The evidence of prolonged futility has piled up for the Chicago Cubs. After winning the World Series in 1909, they have gone ninety-five years without a championship. The player who embodied the Cubs for many years, shortstop Ernie Banks, never played in a post-season game. They were so woeful for many years that they earned the sobriquet “lovable losers.” And yet, legions of faithful fans belong to that paean to unrequited love called Cubs Nation. Journalist Gene Wojciechowski is an unabashed card-carrying member of that nation. After the Cubs came a fan-interference-flyball-close to going to the World Series in 2003, Wojciechowski, convinced that his beloved Cubs would have a banner year in 2004, decided to chronicle every game of the season. What results is a wry, self-deprecating, and evocative look at the endearing, quirky, and often absurd group of fans who have, across generations, pledged their allegiance to a baseball team.
In Wojciechowski’s narrative, the game descriptions are succinct. In diary-entry style, he quickly summarizes each game. What follows after each game’s description is the heart of the book. Wojciechowski runs the gamut here – he interviews players, past and present, Cubs’ front office personnel, fans, and myriad other people associated at the fringes of the game. Clearly, Wojciechowski is on a quest here to get to the heart of what it is to love a team. And he unearths some gems along the way. For long, Cub fans have attributed their team’s lack of success to the “Curse of the Billy Goat.” Wojciechowski traces the genesis of the Curse to its modern day inheritor, Sam Sianis, the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern. In the 2004 season, Sianis attempts to help the team break the Curse. In an achingly funny report that will most certainly bring a lump to every Cub fan’s throat, Wojciechowksi recounts Sianis’s odyssey that meets with a varying degree of success.
Wrigley Field is an integral part of the Chicago Cubs. In fact, this throwback of a ballpark is probably what has kept the fans loyal through long periods of futility. Often called the “biggest beer garden in the world,” its attending fans closely associate the beverage with the game-viewing experience. Wojciechowski captures the essence of the nexus between beer and fans in the following passage:
“You know it’s Opening Day in Chicago when the Budweiser delivery
trucks get bigger applause than the famed Budweiser Clydesdales, who
clomp around Wrigleyville for a little pregame exercise and, surprise, TV
exposure. Meanwhile, a Bud truck pulls up alongside Murphy’s and two
deliverymen frantically unload cases of brew as if the beer are sandbags
and the levee is about to break. Passerby start clapping.”
Wojciechowski’s tone throughout the book is semi-serious. It is as though he realizes the absurdity of grown men (and sometimes women) getting misty-eyed over a team and players of yester years and irrevocably forced to measure life’s passage with the cadences of the team’s fortunes. And yet, in all his encounters in the book, the people he meets and interviews see no contradiction in this vicarious existence. They are perfectly comfortable in actively seeking personal and professional success, and at the same time, invoking their gods to bestow good fortune on their team. This book is for such people. It speaks to them with a love and understanding that they will very well recognize. The ubiquitous detours that Wojciechowski takes in the book all lead to the very heart of the Cubs fan and captures his essence in riveting and emphatic detail.