A Magical History Tour of the Chicago Cubs
Written by: Peter Golenbock
Published By: St. Martin’s Griffin
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Well, it’s that time of the year again - time for baseball pre-season play. Every year around this time, I get that itch - the itch for opening day, the itch to play ball. This year it’s no different…well, maybe it is a bit different thanks to all that snow. I just want it to feel like spring already and to watch or listen to a baseball game again. When that itch arrives and baseball season isn’t here yet, I do the next best thing to playing or watching - I read about it. This time around, I have selected Wrigleyville: A Magical History Tour of the Chicago Cubs by Peter Golenbock.
I’ve read numerous Golenbock sports books by now (Amazin’, The Spirit of St. Louis, Bums) and have enjoyed his style. In an effort to give his readers every angle of the history of the teams he is writing about, Golenbock doesn’t just spill the statistics. Instead, he offers readers a chance to hear how the fans, players, managers, reporters, batboys, association members and more felt about their home team.
In choosing to read Wrigleyville, I had chosen to read about one of the oldest club still existing in the major leagues. The Chicago Cubs have a rich history dating back to the late 1800s when Albert Goodwill Spalding began the team known as the Chicago White Stockings. Over the years, the team would grow in popularity and playing ability becoming the Chicago Cubs, the team to beat in baseball for years to come, featuring some of the greatest players in baseball like Frank Chance, Cap Anson, Johnny Evers, Mordecai Brown, Joe Tinker, Hack Wilson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Woody English, Billy Herman, Phil Cavarretta, Gabby Hartnett, Dizzy Dean, Ferguson Jenkins, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Bobby Mercer, Dave Kingman, Rick Monday, Ryne Sandberg, Dennis Eckersley, Sammy Sosa, Andre Dawson, Greg Maddux, Kerry Wood, Lee Smith, Rick Sutcliffe and more.
But the Cubs have had their share of stumbling blocks. After 1908, the Cubs would never again win a World Series. After 1945, it would be decades before the Cubs would even be in contention for a pennant. All of the ups and downs of the team are explained in this 525-page history of the team.
I love reading about baseball history. It is especially illuminating to learn about what happens to some of the players considered to be at the top of their field once their careers are over. Consider baseball great Mike Kelly. He was one of the Cubs’ premiere players whose drinking was his downfall. Having destroyed his career through drinking, Kelly died penniless and was laid to rest in a pauper’s grave, twelve team owners pooling together $1400 for Kelly’s widow. Quite a few Cubs players lost their careers to drink and came to a rather less than stellar demise.
Of course, this book is not all gloom and doom - it also discusses players who went on to have great success both on and off the field. Golenbock also discusses influential people and places in Cubs history such as William Wrigley, who created a ballpark that people would flock to. His innovative ideas for his chewing gum company spilled over to his ball club with such new and exciting ideas like Ladies’ Day, radio advertising and more. Despite ruining the club with disastrous handling of his players and managers, Phil Wrigley, William Wrigley’s son, helped to beautify the park, making it more aesthetic for fans who might not enjoy the way their team is playing but could still have a great day at the ballpark. And then, there were Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray, the official voices of the team at the stadium. Who could ever forget them and their colorful announcing.
In reading this book I gained tremendous respect for Cubs fans. After all, like us diehard Mets fans, Cubs fans have been waiting a long time for a World Series win. Just like us Mets fans, the Cubs fans are of the diehard variety, starting off each and every spring training season with such hope, holding true to our team and following them through thick and thin and vowing that next year will be the year for our team to finally reach that mighty World Series goal. Of course, Cubs fans might be a little annoyed at Mets fans as their upstart 1969 team came out of nowhere and ousted the Cubs from the pennant race in the last weeks of the season. And it is true that the Cubs have a much longer baseball history. But there is no denying that we both feel the same misery each year that our team doesn’t make it.
I have only one problem with this book. Every true baseball fan knows the Curse of the Goat, yet this is not discussed in Wrigleyville. Supposedly, in 1945, Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, was ejected from the stadium because his pet goat’s odor was bothering other fans at the stadium. Apparently, Sianis was heard to state that the Cubs wouldn’t win anymore. Baseball lore has it that this statement by Sianis was the Curse of the Goat, meaning that Sianis had basically cursed the Cubs and their future World Series chances. Cubs fans so believe in this curse that descendents of Billy Sianis were invited to the stadium with goats in an effort to break the curse numerous times. So, if this curse is such an integral part of Cubs lore, why is it not mentioned in this book?
Other than that one complaint, I have to say that Peter Golenbock has done it again, offering us a truly informative and well-rounded look at one of the oldest teams in baseball. Originally published in 1996 and updated in 1999, Wrigleyville is not a book you will find on most store shelves, but it’s not very hard to find a copy. Originally priced at $17.00US - which to me is a steal - one can easily find a used copy out there for much cheaper. Anyone with a desire to learn about the history of the sport of baseball should make Golenbock’s books their first stop. Wrigleyville is a must read for baseball fans and Cubs fanatics everywhere.
For more books by Peter Golenbock, check out: