Friday, August 22, 2008

1908 vs. 2008: First Base

Between now and the end of the season we're going to compare the last Cubs championship team to this year's future championship team. Next stop: First Base.


Frank Chance was more than just the first baseman and clean up hitter for the 1908 Cubs--he was the manager and the brains behind the organization. His nickname was "The Peerless Leader" and there was never a question about who was in charge of this team. He was fierce and competitive.

One time after a loss he was brooding at home after a loss—and wouldn't eat or talk. His wife said: "Don't worry, dear, you still have me," and he replied "Many a time this afternoon, I'd have traded you for a base hit." He was known to be a brawler. James J. Corbett, heavyweight champ, called him: "one of the best amateur fighters I've ever seen." One time he provoked a riot by punching out Giants pitcher Joe McGinnity at the Polo Grounds. Another time he threw a bottle into the stands at fans in Brooklyn.

He was just as fierce as a manager and general manager. He once acquired a pitcher (Jack Harper) who beaned him one too many times, just so he could cut his salary (by 2/3), and refused to pitch him, thereby effectively ending his career.

As a hitter, Chance would do whatever it took to get on base. He was always among the best on the team in on-base percentage and runs, and led the league in stolen bases twice. In the field, he was impeccable at first--something that would eventually be immortalized in the poem.

He was only 31 years old in 1908, but after many beanings (he was hit 137 times in his career), it was starting to affect his hitting and his health. He hit only .272 in 1908 after hitting over .300 for many years, and he suffered from horrible headaches. But he toughed it out for the season, and despite opponents attempts to psych him out with frequent brush back pitches and/or provoke him into a fight (Giants manager McGraw actually assigned players to taunt Chance), he led the team back to the pennant. In Game 5 of the World Series, he knocked in the game winning run, giving the Cubs their last championship.


Before joining the Cubs, Lee had the game winning hit in the infamous Bartman game in the 2003 playoffs for the Florida Marlins. Acquired for rookie slugger Hee Sop Choi (one of the all-time steals), Lee immediately made an impact in Chicago. He hit over 30 homers in his first season, and won a batting title in second year (2005), when he hit .335.

Like his 1908 counterpart, Lee hasn't quite been the same hitter the last few seasons (since he broke his wrist), but his teammates all look up to him as one of the team leaders, and his consistently gold-glove caliber defense at 1B (he has won three gold gloves) makes the rest of the infield and the pitching staff better.

Just don't ask him to come up with a man at first and one out. He leads the league in hitting into double plays.