2016 Get Local Party

Play Ball, Great Lakes Style

October 26, 2016 | |

Caption: A scorecard from Oct. 10, 1908, when the Cubs beat the Tigers, 10-6, to win their last World Series. Photo by Kevin Guilfoile

Fall Classic is first all-freshwater World Series in 71 years

By Jacob Wheeler

The 2016 World Series between the Cleveland Indians and my beloved Chicago Cubs is special for many reasons. Even non-baseball fans have heard on the news by now that each of these hard-luck ball clubs has wallowed for decades without a championship.

The Indians haven’t won the Fall Classic since 1948; the Cubs are playing in their first World Series since 1945, and haven’t won since 1908! Long pent-up revelry, even pandemonium, will ensue on the banks of Lake Erie or Lake Michigan when a victor emerges. (The Tribe currently holds a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series after winning, 6-0, in Game 1 last night.)

But to Midwesterners who cherish our freshwater seas, this World Series is special for another reason. It’s the first “All Great Lakes World Series” in … 71 years — pointed out Toledo Blade award-winning environmental reporter Tom Henry. That’s right. Not since the Detroit Tigers vanquished the Cubs in 1945 has baseball’s greatest act been performed exclusively on the banks of our receded glaciers.

The environmental health of the Great Lakes is paramount for our way of life. Since the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities is deeply invested in the campaign to shut down the Line 5 oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac — and since we love baseball — we took the opportunity to compile the following timeline of key events in Great Lakes environmental history, and the corresponding play-by-play of what was happening in baseball at the time.

Follow us on this epic journey, between the birth of baseball and the birth of the modern American environmental movement.

• 1846: The New York Knickerbockers play the “New York Nine” at Elysian Fields, Hoboken, New Jersey. The Knickerbockers lose to the New Yorks by a score of 23 to 1 in four innings of play.

• 1848: The Illinois and Michigan ship canal is built at Chicago to enable boats to sail between the Great Lakes and the Illinois River, which connects to the Mississippi. This becomes known as the Chicago Diversion.

1890: Cy Young — for whom the pitching award is named — takes the mound in the Major Leagues for the first time.

• 1891: A typhoid epidemic in Chicago, caused by contaminated water, leads to a move to deepen the canal so as to carry wastes away from the drinking water intake.

• 1900: The Great Lakes population reaches 11.5 million. The Chicago Diversion is enlarged and renamed the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. The canal is deepened to the point that it reverses flow of the Chicago River from Lake Michigan and water pours out of the lake to reach the Des Plaines, Illinois and Mississippi rivers, and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. It allows more ship traffic, and it flushes Chicago’s sewage down the river and away from Lake Michigan, its source of drinking water. This leads to a long-running dispute over how much water should flow through the canal.

1903: The Boston Pilgrims and the Pittsburgh Pirates play the first World Series. (In 1904, the World Series is not played, due to a personal squabble between Giants player-manager John McGraw and American League president Ban Johnson.)

1906: The Chicago Cubs win a record 116 games and lose only 36. In 1908 they beat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series — their last championship …

• 1909: The United States and Great Britain, on behalf of Canada, sign the Boundary Waters Treaty a historic agreement on the sharing of common waters, aimed at eliminating disputes. The agreement contains a prescient clause: “Boundary waters and waters flowing across the boundary shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other.”

• 1912: The Detroit Tigers’ new home, Navin Field, opens on April 20 in the Motor City’s Corktown Neighborhood — the same day as Boston’s Fenway Park. This was five days after the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic.

• 1919: In the most famous scandal in baseball history, eight players from the Chicago White Sox are accused of throwing the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. The White Sox don’t win a World Series until 2005.

1920: Red Sox star Babe Ruth is sold to the New York Yankees, incurring “the curse of the bambino” on Boston, which isn’t lifted until 2004.

1930s: The sea lamprey, an eel-like primitive, jawless fish native to the Atlantic, moves into Lakes Huron, Michigan and Superior, devastating commercial fisheries, particularly for Lake Trout. … Meanwhile, during the Great Depression Babe Ruth signs a contract for $80,000 per year—more than President Hoover’s salary. “I had a better year than he did,” quips Ruth.

