Friday, February 6, 2009

1968 Laughlin Baseball World Series #5, 1908 (Cubs vs. Tigers)

Artist Bob Laughlin published a bunch of oddball card sets featuring his cartoons and caricatures during the 70s and 80s, including a cute series (1974 Sportslang) I covered last July. His earliest work, a series of single-panel highlight cards covering each World Series, shows up today. This first card featured the Boston American and Pittsburgh Pirates from 1903, the former beating the latter in a best-of-9. Recent type collection tangent John McGraw (and Giant team management) refused to play in 1904, so skip one year and add four to reach 1908, today’s card.

Card front

This plain-faced image, appearing humbly in black-and-white, relates to a great deal of baseball culture, old and new. Tinker, Evers, and Chance, most of the infield for Chicago’s dominant 1900s team, all played pretty well. Their social significance, however, looms over a simple stat line like the Colossus over Rhodes, casting shadows into the future. As multiple championship winners and poetic célèbre, the teammates became more than legend than substance. People knew them so well that their eponymous phrase came to mean “working smoothly and reliably.” This comes, however, with a mirror role as a sacrificial pop icon for modern critics. As individuals, none played up to Hall of Fame “standards,” itself a font of rich debate for baseball fans and writers throughout the sport’s history. The arguments back-and-forth are a reading snooze for me, but the line between Hall of Fame and Hall of Very Good really lights some people up.

Card back

To circle back to 1908, consider a few other Events of Significance surrounding that year’s World Series.

  1. Tender 19 year-old Fred Merkle mis-runs the bases (the Merkle Boner) and snatches defeat from the Giant jaws of victory. He went on to play for 20 years, but never outlived that infamous day. “GIANTS WIN LOSE THE PENNANT,” etc., etc.
  2. Gate attendance proved very low, partly from a Chicago ticket scalping scandal the ownership was implicated in. Sound familiar?
  3. “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” written by two gentlemen who’d never seen a pro game, becomes a nationwide hit.
  4. The Chicago Cubs kick off a century of waiting for their fans.

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