The Beginning of Babe’s Curse: 1908 Cubs v. 1918 Red Sox
The Chicago Cubs were 9 years into a World Series drought when they took on the Boston Red Sox in the 1918 World Series. Boston had won the first World Series in 1903 over the Pirates and then had gone on to win the World Series in 1912, 1915 and 1916. Certainly, they were one of the pre-eminent teams of the Dead Ball Era. But after 1918 the Red Sox would go 86 years without a world title, while the Cubs would go 108 years without bringing a world title to the Windy City of Chicago.
In 1908 Chicago was amid a run of three straight appearances in the World Series, winning the title in both 1907 and again in 1908. They last appeared in a Series in 1945 after appearing in the title series in 1929,1932,1935,1938 and 1945. The 1918 Red Sox would appear in the World Series in 1946,1967,1975 and 1986. Both teams were supposedly cursed, the Cubs by a Billy goat after the owner of the goat was refused entry for his pet goat in 1945. He responded by “cursing” his team, saying they would never again win the World Series. After the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth, they were cursed for trading the best player in baseball to the Yankees who would win four titles, (1923,1927,1928 and 1932), while Ruth was a member of the team.
The roster of the 1908 Cubs would have Johnny Kling at the catcher’s position, with Frank Chance at first base, Johnny Evers at second base, Joe Tinker at shortstop and Harry Steinfeldt at third base comprising the infield. The Cubs outfield in 1908 had Jimmy Sheckard in left field, Jimmy Slagle in center field and Frank Schulte in rightfield. The pitchers who took most of the starts in 1908 for Chicago were: Mordecai Brown, Ed Reulbach, Jack Pfiester, Orval Overall and Chick Fraser.
Boston’s roster for the 1918 season included catcher Sam Agnew, first baseman Stuffy McInnis, second baseman Dave Shean, shortstop Evertt Scott and Fred Thomas who would finish the infield at third base. The Red Sox outfield consisted of George Whiteman, Amos Strunk and Harry Hooper. The Red Sox starting pitchers for the year included: Carl Mays, Bullet Joe Bush, Sad Sam Jones, Babe Ruth and Dutch Leonard.
The 1918 baseball season was shortened because of World War I and Boston would end up with a record of 75 wins and 51 losses taking the American League pennant by 2 ½ games over the second place Cleveland Indians. The 1908 Chicago Cubs would take the National League pennant by one game over the second place Pittsburgh Pirates, as Chicago finished with a record of 99 wins and 55 losses.
Starting at the catcher’s position we have Johnny Kling for Chicago and Sam Agnew for Boston. Kling, in the 1908 season had 4 home runs 59 runs batted in and a .276 batting average. Agnew in 1918 had just 6 runs batted in no home runs and a .166 batting average. The nod here would go to Kling who would play in the majors for 13 years, all of the in the “Dead Ball Era” ending with 20 home runs, 514 runs batted in and a .272 batting averge. Clearly the best catcher in this matchup would be Kling.
Moving over to the first base position for Chicago it was Frank Chance and for Boston it was Stuffy McInnis. Both of these men were part of two of the most famous infield combinations in the early days of baseball’s history. Chance, along with Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker comprised the Tinker to Evers to Chance double play combination immortalized in “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” by Franklin Pierce Adams. McInnis along with Eddie Collins at second base, Jack Barry at shortstop and Frank “Home Run” Baker were a part of Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, $100,000 infield, so named because $100,000 was the supposed combined market value of the four ballplayers. Chance, in the 1908 season hit 2 home runs, had 55 runs batted in and ended the 1908 season with a .272 batting average. He, along with teammates Evers and Chance were elected to the Baseball Fame as a group in 1946 by the Old Timer’s Committee. McInnis in 1918, did not have a home run, drove in 56 runs and like Chance had a batting average of .272 for the 1918 season. This is a close one and based on the season the advantage, albeit by the slimmest of margins goes to Chance and the Cubs.
