Friday, January 22, 2016

Wrigley Field

I will come back and edit this again as I wrote it while taking a synthetic morphine as I recover from the surgery on my quad tendon.  Yesterday was tough--once the block wore off, I was in pain.  Today hasn't been quite as bad, but every time I try to back off on meds, the pain goes up...  between the meds and an ice machine that keeps cool water on my leg, I am making it.  

                                                                                       

George F. Will, A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred (New York: Crown Archetype, 2014), 223 pages including a bibliography, index and a few photos.


Baseball is as encrusted with clichés as old ships are with barnacles.
                                                        -George Will (page 105)

   
         Watching a baseball game at Wrigley’s Field is a delight.  In 2011, I took the train from Michigan to Chicago, then took the Red Line out to Wrigley Field to watch the Houston Astros beat the Chicago Cubs.  I was rooting for the Cubs and would have liked to have seen them win, but those who go to watch baseball at Wrigley’s attend mostly for the experience. “People go to museums of fine art to see the paintings, not the frames that display them,” Will writes.  “Many people do, however, decide to go to Chicago Cubs games because they are played within this lovely frame… It is frequently noted that Wrigley’s Field is lovelier than the baseball that is played on the field.” (13).   This leads to all kinds of jokes about the Cubs:  “What does a female bear taking birth control pills have in common with the World Series,” someone will ask.  “No Cubs.”  Or, “for most teams, 0-30 is called a calamity.  For the Cubs, it is called April. (29)  The old ballpark turned 100 years old in 2014 and George Will, who grew up in Illinois and is a Cub fan, wrote a history of the park to celebrate the event and to explore why people love the Cubs and Wrigley’s Field.  As Will notes early in the book, "Reason rarely regulates love." (11)  And with the Cubs, it’s all about love as their attendance is the least sensitive to performance in all baseball. (134)  People come whether or not they are winning.  Ironically, their attendance is four times more sensitive to beer prices than performance which is why only two teams (the Pirates and Diamondbacks) have cheaper beer.  (136)
            The Cubs are an old organization and at one time (pre-Wrigley’s Field) they were a powerhouse.  In the 1880s, with Cap Anson, they had many championships.  It’s just that they’ve had a bad century, winning their last World Series in 1908.  Will gives the history of the team that was first known as the Chicago White Stockings and under the leadership of Albert Goodwill Spaulding (baseball’s first entrepreneur) helped invent Major League Baseball. (31). Goodyear published yearly “Spalding Guides” to Major League Baseball.  In his 1908 edition,   Goodyear (who Will noted “was not always fastidious about facts”) created the myth of Abner Doubleday inventing baseball in the summer of 1939 in Farmer Finney’s pasture in Cooperstown, NY. (33)  After being known as the White Stockings, the team went by a number of names (Colts, Orphans and Spuds).  In 1902, after the creation of the American League, there was another team in Chicago that was using the name “White Sox’s,” so they looked for a new name and decided on Cubs as it represented bear-like strength with a playful disposition. (36)  Another interesting fact that Will provides:  The American League was founded in 1882 and its main difference at the time was it allowed beer sale at ball games. (34)
            In 1914, the Cubs built their new stadium with the home plate at the corner of Addison and Clark Streets at the site of a former Lutheran Seminary.  (20)  Ironically, Addison Street was named for Dr. Thomas Addison, who identified "Addison anemia," providing more comic material for the Cubs. (15)  Two years later, William Wrigley, who had made his fortune with chewing gum, brought into the Cub organization. (45). Wrigley was a promoter who was fond of saying, "Baseball is too much of a sport to be a business and too much of a business to be a sport. (46)  His was the first club to allow people to keep balls that were hit into the stands and unlike other teams, who saw radio broadcast as a threat, he allowed stations to broadcast the games free of charge.  (47-48).  He reached out to women and built a strong female fan base.  Under his family leadership, the motto was if the team was bad, “strive mightily to improve the ballpark.” (87)  The Wrigley’s tried to create a ballpark for the whole family and would advertise for people to come out and have a picnic.  The joke was that the other team often did.  (83)
            Will goes into detail about the Cub’s 1932 World Series loss to the Yankees and the game when Babe Ruth “called the shot” before he hit a home run over center field.  As he notes, it probably didn’t happen the way it has been portrayed.  Ruth, and the Yankees, were upset with the Cubs over a player (Mark Koenig) they’d traded from the Yankees late in the season.  The team decided that Koenig would only get ½ of a share of the World’s Series proceeds for the team since he didn’t play all year for them.  This increased the tension between the teams and most likely Ruth’s pointing the bat at the Cub’s dugout.  The game was also interesting because of who were in the stands.  Franklin Roosevelt was there (just 38 days before being elected President along with a 12 year old boy (John Paul Stevens) who would go on to be a Supreme Court Justice. (55-6)
            Will tells many other stories about the Cubs and the field.  This includes providing the background to the book and movie, The Natural. (65-67); how Jack Ruby was a vendor at Wrigley’s before moving to Texas where he shot Lee Harvey Oswald (90); of Ray Kroc selling paper cups to Wrigley’s before starting McDonalds (91); and Ronald Reagan broadcasting Cub games in Iowa via teletype. (93).
            Wrigley’s field was the last major league ballpark to install lights.  Will notes that one of the reason was the local bars, who liked day games so that the fans would stop off at the bar for drinks and food after the game was over.  It is also one of the few stadiums to hold on to the organ and to shun more electronic means of music and scoreboards.  Other topics that Will covered included race relations and baseball in Chicago.  Some of the earlier leaders of the team were racists, which is ironic since the most famous Cub was Ernie Banks, an African-American.  Another famous Cub was Manager Leo Durocher, known for saying “nice guys finish last.”  This is another myth that Will shatters, noting that Durocher was speaking of the Giants and said, “All nice guys.  They’ll finish last” and journals “improved on his quote.” (108)  He also noted that Durocher didn’t like Ernie Banks.  “You could say about Ernie that he never remembered a sign or forgot a newspaperman’s name,” Durocher said. (112)
            The last part of the book is mostly philosophical as Will explores the role tribalism plays into our love of sports, the beauty of which “is its absence of meaning.” (188)

