How the Cubs Changed Baseball – and America’s Relationship to the Sport

The Cubs’ home opener has been postponed until Tuesday. But here’s a silver lining for the Cubs faithful: now there’s time to bone up on some of the team’s storied history. 

A new book looks at its famed double-play combination. It’s called: “Tinker to Evers to Chance: The Chicago Cubs and the Dawn of Modern America.”

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  • From left: Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance.

    From left: Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance.

  • The Four Horsemen of the Cubs infield during its great victory run from 1906 through 1910 included former bicyclist and minstrel entertainer Harry Steinfeldt, left, at third base. (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, NY)

    The Four Horsemen of the Cubs infield during its great victory run from 1906 through 1910 included former bicyclist and minstrel entertainer Harry Steinfeldt, left, at third base. (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, NY)

  • Frank LeRoy Chance, circa 1898 in Chicago. (Courtesy of Mark Braun, Old Timers’ Baseball Association of Chicago)

    Frank LeRoy Chance, circa 1898 in Chicago. (Courtesy of Mark Braun, Old Timers’ Baseball Association of Chicago)

  • Joe Tinker in 1900, when playing for the Colorado Grizzlies minor league team. (Courtesy of Jay Sanford)

    Joe Tinker in 1900, when playing for the Colorado Grizzlies minor league team. (Courtesy of Jay Sanford)

  • John J. Evers Jr., circa 1903. (New York Public Library)

    John J. Evers Jr., circa 1903. (New York Public Library)

Those three – Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance – helped the Cubs dominate baseball between 1906 and 1910 with four consecutive National League pennants and two World Series championships. 

Here to talk about the book is author David Rapp, former editor and chief content officer of Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call in Washington, D.C.

Before there was a Wrigley Field on Chicago’s North Side, the Cubs played all their home games at the West Side Grounds, located on a block bounded by Taylor, Wood, Polk, and Lincoln (now Wolcott) streets. The standing-room-only crowd at this August 30, 1908, game against archrival New York Giants was typical. (Bain Collection, Library of Congress)Before there was a Wrigley Field on Chicago’s North Side, the Cubs played all their home games at the West Side Grounds, located on a block bounded by Taylor, Wood, Polk, and Lincoln (now Wolcott) streets. The standing-room-only crowd at this August 30, 1908, game against archrival New York Giants was typical. (Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

Below, an excerpt from the book.

“There is still a reasonably large element of the population that cannot fully comprehend the madness of baseball fanaticism. . . . They do not stop to consider that the sufferer is doubtless happier with his madness than without it.” Chicago Tribune editorial, 1906

On a quiet Saturday morning in the summer of 1906, in the heart of the city’s financial district, motorcars began assembling at the corner of LaSalle and Jackson Streets. Before long more than two hundred runabouts, touring cars, and open-air tonneaus were lined up alongside the Board of Trade building. Soon, an army of young men piled aboard. Those who couldn’t find a seat or perch on a running board clambered into tallyho coaches that held twenty to forty people each in bleacher-style seating boxes. This peculiar weekend congregation called itself the Board of Trade Rooters. As the engines roared to life, the blocks-long convoy thundered off to a baseball game.

The Rooters were a raucous bunch by nature, even outside of the frantic competition of the trading pits. The racket of their cars must have been deafening, the two- and four-cylinder engines revving and belching in a cacophony of street music. The all-male chorus pitched their voices high above that din as they barked out chants and popular rally songs through megaphones large and small. Their “leathern lungs and quick wit and scorching invective” would have startled to attention everyone along the way as the cavalcade proceeded west across the South Branch of the Chicago River, then through Greek, Italian, Ukrainian, and Jewish neighborhoods. Residents cheered them on from porches and sidewalks. The drivers were in no hurry, nor could they be, the streets being pocked with a riot of trolley tracks, railroad crossings, and chuckholes.

The two-and-a-half-mile excursion led them to the Cook County Hospital on Polk Street. After turning south onto Lincoln (today’s Wolcott), they arrived at their destination: the main entrance to the West Side Grounds, home field of Chicago’s National League baseball team. Here the Rooters were joined by thousands of fellow partisans streaming over from the Polk Street streetcar station, which provided connections to neighborhoods north, south, east, and west. All of them—young and old, male and female, native son and immigrant, white and black fans alike—had come together to bear witness to a grand occasion.

