It's time to indulge in some literary leanings, sports fans. That's right, reading isn't just about websites and sports blogs, it's also about those strange, rectangular objects with the paper parts ... what are they called again? Oh, yeah -- books! In this feature below, Contributing Editor Dave Miller reviews "162-0: Imagine a Cubs Perfect Season" by Dan McGrath and Bob Vanderberg.
The thought of any MLB team, much less the Chicago Cubs, having a perfect season is pretty silly. So, right off the bat, let's dispel the notion that 162-0: A Cubs Perfect Season, written by Dan McGrath and Bob Vanderberg and published by Chicago-based Triumph Books, is about that. Rather, the book uses the construct of a 162-game campaign to review some of the greatest games in Cubs history, one for each day of the season.
McGrath and Vanderberg are both Chicago area journalists who spent a substantial part of their careers in the trenches of the Chicago Tribune sports department. They write with a kind of old school newspaper style and bring to the pages of their book some meticulous research likely born of many long nights staring at, among other sources, box scores. In this, my inaugural book review for SB Nation Chicago, I'll try to elucidate my impressions of their work.
What I Liked
As one might expect, the book hits on some of the better-known games in Cubs history -- the Homer in the Gloamin', Milt Pappas' no-hitter and Froemming-foiled perfect game. But it also delves deep (very deep) into many of the more obscure games and players in the team's history.
Have you heard of Frank Ernaga? Or Juan Pizarro? How about Moe Drabowsky? As a reader, you're thrust into a kaleidoscopic view of Cubs history and, thereby, really given some great perspective on how many players have appeared in the team's uniform over the years -- even if for just one meaningful game. Naturally, games from an era with which you're familiar will likely hold greater interest to you. But there's still plenty to learn from decades gone by.
I also liked the sidebars that appear in many chapters, giving more in-depth biographical and career info on some of the main characters. Again, it's here that you get brief glimpses into the lives of players most fans have probably never heard of and few remember. In addition, some of the chapters include box scores of the game in question, which, if you're a baseball nerd like myself, are always fun to scan.
Last but not least, as a big fan of brevity and structure, the manner in which the authors set up the book -- with each chapter taking up only a page or two -- makes this a great read for those accustomed to blog posts and Twitter feeds. I breezed through a few chapters a day during my daily commute or knocked several out while waiting for my daughter to endure her weekly dance class.
What Gave Me Pause
You know what the downside of a kaleidoscope is? It can make you a little dizzy ... and confused. And those were the effects I often suffered from when leaping from, say, Max Flack's five-hit game in July of 1918 to Kerry Wood's 130-pitch win over the Florida Marlins in July of 2003.
Unless you're a really hardcore Cubs history buff, who's already primed him- or herself on every decade in the team's 135-year history, you may find yourself drowning in all of those obscure details I heralded earlier. The authors bounce you back and forth, up and down amongst the various eras of Cubdom. And it's a bumpy ride for a reader like me, who considers himself a Cubs history novice at best.
Also, many of the chapters do have a tendency to break down into rather rote recounts of the games' box scores. As mentioned, if you're familiar with the specific incarnation of the Cubs being described, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, I can still picture players such as Mark DeRosa singling up the middle, Sammy Sosa putting one in the seats or Ryne Sandberg making a great play at second. Cal Koonce striking out Leo Cardenas and Jerry Lynch in 1962? Not so much.
I would've almost preferred it if the chapters themselves would've been more like the sidebars I mentioned earlier, with each one being a mini-biography of a player set within the context of a given game. Perhaps what I'm trying to say is that I longed for a more literary approach to the subject matter when what I found was a more journalistic one -- which is, of course, completely understandable given that the authors are both journalists.
If you really love Cubs history, I'd definitely recommend this book. Amateur team historian's will likely find McGrath and Vanderberg's tome a veritable warm bag of peanuts, with each successive chapter bringing with it the crunchy, salty goodness of deep historical knowledge. In fact, I could see a Cubs history fanatic having a hard time putting the book down, thinking, "I wonder what they'll come up with for May 3? June 22? August 15?"
If you're more of a "here and now" fan, however, you may want to start with a more general overview of Cubs history before you give this one a try. Then again, you could just put the book next to your calendar and read the chapter that corresponds with each passing day.