Reviews for Nice Little Place on the North Side : Wrigley Field at One Hundred


Booklist Reviews 2014 February #1
Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, turns 100 this season. Will, a lifelong Cubs fan originally from downstate Illinois, steps back from politics to indulge his passion for the generally hapless Cubs (last World Series win in 1908). In the context of Wrigley's centennial, Will offers a rambling, gently amusing history of the team since it moved in. With few triumphs to write about, Will focuses on some of the dominant and/or quirky personalities associated with the team through the years. He has a particular fondness for Ernie Banks, aka Mr. Cub, who performed heroically for some atrocious Cub teams from 1953 through 1971, laying out the case that Banks, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, hasn't lingered in the minds of today's fans the way he should have done. Will also delivers brief but revealing examinations of longtime team owner P. K. Wrigley, players Phil Cavarretta and Hack Wilson, and manager Leo Durocher. Will, who has a Pulitzer for commentary on his mantel as well as a roomful of other awards, is one of the nation's most visible Cub fans; this ode to the team and its home field will make a very pleasant read for baseball fans in general and Cub fans in particular. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Expect lots of television and other media promotion for this one, tied to various Wrigley Field celebrations. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2014 April
A grand slam for baseball books

There are certain years that trigger immediate associations in any baseball fan’s mind. 1903: the first World Series. 1927: Murderer’s Row. 1961: Mantle and Maris. 1994: the players’ strike. Whether 2014 will produce such a season is yet to be written, but a tremendous crop of baseball books guarantees this year to be one for the publishing annals.

Is there any more complicated figure in the modern baseball era than Pete Rose? Consider the brief of Kostya Kennedy, author of the magnificent new biography Pete Rose: An American Dilemma. Those with even casual baseball knowledge are familiar with the outline: “Charlie Hustle,” Cincinnati Reds stalwart, the man who always slid headfirst and who attained the Major League record for base hits, is evicted from the game—as well as from eligibility for the Hall of Fame—for betting on those Reds while serving as their manager. Kennedy takes that familiar story and delves deeper, presenting an artful portrait of the blue-collar world Rose came from, the dream world he ascended to and the bizarre world he slipped into after his banishment.

In doing so, Kennedy touches on a theme well beyond baseball: the inherent contradictions of human nature. How could someone who willed himself to the top of his profession with such clarity of purpose throw away his legacy with such singular dissipation? The tragic element of Rose’s life—his ability to bend circumstances to his will in one context yet to lose all sense of rationality in another—is stuff worthy of Shakespeare. Kennedy handles it just fine, though. For the market, the book is pitched as a re-evaluation of Rose’s fate now that baseball has suffered though steroids, arguably a graver sin than gambling. Kennedy doesn’t break new factual ground or suggest “answers” so much as refocus the question. And he presents a compelling case that whether Rose deserves his lifetime suspension should be evaluated separately from whether he should be eligible for the Hall. It’s interesting enough material for the baseball reader, but the appeal of this book goes further. With writing of such quality and a subject of such complexity, it deserves to be read by anyone who appreciates good biography.

HARD-BOILED BASEBALL
No baseball book in recent memory has been as uproarious as They Called Me God, written by legendary umpire Doug Harvey with an assist from longtime sportswriter Peter Golenbock. Harvey, one of only nine umpires in the Hall of Fame and considered by many—including himself—to be one of the best of all time, worked the National League from 1962 to 1992. Stylistically, the book is a marvel, particularly while recounting Harvey’s origins. Its staccato style and fatalistic tone are on par with classic noir. Take, for example, this setup: “The regulars had been drinking, I’d had a few myself, and I was sitting there wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life.” Or this meditation on his professional plight: “There was just one perfect umpire, and they put him on the cross.” I won’t spoil any more gems.

