The shared history of Yankees-Cubs, from Babe Ruth to Derek Jeter to Aroldis Chapman

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Friday May 5th, 2017

As with last weekend when the Cubs visited Fenway Park, this weekend will feature another interleague matchup between two of the league's marquee teams. For the first time since 2014 and just the fifth time since interleague play began 20 years ago, the Yankees will visit the Cubs in Wrigley Field. The two stored franchises have some history in common—in fact, enough history to connect their 1908 and 2016 championships, not to mention several of the Yankees’ titles. Here are five notable intersections between the two teams.

1. Joe McCarthy

McCarthy wasn’t the first man to pilot both the Yankees and the Cubs. That honor belongs to Hall of Fame first baseman Frank Chance, who as a player/manager led the Cubs to four pennants as well as their 1907 and '08 championships, moved onto the Yankees in 1913 but endured two sub-.500 seasons. But McCarthy, the most successful manager in major league history in terms of winning percentage (.615) and world championships (seven, tied with Casey Stengel), was the most important of the five men to guide both teams.

McCarthy, who never played in the majors, took over as Cubs manager in 1926. The team finished above .500 all five years that he was at the helm, including a 91-win third-place finish in 1928 and 98-win season en route to the NL pennant in '29. Chicago lost that year’s World Series to the Philadelphia A's, and both owner Philip Wrigley and club president Bill Veeck Sr. blamed McCarthy for the Series loss, which led to his ouster near the end of the 1930 season—even before the door had shut on their repeating as NL champs (they were 86-64, 2½ games out with five to play).

Before the 1930 World Series was over, McCarthy had received offers to manage from both the Red Sox and the Yankees. He took the latter, inheriting a roster that had nine future Hall of Famers, including Babe Ruth, who was hurt that he had been bypassed for the job. The Yankees finished second four times in McCarthy's first five seasons, with their lone pennant in that stretch coming in 1932, when they beat the Cubs in the World Series. From 1936 (their first year without Ruth and with Joe DiMaggio) to ‘43, they won seven pennants and six championships, topping 100 wins five times. McCarthy, who managed the team until early 1946, said in 1956 that the ’32 championship remained his greatest thrill: “First it was my first World Series winner. Secondly, it was against the Cubs.”

As for the others to pilot both teams, Gene Michael, a light-hitting shortstop who spent most of his 10-year major league career with the Yankees, guided New York to a 92-76 record in two partial stints as their manager in 1981 and '82 and then managed the Cubs to a 114-124 record in parts of the 1986 and '87 seasons before being replaced by Don Zimmer. Michael served as the Yankees’ GM from 1990 to ‘95, laying the groundwork for the Joe Torre dynasty by holding onto the team's young players during George Steinbrenner's suspension; since then, he's remained a highly-regarded special advisor to the team. Zimmer managed the Cubs to a 265-258 record from 1988 to ‘91, leading them to just their second division title ever in 1989, when they went 93-69, but otherwise finishing below .500. He became Torre's bench coach in the Bronx in 1996, and stepped in as interim manager at the start of the 1999 season while Torre was being treated for prostate cancer, leading the Yankees to a 36-21 record. Longtime Yankees outfielder Lou Piniella, who put up a 224-193 record while piloting the Yankees from 1986 to ‘88, led the Cubs to back-to-back NL Central titles in 2007 and ‘08 while compiling a 316-293 record in a stint that ran until he retired in mid-2010.

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2. Babe Ruth's Called Shot

The 1932 World Series, the first of two played between these two teams in a seven-season span (both won by the Yankees in four-game sweeps), featured one of the most famous home runs in history—Ruth's Called Shot, which happened in Game 3, after the series had moved to Wrigley Field—and one that created a long-running debate. Did the Bambino actually predict where he would hit the ball?

There was bad blood between the two teams before the Series even bgan. Ruth had called the Cubs “a bunch of cheapskates, nickel-nursers and misers” for voting injured shortstop Mark Koenig, who had won two World Series as a Yankee, just half of a World Series share. The Cubs' response was to taunt Ruth about his age (37) and for being passed over as New York’s manager. Ruth and his wife were spit upon by angry female Chicago fans upon arriving in the Windy City, and the Cubs jockeyed him from the bench even as he hit a three-run homer off Charlie Root in the first inning of Game 3. When he came to bat in the fifth inning, both teams were screaming at each other and fans were taunting Ruth. Once the count reached 2-2, he pointed — allegedly at centerfield, though it's not clear from the lone surviving photo — and said something. Whether he was pointing to the bleachers or indicating to Root and his Chicago critics that he had one strike left, there’s no dispute that he clubbed the next pitch to centerfield for a long home run (it’s been estimated at up to 500 feet), and circled the bases with glee.

The home run took on a life of its own. The New York World-Telegram's Joe Williams wrote that Ruth "even went so far as to call his shot" and Yankees teammates and many witnesses (including Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who attended the game when he was 12 years old) backed that account. Gehrig, who was on deck at the time (and would homer immediately afterward) changed his view over the final nine years of his life, at times saying that he didn't see it, that Ruth did indeed call his shot, or that Ruth had been gesturing toward the Chicago dugout. Williams recanted his story in 1953, writing, “It was just as easy to believe Ruth had actually called the shot as not, and it made a wonderful story, so the press box went along with it.” Yankees shortstop Frank Crosetti said that Ruth told him, "You know I didn’t point, I know I didn’t point, but if those bastards want to think I pointed to centerfield, let ’em.” In early 1933 Ruth said, "Hell no. Only a damn fool would have done a thing like that," when asked if he called his shot. Still, aided by Ruth's larger-than-life stature, the legend is as enduring as any in baseball history.