The fast-rising Chicago Nationals, led by player-manager Frank Chance and his companion infielders, Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers—and supplemented with top-flight ballplayers at every other position—were about to take on the reigning world-champion New York Giants. The National League pennant hung in the balance. The Giants, always hard to beat, would be out for blood, and yet everyone in the Windy City liked the hometown boys’ chances.

The Rooters club was a relatively new organization—for the simple reason that baseball fans in Chicago hadn’t had much to root about for twenty long seasons. Then again, nothing like these “fans” had existed before. Unlike the cranks, gamblers, and loutish saloon denizens who populated baseball parks in the 1890s, the Rooters were among the city’s most ambitious young strivers: brokers, grain merchants, sales agents, and office clerks. Many had played baseball while growing up. Some no doubt excelled at it for amateur teams. All of them were eager to hitch their hopes to a pennant contender.

The Rooters’ exuberant ringleader was Edward G. “Eddie” Heeman. A transplanted Cincinnatian, Heeman was a hail-fellow-well-met type who enjoyed the companionship of his fellow traders. A successful commission broker in cotton and grains, he had earned a reputation as a workaholic by spending fifteen- to eighteen-hour days at his occupation and as self-publisher of the tip sheet “Grain Trade Talks.” At thirty-nine, Heeman showed little interest in other diversions popular among hard- charging capitalists in his day—no time for golf, billiards, theater, or so-called entertainments at drinking clubs. “Here is a young man whose greatest pleasure is to be working,” according to an approving profile in a trade publication.

As earnest as he seemed, Eddie Heeman allowed for two playful indulgences. First, he was a fashion peacock, the “Beau Brummel of the exchange floor,” as a newspaper writer described him. He arrived at the trading floor each day in new combinations of spats, brightly colored neckwear, and flamboyant waistcoats—“almost as many ‘changes’ as the king of England.” Most of his pals in the pits cared little for personal appearance as long as they were clean-shaven and wore clean collars. Not Heeman: “When he is in his semi-frock he possesses all the appearances of an afternoon boulevardier.”

Heeman’s other permitted passion was baseball. Since moving to Chicago he’d gone head over heels for its two big league ball clubs: the White Sox (owned by his good friend Charles A. Comiskey) and the revamped team with many names: Colts, Cubs, Orphans, Spuds. In full-throated support of both clubs, Heeman had been a founding member and financial underwriter of the Rooters club, and he was now widely acknowledged as the “generalissimo extraordinary” of a growing legion of baseball fans.


The Rooters organized their demonstration on August 18 as a show of support for Chicago’s new claim to baseball supremacy. This was a bold assertion when facing the Giants, whose manager, John “Muggsy” McGraw, and star pitchers, Christy Mathewson and Joe “Iron Man” McGinnity, were regarded as exemplars of baseball talent, brains, and tenacity.

The Giants had won the pennant in 1904 and 1905, and had easily dispatched the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1905 World Series. McGraw and company were kings of the game. Even Chicagoans had to pay deference: “Apparently [McGraw’s] Giants are in a class by themselves in the baseball world,” the Tribune had conceded at the start of the season. By midseason, however, the Giants were scuffling, unexpectedly stuck in second place behind Chicago. When McGraw’s troops pulled into town for this four-game series in August, they were determined to even things up. The Giants had, after all, trounced Chicago, three games to one, on their trip there in May.

That series had offered no hint of waning fortunes in New York. But in a June rematch at Manhattan’s Polo Grounds, Chance’s men turned the tables, themselves winning three out of four contests—the first two decisively, 6–0 and 11–3. There followed a humiliating massacre in which the runs kept racking up to a final score of Chicago 19, New York 0.

This was music to the ears of Eddie Heeman and his Rooters. They immediately began working on their welcoming plans for the Giants’ next visit.

