The Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908. The ball club has not had a decade with a winning record since the 1930s. Yet, the Cubs consistently fill the seats at their home stadium, Wrigley Field, which turns 100 years old this year. How do they do it?
George F. Will, best known as the scholarly and somewhat dour conservative writer and commentator, is also a fervent baseball fan. In his new book, A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred, he makes the case that the fans’ devotion to the Cubs is due, in large part, to the history and special character of the stadium, despite the consistent failures of the home team. Weaving together the story of Wrigley, the Cubs, and major league baseball, Will has given us a brief but delightful paean to the team with the longest record of disappointment and frustration in professional sports.
As the book rambles along through the story of the stadium and the Cubs, Will brings in diverse topics including Chicago politics, Al Capone, the reserve clause, Charles Dickens, Upton Sinclair, the psychology of addiction, and how beer saved mankind from death by drinking water, all of which fits the story as a fielder’s hand fits his glove. Sprinkled throughout this little book are arcane nuggets of baseball lore, such as the story of the Cubs pitcher who set a record of fourteen consecutive strikeouts. Unfortunately, he did that as a batter. Or the story of the Cubs player who was traded to another team for a player to be named later. After playing one game for the new team, he was traded back to the Cubs.
Along with Boston’s Fenway Park, two years older, Wrigley Field is an anachronism in today’s era of modern, technology-besotted ballparks. Wrigley allows no on the field advertising, the only music is provided by the organ, and beer prices are among the lowest in baseball. Along with its famous ivy-covered outfield wall, Wrigley is known among fans as the last stadium to install lights to allow for night games.
The enduring appeal of Wrigley, according to Will, is due in large part to P.K. Wrigley, son of the original Wrigley family owner. P.K. inherited the team and stadium, in which he had little interest or enthusiasm. His marketing idea was that Wrigley Field should be a place for families to come to enjoy its park-like beauty. He actually explained in 1958 that, because he thought dedicated fans would always come, in marketing the Cubs “we are aiming at people who are not interested in baseball”, which may in itself explain the century long Cubs’ absence from the World Series.
Will is a master at melding highbrow and lowbrow perspectives on serious topics and on life’s daily irritations, successes and failures. Whether sympathetic with Will’s politics or not, readers will find his volume on Wrigley a delight.