The usual caveat applies: this name was never officially endorsed by the Chicago squad; it was strung upon them by their fans and local press. It is mostly used as a common reference by baseball fans to suggest pretentious knowledge of the game. Treat it as such.
The story of Cap Anson and the Chicago White Stockings (later the Colts) is vaunted in the mythos of baseball itself. Beginning in 1876, Cap played and managed over 2000 games for the team. When he retired in 1898, he was the all-time leader in games played, hits, runs, total bases, doubles, runs batted in, and games managed. He was, simply put, the soul of the Chicago team.
Naturally, when he retired, the Chicago sportswriters began calling the team "the orphans" in honor of their vanished leader. The name stuck; would the team's fate lie in Anson's exit?
Well, with that 1897 finish in the cellar, let's hope not.
As a manager and judge of talent, Anson had been passing at best, though the 1898 Orphans started out with Bad Bill Dahlen at shortstop, one of the game's finest fielders and arguably the best of his era. They also had strong hitting Bill Everitt at first base; and a solid speedy outfield trio in Sam Mertes, Jimmy Ryan, and Bill Lange. On the mound they had a star in future Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith and ... that was pretty much it. Besides Griffith and Matches Kilroy, a 32 year old washed up pitcher (who still holds the single season strikeout record with 513 (!) way back in 1860), no pitcher on the team was older than 26, and most were 22 or 23, getting a fresh start in the big leagues, the most promising being Nixey Callahan, who had shown some quality starts the year prior.
The team played marginally well under new manager Tom Burns, but the chemistry and experience was simply absent. On May 24, Griffith was ejected from a game and threatened with jail time for an obscene remark he made to the umpire; the following day the team scored 20 runs, then a league record, to get revenge against the Baltimore squad they were facing. On August 21, Walt Thornton pitched a no-hitter, but the team was already out of the pennant race, finishing fourth to end the season. Griffith's 1.88 ERA led the league, while one bright spot was a 20-year-old catcher named Frank Chance, who always seemed to knock in a run when it counted.
Before the 1899 season began, Chicago (and in particular Burns) decided to take a chance on a young prospect from Baltimore named Gene DeMontreville, and traded their star Dahlen straight up for the hot shortstop. They tweaked their pitching lineup slightly, replacing unknowns with other unknowns, and rookie Danny Green was put in centerfield, replacing the moody Lange. Opening Day saw Griffith and the Orphans rout Louisville 15-1, and the team felt good about their chances.
Unfortunately, a lot of things conspired against the team throughout the season, most of it completely out of their hands. The most heinous thing was the gutting of the Cleveland team by St. Louis Browns owner Frank Robison, who had recently bought the Cleveland franchise with the intention of shutting it down and stealing its talent. This gave many of the teams in the league a punching bag. Even worse, Baltimore had also lost a number of players to the Brooklyn team, which was renamed the Superbas due to its ominous roster of stars.
Still the team fought hard all season. On April 30, the crowd to see Chicago and St. Louis battle it out reached 27,000 - a major league record - and many of the fans were allowed to sit on the field, reducing the foul lines and depth of the stadium by nearly 30 feet. To remedy this, owner Andrew Brennehan began selling seats on the roofs of nearby buildings - until he was stopped by the league office. The team's luck, however, wasn't as good as their attendance, and despite a 75-73 record, the team finished in 8th place, well behind the pacesetting Superbas.
At the end of the season, a peculiar thing happened: Bill Lange fell in love. He met a wooed a San Francisco real estate magnate's daughter, but she agreed to marry him on only one condition: that he quit playing ball immediately.
Which he did.
Luckily, the Orphans had Green to replace him permanently, but his brief career was outstanding any way you looked at it, and his loss would be palpable in Chicago.
Tom Burns had left as manager midway through the 1899 season to become an umpire, and his assistant, outfielder Jimmy Ryan had taken over. In 1900, however, a full-time replacement in Tom Loftus was found, although Loftus hadn't managed at the American Association level in nearly 10 years.
Gone from the starting lineup were Mertes and Everitt, both suffering through contract disputes and trade rumors; DeMontreville, traded to Brooklyn before the year started; and third baseman Harry Wolverton, who jumped ship to Pittsburgh for a higher salary. They were replaced by aging superstar Cupid Childs, untested rookie Bill Bradley, and a light-hitting Dutchman named John Ganzel. The biggest coup, though, was getting former Pittsburgh star Jack McCarthy; he had hit .305 the year prior, and showed promise as a smart fielder and slick runner, notching 28 stolen bases and 17 triples in 1899. Callahan and Griffith continued to provide the backbone of the pitching staff, with rising stars Jack Taylor and Ned Garvin in tow.
Before the season even began, drama in Chicago unfolded, as Ban Johnson announced the formation of the new American League, including a team in the Windy City to be owned and managed by Charlie Comiskey. The team applied for use of the old "White Stockings" nickname, and the Orphans agreed - but refused to let the team use the name Chicago in their title!
The team twaddled around a .500 mark for much of the season, with few deviations in either direction. On June 19 (clinging to a 22-25 record), Griffith and Phillies ace Rube Waddell battled to a 13 inning shutout of both sides, with Griffith finally helping his own cause by knocking in the winning run on a double in the 14th. August 2 saw the team mixed up in major league mayhem when an iffy call at the Polo Grounds gave the team a 7-6 win over the Giants. Revolting, the crowd accosted umpire William Terry, who had to be helped out of the stadium by the Orphans! A bad streak at the end of the season left the team with a 65-75 record, languishing in 6th place, tied with their rivals in St. Louis. McCarthy only managed a .294 average (which was still enough to lead the team among starters) and no starting pitcher had a winning record.
The following year saw even more dramatic changes to the lineup, with Bradley, McCarthy, Ganzel, Ryan, and catcher Tim Donahue all exiting, replaced by a variety of players, the most notable being Frank Chance, who ended up playing most of the season in rightfield, despite being brought up as a catcher (and later earning his salt as a Hall of Fame first baseman.) The team also brought in a top prospect from Cincinnati named Topsy Hartsel, whose .335 average and 41 stolen bases paced the team. Griffith and Callahan were gone from the rotation, replaced by fading star Tom Hughes, Taylor, and former rival Waddell, who at 24 had already seen 4 years of major league action.
Perhaps the most egregious departure was Clark Griffith, the "Old Fox" and king of the illegal pitch. The previous year he had helped form a player's union and the first baseball strike, holding out for more money. However, his ulterior motive was clear: he helped nearly 50 players jump from the National League to the American League, and he himself made the jump that year, receiving a substantial paycheck from his friend Ban Johnson. Considered a traitor the rest of his days, Griffith never seemed to let anything bother him; later, as president of the American League, he helped ban the spitball that he himself had helped popularize!
Waddell proved to be the only pitcher worth his salt, and even his 2.81 ERA couldn't muster better than a 14-14 record. The team's season was pretty much summed up by the events of July 1, when first baseman Jack Doyle, angered by a fan's constant heckling, jumped into the stands and punched him - only to break the two knuckles in his index finger for the second time in a month. It's to the rest of the league's discredit that the 53-86 record posted by the Lost Boys was good enough for 6th place.
On March 27, 1902, the name "Chicago Cubs" was printed for the first time by the Chicago Daily News, and the name stuck, though the names Orphans and Colts would linger about for the next several years. Thus, the era of the Orphans had ended, and frankly, not a moment to soon, though history has shown that this new name change didn't really end the haplessness of the team.
Chicago Cubs | Chicago White Sox