"In baseball, the difference between excellence and mediocrity is usually not the blockbuster signing of this or that free agent. Rather, it is the cumulative effect of management's attention to scouting, player development, and so on—which—requires time, effort and, always, money. Because Cubs fans fill so many seats no matter what is happening on the field, there is a reduced incentive to pay the expense of organizational excellence." -- page 136
And that, according to author George Will appears to be the gist of the problem. For baseball fans in the Windy City and for people all across the fruited plain Wrigley Field has become something akin to a shrine. There is a certain mystique about the place that attracts both avid fans and curious tourists, some of whom have little interest in what was once the national pastime. As Wrigley Field turns 100 in 2014 George Will thought it might be an appropriate time to recall its fascinating and sometimes bizarre history. He has scribbled his thoughts into a neat little book he calls "A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred". This is a book destined to be great summer reading for sports fans, history buffs and general readers alike. Will conjures up a ton of fun facts, interesting tidbits and unforgettable yarns. As a lifetime baseball junkie I must tell you that I had a difficult time putting this one down.
Having been an ardent Cubs fan since 1948 George Will has pretty much seen it all—everything that is except his beloved Cubs playing in a World Series. In "A Nice Little Place on the North Side" Will recalls many of the memorable events and incidents from the sixty plus years he has been following the team. Sometimes the ineptitude is nothing short of stunning—like the time a Cubs player tried to steal third base with the bases loaded! When asked about it after the game the player sheepishly responded "I had such a good jump on the pitcher." You just can't make this stuff up folks. Then there was the "College of Coaches" that was dreamed up by owner Phil Wrigley in the early 1960's. Instead of a manager Wrigley decided that 4 head coaches would rotate throughout the season. You can imagine how that one worked out. I am a lifelong baseball fan and I had never heard of that one! And who will ever forget the notorious Steve Bartman incident during the 2003 National League Championship Series? That poor guy was lucky to get out of that place with his life!
Throughout the pages of "A Nice Little Place on the North Side" George Will also manages to offer up a capsule history of the Cubs franchise. You will discover that Wrigley Field was originally called Weeghman Park and that the Cubs were the first team to give away the rights to broadcast major league baseball games. It was a rousing success! You will also learn the story behind the story of the ivy that has adorned the outfield walls since 1937. Finally, you will meet some of the folks who have made their mark at the fabled ballpark over the years. Hack Wilson knocked in 708 runs in 738 games between 1926 and 1930 and would go on to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Hall of Famer Ernie Banks had a remarkable six year run in the late 1950's when he hit 248 HR as a shortstop in a pathetically weak Cubs lineup. Banks has the distinction of playing in the most big league games (2528) without ever appearing in the World Series. Other memorable characters at Wrigley include Pat Pieper who served as the Cubs PA announcer from 1916 until his death in 1974 at the age of 88. And did you know that one Jacob Rubenstein (a/k/a Jack Ruby) was a vendor at Wrigley when he was a teenager? Interesting stuff!
I admire writers with great vocabularies and George Will can turn a phrase with the best of them. I found "A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred" to be an exceptionally well-written and endlessly entertaining book. Will quotes liberally from Roberts Ehrgott's superb 2013 history of the Cubs "Mr. Wrigley's Ball Club: Chicago and the Cubs During the Jazz Age" which I would recommend to you as well. So is Wrigley Field to blame for the Cubs incomprehensible lack of success? It is certainly an interesting theory. I suggest you read the book and draw your own conclusions. Highly recommended!
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