Chicago Cubs: An Early History (Part One)

David WyattAnalyst IJuly 14, 2009

HOUSTON - MAY 25:  The National League Baseball logo on the field behind the plate during the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 25, 2004 in Houston, Texas. The Astros won 5-0. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

One of the oldest teams in baseball, the Chicago Cubs, have had a glorious past—filled with some ups and a lot of downs.

When I first started following the Cubs, I was looking for a team with history. I didn't grow up in the United States with an affiliation to any state or team, I had no roots in Chicago or Cub fans in my family. I had to research to find a suitable team, rather than having it instilled in my psyche from an early age.

So I started reading, and I read a lot. However, there was one team that stuck out to me more than any other: the Chicago Cubs.

What started as research, became a long fascination with the history of the franchise, starting with it's establishment in early 1870.

The recounting of the team's history will be handled in four parts, starting with 1870-1875, and will continue with part two (1876-1878), part three (1879-1890) and conclude with part four (1890-1892).

I hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.

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Chicago White Stockings

On April 29, 1870, the Chicago White Stockings played their first game against the St. Louis Union, beating them 47-1. Across the summer of 1870 individual games were organized among the various teams that sprung up after the success of the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Each team set out to beat the Red Stockings.

After a summer of success, the decision was made that the Chicago White Stockings should join the first professional baseball association, the National Association of Professional Baseball Players, in 1871. Although close contenders throughout the season, the White Stockings were struck with disaster when the great Chicago fire destroyed the club's ballpark, uniforms, equipment and many other possessions.

The now renowned north—westerly winds have been credited as the reason why the Great Fire Of Chicago spread, along with the city’s dominant wood buildings.

The poor luck of the Cubs is ingrained into their history, and the fire is an example of just how unlucky the team was.

The fire started at 9:00 p.m., but the fire department did not receive the alarm until 9:40, at which point the fire guard continued to ignore the light in the sky, crediting it to a fire that was put out a day before. After the blaze grew, it was finally decided to send fire fighters to the scene, only for them to be sent in the wrong direction.

The Chicago White Stockings decided to drop out of the National Association of Professional Baseball Players while the city underwent a recovery period. 

Thankfully, the White Stockings were revived in 1874.


On May 13, 1874, the Chicago White Stockings played the first game in Chicago since the great fire, defeating the Athletics 4-0.

They finished the 1874 season in fifth place out of eight teams in the league. Although the 1874 season was a disappointing one, Levi Meyerle did finish the season with the highest BA in the league, as well as the OBP and OPS while he played for the White Stockings, hitting .394.

On the 18th of June, the White Stockings were humiliated by the New York Mutuals 38-1.  The game was marred with error after error as the White Stockings committed 36.

George Zettlein also led the league for the White Stockings... but in a category that no pitcher wants to lead: walks. He was also second in losses with 30, two better than Tommy Bond of the seventh placed Brooklyn Atlantics, as well as being the joint leader in runs allowed with Tommy Bong, again allowing 176 runs in the 1874 season.

1874 Roster—Fergy Malone (Pitcher), John Glenn (Infielder), Levi Meyerle (Infielder), Davy Force (infielder), John Peters (Infielder), Ned Cuthbert (Outfielder), Paul Hines (Outfielder), Paul Hines (Outfielder), Fred Treacey (Outfielder), Jim Devlin (Unknown), Gilroy (Unknown), Dan Collins (Unknown), Terry Connell (Unknown), George Zettlein (Pitcher)


In 1875, the National Association extended from eight to 13 teams. What followed for the White Stockings was another mediocre season, finishing in sixth place, 35 games back from the eventual champions, the Boston Red Stockings (who lost just eight games).

The White Stockings finished with a record of 30 wins and 37 losses with a .448 winning percentage. On May 11, 1875, they were part of the lowest scoring game in history at that point, when they defeated the St Louis Red Stockings 1-0.

Late in the season, the White Stockings suffered a great loss, when owner George Gagne passed away after suffering a stroke.  William Hubert would take over and make an outstanding contribution to baseball after the 1875 season.

Team Roster—George Zettlein (Pitcher), Jim Devlin (Pitcher), Mike Golden (Pitcher), Scott Hastings (Catcher), Paul Hines (Infielder), Warren White (Infielder), John Peters (Infielder), Oscar Bielaski (Outfielder), John Glen (Outfielder), Dick Higham (Unknown), Paddy Quinn (Unknown), Joe Miller (Unknown), George Keerl (Unknown), Fred Waterman (Unknown), Will Foley (Unknown), Mike Brannock (Unknown), Spike Brady (Unknown)

William Hubert and the National league

William Hubert took control of the Chicago White Stockings in 1875 and would go on to form the National League, sparked by the Davy Force case.

Davy Force, the shortstop for the White Stockings in 1875, was widely known as a contract jumper; he sold his talents at the end of each season and went to the club that offered the most money. Going against the rules, William Hubert signed Force to a contract for the 1875 season while the 1874 season was still taking place.

However, the Philadelphia Athletics offered Force more money and he signed a second contract with them. Although the initial ruling went to the White Stockings, a President from Philadelphia was elected and that decision was overturned, sending Force to the Athletics.

In a rebellious movement, Hubert vigorously protested and claimed that the Eastern based teams had a conspiracy to keep the western teams down. Even though Hubert anticipated a league disciplinary action, he signed star Boston pitcher Al Spalding as well as Cal McVey, Deacon White and Ross Barns from Boston, and Cap Anson Ezra Sutton from the Philadelphia Athletics (Sutton would late renege on the contract). 

He signed all these players during the 1874 season, and assuming he'd face disciplinary actions, he organized and developed his own league: the National League.

To make sure the league was a success, he would need to have other teams.  Enlisting the support of the Western teams in Cincinnati, St Louis and Louisville, he also held a meeting with the teams from the east, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Hartford, on February 2, 1876.

William Hubert managed to sell the idea of this league based on many factors, including; the integrity of business, and the recognition of, and upholding of contracts. Not only making the game better off the field, but also on the field, with prohibition laws on drinking and gambling.

William Hubert’s vision of a league with a more dominant central structure was realised and the founding charter members of the National league were:

Philadelphia Athletics
Boston Red Stockings
Chicago White Stockings
Cincinnati Red Stockings
Hartford Dark Blues
Louisville Grays
Mutuals Of New York
St Louis Brown Stockings

As of 1876 the National league was born.

We will pick up with the 1876 season in part two to come later this week.