Today’s Chicago Cubs began as the White Stockings, a team name that lasted until 1889. Based on the relative youth of the players, the team was next called the “Colts” (1890-1897). When the club’s owner refused to renew manager Cap Anson’s contract in 1898, the leader-less ballplayers were dubbed the “Orphans” (1898-1901). After a disastrous 1901 losing season (53-86), the Chicagoans began a huge rebuilding project, stocking the team with young players and rookies. Hence the “Cubs.” Other names cropped up over the years as well.
Where did they all come from? Baseball club names during this period often originated in newspapers, created by ingenious sportswriters. That’s why the dates given in the preceding paragraph may vary, depending on the research work one consults, and at best are only approximations (the Baseball Almanac is among the sources that uses the above dates for the various Chicago teams). Often more than one name would be used at the same time, depending upon the newspaper and the whims of readers. Baseball historian John Snyder summed it up well in his Cubs Journal (2008): “The name caught the imagination of the public and began to be used in everyday speech until it became part of the team’s identity.”
So it was with the Cubs. One of the first appearances of “Cubs” was in the March 27, 1902, issue of the Chicago Daily News (click on image to enlarge). The lead sentence in the article “Selee Places His Men: Manager of the Cubs Is in Doubt Only on Two Positions” reads: “Frank Selee will devote his strongest efforts on the team work of the new Cubs this year.”
It was the capital “C” that made the difference. As Glenn Stout writes in his and Richard A. Johnson’s The Cubs: A Complete History (2007): “The term ‘cub’ was common slang for a young ballplayer, and it very well may be the typesetter who should get credit, for had the word not appeared with the capitalized ‘C,’ it might not have stood out.”
The name did indeed stand out, although “Colts” was still used by some newspapers and sportswriters. According to Cubs historian Art Ahrens in his book Chicago Cubs: Tinker to Evers to Chance (2007), by 1907 the team was “universally called the Cubs by all the newspapers. That year, the name Cubs first appeared on the club’s scorecards.” John Snyder observes in Cubs Journal that Chicago manager Frank Chance “insisted in 1907 that the club be called the ‘Cubs’ exclusively. The Chicago newspapers fell in line. The Cubs nickname was ‘officially’ recognized during the 1907 World Series, when new coats were issued to the players sporting a large white bear figure on each sleeve.”
Left: Besides new coats, the 1907 Cubs received World Series medals. From the Chicago Daily Tribune: “Its center represents in rose gold the ‘world,’ on which is mounted in relief the profile of a bear cub holding a large diamond in his teeth, which are to be of aluminum. A ruby represents the cub’s eye. The figures ‘1907’ will be raised slightly. Circling this field is a band of Roman gold bearing the inscription ‘World’s Champions.'”
The Tribune also notes that “on the reverse side is a place for engraving each player’s name. The medals are of 14 karat gold.”
Below are the Chicago Cubs’ 1906, 1907, and 1908 World Series medals all combined into a watch fob by Cubs owner (1905-1914) Charles W. Murphy. (Photograph courtesy of Ed Hartig.)