The city of Chicago was an incredibly exciting place to be in the 1920's. People were flocking to this thriving midwestern metropolis from such faraway places as Ireland, Lithuania and Poland as well as from the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta, all in search of a better life. Prohibition was the law of the land and nowhere in America was this statute more disregarded than in Chicago. This dubious piece of legislation would give rise to bootleggers, speakeasies, illegal breweries, gang wars, judicial corruption and of course Al Capone. Gambling and prostitution were running rampant and corrupt politicians were everywhere to be found. Meanwhile, jazz and ragtime were all the rage in the Windy City. Vaudeville was struggling to compete with the movies and women were beginning to demand their rights. In the world of sports, boxing was in its heyday and towards the end of the decade things were getting mighty interesting on the north side of town. The National League's Chicago Cubs, under the tutelage of manager Joe McCarthy, were playing an exhilarating brand of baseball before increasingly large crowds at Wrigley Field. It seems that Cubs owner William Wrigley and team President Bill Veeck Sr. had figured out a few things about how to attract new patrons long before anyone else did. The story of these Cubs and the culture of the city in which they played is the subject of Roberts Ehrgott's extraordinary new book "Mr. Wrigley's Ball Club: Chicago and the Cubs During the Jazz Age". Whether you are an ardent fan of the game or a voracious history buff you will discover that "Mr. Wrigley's Ball Club" has an awful lot to offer. Here is a book that will grab your attention in the opening chapters and simply never let go.
For long-suffering Cubs fans, reading about the glory days of their beloved franchise should prove to be a real treat. One of the most important decisions William Wrigley made when he became majority owner of the Cubs in 1921 was to tap a former sportswriter named Bill Veeck Sr. to become President of the franchise. Radio was in its infancy and the Cubs were the first team in baseball to see the possibilities. Sporadic broadcasts of Cubs home games commenced in the mid 1920's and before long all home games would be aired. Incredibly, at one point four different radio stations in Chicago were broadcasting Cubs games. This is pretty impressive when you realize that it was the late 1930's before all major league clubs were broadcasting their home games. It has been estimated that these radio braodcasts actually tripled the number of Cubs fans in the more rural areas of the midwest. The dynamic duo of Wrigley and Veeck then targeted women as a potential new audience for their ball team. The Cubs established the very first Ladies' Day promotion in 1928 offering free admission to mothers, daughters, sisters, wives and grandmothers on Friday afternoons. The idea proved to be a huge success attracting anywhere from 15000 to 20000 women on a regular basis. As a result of their aggressive promotional efforts the Chicago Cubs would soon lead the major leagues in attendance and by a wide margin.
But perhaps the most important decision that Bill Veeck Sr. made during his tenure as club President was the hiring of manager Joe McCarthy before the 1926 season. McCarthy had been managing in the bushes for nearly a decade at Louisville of the American Association. Hiring a minor league manager was virtually unheard of at the time but Veeck's move proved to be a stroke of genius. Over the next several years the Cubs would build a formidable ball club. With the acquisition of the future Hall-of Famer Rogers Hornsby before the 1929 season the Cubs lineup featured the famed "Murderer's Row" of Hornsby, Hack Wilson, Kiki Cuyler and Riggs Stephenson. Mr. Veeck was also responsible for quite a few other savvy player acquisitions throughout the decade. The Cubs would come tantalizingly close to winning it all in that 1929 season save for the historic collapse in the final two games of the World Series. Rogers Ehrgott provides all of the heartbreaking details. History teaches that this has become an all too familiar scenario for Cubs fans.
I found "Mr. Wrigley's Ball Club: Chicago & the Cubs During the Jazz Age" to an especially well-researched and exquisitely written volume. You really do get a feel for what Chicago must have been like in those halcyon days of the Roaring 20's. More importantly, it is a superb addition to the literature of our national pastime. "Mr. Wrigley's Ball Club" is terrific summer reading and would be a marvelous choice for sports fans, history buffs and general readers alike. Very highly recommended!
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