A Gilded Coal-Hole
World Series winners have long received championship rings to commemorate their historic victories. Today’s players usually receive their rings in a formal ceremony at the start of the new season, often during the first home stand. Prior to the 1920s, however, players received decorated pins or medallions as their personal championship awards, which arrived toward the end of December. At the end of 1908, the Chicago Cubs received their second consecutive World Championship medal—and they were not happy about it.
The Cubs’ 1907 medallion had been made of gold, bore the profile of a bear cub’s head with a diamond in its teeth, and was over 1 1/2 inches in diameter, making it about the size of a silver dollar. Although the 1908 version was also gold, it was less than 3/4” across—smaller than a dime. The players were so disgusted by the award that the Sporting Life, a leading national newspaper, reported on it:
The World’s Championship emblems have duly arrived, and were hailed with much derision by the Cubs, who aver that they look more like a monkey’s dream than the insignia of base ball’s proudest event. They are, to say the least, scrubby and measly, and the boys ridicule them savagely. Just why a Cincinnati firm, which evidently hasn’t taste enough to design a sewer-cover, should be given such a job, is a darksome mystery. Last season’s emblems were so inferiorly constructed that they fell apart, and the boys had to have them reset. This season’s are in the shape of a button, and look like a cross between a sick mince pie and a gilded coal-hole. Joe Tinker says he would not wear his emblem to a dog fight, and the rest of the Cubs are equally outspoken.
–Sporting Life, January 9, 1909
Why do researchers so enjoy plowing through old newspapers, looking for a “find”? Because not only can you uncover wonderful and surprising information, you can get a great read. Modern journalism, while far more professional, is not half as much fun. A coalhole, by the way, is the entrance to an old-fashioned coal chute, often found in a sidewalk, and leading down to the coal bin by the furnace. Think of it as a small manhole cover.
Finally, Cubs fans and foes alike have to wonder what the players’ reactions might have been if they had known that, a century later, they would still be waiting on their next championship.
John Odell is the curator of history and research at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.