already delivered the Cubs a pair of pennants by his fifth season. His 1936 club was tough to beat in June and July, winning 38 and losing just 16 to remain in front of a hard-charging Gas House Gang. But on August 11, a 6–4 win for the Cardinals over the Cubs brought the teams into a tie. Chicago struggled mightily to close out the season, losing more than it won and dropping a remarkable 17 games by two runs or less. Mel Ott’s and Carl Hubbell’s Giants, meanwhile, went 24–3 in August to cushion its newfound lead. The Cubs finished in a tie for second, five behind. The following year was a near perfect reflection. The Cubs had an offensive juggernaut and played well in mid-summer to build a seven-game lead by early August. They spent 59 days atop the N.L. and were in first as late as September 1, but again couldn’t hold off a late-charging Giants club. Both of those Giants clubs would go on to lose to the Yankees in the World Series.
1969: Cubs fans surely don’t need a reminder of the team’s overall futility during the 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s. The 1969 club’s 92 wins were the franchise’s most since 1945. The ’69 campaign was also possibly the team’s worst choke job. Leo Durocher’s boys — led by Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Billy Williams — spent a stunning 129 games atop the N.L. East. By June 6 the team had built an 8.5-game lead over the Mets, and as late as August 16 the Cubs had a nine-game lead over the Mets and Cards. Then the bottom dropped out. On the heels of a five-game win streak to start the month of September, Chicago lost eight in a row in every conceivable fashion: pitching duels, blowouts, extra-inning affairs. The team would go on to lose 17 games in September, including the final game of the season to the Miracle Mets. Led by Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, New York put the Cubs away by going 45–18 to close the season. The Cubs’ nine-game lead turned into an eight-game deficit in just a month and a half. It would be the club’s last legitimate shot at a division title until 1984.
2001: Surely even young Cubs fans remember this one. Sammy Sosa’s club led the N.L. Central for 97 days and were up six games on St. Louis in late June. Chicago remained atop the division throughout the dog days of summer before finally relinquishing its lead to the Astros on August 17. The team regained first for a couple days with wins over Houston, but then was promptly swept by the Diamondbacks. On September 9 Chicago dropped its fifth straight and fell into third, where it would finish the season.
The moral of the story: We’ve got a long way to go until the playoffs. Enjoy your optimism while you can, Northsiders.