The book: “The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse”
The author: Tom Verducci
The vital statistics: Crown Archetype/Penguin Random House, 384 pages, $28, released March 28
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnes and Noble, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at the publishers’ website
The pitch: In the editors’ notes from the Sports Illustrated March 27 MLB preview issue, Fox Sports and MLB Network reporter/writer Ken Rosenthal is quoted about Tom Verducci: “He’s the best baseball writer ever, and I honestly don’t think there’s a close second. What he does actually amazes me on a fairly consistent basis.”
As much as Verducci filled that particular issue of SI with all his knowledge and prose, he did even more in this no-words-wasted and timely account of not just how the Cubs came out breaking the curse and winning the 2016 World Series — including coming back to topple the Dodgers in the NLCS — but why it happened with the groundwork laid years before it.
It’s phenomenal to think how short a window of time Verducci had to turn this around from the last out of Game 7 on Nov. 2 to then pounding it out, having it edited, then printed and distributed before Opening Day less than five months later.
Verducci explains in the acknowledgments that there’s something of “The Bernoulli effect” in action here: That is, scientifically, something that explains an increase in the speed of a fluid that occurs simultaneously with a decrease in pressure in the fluid’s potential energy. What ends up here is a fluid account, even as it connects recent past to current celebration, and also comes without fluff and full of photos.
Verducci, the three-time National Sports Media Association’s national sportswriter of the year winner, says he talked to every member of the Cubs’ team during the 2016 season, starting with spring training. Even if things didn’t break serendipitous the Cubs’ way in Game 7 against the Indians, it would have been worth publishing. We all caught a break here as consumers of history, but the book is the residue of Verducci’s ducks all in a row.
It may read to some like an ode to the head of baseball opps Theo Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer, owner Tom Ricketts — and even more so to manager Joe Maddon, but it’s much more down-the-center reporting rather than an infatuation.
Madden is the real Zen master, with his color-coded lineup card from Game 7 that’s worth the price of admission just picking the book up in the store and spending at least 15 minutes in appreciation of what you’re reading.
Some of the things that jump out from Verducci’s research that we otherwise didn’t know:
= How Epstein’s 259-page book “The Cubs Way” came out not long after he arrived in Chicago in 2012, after having built two World Series champions in Boston to end its curse.
Why it became the title of this Verducci book makes sense. Epstein started the phrase “That’s Cub” as a source of pride, turning the pathos of the franchise around. Cub even became an acronym: C stands for the courage “to do the right thing;” U is for the urgency “to do the right thing;” and B is the belief “that we can do it.”
If it’s corny, it worked. You wonder how many other teams will take that template from here and make it their own.
= Why Maddon wears No. 70? When he was a coach with the Angels in September, 1985, he wore No. 20, but the team just picked up Don Sutton. Angels equipment manager Leonard Garcia randomly took No. 20 from Maddon and gave it to Sutton, a number he wore with the Dodgers. Maddon exclaimed: I will never change my number after this, because I know for sure nobody’s going to ask for No. 70.
= How Epstein’s trade of Boston favorite shortstop Nomar Garciaparra (to the Cubs, ironically) in 2004, leading to a Red Sox World Series, and the 2011 September collapse of Boston’s team convinced him about how team chemistry is far more important than what the numbers say.
Verducci’s second major literary piece, following the 2009 book on Joe Torre’s Yankees years, is like having a couple dozen Sports Illustrated stories strategically put together like songs used to be arranged on a record album. One flows into the other nicely.
If the Dodgers players need something to distract them as they’re in the ballpark today involved in the Cubs’ banner-raising ceremony, it might be productive to start reading a few chapters. You’ll have all day Tuesday — a day off — to finish it.
More to know:
== Jonah Keri reviews the book for The Wall Street Journal
Several Cubs-related books have also come out this time of year, or are about to, including:
= “The Plan: Epstein, Maddon, and the Audacious Blueprint for a Cubs Dynasty,” by David Kaplan (comes out May 1)
= “Teammate: My Journey in Baseball and a World Series for the Ages,” by David Ross with Don Yeager (due May 9)
= “My Cubs: A Love Story” by Scott Simon, due April 11
= “Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Champions,” by The Editors of Major League Baseball, from Penguin Random House, which came out Nov. 8