Wait ‘til Next Year –
a Painful History of a Sport’s Perennial Losers' Sad Refrain
July, by Grantland Rice
Hope Springs eternal in the baseball breast
When in six towns, hurled backward from the crest,
And, stilled at last beyond the pennant gate,
The ringing cheer
Fades to a curse – and then the cry: “Just wait
Until next year.”
Grantland Rice, from his Bingles and Bungles column, The Washington Times (Washington DC), June 29, 1914, Home Edition, page 11.
From “da Bums” (Brooklyn Dodgers) to the “Loveable Losers” (Chicago Cubs), the phrase, “Wait’ll next year” - the hopeful song of sports’ perennial losers - has long buoyed the spirits of optimistic baseball fans through one hot-stove league after another.
For many years (from as early as 1938), “wait until next year” was closely associated with the Brooklyn Dodgers. A documentary film, entitled “Wait ‘til Next Year: The Saga of the Chicago Cubs,” chronicled the sad history of the long-suffering Cubbies. In professional football, a Cleveland Browns’ fan writes a blog under the heading, Wait ‘til Next Year, Again.
But as Barry Popik pointed out, the “phrase pre-dates the [Dodgers' original] nickname “Trolley Dodgers” [(1895)] and was not original to Brooklyn.”
In 1916, the year after Philadelphia Phillies won their first National League pennant, following thirty years of futility, Philly fanatics put their worries behind them:
“Wait Until Next Year” is a forgotten slogan in Philly. Fans will not have to “Pull” the Wait-Until-Next-Year “Stuff” of the Last Three Decades.
Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), April 1 1916, page 14.
The Washington Senators
In the American League, it was the long-suffering Washington Senators for whom hope eternally sprung. In 1915, however, things were looking up after they had finished near the top for two consecutive seasons:
It’s the same old song – “wait ‘till next year” – but the fans along the Potomac are joining in stronger on the chorus than they used to.
The Tacoma Times (Washington), March 4, 1915, page 32.
The Senators, a charter member of the American League, which started play in 1901, had been bottom dwellers for years. In 1909, when firing their old manager was a distinct possibility, and the search was on for a new one, one writer saw reason for hope:
It is not within the range of possibility that a Connie Mack or a Hughey Jennings will be found for the emergency, but there is hope that the “wait until next year” will not again prove so meaningless and disappointing.
The Washington Herald (DC), August 3, 1909, page 8.
But, sadly, 1909 was not the first year they had had problems:
Far be it from a writer in these columns to ask long-suffering fandom to wait until next year. This hoary saying, repeated, reiterated, and re-echoed, carries with it little consolation to those who have watched and waited in vain for the opportunity to cheer a winning team. They have been reassured in the past only to be disappointed.
The Washington Times (DC), August 15, 1909, page 10.
The Senators’ problems were even older than the team. In 1894, an earlier incarnation of the Senators, playing in the National League, addressed a familiar problem; they were looking for another new manager after another disastrous season; – but at least the outgoing manager deserved praise (however faint) for lifting them out of the cellar and into eleventh place:
After the Senators have gotten through their present series in Louisville they go to Cleveland, from there to Chicago, and wind up the season at St. Louis. They are assured of eleventh place, not so much through any particularly brilliant playing of their own, but chiefly owing to Louisville’s disorganized team and its consequent poor work. As usual whenever the local aggregation fails to win games with startling frequency rumors are set afloat that a change in managers will take place. One close follower of the fortunes of the Washington Club is confident Manager Schmelz will not succeed himself. While the genial Gus has not always come up to expectations he has been fortunate in getting the team out of last place and for this, if for nothing else, he is deserving of praise. But there will be no grand outpouring of enthusiastic citizens to welcome the team back to this city, as will be the case forty miles from here, and the chances are the Senators will disband in the West. ”Wait until next year,” will soon be heard emanating from the Wagnerian stronghold.
The Washington Times (DC), September 17, 1894, Page 4.
The use of the phrase, “wait ‘til next year,” has not always been confined to Major League baseball. The earliest example in baseball that I found is from minor league, intra-state trash-talking in Nebraska; Lincoln lorded it over Omaha, because they had a baseball team and Omaha had none:
Lincoln, Neb., July 11. – To the Sporting Editor of The Bee: How is this? We are creditably informed that Omaha is no longer in it. Poor old Omaha. I believe you told me early in the season that Lincoln would not be in it long. Poor old Omaha. I’m sorry for you folks. Population 154,563 and no ball team. Lincoln’s population 54,000 and great ball team. Yours, R. S. McI.
Well, Mac, as Jack Morrison says, it is a Mexican stand off. But just you wait until next year. – Sport Ed.
Omaha Daily Bee, July 19, 1891, part 2, page 12.
The earliest sporting use of the phrase I ran across is from 1884. Sixteen-year-old, live-pigeon shooting “Boy Wonder,” H. B. Whitney, promised, “[j]ust wait until next year, and I’ll show ‘em.!” Curiously, though, he said it after winning the “Pierce diamond badge, worth $850,” at the New York State pigeon shoot at Buffalo.[i] He won the badge, after shooting fifteen-of-fifteen live pigeons at a distance of twenty-one yards, and then five-of-five in a three-way tie-breaker at a distance of twenty-four yards, and five-of-five at a distance of thirty-one yards. Perhaps he was predicting an even more dominant live-pigeon-shooting season the following year. That's right, he shot twenty-five live pigeons by himself in one match - of hundreds of matches - held during the event. One event of many during a long season. It was a different time.
The phrase also popped up, on occasion, in other sports; such as, cycling,[ii] rowing (Penn hoped for a better result against Cornell in 1903),[iii] golf (consoling the women who missed the cut for the 1902 National Championship), and football (the Utah State Aggies hoped for a better result in 1905, after losing to the University of Utah in 1904).[iv]
Final Post of the Year
This is my final post for the year, 2014 . . .
. . . just wait’ll next year.
Grantland Rice also helped popularize the expression, "it's not whether you win or lose; it's how you play the game."
[i] The New York Times, September 6, 1884.
[ii] The Greenville Times (Greenville, Mississippi), October 6, 1897, page 4 (Wisconsin cyclists must still pay for their wheels on railroad journeys. They are saying: “Wait until next year!”)
[iii] The St. Louis Republic, June 29, 1902, Part III, page 5.
[iv] The Salt Lake Herald, November 21, 1904, last edition, page 7.