Troy New York native Johnny Evers was the second baseman for the 1908 Cubs team and during that season had 37 runs batted in with no home runs and a .300 batting average. But what Evers was and is more well known for is being an integral part of the infamous boner committed by Fred Merkle which led to a one game playoff, which is how the Cubs won the 1908 National League pennant. What happened was there was a runner on third base and Merkle was on first base. Al Bridwell hit a ball to the outfield that scored McCormick with what was thought to be the game winning run. Merkle in the confusion allegedly failed to touch second base as required to do so. Evers noticed this and called for the ball and stepped on second base which meant that Merkle should be declared out. After considerable debate, the next day Merkle was declared out and the winning run was erased from the scoreboard. As the Giants and Cubs then finished in a tie for the season, the replay of the game because of Evers led to the Cubs winning the pennant by one game. The second baseman for the Red Sox was Dave Shean, who had a 9-year major league career. In 1918 Shean had 34 runs batted in, no home runs and a .264 batting average. Numbers lone give this to Evers and the Cubs, however the real deal sealer is Evers being aware of what was going on during a game which is why the advantage goes to Evers and the Cubs.
Joe Tinker, the final member of the Tinker to Evers to Chance double play combination is the shortstop for the Cubs and during the 1908 season, Tinker had 6 home runs, 68 runs batted in and a .266 batting average. The Red Sox had as their shortstop during the 1918 season had Everett Scott manning that part of the infield. It was Scott who held the record of 1307 consecutive games played, that was eventually broken by Lou Gehrig and then subsequently by Cal Ripken. During the 1918 season Scott did not hit a home run during 1918 but had 43 runs batted in and a .221 batting average. The seasonal numbers here point to Tinker and yes, he would have the advantage given the numbers comparison.
At the third base position for the 1908 Cubs team was Harry Steinfeldt who had a career that lasted from 1898 until 1911 a total of 14 years, where he would end up with 1,578 hits, including 27 home runs. He had a total of 762 runs batted in during his career. including a league leading 83 in 1906. He also had a lifetime batting average of .267 in 1,647 games. For the 1908 season, Steinfeldt had 1 home run, 62 runs batted in and a .241 batting average. Playing third base for the 1918 Boston Red Sox was Fred Thomas who ended up with a career in the major leagues that lasted just three years until 1920. In the 1918 season Thomas had 1 home run, 11 RBIs and a .257 batting average in just 44 games. There were 3 others who split the third base duties and they were George Cochran (24 games), Jack Stansbury (20 games) and Walter Barbare (13 games). Because of the unsteadiness at the hot corner with the Red Sox the advantage will go to Steinfeldt and the Cubs.
The outfield matchup has Jimmy Sheckard (2 HRs-22 RBIs-18 doubles-3 triples-.241 average), Jimmy Slagle (0 HRs-26 RBIs-78 hits-4 doubles-1 triple-.22 batting average) or Frank Schulte (1 HR-43 RBIs-20 doubles-2 triples .236 batting average). The Red Sox would send George Whiteman (1 HR-28 RBIs-.266 average-14 doubles), Amos Strunk (no home runs-35 RBIs-.257 batting average) and Harry Hooper (1 HR-44RBIs-.289 batting average). Boston based on the leadership abilities of Hooper who was a part of the Red Sox outfield of Duffy Lewis, Tris Speaker and himself. This outfield was thought to be one of the better outfields of all-time.
Finally, the pitching matchup. Chicago would have the choice of Mordecai Brown (29-9 1.47 ERA), Ed Reulbach (24-7, 2.03 ERA), Jack Pfiester (12-10, 2.00 ERA), Orval Overall (15-11, 1.92 ERA). Boston’s mound choices were Carl Mays (21-13, 2.21 ERA), Bullet Joe Bush (15-15, 2.11 ERA), Sad Sam Jones ( 16-5, 2.25 ERA) or Babe Ruth (13-7, 2.22 ERA).
Undoubtedly Chicago would send Mordecai “Three Fingers” Brown to the mound as he was their acknowledged ace. Brown had a devastating curve ball the result of a childhood accident, hence the nickname “Three Fingers.” Boston could send either Mays or perhaps Babe Ruth, with Ruth perhaps the choice because of his slugging. Also Ruth was perhaps one of the best left handed pitchers in baseball and was noted for his duels with the great Walter Johnson, where Ruth came out on top in eight matchups with a 6-2 record.
Boston gets the nod here as during the first 20 years of the American League they would win 5 World Series titles with distinctly different ball clubs. Boston advances to round 2 with a victory here.