- Before the Ivy: The Cubs’ Golden Age in Pre-Wrigley Chicago by Laurent Pernot
Laurent Pernot, French by birth and upbringing, came to Chicago as an exchange student in 1988 and fell in love with the Cubs. He stayed in the city and is now the executive vice-chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago. This result of his passion may help assuage the century-long despair of other Cubs’ fans that yearn for another championship season. [End Page 439]
Pernot meticulously researched primary sources, including club records at the Chicago History Museum, as well as newspapers and pertinent secondary works to fashion a lively account of the team’s early successes. Key figures such as William Hulbert, Albert Spalding, Mike “King” Kelly, Adrian “Cap” Anson, and Frank Chance are given their due, but the book is more than a mere recitation of names and annual accounts. The team history is contextualized with social and political events within the city, as well as the rivalries with the emergence of the Chicago White Sox of the American League and the short-lived Whales of the Federal League.
The book consists of twenty-four brief chapters, consisting of three to twelve pages each. Current Cubs’ fans might take heart in the knowledge that the team once dominated the National League. Then known as the White Stockings, the Cubs won the initial National League pennant in 1876 and five more pennants by 1889. From 1906 to 1910, the team appeared in four World Series, winning two and establishing the still existing record of 116 wins in a season in 1906.
Pernot documents more than on-the-field successes, describing the role of the media and political networking in the team’s ascendance, though historians might lament that he presents no particular theoretical approach to fashion his narrative. He does, however, expand upon historiographical issues in a chapter on the lexicology of baseball terminology that has produced idioms in the English language. In this discussion, he draws attention to the civic rivalries between Chicago and New York and the ownership of the phrase “out of left field.” The author also details the turn-of-the-twentieth-century battle between team ownership and nearby homeowners who erected rooftop grandstands and sold the seats to fans, a prelude to the current legal confrontations over the same issue. Pernot also points out that the fan loyalties that continue to split the city between Cubs and White Sox fans were already apparent in the 1906 World Series in which the two teams faced each other. Regardless of their league standing, the two teams continued to face each other in a City Series for several years that assured local bragging rights for the fans and annual profits for the owners.
Although the book does not offer much in the way of new knowledge or contrasting historical interpretations for scholars, it is a well-written and entertaining read, filled with copious illustrations and photos that might sustain the rabid Cubs’ fan base as they “wait until next year.”