Despite a Great Run as Cubs Manager, Things Got Ugly When Frank Chance Departed

When owner Charlie Murphy took some serious shots at Chance, the Peerless Leader used his own ammo 107 years ago today.

EXCERPT: CHANCE NEARS END OF LINE AS CUBS MANAGER. . .

Like many Cubs fans, I am wondering if manager Joe Maddon will return in 2020. Because I consider Maddon without peer among Cubs managers since the Peerless Leader, Frank Chance, I am reminded of the public melodrama that surrounded Chance’s departure in 1912 after a run that included four National League pennants and two World Series championships.

Exactly 107 years ago today, Chance, who was recovering from surgery to remove a clot that was giving him excruciating headaches, summoned sportswriters to his hospital bed to rip into Cubs owner Charlie Murphy, who had ripped into him.

You don’t often see these kinds of public shootouts nowadays. I suppose that’s a good thing. But it’s not nearly as entertaining.

Here’s an excerpt from my 1908 Cubs Novel, The Run Don’t Count. Available at Amazon.com. Or email me at herbgould85@gmail.com for signed copies. Which I love to do.

The book is historically accurate in all details. I have merely added a narrator, a batboy who leaves the team to pursue a career as an architect, to liven things up.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 1912

NEW YORK CITY

I was in New York, delivering some blueprints for the Architect, so I was able to stop by to see the convalescing Peerless Leader at the private hospital of Dr. W.G. Fralick, on East 60th Street in Manhattan.

I had been concerned, of course. Who wouldn’t be? The phrase “brain surgery” always carried a serious amount of weight. In 1912, that was especially true. I should have known Frank could handle it. He was sitting up in bed, fidgeting and grinding his teeth when I walked in.

“William,” he said. “Always good to see you.”

“You, too, Frank. How are you feeling?”

“The headaches from the blood clot are gone,” he said. “Headaches from Chubby Charlie Murphy are not so easily removed.”

When Frank heard about Murphy’s proposed alcohol ban and the owner’s argument that heavy drinking had caused his Cubs to under-achieve, the outraged manager fired right back. And never mind that he was in a hospital bed, less than a week removed from brain surgery.

“The writers are here, Frank,” Mrs. Chance said.

“Let ’em in, Edythe,” Frank said.

The reporters found the Peerless Leader sitting up in bed, his head heavily wrapped in bandages. A big black cigar was clenched between his teeth.

“Don’t look much like a dying man, do I?” Chance said. “Let’s get down to business.” Chance opened with a few comments and answered a few questions. His brain seemed to be working just fine.

“If Mr. Dreyfuss or Mr. Murphy or anybody else says my team lost the pennant in 1909 on account of drinking, he is a liar. If anybody else says that the Cubs ever lost for that reason, he is a liar. I believe that I have the best behaved baseball team in either league.”

That might have been a stretch. On the other hand, there were no box-score stats on behavior in those days. Teams were judged on wins and losses. They still are, I would argue. And despite Murphy’s claims, there wasn’t an obvious case for the Cubs coming up short for any reason other than that Pittsburgh was the better team in the 1909 season. And the A’s were the better team in the 1910 World Series.

The absence of catcher Johnny Kling, rather than an abundance of alcohol, was a more plausible explanation for the Cubs’ failure to beat the Pirates in 1909. But Murphy, who had declined to give holdout Kling a raise, obviously wasn’t going to go there. Chance further answered Murphy’s harangue by saying he would never sign a contract with a no-drinking clause, nor would he want his players to do that.

“Most of these players take a glass of beer after the game, and I consider that to be beneficial,” he said. “None of my men ever takes a drink in the morning or between games. I feel these charges keenly. Reading them in the papers has set me back. I could hardly sleep last night. I cannot figure out what Murphy is trying to do. Apparently he is sore because I lost the pennant and wants to rasp somebody. But he is not going to rasp me.”

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