By William S. Bike
Jimmy Wood was the first Chicago Cub.
The team known today as the Chicago Cubs originally was called the Chicago White Stockings, having also been known also as the Colts and Orphans for a few years before being renamed the Cubs in 1903. Even before the start of the National League in 1876, the team played in its predecessor league, the National Association, beginning in 1871. Wood was the first player signed, making him the first Chicago Cub ever, as well as the club’s first star. In addition, Wood also was the team’s manager, making him the first Cub manager as well.
Second-baseman for the Brooklyn Eckfords, Wood in November 1870 agreed to jump to the new Chicago ballclub for the princely salary of $2,000 per year. With Chicago having signed Wood, who had helped the Eckfords win two championships in 1862 and 1863, other star players followed, allowing Chicago to put a good team on the field in 1871, finishing in third place with a .679 percentage.
But this is the Cubs, remember, meaning heartbreak is in their DNA — and 1871 was no exception.
In late September, the Chicago team was tied with the Philadelphia Athletics for first place, with games scheduled through late October, and Chicago fans were looking forward to their first pennant.
However, the Great Chicago Fire burned down most of the city on Oct. 8 and 9. One of the buildings burned was the team’s ballpark. The team finished the season on the road, with mismatched uniforms as the team’s regular apparel also had been consumed by the fire. With their homes and possessions gone and having had few opportunities for practice, and despite Wood tallying a .378 batting average, the team finished in third place — but only two games behind the first-place A’s.
With the ballpark in ashes, the team didn’t even take the field again until 1874. Wood planned on returning as player-manager but in the 1873–74 offseason, another one of those bizarre tragedies that would become all too familiar to generations of Cub fans occurred. With an abscess on his left thigh, Wood made the terrible decision to lance it himself with his pocket knife. But before he could clean the instrument, he accidentally dropped it on his right leg, cutting it with…