The rivalry between the Giants and the Cubs illustrated the intensifying competition that their cities felt for each other. Chicagoans struggled to overcome a collective inferiority complex, despite having rebuilt their city from scratch in the thirty-five years since the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and even with fresh memories of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the peerless international showcase of architecture and culture. In many locals’ minds, though, Chicago was still a “second city” to the global polestar on Manhattan Island. After Chicago had annexed 125 square miles of former suburbs in the 1890s, New York was spurred to annex not only Brooklyn but also parts of Queens County, the Bronx, and Staten Island, maintaining its status as the largest city in America. Architects in both cities competed to see which could build the tallest or most impressive buildings. Board of Trade employees felt this competitive drive acutely. Chicago was the world’s leader in commodities trading at a time when commerce in grains, livestock, and cotton were driving the entire U.S. economy. Yet the financial lords of Wall Street managed to retain their sense of entitlement, an imperious pose that rubbed off onto other aspects of urban culture, not least in sports and entertainment. Typically regal New York social events included Mrs. John Jacob Astor’s lavish ball at Louis Sherry’s handsome Fifth Avenue restaurant, where 450 guests dined on a nine-course midnight supper. Two weeks later, James Stillman installed an artificial waterfall in his dining room for a dinner dance. Rudolf Guggenheim stocked the Waldorf’s Myrtle Room with nightingales borrowed from the zoo. The only thing missing in this exhibition of kingly self-regard was a winning baseball team.

The 1905 New York Giants remedied that problem by winning the National League pennant for the second year in a row, and then, after having refused to play their AL counterparts at the close of the 1904 season, deigning to play for the ultimate title in 1905, winning handily. When the 1906 season rolled around, the Giants immediately began flaunting their alpha-dog status by replacing the customary “NY” branding on their uniforms in favor of the words “World’s Champions” across the chest. Both home and away jerseys featured the same proclamation.

But the Chicago Rooters had some ammunition for a sharp riposte. Warming up their vocal chords during the motorcade, reaching fever pitch at the ballpark, the boys devised a chant they would recite throughout the weekend—and for many years to come. It was a childish taunt, as crude as it was merciless: they merely counted out each run that Chicago had scored, without answer, in the June 7 annihilation of the Giants: “One . . . two . . . three . . . four!” they began, the volume rising with each digit. “Five . . . six . . . seven . . . eight . . . nine.” The mantra soared as other fans joined in: “Ten . . . eleven . . . twelve . . . thirteen . . . fourteen . . . fifteen.” The crowd kept yelling, ever louder yet more slowly, toward the punctuated climax: “Sixteen . . . seventeen . . . eighteen . . . nineteen!”

Then they’d do it again.

The crowd had swelled to nearly twenty thousand hours before the 3 p.m. start. Estimates put final attendance in the range of thirty thousand, believed to be the largest Saturday crowd in the history of the rickety West Side Grounds (whose actual seating capacity was fewer than ten thousand). Team officials had to fasten steel cables to posts behind home plate and extend them down the field toward the outfield corners. The makeshift barrier walled off space on the sidelines where a few thousand more fans could squeeze in.

Photographs show the packed grandstand and bleachers with patrons squatting on the field seven to eight deep in foul territory. The ballplayers would have had to step over and through these fans to get from the bench to the batter’s box. Still more bodies stood behind ropes in deep center field.

One hundred and fifty cops—“a flying squadron of bluecoats”—were on hand to keep things under control. They had little reason to worry, for this was a good-spirited multitude. “No one offered to harm the New York players,” noted one correspondent. “The crowd was sportsmanlike, and gave the New Yorkers a generous hand for everything they did.”

The Rooters set the tone as they filled up dozens of grandstand boxes. They had painted their megaphones yellow and waved yellow “pennons,” or flags, each inscribed with “Muggsy” in black letters. They also hoisted placards with a caricature of McGraw with a streak of yellow daubed across his face. This signified their contempt for the dirty tactics that he had always been known for—and made no effort to disavow—over his long career.