The book is billed as a tell-all. No kidding. Man, does Harvey settle some scores. His first wife, coaches who disrespected him, cheating pitchers and the league officials who enabled them—no one, it seems, is safe. But the book is written with such good humor and honest feeling that you can hardly begrudge Harvey these takedowns. Harvey only blows one call, so to speak, by including a painfully awkward story about the late umpire Eric Gregg that should not have seen the printed page. That aside, the book offers refreshing insight into an umpire’s world, and with considerable panache.

FROM THE FRIENDLY CONFINES
About 20 years ago, the band the Mountain Goats produced a tune called “Cubs in Five.” The title was a joke—the song is about stuff that is unlikely to happen—but it encapsulates nicely the futility of rooting for Chicago’s National League squad. Even if renowned columnist and Bunts author George F. Will hasn’t heard the song, he gets the sentiment, as is apparent from his latest baseball foray, A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred.

Appropriately for a topic as inherently funny as the Cubs, Will takes a droll approach. In about the amount of time it takes to soak in a ballgame, the reader is treated to a romp through Cubs history, from the origins of Wrigley Field up to the Steve Bartman debacle. As this is George Will, there’s a dollop of evolutionary psychology and economics on the side, though nothing much heavier than an Old Style. 

About that field. The title evokes it, and it is the focus of the book’s thesis: that the beauty of the ballpark is in large part responsible for the consistently poor quality of the product on the diamond. Will has discovered, through the work of some authors he cites, that ticket sales at Wrigley bear a smaller-than-normal correlation to the team’s record and actually are more sensitive to the price of a beer in the stadium than the cost of admission. By providing a good place to watch baseball, Will hypothesizes, management has relieved itself of the need to provide a good baseball team. At least the theory has the virtue of explaining the otherwise inexplicable phenomenon that is the Cubs.

BACK TO THE MINORS
Every kid dreams of hitting a game-winning homer in the World Series. No kid dreams of hitting anything at all for the Montgomery Biscuits. That, in a nutshell, is the idea behind John Feinstein’s Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball, a[Tue Sep 2 12:57:44 2014] enhancedContent.pl: Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\enhancedContent.pl line 249. thorough and enjoyable profile of the players, coaches, umpires, radio announcers and pretty much everyone else besides the peanut vendors who are associated with minor league baseball. By focusing on eight different people over the course of the 2012 season, Feinstein ably shows how the tantalizing promise of working in the bigs—not to mention the attendant compensation and creature comforts—shapes the lives of those who are still down on the farm. The book has a nice pace: casual and a little rambling, though a bit repetitive at times and with lags here and there. Not so different, come to think of it, than a midsummer Double-A tilt.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2014 January #2
Veteran conservative political pundit Will (One Man's America: The Pleasures and Provocations of Our Singular Nation, 2009, etc.) writes an affectionate birthday card to the home of his beloved Chicago Cubs. The author, who has written often about baseball (Bunts: Pete Rose, Curt Flood, Camden Yards and Other Reflections on Baseball, 1997, etc.) as well as issuing his periodic poundings of liberals and celebrations of conservatives, traces his Cub fandom back to 1948, when he was 7. He notes that since his birth, the Cubs are nearly 700 games below .500, a sad record that in a perverse way unites their fans. (Will compares the Cubs to Miss Havisham, the jilted bride in Great Expectations.) This is not a traditional, chronological history but an emotional one; in fact, greedy readers will find little about the construction of the place—though there is a nice little section about the decision to plant ivy to crawl along the outfield wall. Along the way, readers will learn about a baseball-related shooting that inspired Bernard Malamud's The Natural (1952), some history of the odd Wrigley family, the relationship between beer and attendance at baseball games, some discoveries by baseball statistician Bill James, the surprising news that Jack Ruby (yes, he who shot Lee Harvey Oswald) once was a vendor at Wrigley and that the Cubs used to train on Santa Catalina Island. Of course, it wouldn't be George-Will-on-baseball without allusions to Dickens, Aristotle and some other luminaries. He dispels a few myths along the way. For example, the famed double-play combo (Tinker to Evers to Chance) actually turned two very rarely, and he waxes philosophical a bit, ruminating about how fandom is like tribalism. Digressive, amusing, anecdotal, legend-shattering, self-deprecating and passionate—just what you want in a friend sitting beside you at the ballpark. Copyright Kirkus 2014 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews 2013 October #2

The prolific Will, whose twice-weekly syndicated column appears in more than 500 newspapers and online news sources, is also known for baseball classics like Men at Work. Here, he shows his Chicago Cubs colors by giving us a history of Wrigley Field.