• 1940s: Demands for chemicals, rubber, steel, nuclear weapons and other materials in support of the Allied effort in the Second World War lead to a major industrial expansion in the Great Lakes basin. This period marks the start of large-scale chemical and heavy metal discharges to the lakes.

• 1945: One month and one day after VJ Day, marking the end of the Second World War, the Tigers beat the Cubs, 4 games to 3, in what would be the last all-Great-Lakes World Series until 2016. Upset that the Cubs wouldn’t let his pet goat “Murphy” into Wrigley Field to roam the outfield grass, Greek immigrant Bill Sianis placed the “billy goat curse” on the team.

1948: The Indians win their last World Series. On their squad is Larry Doby, the first African-American player in the American League.

• 1950s: The “dying” of Lake Erie becomes one of the biggest environmental stories in North America. In fact, the lake is being over-fertilized by phosphorus, particularly from sewage and detergents. This causes excessive growth of algae, and when they die, their decomposition sucks oxygen out of the water, killing life in certain parts of the lake. This process chokes off oxygen to 65 per cent of the lake bottom. Scientists note reproductive failures in fish-eating birds. This is later attributed to toxic chemicals including the widely used insecticide, DDT.

• 1951: New York Giant Bobby Thomson hits his pennant-winning “shot heard round the world” home run against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

• 1953: The Enbridge twin Line 5 oil pipelines are built under the Straits of Mackinac.

• 1956: Don Larsen pitches a perfect game in the World Series.

• 1957: The Mackinac bridge opened to traffic on November 1, 1957 … In baseball, the beloved New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers controversially announce their moves to California.

• 1959: The opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, with its deep, wide canals, allows ocean-going freighters access to the lakes. This also allows the more widespread introduction of exotic or alien species, which hitchhike rides in the ballast water picked up in foreign ports.

1961: Yankee Roger Maris breaks Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record.

• 1962: The publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson is a major trigger point in the development of the modern environmental movement. The book raises concerns about risks from chemicals and pollution for the environment and human health.

• 1966: Department of Conservation fisheries director Howard Tanner unleashes “coho madness” with the introduction of salmon to Lake Michigan, creating a new constituency for cleanup of water pollution.

• 1969: The oily surface of the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland catches fire, and a fireboat is called in to battle the blaze. The river surface had previously caught fire in 1936 and 1952, but the 1969 incident provokes international coverage and helps to focus attention on the need to tackle the gross pollution still being discharged into the Great Lakes. It is influential in debates leading to the US Clean Water Act, the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the 1972 bi-national Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. …. In baseball, the New York “Miracle Mets” win the World Series, largely because the Cubs choked at the end of the regular season and blew their lead. Meanwhile, Curt Flood refuses a trade to the Phillies, starting a long legal battle against baseball’s reserve clause, and leading to the formation of a players’ union.

• 1970: By 1970, the Great Lakes basin population reaches nearly 31 million, an increase of 36 percent over 20 years. The announcement that mercury has contaminated fish in Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie triggers the first major crisis of confidence in Great Lakes fish. Mercury, a heavy metal, can cause nerve damage. The discovery that it has penetrated the food chain leads to large-scale fisheries closures in the region. … That same year, the United States creates the Environmental Protection Agency.

• 1970: The Milwaukee Brewers hold their inaugural season in Wisconsin after moving from Seattle.

• 1972: Pittsburgh Pirates’ great Roberto Clemente dies in an airplane crash during a relief effort in Nicaragua—at the height of his playing career.

1974: Atlanta Brave Hank Aaron breaks Babe Ruth’s career homerun record.

Jacob Wheeler is Groundwork’s new communications manager. His dad Norm took him to his first Cubs game in April 1989 to celebrate his 11th birthday. He remembers ascending from the bowels of the stadium, the odor of beer and peanuts in his nose, the rumbling of the El train in his ears, and seeing the outfield grass for the first time. The thrill of the grass. It was love at first sight. His family’s love for baseball had infected another generation. Years later, his Dad would plant a baseball in the hand of his late great-grandfather before he was lowered into the ground. Jacob’s daughter Nina, who turns 2 in December, now proudly dons her Cubs cap, as they watch this historic World Series together.

About The Author

Jacob Wheeler is Communications Manager at Groundwork. You can reach him at [email protected]

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