Yet the object of the Rooters’ derision wasn’t on the field that day to receive the catcalls. He had come to town with his team, but he could not dress for the game, as he was still under suspension by the league for “vicious” umpire baiting in the team’s previous home series. But McGraw got the crowd’s message; sportswriters spotted him in the stands, in street clothes huddled amid a claque of New York supporters.

A Rooters glee club soon moved into position, striking up hoarse renditions of popular songs and some new tunes contrived for the occasion. They were backed up by a motley band of musical instruments—piccolo, bassoon, violin, bass drum, and “bazzou,” or mouth harp. The biggest applause came with the refrain, “So Long Muggsy,” as well as the oft-repeated “Nineteen” chant. Just before the opening pitch the Rooters also cut loose nineteen yellow balloons, calling out the number as each one set sail. The noise level must have been excruciating. “ From the time the bell rang to start the scrap until the finish,” marveled one scribe, “there was a constantly swelling roar of rooting which drowned out of hearing and almost out of sight everything except the great battle itself.”

The contest didn’t disappoint. Both teams were riding hot streaks, Chicago racking up ten straight wins and the Giants eight. Chicago’s best pitcher, Mordecai “Miner” Brown, started, as did the great Mathewson for New York. Cubs hitters roughed up Matty early with two runs on three hits in the bottom of the second. The Giants clawed their way back with single runs against Brown in the third and sixth innings, knotting the score at 2–2.

Then the real fun began. Leading off the bottom of the sixth, Frank Chance sliced an outside pitch into the right field corner, where it bounded into the crowd behind the ropes—a ground rule double, by pregame agreement. Through the crowds of fans in front of the Chicago bench strode the self-assured figure of Harry Steinfeldt. He was Chicago’s new third baseman, picked up in the winter, and he had quickly become the club’s best hitter and a ready crowd pleaser. Steinfeldt had been an itinerant teenage entertainer in Texas before emerging as a ballplayer. He knew how to seize his moment on stage.

A fresh plug of tobacco bulging his cheek, the switch-hitting “Steinie” jumped on Mathewson’s first pitch and roped a hard line drive deep into the right-center field gap. He rounded second and cruised into third base before the ball made it back from the outfield. Meanwhile Chance walked home easily, putting the Cubs in front, 3–2, as the crowd went wild. Next up: Joe Tinker, one of the team’s weaker hitters, though he always seemed to have Mathewson’s number. Tinker promptly rapped out his third single of the day, scoring Steinfeldt and sending the fans into “another paroxysm of glee.” A sacrifice bunt, an infield single, and another bunt then loaded the bases. Center fielder Jimmy “Rabbit” Slagle delivered the knockout blow by pulling a single through the right side of the infield, chalking up two more runs.

By the time the inning was over, the “Giant Killers,” as the Inter-Ocean took to calling the club, had put up four insurmountable runs. Brown’s overpowering pitching and some slick defensive plays by Tinker and Evers made the 6–2 score hold up for a rousing Chicago victory.

“So long, Muggsy! How we hate to beat you so,” crooned the Rooters’ jubilant choir. McGraw and his Giants would have to wait a long time to avenge themselves.

Throughout the game, Chicago loyalists had been keeping an eye on a young man standing alongside a billboard in the outfield. His job was to post out-of-town scores fed to him by Western Union telegraph. Charlie Comiskey’s White Sox were playing in New York City that day, against the Highlanders, also becoming known around the league as the Yankees, and the Sox had their own American League pennant hopes on the line. When the scoreboard first showed that the Sox were leading the Yanks by one run, the crowd let out a yell. T hen, just after Chance’s squad had jumped ahead in its contest with the four-run rally in the sixth, the scoreboard boy hoisted a placard showing nine more runs for the Sox in their half of the ninth inning. That gave them a 10–0 lead, and the celebration at West Side Grounds was complete. “The roar which followed the Spuds’ great rally was continued without abatement at the double victory for Chicago,” the Tribune beamed. The city of Chicago was on its way to becoming the new capital of baseball’s rising kingdom. Like Eddie Heeman, the teeming metropolis of two million people was going downright daffy over baseball.

Reprinted with permission from Tinker to Evers to Chance by David Rapp published by the University of Chicago Press.

© 2018 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

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