Book Review: A Perfect Season

By Chris Rewers on Friday, April 8, 2011

So much has been written about the Cubs' 103-year world championship title drought that it has become cliche. So much venom has been directed at Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, club management, and many of the team's players in the blogosphere that it makes one wonder why they are fans.

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There are far too many so-called "Cubs fans" who just don't get it.

Sure, it isn't always easy, but in spite of all of the disappointments and heartbreak through the years, I still enjoy being a Cubs fan. The team, with its warts and all, has always brought me far more joy than pain. In the past year, it's been my mission to make this Web site a celebration of that love. As frustrated as I may sometimes get with them, the Cubs always find a way to keep me coming back.

Dan McGrath and Bob Vanderberg, in their wonderful book, 162-0: A Cubs Perfect Season, perfectly illustrate why I love baseball so much, and in particularly why the Cubs have always had a special place in my heart. Every game contains a seed for greatness.

Great players like Gabby Hartnett and Ernie Banks often times have played the role of hero, but obscure players like Frank Ernaga and Julio Zuleta have also had their moments in the sun.

"Wouldn't it be fun ... to comb through Cubs history and pick a win that truly stood out on each date of a typical season?" McGrath and Vanderberg, both Chicago Tribune alums, ask in their introduction. "That's the premise of this book."

This paperback book, which costs $16.95, contains nothing but ivy. There is no agony allowed.

The selection in baseball books has been disappointing in recent years - particularly books about the Cubs. Trips to Borders have left me shaking my head. There have been too many dry chronological histories and too many books about over-written topics like the '69 Cubs. There have been far too many forward-thinking books - particularly devoted to obscure statistics - and not enough celebrating the game's rich past. This is the best baseball book I've read since Cait Murphy's Crazy '08 in 2007.

Rare is the Cubs book, that makes me remark, "I did not know that!" or "I forgot about that!" but this is such a tome.

Better yet, it often reminds me of where I was and with whom I was with while I was watching many of the games that are chronicled.

It is a delightful, thoroughly researched ride, chronicling many of the Cubs finest moments from the 1902 season to the glorious 2008 campaign. As readers flip through the pages, they will be treated to the expected like the Sandberg Game and Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout performance as well as to the unexpected like a game-winning grand slam by Al Heist and a one-hitter by Juan Pizarro.

The book also contains some fantastic photos - many of which I had never seen before - as well as box scores from many of the games. I wish there were box scores from all the games, but that is a minor quibble.

I also enjoyed the side notes on many of the games' principal players that contain tidbits like mini-biographies of obscure players like Thad Bosley and Dave Rosello, and a look back at Fergie Jenkins' final major league appearance on Sept. 26, 1983 in front of just 3,137 fans at Wrigley Field. How sad. And I knew Grover Cleveland Alexander was a drunk (and a damn good pitcher), but did not know that he showed up at the ballpark drunk "for six of his last 10 days as a Cub."

Admission time. I have been an admirer of McGrath for many years, although I've never had the pleasure of meeting him. His sister-in-law lived across the street from us for close to 20 years while I was growing up in St. Thomas More Parish on Chicago's Southwest Side. I loved the stories she would tell me on her front porch about her brother-in-law who lived in Daly City, Calif. and covered the Giants for the San Francisco Chronicle. That was the kind of life I wanted and it is one of the reasons I pursued a career in journalism.

I'm glad I've had the opportunity to enjoy McGrath's work while he was the sports editor of the Tribune and more recently in the New York Times. In particular, his profile of Greg Maddux in the Tribune Magazine in 2006 was the best I ever read about my all-time favorite pitcher.

McGrath last year assumed the presidency of his alma mater, Leo High School, in Chicago. It was the subject of a terrific column by Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times last year.

The quality of the book McGrath and Vanderberg have produced this year is all the more remarkable knowing that it was written by a pair of Sox fans. I don't hold that against them.

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