Chicago Sports History: Fans, Gambling, and Shifting Loyalties

AHA Session 164
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Boulevard B (Hilton Chicago, Second Floor)
Stanley Arnold, Northern Illinois University
Horse Racing in the Windy City, 194580
Steven A. Riess, Northeastern Illinois University
Linda J. Borish, Western Michigan University

Session Abstract

Our panel provides perspectives on how and why sport is such a powerful influence on American culture. The four panelists examine relevant chapters in Chicago’s unique sport history through the study of the history of baseball and horse racing. Moreover, in keeping with the theme of the 2019 AHA annual meeting, our papers offer intriguing examples of loyalty. These papers trace the historical creation of ties between sport and the Chicago community but also demonstrate the tenuous nature of loyalty within sport, as these bonds were challenged over time.

Rebecca Edwards reveals an overlooked episode in Chicago sport history, the story of the use of umpire’s signs at the 1906 World Series (an all-Chicago, Cubs vs. White Sox affair). Contrary to prevailing baseball historiography, Edwards notes that a deaf baseball player – William Ellsworth Hoy – had created the gestures given by umpires behind home plate to indicate balls and strikes. Baseball’s connection to the deaf community through “Dummy” Hoy – the most prominent deaf player – was the catalyst for the creation of the enduring sign language of baseball, a since forgotten tie of loyalty.

Steven A. Riess examines the post-war rise and decline of equine sports in Chicago, tracing the post-war boom that made Chicago second only to New York City in horse racing popularity. Riess outlines the sometimes-hidden loyalties behind the popularity of Chicago’s horse tracks – particularly the unethical and sometimes illegal relationship between politicians and the horse racing industry. In time, gamblers’ loyalty to Chicago tracks lessened as other opportunities for gambling increased.

Seth S. Tannenbaum documents the persistence of gambling at the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field. Tannenbaum finds that while baseball teams cracked down on gambling, particularly after the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, the Cubs were reluctant to react too harshly to gambling, for fear of chasing away an important segment of their fans. Wrigley Field was particularly friendly to gamblers given the old ballpark’s sense of community and all-day game schedule. The Cubs and the gamblers retained an unspoken tie, a bond of loyalty that had long since disappeared from other franchises.

Joseph Eaton examines the Chicago Cubs’ ties with female fans. The Cubs’ Ladies’ Days were remarkably successful in the 1920s and 1930s and retained popularity into the post-war era, given the team’s embrace of day baseball and exposure on television. While Ladies’ Days faced legal challenges in the 1970s, the Cubs retained a large female fan base. Yet, some women protested their beloved team’s often poor play on the field, particularly in new forms of print media – their loyalty to the Cubs was not blind.

In outlining some of the dynamic history of loyalties in sport over time, our panel illustrates that sports history is more than just winning and losing – and Chicago has had its share of losers – but that sports history tells of innovation and broader connections within society and culture.

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