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Touching base with the Cubs' last champions

By Randy Richardson

I wasn't around in 1908, the last year the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. Not many who were are still around today.

But I still feel a connection to that 1908 team, and not just because Cubs' fans are always being reminded that this is the 100th anniversary of the Cubs' last championship.

It's not even the whole team to which I feel connected. It is rather four players from that team. And they're not the four that are most well known, the ones immortalized in poetry and enshrined in Cooperstown, the infielders Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance. Or even the famous three-fingered one, Mordecai Brown.

No, the four are Hofman, Steinfeldt, Schulte and Orval Overall. I name the first three only by their last names because for some 30 years that's how I knew them.

I don't know the exact year they came to me, and my mother, the one who brought them to me, doesn't remember how they came into her possession. The memories become cloudy after thirty or so years pass. My best recollection is that my mother had picked them up in an antique store bargain bin. I'd bet that she didn't pay more than a dollar or two per card. She didn't know anything at all about baseball cards but picked them out for me because they looked old and the pictured players all wore Cubs uniforms and my life at that time pretty much revolved around the Cubs and baseball cards.

Hofman, Steinfeldt, Schulte and Orval Overall were much different than all the others in my baseball card collection. They were about half the size, the pictured players were lithographs instead of photographs, and only Overall had stats and his player bio on the back. It reads: "Orval Overall, the large-framed pitcher of the Chicago Nationals, came to that team in 1906 from Cincinnati. His greatest pitching achievement was the winning of fourteen consecutive victories in the fall of 1907 and spring of 1908. Of his 46 games won in 1908-09-10, 16 were shut-outs. In four years on 294 fielding chances, he made only 11 errors."

On the backs of the Hofman, Steinfeldt and Schulte are advertisements for Sweet Caporal Cigarettes or Cycle Cigarettes.

In the late '70s, when Hofman, Steinfeldt, Schulte and Orval Overall joined my thriving baseball card collection, baseball card collecting wasn't big business. You couldn't go to Beckett for card values. You couldn't go to Google to look up a player's career stats. I'm sure there were ways to find information about Hofman, Steinfeldt and Schulte, but as a teen I wasn't intellectually curious enough to go looking for them.

I knew the cards were old but I had no idea just how old they were, but I at least instinctively had the good sense to treat these four cards with more care and respect than I treated all of the others I owned. So they haven't changed much in the thirty or so years since I got them. Orval Overall looks the worst. He's got a Frankensteinian crease running across his forehead and the edges are frayed and worn. But the other three all remain in pretty good shape, for being almost 100 years old.

The only T206 I'd ever heard of was Honus Wagner, the most famous baseball card in existence. Known as the "Holy Grail" and the "Mona Lisa of baseball cards", an example of this card was the first baseball card to be sold for over a million dollars.

The white-bordered tobacco card set known as T206 was issued from 1909 to 1911 in cigarette and loose tobacco packs through 16 different brands owned by the American Tobacco Company. It is a landmark set in the history of baseball card collecting, due to its size, rarity, and the quality of its color lithographs.

It would take almost 30 years for me to learn that the Hofman, Steinfeldt and Schulte cards I'd been holding are a part of this historic set. Orval Overall is different because he's a T205, the gold-bordered set that followed the popular T206 in 1911.

All four players were on the roster of that legendary 1908 Cubs team, the Cubs' last championship team.

I now know Hofman, Steinfeldt and Schulte by more than their last names.

  • Art or Circus "Solly" Hofman was a utility player for 14 seasons including 9 with the Cubs, he played a couple years in the Federal League and came back to Chicago and retired with the Cubs in 1916. Circus hit .316 with 4 RBI in the1908 World Series.
  • Third baseman Harry Steinfeldt is the only member of the Tinker- to-Evers –to-Chance infield left out of Franklin Pierce Adams' famous poem, Baseball's Sad Lexicon. In his five years in Chicago, he was on four pennant-winning and two world championship teams.
  • Frank "Wildfire" Schulte played for 15 years including his first 13 with the Cubs where he won four pennant and two World Series rings. In 1911, Wildfire was named the National League's Most Valuable Player after compiling a 30-double, 21-triple, 21-home run, 21-stolen base season, becoming the first member of the 20-20-20-20 club, later joined by Willie Mays in 1957 and Curtis Granderson and Jimmy Rollins in 2007.

Baseball fans rarely get to meet the players for whom they cheer. We're lucky to get an autograph from them. Yet we often feel like we know them. We watch them play and we collect their cards. Those cards bring us closer to them. Most of the memories of the players I grew up watching come from their Topps trading cards. The happy-go-lucky smile on Ernie Banks' 1969 cardboard or the sweet swing of Billy Williams captured on his 1974 card. The black horned-rim glasses worn by Paul Reuschel in his 1977 card or the oversized tinted round ones sported by Tom Veryzer in 1983. The Cubs hat in 1977 that barely contained Jose Cardenal's Afro and the bushy Fu Manchu moustache on Dick Tidrow in 1981. These are my Topps memories.

Hofman, Steinfeldt, Schulte and Overall don't hold memories for me but they do hold history, a timeless connection to the past, a glimpse of what it was like to experience what no other Cubs team has done since. The four of them have opened a portal to 1908 and that last Cubs championship team. I can picture Overall on the mound in game 5, shutting down Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers, giving up only three hits and striking out ten in leading the Cubs to their second consecutive title. It's hard to believe but since that day, October 14, 1908, not another Cubs pitcher has stood on the mound in the Series and gotten a game 4 "W".

Touching base with these last Cubs' champions has been good for my soul. They've let me experience a little of something I've always dreamt of: a Cubs' World Series.

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Randy Richardson, author of Wrigleyville murder-mystery Lost In The Ivy, is a Regular Loser. He is a frequent contributor to Chicago Parent magazine and his work has recently been anthologized in Chicken Soup for the Father and Son Soul and Humor for the Boomer's Heart. He serves as president of the Chicago Writers Association.

Posted on Friday, September 5, 2008 at 09:59PM by Registered CommenterLovable Losers Literary Revue in , | Comments12 Comments | References19 References

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