Paul Hagen

'Last Cubs Dynasty' revisits 1907-08 champs

Bock's book a timely collection of Cubbies' reign, curses

'Last Cubs Dynasty' revisits 1907-08 champs

The Cubs went to the World Series three straight seasons, winning the last two in 1907 and 1908. As you may have heard, they haven't captured the gonfalon, as they used to say back then, since.

Now, the Cubbies have the best record in baseball. Given their history -- anybody can have a bad century, Hall of Fame announcer Jack Brickhouse once noted -- that makes them one of the best stories in baseball this season.

Timing can be everything. So the arrival of "The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty: Before the Curse" is right on schedule.

Veteran sports writer Hal Bock does an impressive job of chronicling how the team was put together and why that level of success couldn't be sustained.

Largely forgotten contributors emerge from the shadows. Like manager Frank Selee, who was instrumental in assembling much of the talent that formed the backbone of the dynasty. Selee, sadly, was forced to retire during the 1905 season because of a hacking cough that was later diagnosed as tuberculosis, and he died four years later.

Also examined are the various misfortunes that have befallen the franchise in subsequent seasons: 
• The Billy Goat Curse 
• The black cat that walked in front of the dugout at Shea Stadium in 1969 
• Coming within a game of reaching the World Series in 1984 only to lose three straight to the Padres in the NLCS 
• And, of course, the Bartman incident in 2003

Just as delightful, though, is the way the early chapters illuminate how strikingly different baseball was in the early 20th century.

For example: Catcher Johnny Kling was a linchpin as the Cubs won the three consecutive pennants. He was considered the best in the league at his position for his ability to throw out runners and handle a staff. After the Cubs won their last World Series in 1908, however, Kling won the World Pocket Billiards Championship and decided to quit baseball to defend his title. It didn't turn out well for either side. The Cubs' streak of World Series appearances ended in his absence. And he failed to win another billiards championship, returning to baseball in 1910.

Or how about the time New York Giants manager John McGraw was so incensed over a call that went against his team that he barred umpire Jim Johnstone from the Polo Grounds. In those days, there were only two umpires assigned to each game. When the other arbiter, Bob Emslie, refused to work solo, the game was forfeited to the Cubs.

It's impossible to imagine such shenanigans taking place today.

The book closes out with sections on the faces of the franchise throughout the years and a look at the various ballparks the Cubs have called home. No, it only seems like they've been at Wrigley Field forever.

Personal theory: If you're not a Cubs fan, there's a pretty good chance that's your second-favorite team. Actor Joe Mantegna has a theory why.

The native of Chicago has not only followed the Cubs his whole life but helped create the play "Bleacher Bums," which pays homage to the Wrigley Field patrons.

"While I always thought a play of this type would easily resonate with Cubs fans everywhere, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the play succeeded on a level much more far reaching than that," he wrote in the foreword. "How else to explain its run for 10 years straight in Los Angeles and its continual run in theaters around the world since its inception in 1977.

"What it comes down to is this: the Cubs became a metaphor for the underdog, the loser, lovable or not, that we as a species can't help but instinctively root for."

Today's Cubs may be rewriting that narrative. This book is a timely reminder of the first time they ruled the baseball universe.

Paul Hagen is a columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.