            I don’t always agree with George Will’s politics, but I share a love of baseball and enjoyed reading this book.  I had picked it up a few months ago and it was just what I needed as my concentration was greatly reduced due to my torn quad tendon.  If you don’t mind Will’s myth-busting, you’ll find this book to be a gem.  

44 comments:

  1. Glad to hear that you are making it, hope you recover soon. Best wishes!

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  2. Here's hoping the pain subsides and you can back off the pain medication. Wishing you a speedy recovery.

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    1. I've been able to slowly cut back on the meds--down to every five hours instead of four

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  3. Oh goodness, I hope you're on the mend real soon, it can't be easy. This is a favorite place of mine, and I found myself not too long ago taking photos of the outside, not attending a game, there wasn't one at the time, but we always have to see it when we're in town. Funny thing last time we stayed in Chicago for a few days, we took the train there too!

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    1. There is something about trains and baseball! I have been contemplating, when I retire, visiting each ball park via train

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  4. "...tribalism plays into our love of sports, the beauty of which 'is its absence of meaning.'" I love that line. There's a refreshing relief in an absence of meaning.

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    1. It is refreshing compared to others who try to make baseball into metaphors for everything about life.

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  5. A perfect book for you to read during your recovery. Baseball - I love it, too.

    Hope you heal fast, fast, fast!

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    1. Thanks, I could use some baseball on TV--I've seen more than enough tennis and currently watching skiing (but that hurts my knees)

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  6. Wrigley... Oh, to dream! I've never been but it's at the top of my baseball field trip list. My wife used to live in the neighborhood and, despite not particularly liking baseball, has great affection for the Cubbies. They may - finally - have the team worthy of their grand tradition. Here's hoping.

    Meanwhile, heal quickly, my friend.

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    1. It is a nice park--I still need to make it to Fenway

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    2. Dah! I've never been there either, and it's much closer. Camden - yes. Not quite the same historical value, I realize, but it is beautiful.

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  7. Was never really a fan of baseball, although I enjoyed watching my son play it in little league.

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    1. It is much more laid back that other sports

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  8. My brother has had several surgeries and he said the worst part is the first 3 days afterwards. After that it starts getting a little better each day. So I hope that you start feeling better soon and the pain starts to lessen.

