By Scott A. Rowan
Long before anyone called them the “Lovable Losers,” the Chicago Cubs were one of the most successful and aggressive teams in all of baseball, known for employing an “any means necessary” approach. The curses and threats employed by the Cubs were once so offensive that early shepherds of the sport such as Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis feared the crude behavior would be detrimental to the future of the game. Players shouted vulgar taunts loudly enough for fans to hear every stereotypical, racial, or religious taunt they could imagine.
This was turn-of-the-century baseball, when the Cubs dominated the game. Openly racist player/manager Cap Anson led the organization to championship seasons during the 1880s and 1890s, when the team was known as the White Stockings, the Colts, and the Orphans. Frank Chance, a card player, drinker, part-time boxer, and overall intimidating presence (at 6′ and 188 pounds), joined the team in 1898 playing first base. His acumen on the field would endear him to sports fans everywhere as part of the famous Tinkers-Evers-Chance double-play combination.
But it was as manager of the Cubs that Chance, aka “the Peerless Leader,” etched his name in the annals of baseball history for both good and bad. In 1905, Chance replaced the clean-living Anson as manager, and his impact was immediate. A “man’s man” to the bone, Chance did not trust anyone who didn’t drink or play cards. In fact, he urged his players to bet on horses and play poker because he felt it increased their mental acuity and competitiveness. He set a 25¢ betting limit on card games, and fined anyone caught breaking his rule $25.
Once, when he couldn’t stop himself and played beyond the limit, he even fined himself.
“When we’d get rained out,” former Cubs infielder Jimmy Archer recalled in the book Wrigleyville by Peter Golenbock, “we’d be sitting around the clubhouse. Then Chance would come in. ‘What have I got here, a Sunday school club?’ he’d say. We’d all go to a saloon. You couldn’t buy a drink. Chance would buy them all.”
When teammate Heinie Zimmerman—who was later banned from baseball for life due to his nefarious activities—tried to form a group of players to conspire against Chance, “the Peerless Leader” quickly took matters into his own hands, literally. The manager/player confronted Zimmerman, offering him a deal: they would have a fistfight, and if Zimmerman won, Chance would quit as manager. Foolishly, Zimmerman took the bet, forgetting (or perhaps unaware) that Chance was an experienced boxer. Chance destroyed Zimmerman, and the clubhouse squabble disappeared instantly.
Former Cubs manager Lou Piniella is probably the closest modern equivalent to Chance in many ways. Like Chance, Piniella was a former player turned manager before he skippered the Cubs from 2007 to 2010. Along the way, Piniella proved to be a combustible character who would just as soon fight umpires on calls (and be gloriously ejected) as he would players on his own team if he felt they weren’t trying hard enough. When he managed the Cincinnati Reds, Piniella infamously went after his own pitcher, Rob Dibble, in 1992.
While he may not know it, Piniella owes Chance a nod for creating the very thing for which Piniella is known: ejections. Chance’s fiery temper earned him an infamous mark in history so well known that it won him his own Facebook page, created 86 years after his death: he was the first manager to be thrown out of a World Series game. (BaseballAlmanac.com credits two other managers with being ejected before Chance: Detroit’s Hughie Jennings in 1907 and Bill Donovan, also from Detroit, in 1909. However, multiple other sources, including the National Baseball Hall of Fame, credit Chance’s 1910 ejection as the first.)
If asked, we’re sure that Piniella could empathize with Chance ejected for arguing with future Hall of Fame umpire Tom Connolly about a called home run in the third inning of the 1910 World Series. After all, a few years earlier, in 1906, Chance and the Cubs became the first team ever to record 116 regular-season victories (a record that still has not been bettered), only to lose 4–1 to the Connie Mack–led Philadelphia A’s in the championship.
Like Piniella, Chance was demanding and tough, treating his players as men, not boys, but allowing them their fun away from the field. Both Cubs managers demanded perfection on the field in exchange for turning a blind eye to minor vices off it. The 1906 Cubs team gave Chance the closest thing to perfection that any team has ever given their manager in exchange for his trust: the most wins ever (116) in the regular season. That season was a product of a Cubs dynasty that won four pennants in five years (1906–10) thanks in large part to the guidance of Chance, “the Peerless Leader.”
The team’s 116–36 record is also the best win-loss record of any team ever. Only one team has equaled Chance’s Cubs: the Seattle Mariners, who went 116–46 in 2001, tying the Cubs on wins, but failing to top the 1906 Cubs’ win ratio (.763 to .716).
Who was the Chance-like manager of the 2001 Seattle Mariners? Lou Piniella.
Peter Golenbock, Wrigleyville: A Magical History Tour of the Chicago Cubs (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 106.
“Frank Chance Of The Chicago Cubs 1st Player Ejected In A World Series Game,” facebook.com, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Frank-Chance-Of-The-Chicago-Cubs-1st-Player-Ejected-In-A- World-Series-Game/309832391800?sk=info, accessed July 3, 201
“World Series Ejections,” baseball-almanac.com, http://www.baseball-almanac.com/ws/wsmgrej.shtml, accessed July 3, 2013.
“Chance, Frank,” baseballhalloffame.org, http://baseballhall.org/hof/chance-frank, accessed July 3, 2013.
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