For Pete's Sake

Life in U.S. has changed dramatically since the Cubs’ last World Series title

Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers (left) and shortstop Joe Tinker were a big part of the 1908 Cubs success.
Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers (left) and shortstop Joe Tinker were a big part of the 1908 Cubs success. File photo

One of the biggest stories on the front page of the New York Times on Oct. 14, 1908, described a Suffragette crowd of 100,000 that stormed British Parliament.

It would be another 10 years before women would be allowed to vote in England and an additional two years before that right was granted to women in the United States.

With Hillary Clinton leading in the polls, the United States may elect a female president, which was unfathomable to most people on that October day in 1908.

Those alive on that day 108 years ago likely couldn’t comprehend when Chicago Cubs beat the Detroit Tigers 2-0 in Game 5 of the World Series that afternoon, it would be the last time the Cubs would be crowned champs.

The Cubs were a powerhouse, having won three straight pennants and a pair of World Series titles, while averaging 107 victories per season. But today, there is little that resembles life in 1908, not only in Major League Baseball, but in the United States.

How have things changed? Let’s start with something as simple as the American flag. In 1908, there were 46 stars on Old Glory. Oklahoma had joined the United States less than a year earlier. New Mexico and Arizona were territories and wouldn’t become states until 1912, followed by Alaska and Hawaii in 1959.

In October 1908, while Wilbur Wright was in France setting records for airplane flights (he’d reach nearly 400 feet above the ground), there were at least six advertisements in The New York Times for car companies. Fiat offered a 12-horsepower vehicle for $3,500, while other models were 18 and 35 horsepower. Today, you can buy a riding mower that has 19 horsepower for $1,200 at Home Depot.

It wouldn’t be long before the number of automobile companies declined, because Henry Ford debuted the Model-T in 1908. Then again, few people had cars when the Cubs were last crowned World Series champions.

In 1908, there were 2.24 cars per 1,000 people, a number that reached 808 by 2014. More people got around in horse-and-carriage. In 1904, there were about two million miles of public highway. Roughly 100,000 miles were gravel-covered, and 40,000 were a mix of crushed rock and tar. The rest were still dirt.

In his book “America, 1908,” author Jim Rasenberger noted that people bought fuel for their automobiles in cans from hardware stores.

“A third of working-age people made their living from the land,” Rasenberger wote. “They were often informed by magazines and newspapers that they lived in the ‘Age of Steel’ or the ‘Machine Age,’ but for most it was still very much an age of horses and cows. There were more than 20 million horses in the country, nearly one for every four people. The single largest industry in the country was not steel or coal. It was meatpacking.”

The 2010 Census found that 80.7 percent of the country lives in urban areas, but 100 years earlier, more people lived in rural areas: 54.4 percent.

“More than 90 percent of Americans lived without electricity in their homes,” Rasenberger wrote. “Personal hygiene and public education were irregular, medical care rudimentary, indoor plumbing a pipe dream.”

According to one story, just 8 percent of homes had a telephone.

The life expectancy for a white man in 1910 was 49 years old, and it was 34 for a black man. For white women it was 52 years old and 34 for black women.

If you are hoping to hear a radio call of the Cubs getting the last out of the 1908 World Series, forget it. The first commercial radio station didn’t go on the air until 1920. So, of course, there was no television either.

Instead, fans would search out electrical scoreboards, which debuted in 1908 thanks to inventor George A. Baird. These boards showed balls, strikes, outs and which fielder had recorded an out using lights, according to Mental Floss. The information from the game was delivered via telegraph messages and workers would update the boards.

Think about that when you check Twitter during the World Series.

In July of 1908, design plans for the Titanic were announced, and it would famously sink four years later.

In 1908, it would be two years before Halley’s Comet would appear again (and it passed by the earth again in 1986).

Five years later, the 16th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, the federal income-tax system was reimposed.

It would be another 20 years before the invention of sliced bread. The first automatically sliced commercial loaves happened in in Chillicothe, Mo.

Going back to October 1908, the League of American Sportsman met in Lawton, Okla., and included a special visitor: Bedonkohe Apache leader Geronimo.

The Kansas City Times quoted Geronimo’s remarks: “Before captivity red man killed only enough game to eat. White man kill to sell hides. We see no game now. I don’t understand what you meet for.”

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid didn’t know it in October 1908, but they would would die a month later in Bolivia. It would be another 17 years before Paul Newman was born and Robert Redford’s birthday was 11 years after Newman’s. Their movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” wouldn’t be released until 1969.

In that edition of The Kansas City Times, there was a story of army veterans who planned to meet at the Grand Hotel for two days. That included veterans of the 5th Kansas Calvary, who had fought in the Civil War.

Heck, seven of the 16 managers in the majors that year were born during the Civil War. There was no designated hitter, night games or plane travel.

In 1908, the American League included the Cleveland Naps, St. Louis Browns, Boston Doves and New York Highlanders. The Detroit Tigers won the pennant that season by a half-game over Cleveland — despite playing one fewer game.

The Tigers had a game rained out and there were no rules requiring a make-up, so Detroit advanced to the World Series. According to ESPN, after the season the “1908 rule” was instituted and required a make up of postponed games that affected first place.

The National League included the Brooklyn Superbas, and the Philadelphia Phillies manager was named Billy Murray (as many know one of the Cubs biggest fans these days is Bill Murray). The 1908 NL race was nutty.

Three teams were vying for the crown — the New York Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs. On Sept. 23, the Cubs faced the Giants in the Polo Grounds. The game was tied 1-1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but New York had runners on the corners when Al Bridwell singled and the game was over. Fans stormed the field and some players left.

However ... Fred Merkle was the runner at first base and he never stepped on second, so the Cubs were in line to get an inning-ending force out, which would negate the run. The Giants’ third-base coach noted this and managed to get his hands on the ball, which he tossed it into the stands.

Eventually the ball was retrieved and the Cubs got the force out. The game should have gone to extra innings, but the home fans on the field who had been celebrating were now enraged. The game ended in a 1-1 tie, didn’t count in the standings and would later be played again.

When the regular season ended, the Cubs and Giants were tied for NL lead with the Pirates a half-game back. Chicago won the makeup game 4-2 and took the pennant. Fred Merkle’s base-running gaffe was forever known as Merkle’s Boner after that.

The World Series was played on five consecutive days and the Cubs easily won. The New York Times reported that the teams planned to play a pair of exhibition games over the weekend.

“All the receipts will be distributed among the players,” the Times reported.

The 1908 World Series games in Chicago were played at the West Side Grounds. They wouldn’t move to Wrigley Field (then Weeghman Park) until 1916, two years after the stadium opened (it was built for the Chicago Whales of the defunct Federal League).

If this is indeed the year for the Cubs, this squad will be the first in franchise history to win a World Series after playing at Wrigley Field.

A lot has changed since 1908.

Pete Grathoff: 816-234-4330, @pgrathoff