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  9. Big fan of the game...thanks for the quick summary

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    1. The book is a treasure of baseball tidbits!

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  10. Your post reminded me of something from the late 1980's.
    Years ago back when the old Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta still existed and the Braves were always in last place one of my brothers and I would get a couple of seats in the nose bleed sections to watch the game. In many ways it was a surreal experience, we had a cooler filled with beer and snacks, hardly another soul anywhere near us, and our view of the game was akin to looking down from Mount Olympus.

    Then the Braves had to go and start winning games and they moved over to Turner Field and for several years you couldn't bring in any food or drink from the outside.

    Get well soon!

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    1. My second visit to an Atlanta baseball game would have been around 1983... Sometimes those low key games are the best--often you find them in the minor leagues.

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  11. I can offer little useful guidance about dealing with such pain. But you have my best wishes and you are in my thoughts.

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    1. Thanks, Vince. The pain is waning and I've been able to cut back some on the pain meds!

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  12. My brother in law from Chicago would love this book.
    And since I love baseball, I think I would like it too.
    Hope you heal quickly. Just found you from Lynn's blog,Good Things Happened.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and glad to see that you are on an early start for your Christmas shopping!

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  13. While I loathe politics, I did know of Will's love and appreciation of baseball. This was a great post!

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    1. I read his column primarily to get his take on baseball, but interestingly, WIll recently suggested that Nixon was guilty of treason for encouraging the South Vietnamese government to refuse to sign a peace treaty in 1968, which would have given Humphrey an edge in the elections of that year.

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  14. I'm not one much for baseball.

    I hope you recover quickly. Relax and take those pain meds as needed.

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    1. Well, Chrys, we all have our faults! Thanks for the well-wishes.

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  15. I'm not one much for baseball.

    I hope you recover quickly. Relax and take those pain meds as needed.

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  16. George Will is a brilliant man and an excellent writer. My dad and grandfather would have loved this book. They were baseball fans extraordinaire with stats in their heads for players generations gone.

    Sorry about the rough recovery. The best advice is to stay on top of that pain. It takes more drug to reduce it than it takes to stop it before it becomes intolerable. Good luck and get well fast.

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    1. Yes, he is a wonderful writer even though I am not always in agreement with his politics. I found it relieving that he now suggests that Nixon was guilty of treason.

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  17. I'm not familiar with baseball, but I've heard of Wrigley Field. I Googled some pictures. It is a beautiful spot.

    I hope you have a fast recovery.

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  18. The only time I went there the game was rained out. I've been by it many times, though. I'll make it back, I'm sure....

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    1. I was rained out for a White Sox game one--but not for the Cubs

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  19. Even though I'm not much of a sportsfan, I feel as though I must visit Wrigley Field some day (and watch a game there too, while I'm at it).

    I hope your pain subsides soon, without the need for heavy doses of meds.

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  20. I saw the picture of your stitched up leg on Facebook. Yuck! I'm so sorry you're in pain. Hope that doesn't last long. I guess this will give you a chance to read a lot of books.

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  21. Glad to hear you're recovering well! I haven't read very many baseball books, except for Paul Auster's story of his baseball board game -- and Shoeless Joe, which I started reading at a friend's house when I stayed over night, and had to leave it behind (not sure why I didn't ask to borrow it)! I really want to finish it!

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  22. Oh, baseball, your post grabbed me from the word go. Athough I have never supported the Cubs. I am a Yankees fan. But even good ol' Sammy had me rooting for him when he faced off the mighty McGwire all those years ago. :-)

    Greetings from London.

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  23. I'm neither a fan of George Will nor the Cubs--SouthSider 4 Life!--but this is a great review for a book that truly loves the Cubs.

    Thanks for sharing, and hope you're fully recovered by now.
    Best,
    Veronica
    http://vsreads.com

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  24. I've never been to Wrigley Field and this post makes want to go there badly. Someday, it is going to be gone, and I will be sad if I haven't been there before that happens.

    I was always advised to take all the pain killers available while still in the hospital. When asked how much pain you have on a scale of one to ten, always say eleven. Then take as little as you can while back at home. So far, so good. Glad that you are doing a bit better now.

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