The last Cubs championship team was owned by Ohioans

The last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, 108 years ago, the ownership was out of Cincinnati.

Former Enquirer sportswriter Charles Webb Murphy bought the Cubs in 1905 financed by a loan from a rather big name around here: Charles Phelps Taft.

Taft was a successful investor and philanthropist, and also owned the Cincinnati Times-Star newspaper and was the half-brother of future president William Howard Taft.

“Murphy ran the team but Charles Phelps Taft was the money behind it,” said Dudley Taft, the great grand nephew of Taft and one of the current owners of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Many bigwigs from the early days of modern baseball had Queen City roots.

American League founder Ban Johnson, who grew up in Avondale, and Reds president Garry Herrmann were two-thirds of the National Commission, which ruled over the game before there was a commissioner.

Before Murphy became president of the Cubs, the Wilmington, Ohio, native had worked as a reporter and sports editor at the Enquirer, then at the Times-Star. In 1904, New York Giants’ owner John T. Brush, a former Reds owner, hired Murphy as the game’s first press agent.

One day Murphy got wind that Cubs owner James A. Hart was selling the club for $105,000, so he hopped a train to Cincinnati to ask his old boss Taft for a loan. Murphy would pony up his own life savings, about $20,000, if Taft would supply the rest.

Taft said he had no interest in becoming a baseball magnate, the Enquirer reported, “But I liked Murphy and had some confidence in his judgment. When I found that he was willing to invest every cent of his savings in the deal I concluded that it might be a pretty good thing and went in with him.”

The 1906 Cubs were one of the most dominant teams ever assembled. Led by player/manager Frank Chance, “the Peerless Leader,” they had the famous double-play combination of “Tinker to Evers to Chance” and pitcher Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, and Murphy nabbed third baseman Harry Steinfeldt and pitcher Orval Overall from the Reds for the final pieces.

The Cubs won 116 games (still a MLB record) and dominated in batting, pitching and fielding, but they were over-confident and the crosstown White Sox shocked them in a World Series upset.

The Cubs captured World Series titles in 1907 and ’08, both against the Detroit Tigers, then lost to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1910.

Then things fell apart.

After a third-place finish in 1912, Murphy fired Chance and replaced him with Johnny Evers, which didn’t sit well in Chicago. Taft and Murphy were also behind the ownership of the Philadelphia Phillies, and Murphy pushed Phillies president Horace Fogel to accuse umpires of favoring the Giants. The accusation got Fogel ousted from baseball.

Murphy feuded with just about everybody – owners, presidents, players, umpires and fans.

The last straw was trading Evers to the Boston Braves after the 1913 season. The owners wanted Murphy out of the game entirely.

Murphy’s response, the Chicago Tribune reported, “was printed mostly in dashes.”

“The Cubs are not going to be sold,” Murphy said. “I am in baseball to stay and no ____ ____ ____ is going to force me out of the game.”

A meeting was to be held in Cincinnati in February 1914 to discuss the Murphy situation, but National League president John K. Tener met privately with Taft, and Taft agreed to buy out Murphy’s shares of the Cubs.

Murphy was out, but he professed it wasn’t by force.

“It is true that the Chief Executive of the National League at that time was not ‘crazy’ about me and that he had called a meeting to have me quartered and boiled in oil, or shot at sunrise, I don’t know which,” Murphy wrote. “…Before the meeting could be held, however, I sold out to Mr. Charles P. Taft and without force, but for what every other thing of value is obtained – a price. Imagine a man being forced to take $500,000 for a baseball franchise.”

In the eight seasons Murphy ran the Cubs, they won four NL pennants and two World Series.

Taft sold the Cubs to Charles Weeghman in 1915 as part of the settlement to shut down the upstart Federal League. Weeghman moved the team from the old West Side Park to his Weeghman Park, later known as Wrigley Field.

Sources: Enquirer archives, Chicago Tribune, Society for American Baseball Research


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