Day 4: 30 baseball books in April, 2014 — George Will, hunting for the essence of Wrigley Field


  • The pitch: Why not?
    As the Cubs celebrate their Wrigley Field opener today on WGN and the MLB Network — even if it was called Weeghman Park and the year was 1916 when they finally moved into the place — why not have the syndicated columnist and Sunday morning pundit who once wrote “Men At Work” and “Bunts” spit out another personalized baseball-related tale in the World According to Will style that we’ve become accustomed?
    All tied up in a bow tie.
    It’s really one, well-constructed 194-page essay (with a dozen more pages of note references) that starts with a line by Robert Frost, ends with a quote by Yeats and is filled in between with Cubs and Wrigley history as George Will remembers it happening.
    It covers the mystery of Babe Ruth’s called shot in 1932 (see our Day 3 book review). It includes the Chicago debut of the Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson in 1947 (comparing the Chicago Tribune headline to that of the Chicago Defender). It notes that on July 20, 1961, the Cubs lost to the Dodgers, 8-2, marking the first time since the team starting playing at the place that it fell below .500.
    “It has been there ever since,” Will notes.
    If you’re collecting books related to the centennial anniversary of Wrigley Field, why not include it? If you’re collecting books related to the works of George Will, why not throw it in there?
    If you’re a Cubs fan who already knows pretty much everything there is know about the franchise but wanted one more portrait painted of it, why not ask that someone get this as a Father’s Day present for you, even if you’re not a dad?
    It’s a sentimental journey for Will, both in Champaign, Ill., in 1941 (his father was a philosophy professor at the University of Illinois) and who, by age 7, adopted the Cubs as his team.
    chicago_cubs_w_flag_alt_picPerhaps he thinks the “W” that the team runs up the flagpole after every victory is a tribute to him? Because it is pretty special, and rare, when it happens.
    “In 1948, when I was still not as discerning as one should be when making life-shaping decisions, I became a Cub fan,” he writes. “The Catholic Church thinks seven-year-olds have reached the age of reasoning. The church might want to rethink that.”
    Will’s depiction of Wrigley is “about a frame around a picture,” except that when one goes to a museum to see a piece of fine art, he rarely looks at the frame around it. But Wrigley is just the opposite.
    “It is frequently noted that Wrigley Field is lovelier than the baseball often played on the field,” he continues. “It is a hypothesis of this book that the ballpark is part cause and part symptom of the Cubs’ dysfunctional performance. How can this high-quality building be partly responsible for the low quality of what has gone on in it? Read on.”
    Like watching a real Cubs game, we’ll only go so far before we get a little fidgety and want to look at something else.
    It’s interesting how Will can make that case when, not long after people were writing similar books about the centennial celebration of Fenway Park, no one was calling the charm of that stadium as a reason why the Red Sox couldn’t win (see: World Series, 2007, 2013).
    Will does take page 148 to relay what appears to be a poem that came from Vin Scully before Game 1 of the 1989 National League Championship Series between the Giants and Cubs played at Wrigley Field. While not actually a poem, it’s what Scully (who sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the video clip below in 1989) told the national audience:
  • She stands alone at the corner of Clark and Addison, this dowager queen, dressed in basic black and pearls, seventy-five years old, proud head held high and not a hair out of place, awaiting yet another date with destiny, another time for Mr. Right. She dreams as old ladies will of men gone long ago. Joe Tinker. Johnny Evers. Frank Chance. And of those of recent vintage like her man Ernie. And the Lion (Leo Durocher). And Sweet Billy Williams. And she thinks wistfully of what might have been, and the pain is still fresh and new, and her eyes fill, her lips tremble, and she shakes her head ever so slightly. And then she sighs, pulls her shawl tightly around her frail shoulders, and thinks: This time, this time it will be better.”
  • Will has his way with trying to put Wrigley into the proper context of America, the game, and why people still want to go there, no matter how poorly the home team plays.
    With that sentiment, I have come perilously close to the cardinal sin of gushing, so I shall subside,” he writes near the end. “But not before urging you to take the El to the Addison stop and see for yourself what all the fuss is about.”
    On our book shelf, we have a small jar labeled “Wrigley Field Diamond Dust,” as if it’s some kind of magical material you take a pinch of between your fingers and ingest each opening day.
    “Authenticity Certificate” is says on the side: “This jar contains the actual clay mixture used on Wrigley Field and has been taken from inside the friendly confines, and obtained from the Cubs.” Can’t remember how much I actually paid for it at the Wrigley Field souvenir stand. Probably not as much as the cost of this Will book. But we’re sure to keep it longer.
    The Dodgers will wait until almost the very end of the regular season — Sept. 18-21, the last four road games — before visiting Wrigley.
    Scully isn’t scheduled to go along. Why not?
  • More to know:
    = A review from “If you want to read about the connections of politicians like Presidents Reagan and Roosevelt, entrepreneurs like Ray Kroc and William Wrigley, infamous folks like Al Capone and Jack Ruby, let alone the colorful players and coaches like Hack Wilson (“resembled a beer keg, the contents of which Wilson was all too familiar with”), Leo Durocher (“No one was more temperamentally opposed to Wrigley Field’s golly-the-ivy-is-so-green-and-the-sun-is-so-warm-and-the-beer-is-so-cold-and-the-ambience-is-so-gosh-darned-friendly-who-cares-what-the-score-is ethos”) and Ernie Banks (“his disposition…was as sunny as the ballpark in which he never performed at night”), who graced this stadium, you need to pick up this book.”
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