How Have Cubs Fared in Inaugural Years?

If the inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation's 44th president is a precursor to the play of typical Cubs teams during inaugural years, what can be expected of the 2009 club?

It is not likely that any member of the 2009 Chicago Cubs cares one way or the other about how previous Cubs teams have fared under former presidents in their inaugural years.

But if we may look back in time instead of to the future just this once, we would find that typically the Cubs have not fared well in inaugural years.

In 2005, after George W. Bush was elected to a second term, the Cubs suffered through a mediocre campaign that was the beginning of the end of the Dusty Baker era on the North Side. It was the team's first season in 14 years without star slugger Sammy Sosa, who had been traded to Baltimore in the offseason. The Cubs replaced Sosa with veteran Jeromy Burnitz for 2005, but never managed much success. They ended the season 79-83, good only for a fourth-place finish.

The Cubs' 2001 season wasn't all bad. After Bush was first inaugurated as the country's 43rd president, the Cubs won 88 games (a 23-game improvement from the previous year) under manager Don Baylor and were at or near the top of the NL Central for a good portion of the season. A September swoon sent them to a third-place finish behind the Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals.

The 1997 season was one of the most depressing in team history. After Bill Clinton was elected to a second term, the Cubs proceeded to drop their first 14 contests en route to a 68-94 campaign – the fewest wins the team had compiled in a non-strike-shortened season since 1980. Both manager Jim Riggleman and GM Ed Lynch retained their jobs (if only for a short while), and thanks to a few lucky bounces the following season, the Cubs clinched a postseason Wild Card berth.

The last time a Cubs team made it to the playoffs in an inaugural year was in 1989. In George H.W. Bush's first year as president, Don Zimmer led the Cubs to a 93-69 finish and their second postseason berth of the 80s. Mark Grace and Ryne Sandberg led the team in hitting that year.

On the mound, Greg Maddux, Rick Sutcliffe and Mike Bielecki combined for 53 wins, and Mitch Williams had his best year as a Cub, earning his only All-Star nod. The Cubs' happiness was short-lived once the playoffs started, as the San Francisco Giants won the National League Championship Series, 4 games to 1.

Prior to George H.W. Bush, the last time a Cubs team had made the postseason in an inaugural year for a U.S. president was in 1945. That also is the last time the Cubs have played in a World Series. They did so after Harry S. Truman took the oath of office following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Shortly after the Japanese surrendered to end World War II, Charlie Grimm guided the Cubs to a third World Series in his tenure as manager with the help of players like National League MVP Phil Cavaretta, Bill Nicholson, Stan Hack and Andy Pafko. Likewise, Hank Wyse, Claude Passeau, Hank Bowory and Ray Prim did their part on the mound as the Cubs led the National League in ERA.

So under which presidents have the Cubs achieved the most success? In modern times, certainly George W. Bush can hold this distinction. Under Bush, the Cubs made the postseason three times (all as division champions) in his eight years as president, though they never won the World Series.

Chicago, however, did win the World Series in 1907 and 1908 with Theodore Roosevelt nearing the end of his presidency. That was some 100 years and 18 presidents ago. Thus, Roosevelt still remains the president whom the Cubs have achieved the ultimate success under.

Perhaps that will all change under Obama. Wouldn't that be something?

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