The First Chicago Cubs Collapse
By William S. Bike
Chicago Cubs fans painfully remember all of the epic Cub collapses — except for one.
There was the Cubs’ collapse of 1970, a year in which they were five games ahead, only to finish five games behind. There were the collapses of 1973 and 1977; in both years, the Cubs were 8–1/2 games ahead, but instead failed to finish even in the top three in the National League East. There were the collapses of 1984 and 2003, in which the Cubs needed only one more playoff win to grab the pennant, but instead lost three in a row at the end of each playoff series. There was the collapse of 2008, in which the Cubs finished with the best record in the National League, but failed to win even one playoff game.
And of course, there was the 800-lb. gorilla of Cub collapses, 1969, in which the team was 9–1/2 games ahead and led for 155 days, only to blow the championship to the New York Mets.
Cub fans remember all of those, but nobody remembers the First Cub Collapse — because nobody is alive now who witnessed it. The First Cub Collapse happened in 1891.
Called the Chicago Colts in 1891 (the team would be renamed the Chicago Cubs in 1902), the team was unexpectedly able to acquire some good new players after a third major league, the Players League, folded after the 1890 season.
In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the Chicago team started hot and stayed hot, entering September in first place with what historian Jack Bales called a “comfortable” four-game lead over Boston.
They were so comfortable that player-manager Cap Anson, in the Sept. 4 game against that second-place Boston team, for fun decided to wear a false beard that reached almost to his waist — for the entire game. Even with Anson joking around, Chicago won the contest 5–3, extending its lead to seven games.
By Sept. 15, Chicago’s lead over Boston still was 6–1/2 games with only 16 games left, prompting The Sporting News to declare, “It’s all over.”
Except, it wasn’t. Immediately, Chicago lost four in a row. After regrouping and winning five, they ended the season losing five of six.
In the meantime, Boston ran off an incredible 19–1 streak. After trailing Chicago all season, Boston took over the National League lead on Sept. 30 when Chicago lost to Cleveland 12–5, and clinched the next…