The Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series, which means we can no longer say “the last time the Cubs won the World Series” and follow it with some old-timey reference to a D.W. Griffith film or the invention of the Model T.
1908. That was the last time the Cubs were world champions, and so with Chicago prepping for a North Side parade to honor the 2016 team, the obvious thing for the rest of the league is to look to next year.
With the longest curse in American sports now officially dead and buried, the question becomes who’s next?
Could it be the Pirates?
It was last time.
While everyone was reminiscing this postseason about the 1908 baseball playoffs, fans in Pittsburgh should be much more interested in the 1909 World Series. The Pirates have won five World Series in franchise history, the last in 1979, but the first came 70 years earlier, in 1909; the year after the Cubs last won the title.
The 1909 World Series was a doozy, with the Pirates and Detroit Tigers trading victories through the first six games, creating a winner-takes-all Game 7 at Detroit’s Bennett Park. The attendance for Game 7 was a modest 17,562, still more than 7,000 fans than the attendance for Game 6. Babe Adams was on the bump for the Pirates in the decisive game, pitching a complete game, six-hit shutout as the Pirates routed the Tigers 8-0 to win their first world championship.
For Pirates fans looking for more than just a memory of the 1909 World Series, Christie’s Auction House is selling the ball used for the final out, as part of Clarke’s family collection. The ball is worth an estimated $10,000 to $15,000, with a realized price of more than $21,000.
That game featured four future Hall of Fame players, including Fred Clarke, Sam Crawford and two guys the rest of the country has probably heard a bit more about: Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner.
Wagner, then 35 years old, led the Pirates to the title, hitting .333 with an OPS of .967 and six of the team’s 25 RBI. Clarke, who was also the Pirates’ long-time manager, had seven runs batted in and two homers; the only two Pittsburgh had the entire series.
While the veterans lifted Pittsburgh at the plate, Adams was in his first major-league season on the mound when he started three games in the seven-game series, winning all three. He gave up five runs, four earned, in his 27 innings pitched. He pitched three complete games, including a shutout in Game 7 of the World Series on just one day’s rest.
More on the decisive Game 7, from Baseball Almanac:
Pittsburgh’s Fred Clarke went with two game winner, Babe Adams as his pitcher, while Detroit Manager Hugh Jennings decided on Bill Donovan, a complete-game winner in Game 2.
Donovan was off to a miserable start as he hit the first Pirate batter and went on to walk six of them in the first two innings. He was pulled after three with Adams confidently holding a 2-0 lead. Pittsburgh never looked back as the Bucco’s Babe nailed his third six-hitter of the Series and an 8-0 championship victory.
It was the Pirates third post-season appearance, second official Series and first World Championship. Honus Wagner continued to prove his Cooperstown worthiness by hitting .333, with seven RBIs and six stolen bases. Playing manager Fred Clarke set a record with four walks in Game 4. On the other side, future Hall of Famer Ty Cobb did not fare as well. Appearing in what would be his last Series (although he would be an active player through 1928), Cobb batted only .231 but led Detroit with six RBIs.
While it took the Cubs 108 years to win another title, the Pirates won again in 1925, then again in 1960, some 35 years later, a generational span that made the titles in 1971 and 1979 seem downright dynastic by comparison.
It has, sadly, been more than 35 years since the last Pirates title. The 37-year drought is hardly what Chicago had to deal with, nor what Cleveland is still dealing with, given the last Indians title came in 1948. But it has been a while for Pittsburgh. Too long. And after three years in the playoffs before this past postseason, hope for another baseball parade is higher than it was in decades.
Maybe now there’s more hope. If the Cubs finally did it, maybe the Pirates are next.