- Northsiders: Essays on the History and Culture of the Chicago Cubs
Northsiders is a collection of essays that depicts the Chicago Cubs as a professional sports franchise "chronically behind the curve of social change" (p. 2). The essayists comprise academics from a wide range of disciplines, as well as a few amateur historians. Consequently, some of the writing is scholarly while much of it is a light-hearted and nostalgic depiction of Cub fans. Overall, the collection suggests that during the second half of the twentieth century Cub fans became tragic figures struggling with futility and hope, cheering a team whose "Sisyphean failure reminds us, amidst too much plenty, that all life is sorrowful" (p. 200).
The book is divided into four sections. The first describes the origins of professional sport in the neighborhood of Lakeview, which, for Cub fans, has become known as Wrigleyville. The essays effectively show that the Lakeview has a complex history. That history and the long seemingly permanent residence of the Cubs produced what is now the iconic status of Wrigley Field as one of the two remaining ball parks of a previous era of professional baseball, when idiosyncratic major league parks were located within city neighborhoods that did not allow provision for automobile parking or the various bell and whistles associated with current major league stadiums. This long history as a site of play made Wrigley Field a communal location long before it gained acclaim due to the mass media attention of the superstation WGN or representation in major Hollywood films such as Ferris Bueller's Day Off. One of the best essays attributes the quirkiness of the Cubs to the legacy of owner Philip K. Wrigley, who, during the middle decades of the twentieth century, ran the ballclub from "an old-fashioned sense of duty" rather than a desire to win games and prosper financially. It was this sense of duty that "preserved" Wrigley Field as a nostalgic and iconic vestige of an earlier era of baseball. Ironically, Wrigley was not a baseball man with intimate knowledge of the game. He was a distant and paternal manager who often preferred the status quo of losing rather than making the changes necessary to maintain competitiveness in professional baseball.
The second section of the book deals with the divisive issues of race and ethnicity. This section is the most critical of the legacy of the "lovable losers." It tells the story of the great ballplayer and ardent racist Cap Anson who forced the African-American player Fleetwood Walker out of the major leagues. The essays then show how the Cubs integrated sluggishly. By referencing the sports pages of the African-American paper, the Chicago Defender, one essay shows how the failure to integrate made the rival Chicago White Sox the preferred team of Chicago blacks. Even after the arrival of an African American, the future Hall-of-Famer Ernie Banks, the Cubs did not gain the attention of the black community. For all his greatness on the field, Banks was a cultural figure and not a political one, who appeared quiet and unassuming when compared to figures like Jackie Robinson. [End Page 497]
The third section examines the transformation of the Cubs following the sale of the team to the multi-media giant the Tribune Corporation. Two essays describe the most prominent fictional references to the team by analyzing the play Bleacher Bums and the journalism of Mike Royko. They deal principally with a nostalgia for the era of Phillip Wrigley when it seemed "the ivy was greener, the beer was colder, and the Cubs were just one pitcher away" (p. 125) from finally overtaking the Cardinals. Long time Cub fans especially will appreciate the essays on broadcasters and fans who maintained the tradition of keeping score during the game. The essay on broadcasters covers the entire range of radio and television voices, not just Harry Carey, while the essay on scorekeeping discusses the community of Wrigley Field regulars, the traditional fans for whom the...