Ezra Shaw/Allsport via Getty Images

3. Joe Girardi

Before he became a big league manager, Girardi spent 15 years in the majors as a catcher, and he got his start with the Cubs. A native of Peioria, Ill., and a fifth-round draft pick by Chicago out of Northwestern, he reached the majors in 1989, and the next year set a career high in games played (133). He spent four seasons with the Cubs, though he missed most of 1991 with a lower back strain. The Rockies chose him in the 1993 expansion draft, and he was traded to the Yankees in November 1995 for pitching prospect Mike DeJean.

Though typically a light hitter, Giardi hit a respectable .294/.346/.374 as the starting catcher for the Yankees in 1996. He hit an RBI triple off Greg Maddux in the midst of a three-run rally in Game 6 of the World Series, helping New York clinch its first title since 1978. Girardi spent three more years in the Bronx and winning two more World Series while transitioning to a backup role behind Jorge Posada. He returned to the Cubs via free agency following the 1999 season, made the All-Star team for the only time in his career in 2000, and stuck around Chicago through ’02 before spending his final major league season as a Cardinal. He spent 2005 as the Yankees' bench coach and ’06 as the Marlins' manager before returning to the Yankees in ’08, after Torre's 12-year run ended. In his second year on the job, he led the Yankees to their 27th and most recent world championship.

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4. The Derek Jeter Grand Slam

Prior to June 18, 2005, every Yankees broadcast in which Jeter came to bat with the bases loaded was apparently legally obligated to remind viewers and listeners that he had never hit a grand slam. That day, however, the Yankees' shortstop and captain finally hit one. It came in the bottom of the sixth inning with the Yankees leading 3-1 in the Bronx. Joe Borowski — briefly a member of the Yankees' 1998 and '99 teams — grooved a 2-1 pitch that Jeter hit over the left centerfield wall.

"I thought I'd never hit one," Jeter said afterwards with atypical candor. "I was thinking about it. Every time I went up there I was trying to hit one. I've been trying to hit one for the last three or four years."

In his 20-year career Jeter came to bat 12,602 times, more than all but nine other players in history, including 308 times with the bases loaded. Though he was no pushover in those spots (.321/383/.389 with 225 RBIs), he never hit another grand slam.

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5. Chapman and Castro

The Cubs and the Yankees made two trades within an eight-month span that had an impact on Chicago's 2016 championship squad and have left a longer-lasting imprint not just on the current Yankees' roster but on their entire organization. During the winter meetings in December 2015, the Cubs signed Ben Zobrist to a four-year, $56 million deal, which opened the door for them to trade former All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro, who had fallen out of favor. In his age-25 season, the enigmatic Castro had hit just .265/.296/.375 with 0.8 WAR and had been bumped to second base by the arrival of rookie Addison Russell. The three-player deal sent swingman Adam Warren and a player to be named later (it turned out to be shortstop Brendan Ryan) to Chicago in exchange for Castro, who in 2016 hit a career-high 21 homers but had a slash line of just .270/.300/.433 with 1.2 WAR due to shaky defense at second base. This spring, his hot bat has contributed to the Yankees' strong start; he made my April All-Stars team and comes into the series batting .362/.402/.543 with five home runs among his AL high 38 hits.

Ryan never played for the Cubs and Warren didn't click, posting a 5.91 ERA in 35 innings. On July 25, he was returned to the Yankees as part of a four-player package in exchange for closer Aroldis Chapman. The Yankees had acquired Chapman from the Reds in December, but only after a trade that would have sent the fireballing Cuban to the Dodgers was scuttled by revelations of his involvement in a domestic violence altercation. His likely suspension under the league's new policy suppressed his trade value, and the Yankees cynically seized the opportunity to add him to a bullpen that already included Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. Chapman served a 30-game suspension to start the season, and when New York fell out of the playoff hunt, it traded him to the Cubs, who were looking to fortify their bullpen with an upgrade on closer Hector Rondon.

Chapman saved 16 games and pitched to a 1.01 ERA down the stretch for Chicago. He took his lumps in the postseason, buckling under Cubs manager Joe Maddon's questionable choices in deploying him for stints longer than three outs. He blew three out of seven save chances while posting a 3.45 ERA, but he was credited with the win in Game 7 of the World Series. In December, he returned to the Yankees via a record-setting five-year, $86 million deal. Meanwhile, Warren has returned to his role as a solid setup man, and one of the three prospects acquired, shortstop Gleyber Torres, continued to raise his stock to the point that he won MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League and cracked the top five on the preseason Baseball America, ESPN and MLB Pipeline prospect lists. The 20-year-old shortstop is currently hitting .297/.392/.438 at Double A Trenton, and could help the Yankees down the stretch later this year if they remain in contention.

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