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Tuesday, August 24, 2010
The Chicago Cubs, by 'eras'

With the Cubs-White Sox Ultimate Rivalry series about to conclude, I want to 1) get my Cubs "eras" in the books and under the wire, and 2) wish both squads the best of luck!

Now the eras, beginning in the beginning ...

1876-1894: The Cap Anson Era
Few players have personified a team like Adrian C. Anson personified the National League's Chicago franchise (known first as the White Stockings, then the Colts, during Anson's tenure). When the league formed in 1876, Anson was already an established star with Philadelphia's entry in the National Association. In 1879, Anson took the managerial reigns and captained the club for nearly 20 seasons, during which the White Stockings won five National League championships (all before 1887). Throughout, he also served as the club's regular first baseman, and despite the shorter seasons of the era, finished his career with well over 3,000 hits.

1895-1899: The Bill Lange Era
"Little Eva" Lange would probably be in the Hall of Fame today, if not for love; still only 28, Lange retired after the 1899 season because his future father-in-law didn't consider baseball a suitable occupation for his future son-in-law.

Frank Chance
Frank Chance batted .297 in his 15 seasons with the Cubs.
1900-1912: The Frank Chance Era
Discovered in California by Lange, Frank Chance began his career as a catcher. It wasn't until 1902 that new manager Frank Selee put Chance where he belonged: first base. Three years later, with Selee stricken with tuberculosis, Chance took over as player-manager. In seven full seasons as manager, he earned the nickname "Pearless Leader" and guided the Cubs to four pennants, two World Series championships, and an average of 107 wins per season.

1913: The Johnny Evers Era
Evers, the Cubs' second baseman during their brilliant run under Chance, has been described as "the spiritual and competitive driving wheel of four pennant winners and two world championships." So it's not surprising that with Chance's departure, Evers took over as the Cubs' player-manager. The Cubs finished 1913 with a solid record, but after a contract dispute with owner Charles Murphy, Evers left for Boston (and was named the league's most valuable player when the "Miracle Braves" won the National League pennant).

1914-1918: The Hippo Vaughn Era
With Evers, Chance, shortstop Joe Tinker and ace Three Finger Brown all gone, the Cubs during the first World War were a different team than the dynastic version of the previous decade. They weren't real good, either. One bright spot was James "Hippo" Vaughn, who averaged 20 wins per season from 1914 through 1920. In 1917, he matched the Reds' Fred Toney with nine hitless innings before finally giving up two hits (and losing) in the 10th. In 1918, he pitched three complete games in the World Series, gave up only three runs ... and still somehow lost twice.

1919-1925: The Charlie Hollocher Era
As a 22-year-old rookie in 1918, Charlie Hollocher led the National League in games and hits. But Hollocher just wasn't built for the rigors of the baseball season. Complaining of "nervousness" and mysterious stomach pains, he was in and out of the lineup in the early '20s before finally quitting for good in 1924. And throughout Hollocher's trials, the Cubs were rarely competitive.

1926-1931: The Hack Wilson Era
In six seasons as a Cub, this short, squat center fielder led the National League in home runs four times, and in 1930 he drove in 191 runs, then and still the all-time record.

1932-1940: The Gabby Hartnett Era
With the decline (and trade) of Wilson and player-manager Rogers Hornsby's inability to stay in the lineup, no single player grabbed the public's attention. Which isn't to suggest the Cubs didn't have plenty of good players. They reached the World Series in 1932, '35 and '38 -- losing all of them, of course -- and the constants included catcher Hartnett, second baseman Billy Herman, and third baseman "Smiling" Stan Hack (Hartnett and Herman are in the Hall of Fame, and Hack should be). But it was Hartnett who hit the franchise's most famous home run, 1938's "Homer in the Gloamin'" against Pittsburgh that all but clinched the Cubs' third pennant in seven years. And it was Hartnett who managed the Cubs in the World Series that fall; he would remain as skipper through the 1940 season.

1941-1949: The Phil Cavaretta Era
A product of Chicago's Lane Tech High School -- less than two miles from Wrigley Field -- Phil Cavaretta debuted for the Cubs in 1934, just two months after his 18th birthday, and a year later served as the club's every-day first baseman. He didn't hit much, though, and over the next few years his playing time steadily decreased. In 1941, Cavaretta began to work his way back into the lineup, mostly as an outfielder. In 1943 he took over at first base, in '44 he led the NL with 197 hits, and in '45 he batted .355 and captured MVP honors.

