After an eighth place finish in 1965, Chicago Cubs’ owner, P.K. Wrigley, hired Leo Durocher as the manager for the next season. Upon arrival, the legendary Durocher is supposed to have thundered, “This is no eighth-place club.” He was right – well, sort of. The club finished with a 59-103 record and in tenth place. The mediocrity of the Cubs is legendary, as is the love of its fans who are a paean to prolonged unrequited love. John Snyder provides the perfect panacea to the Chicago Cubs fan by chronicling in telling detail the vicissitudes of the ballclub from 1876 to 2004. This is the definitive record of the club’s activities, complete with records and player performances. But it is also more than a dry, detailed history of the club. Snyder captures the zeitgeist of the true baseball fan by providing numerous vignettes that help explain the team’s performance in a particular season and why certain players are held in such esteem by the fans.
Gems abound in Snyder’s book. Tinker (shortstop) to Evers (second base) to Chance (first base) is the famous double-play combination that confounded opponents and etched themselves in fans’ hearts by their play from 1902 to 1912. Years of beanings in a helmet-less era led to Frank Chance suffering from blinding headaches and deafness and ultimately led the estimable first baseman to retire as a player in April 1912. The legend of this inimitable trio was enhanced by a poem, “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” written by Franklin Adams, a New York scribe whose team was thwarted once too often by the Chicagoans. Many in baseball feel that the poem was singularly responsible for the three supposedly mediocre players’ induction into the Hall of Fame. Snider painstakingly went through newspaper articles and record books to find evidence that the poem had very little effect on the players’ recognition.
For Cub fans and fans of baseball in general, the book is likely to be a bitter sweet trip drenched in nostalgia. Ernie Banks, “Mr. Cub” to many, played illustriously for many years, always with a cheerful disposition. Yet, Banks never played in a single post-season game. In the 1969 season, the Cubs had an 8 ½ game lead on August 13, only to go into a freefall that allowed the New York Mets to make history. After 39 years of futility, the Cubs reached the post season in 1984, only to watch their World Series dreams roll through the legs of first baseman, Leon Durham.
Perhaps, George Will best summed up what it is to be a Cub fan. When the Cubs took a two-to-nothing lead in the best of five National League Championship Series in 1984, the erudite scribe remarked, “We all know that means it will be the Padres in five.” Whether it was Leon Durham in 1984 or Steve Bartman in 2003, total glory seems to be just out of reach for the Cubs. Yet, its good-natured fans wait patiently. Snyder’s book provides the perfect gift for the Chicago Cubs diehard.