[Page 73]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Library Journal Reviews 2014 February #2

With his characteristic wit and wry perspective intact, Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist Will, an Illinois native, delivers what is effectively a color commentary on his beloved Cubs and their home. A good color man enhances the play-by-play with choice anecdotes, digressions, stats, allusions (including literary and political), and deductions; Will doesn't disappoint. With offerings both broad (the author knows his baseball and can effectively recall stats with the best of 'em) and local (he digs into Chicago history), Will is an enjoyable tour guide through the Cubs' ups and all-too-frequent downs. Though he keeps the tone light, he never shies from reflections, such as the "why" behind the psychological rationale of fans whose love has endured countless irritations and vexations. In doing so, Will sheds light on the uniquely transformative power of sports. VERDICT This is for all North Siders, naturally, but also for baseball fans who like to wax more literary. Though it certainly satisfies on its own (particularly if you know the Cubs' history), it resonates most effectively as a companion piece to the other Wrigley anniversary books reviewed here. [See Prepub Alert, 10/15/13.]--BM

[Page 112]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2014 April #4

More than just about a ball park with a powerful mystique, Will's (Men at Work) book on Wrigley Field offers a rich history of the city of Chicago through its hapless baseball team. In celebration of the ballpark's 100th year, Will compiles a random batch of anecdotes and history about the franchise that inhabits this much loved though antiquated structure with its famous ivy-covered walls. ("It is not a good sign for fans when their team's venue is better known for the attractiveness of its flora than for the excellence of the athletes who have played there," Will quips.) Broad-ranging topics include beer and its legendary importance in baseball, the long-standing resistance to installing lights for night games, personality quirks of the father-son owners, chewing gum kings William and P.K. Wrigley, and colorful takes on famed Cub Ernie Banks and (mostly) beloved sportscaster Harry Caray. The reader will learn about numbers--attendance, beer prices, stadium stats, monies paid for the team--and enjoy reflections by the author, who understands firsthand the trials and tribulations of being a Cubs fan. Rooting for the Cubs, he writes, is "a lifelong tutorial in delay gratification." As Will illustrates in his book, there's plenty for Cubs fans to celebrate from the past 100 years, even if a world series isn't one of them. (Apr.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC

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Publishers Weekly Annex Reviews

More than just about a ball park with a powerful mystique, Will's (Men at Work) book on Wrigley Field offers a rich history of the city of Chicago through its hapless baseball team. In celebration of the ballpark's 100th year, Will compiles a random batch of anecdotes and history about the franchise that inhabits this much loved though antiquated structure with its famous ivy-covered walls. ("It is not a good sign for fans when their team's venue is better known for the attractiveness of its flora than for the excellence of the athletes who have played there," Will quips.) Broad-ranging topics include beer and its legendary importance in baseball, the long-standing resistance to installing lights for night games, personality quirks of the father-son owners, chewing gum kings William and P.K. Wrigley, and colorful takes on famed Cub Ernie Banks and (mostly) beloved sportscaster Harry Caray. The reader will learn about numbers--attendance, beer prices, stadium stats, monies paid for the team--and enjoy reflections by the author, who understands firsthand the trials and tribulations of being a Cubs fan. Rooting for the Cubs, he writes, is "a lifelong tutorial in delay gratification." As Will illustrates in his book, there's plenty for Cubs fans to celebrate from the past 100 years, even if a world series isn't one of them. (Apr.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC

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