1950-1954: The Hank Sauer Era
Early in the '49 season, the Cubs traded for Cincinnati slugger Sauer, who'd hit 35 home runs just a year earlier but gotten off to a slow start for the Reds. Sauer, with a swing perfectly suited for the Cubs' home ballpark, soon became known as "The Mayor of Wrigley Field" and in 1952 was named National League MVP after driving in 121 runs. Sauer wasn't much good in the outfield and the Cubs never topped .500 during his time there. But he helped make them watchable.

Ernie Banks
Ernie Banks won a pair of National League MVP Awards.
1955-1965: The Ernie Banks Era
According to at least one source, the Cubs' franchise player was practically an afterthought. Late in the 1953 season, management decided to finally add an African-American player to the roster: shortstop Gene Baker, who'd been starring for the Cubs' Los Angeles farm club since 1950. There was a problem, though: Baker would need a roommate, and the franchise didn't have another black player who was ready for the majors.

So the Cubs started scouting the Negro Leagues in earnest. They set their sights on Kansas City Monarchs shortstop Ernie Banks, and $22,000 later Banks was a Cub. He and Baker arrived in Chicago on the same day. But Baker was injured, and on Sept. 17, 1953, Banks became the first black Cub. Nobody could have guessed, then, that Banks would eventually win two National League MVP Awards on his way to being dubbed Mr. Cub.

1966-1973: The Fergie Jenkins Era
Frankly, the Cubs in this era were ruled by one man, and one man only: manager Leo Durocher, who also functioned as de facto general manager. Upon being hired, Durocher announced to the press, "I'm gonna get the best of any trade. In fact, they'll be one-sided."

Of course all of them weren't. But the next spring, the Cubs traded veteran pitchers Bob Buhl and Larry Jackson to the Phillies for outfielder Adolfo Phillips and rookie pitcher Ferguson Jenkins in a deal that would soon look decidedly one-sided. Jenkins would eventually post six straight 20-win seasons, and today ranks first in franchise history in games started and strikeouts.

1974-1976: The Bill Madlock Era
Lean times for the Cubs, but Madlock was a bright spot. He lasted only three seasons in Chicago, but in those three seasons he was Rookie of the Year and won two batting titles.

1977-1980: The Bruce Sutter Era
As a rookie in 1976, Bruce Sutter -- armed with a unique split-fingered pitch he'd learned from minor-league instructor Fred Martin -- was good. In 1977, he was a revelation, garnering Cy Young and MVP support after notching 31 saves and posting a 1.34 ERA. Sutter would win the Cy Young Award in 1979 and lead the NL with 28 saves in 1980 before getting traded to St. Louis.

Ryne Sandberg
Ryne Sandberg spent all but one of his 16 seasons in Chicago.
1981-1994: The Ryne Sandberg Era
Losing Sutter hurt, but the pain was assuaged a year later by the arrival of Ryne Sandberg in a lopsided deal with the Phillies. Like Sutter, Sandberg drew attention as a rookie; like Sutter, Sandberg won a big award (MVP) in his third full season with the Cubs.

1995-2003: The Sammy Sosa Era
Well into his tenure as President of these United States, George W. Bush would cite "trading Sammy Sosa" as his greatest mistake; Bush's Texas Rangers traded Sosa (and two other players) to the White Sox for Harold Baines and Fred Manrique. But the White Sox fared even worse, trading Sosa three years later to the Cubs for George Bell.

Sosa broke through in 1993 with 33 homers and 93 RBI, but it wasn't until '95 -- with Sandberg temporarily retired -- that Sosa became the face of the franchise, with 36 homers, 113 RBI, and his first All-Star appearance. Later, of course, Sosa would engage Mark McGwire in a duel that captivated the nation, and average 61 home runs per season from 1998 through 2001.

2004-2010: The Carlos Zambrano Era
The beautiful relationship between Sosa and the Wrigley Field fans deteriorated near the end of his tenure, which included (in 2004) a stretch on the DL after Sosa reportedly hurt his back while sneezing. Ex-phenoms Kerry Wood and Mark Prior might have taken Sosa's mantle, but they both struggled with injuries, too. Fortunately, young Carlos Zambrano had a big arm and a big personality. And for better or worse, ever since then the Cubs have usually gone as "El Toro" has gone.