(Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL)
George F. Will’s latest book will touch the soul of everyone who loves baseball. Though the book titled A NICE LITTLE PLACE ON THE NORTH SIDE is a short history of Wrigley Field and the futility of being a Chicago Cubs fan Will takes the reader on a hundred year journey encompassing numerous historical, sociological, philosophical, and political components that relate to the ivy covered ballpark on West Addison Street. Will, a conservative political columnist and a regular on the Sunday talk show circuit has written other books on the nation’s pastime. MEN AT WORK: THE CRAFT OF BASEBALL and BUNTS were excellent treatises on their subject matter, written with an intellectual approach and a witty style. Will’s latest effort follows the same model as he presents a history of Chicago from the late 19th century to the present, commenting on things as diverse as Carl Sandburg’s poetry, the philosophy of John Locke, to Ernie Banks homerun numbers. In discussing the origins of Wrigley Field, Will takes us back to the Haymarket Massacre of 1886 when Chicago was a rather dangerous city, especially for labor. This setting produced the need for recreation and Wrigley Field was the perfect progressive remedy for the working class to spend their spare time rather than getting involved with non-productive aspects of society. Will’s history of Wrigley Field is interspersed with vignettes, facts, and stories that are not common knowledge, presented in a humorous fashion, and are a joy to read.
Since the Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908 when they defeated the Detroit Tigers, their fans are considered the longest suffering supporters of a team in baseball. The “Cubbies” have proven fodder for many jokes over the years. Will integrates numerous funny stories as he sprinkles them throughout the book. For example, “in 1968, Cubs pitcher Bill Hands recorded fourteen consecutive strikeouts. Regrettably, he did this as a batter in consecutive at bats.” Another, “What does a female bear taking birth control have in common with the World Series? No Cubs.” The Cubs have been so bad that in 1948 their owner P. K. Wrigley publicly apologized for the futility of his team.
On our journey Will relates many diverse historical figures to the Cubs. We meet Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds; Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassin; and former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan as Will explains in detail how their lives are intertwined to the resident of “the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.” Literary figures abound, including William Shakespeare and Theodore Dreiser, whose writings are used in trying to explain the agony of being a fan of the Chicago Cubs. This is all part of Will’s profession of love for the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field. I assume he realizes that his emotions are irrational, but like all love it is based on faith, which in of itself is irrational. Then why does Will feel so strongly? The book is his attempt to answer that question.
The story Will tells is one of human tragedy as he speaks of Wrigley Field as the final resting place for many Cubs fans as they have instructed their families to sprinkle their ashes in the outfield after they are gone. It is clear from my study of baseball history that Cub fans have little to be thankful for except a beautiful ball park that has altered the course of baseball history as many stadium architects have used it to create the newer parks of the last twenty-two years. In the late nineteen sixties baseball developed what I refer to as “cookie-cutter ballparks,” multi-use stadiums shared with football. All were outside urban areas and to say it mildly; were very unattractive, not very fan friendly, and thankfully most have been torn down. In 1992, Camden Yards opened, in part as a means of urban renewal. The architects studied Wrigley, and Brooklyn’s long gone Ebbets Field as a means of creating a venue that was comfortable and help refurbish urban neighborhoods. Camden Yards has become a model for numerous new stadiums all around baseball including minor league cities. This has helped revive numerous urban areas and have created new revenue streams for teams and their cities. As a result the goal of replicating the feel of Wrigley Field as a neighborhood institution has been a success. Overall, Will’s concise and intellectually humorous approach to baseball history is a wonderful addition to any library, not just the nation’s pastime. If you can spare a few hours, It is a great read that you will not be able to relinquish until completed.
(Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD.)