On this date in 1906 the last place Boston Braves beat the league leading Chicago Cubs and their ace pitcher Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown 6-4.
We've written of baseball hots streaks before, most notably of 1914's epic turnaround in The Boston Braves Are In Last Place, when that woebegone franchise found itself in last place on July 4 before rallying to take 68 of their last 87 contests to win the pennant and then sweep the defending champion Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.
What was unusual about 1906 was that the Cubs lost at all. It was the year the Chicago team set a baseball record by winning 116 games and losing only 36. They were dominant both at home (56-21), and the road (60-15) where they outscored opponents by more than 2 to 1, but embedded within that triumphant season was an even hotter streak.
On August 4, Chicago pitcher Jack Taylor lost to Giants ace Christy Mathewson leaving the Cubs with a 68-30 record and a lead of 4 1/2 games over the New Yorkers. The Cubs then won 37 of 39 games before the loss on September 18, bringing their record to 105-32 and expanding their lead over the second place Giants to 17 1/2 games. During that stretch the team had winning streaks of 11, 14 and 12 games.
Before stumbling across this streak, THC believed the best 40 game streak in the majors since 1901 was by the Detroit Tigers who started the 1984 season winning 35 of their first 40 games. We also checked the 1916 New York Giants who set a major league record with 26 consecutive wins but found they went 6-8 in the proceeding fourteen games and at the end of the streak lost 4 of the remaining five games in the season, finishing in 4th place. Since the Cubs lost a game at either end their 40 game record was 37-3.
(Mordecai Peter Centennial "Three Finger" Brown from unsportsmanlikecomment)
(Why his nickname was "Three Finger" from cbs)
During the 39-game span the Cubs outscored opponents 195 to 68 and their hurlers threw twelve shutouts, held the opposition to one run on eight occasions and two runs in ten games. Chicago used six starting pitchers, Brown (9 starts and 26-6 for the year), Taylor (9 and 12-3), Ed Ruelbach (8 and 19-4), Jack Pfeister (7 and 20-8)), Orval Overall (5 and 12-3) and Carl Lundgren (1 and 17-6). On August 9, Taylor threw the last of his record 187 consecutive complete games, a streak that started in 1901. Not that the Cubs used many pitchers at any point in the season, having only eight on their roster most of the year. It helped that the starters threw 125 complete games, or perhaps THC has cause and effect reversed.
In that era teams didn't use many position players either with only 14 making appearances for the Cubs that year and even that is misleading because three players had only 5 at-bats collectively so effectively the team used only eleven position players. Of course those players were pretty good. The double play combo was Joe Tinker (SS), Johnny Evers (2B) and player-manager Frank Chance (1B) along with catcher Johnny Kling, Harry Steinfeldt at third and an outfield of Jimmy Sheckard, Jimmy Slagle and Fred Schulte.
(Frank Chance; 1B & Manager, "The Peerless Leader" from vintage baseball)
Most of those position players are little known today and their stats may not look impressive by the standards of 2015 but in the context of 1906 this was a terrific lineup. Arguably, four of the eight regulars could be considered the best in the league at their positions; Chance, Evers, Kling and Sheckard while Tinker wasn't the best only because the incomparable Honus Wagner played shortstop for the Pirates. The lineup led the league in runs scored and by modern measures their defensive efficiency was substantially better than any other team that year.
By golly, wouldn't you know it there's a YouTube video introducing the team and its home park (Wrigley Field had not yet been built).
Oddly, one of the Cub wins was by forfeit in a game with the New York Giants. The circumstances were certainly strange so we'll let Paul Doherty who wrote an article on forfeits for the SABR Research Journal explain:
The second forfeit game that didn't start was scheduled for the Polo Grounds August 7, 1906 with the Chicago Cubs the visitors. During the game of the day before, umpire Jimmy Johnstone had made some decisions that aroused both teams against him. When Johnstone and Bob Emslie reached the ball park Johnstone was told he could not enter the grounds The Giants didn't want him as an umpire after his performance of the day before. Emslie's entrance was not barred so he went inside a short distance then retreated, refusing to take part in the game if his partner was refused admittance. Then Johnstone forfeited the game to the Cubs.Baseball was certainly different in 1906!
Inside the grounds McGraw wanted the game run his way with each team picking a player to form an umpire team. He talked this over with Frank Chance the Chicago manager. McGraw picked his utility man, Sam Strang, to be one of the arbiters, but Chance, after talking to Charles Murphy, president of the Chicago Cubs, who was in the stands, declined to appoint a Cub player to work with Strang. He said the forfeit had already been announced and he took his players off the field to the clubhouse.
Strang, McGraw's umpire, forfeited the game to the Giants on McGraw's orders. Now both teams claimed the forfeit. The next day, National League President Harry Pulliam upheld Johnstone's forfeit decision giving the game to the Cubs because the New York club wouldn't let the umpire in the park. The Giants appealed this decision, but it was a waste of time.
The only Cub losses during this period were on August 19 when Taylor lost to Hooks Wiltse of the Giants (a day after Three Finger Brown beat Christy Mathweson) and on September 2 with Jack Pfeister getting bested by the St Louis Cardinals. During the streak the Cubs beat every one of the other teams in the league though they played the last place Boston Braves only three times in those 39 games, and going 7-0 against both Brooklyn and Cincinnati.
The entire season is full of ridiculously good Cubs streaks. The team split its first 12 games and then went 110-30 thereafter and also won 86 of their last 107 games. Chicago had one ineffective pitcher, Bob Wicks, who managed to go 3-5 before being traded on June 2 so the Cubs were 113-31 in games in which he did not get a decision. Chicago also won 11 of 12 games against the two other 90-win teams in the league, New York and Pittsburgh during their 39 game blitz.
Even with the loss on September 18 the Cubs still finished the season playing well, winning 48 of their last 54 games. Unfortunately it didn't carry over to the World Series which they entered as heavy favorites but lost to their crosstown rivals the Chicago White Sox, also know as The Hitless Wonders, in six games.
Their regular season dominance didn't end with the 1906 season. In 1907 the Cubs started off 47-12 giving them 95 wins in their last 113 regular season games and went on to win the World Series. The Chicago team's best consecutive 154 games performance during 1906-7 resulted in a 122-32 record! The 1908 and 1909 Cubs squads also put on strong closing runs finishing their seasons 40-9 and 37-14 respectively while the pennant winning 1910 team had a mid-season burst in which it won 66 of 90 contests. The windy city team went to the World Series every year except 1909.
A good case can be made that the 1906-10 Chicago Cubs, with an average season record of 106-47, were the best team in National League history. You can read the case for it in this interesting piece at SABR.