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I am a father of two amazing boys.  I have served in ministry roles for almost 20 years before transitioning to the areas of education and sports media, though faith is still central to my life.  I maintain multiple blogs and hope to some day have more published work.  I am an avid reader and writer and a self proclaimed sports junkie. Add all of that up and you get the foundation of my business, Varnell Media Resources.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Inebriated Hope: My take on A Nice Little Place on the North Side by George Will

Disclaimer Alert: You must be warned, I am a St. Louis Cardinals fan.  As such, I have a vast repertoire of jokes that all revolve around the Cubs.  Also, I am at that point of the day (and the school year) where sarcasm flows uninhibited.  If you are one of those thin-skinned Cubs fans finding this review from the neighbors WiFi you pick up in the basement apartment of your mom's farmhouse in Iowa, prepare to be offended.  In fact, don't read this review or the book.  It will leave you never feeling like the nice young man your mom tells her friends that you are.

To be clear, most sports fans do not hate the Cubs.  They trend emotionally near empathy or embarrassment.  The Cubs are not a good baseball team.  They haven't been in quite some time, as Will documents with precision.  However, this book is not just about bad baseball.  This book weaves the craziest of details about a venue held sacred by the masses.  As I write, new ownership has finally come to the understanding that OSHA may have to get involved if the sacred wasteland is to be preserved in any usable state.  But, that is a story to be written after the final chapter of this book.  

Wrigley is unique, old, and always full of inebriated hope.  Legends have come and gone.  Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, who just recently passed, was beloved by most in sports.  However, he was not even appreciated by his own manager or team, and almost became a byline to Chicago Cubs lore instead of the only chapter worth reading.

George Will answers the questions around the fanaticism of the old place.  Stories of people dumping the ashes of loved ones abound, and he certainly takes opposition with the "called shot" from Babe Ruth. He details how the Wrigley familial interests and baseball I.Q. varied from generation to generation.  They had made their money elsewhere, and the ball club basically did as well.  Until recent ownership changes, the team always drew financially from the facility and the community that consumes it far more than the product on the field.  As a franchise, since 1948, they are an amazing 693 games under .500 with a winning percentage of .467 (29).  

Wrigley believed that people would come to the games to see his venue, and even painted "The Friendly Confines" on the dugout.  Will tells of all the details, bringing in the brick, the ivy, and even Ladies Day.  With every franchise, you can track revenue with team results.  When the team wins, ownership makes more.  Not so with the Cubs.  They have one indicator that has been consistent over the years.  Attendance has followed the beer prices.  Even with one of the costliest tickets in the league, they maintain one of the lowest beer prices, and attendance is good.  Honestly, I wondered how Pabst (PBR) became so connected with a Chicago franchise.  My Cardinals play in Busch Stadium.  We have Miller Park and Coors Field in the league now.  I am sure there are plenty of other connections that geographically make sense as well.  But PBR?  Well, George Will even addressed the issue, stating that Heileman's Old Style Lager became the official beer of Wrigley in 1950, and guess what else they own.

I realize I have given far more information than analysis, but for me, this type of book is all about details.  It is a hydrant of data and documentation, folklore and fable.  Will recounts the most minute details of Cubs history through the eyes of steel and mortar.  It is an amusing read for any sports fan, full of unlikely connections and unbelievable thought processes.  You will find yourself scratching your head and asking, "What were they thinking?".  It should also be noted, Will gives many additional pages of reference material as sources for his writing, along with an index for specific people or events.

I have one major issue with the text.  For people who read a lot, they will understand.  Many will think it petty.  My copy, which was graciously provided for me, had no real chapter markings, relying on roughly one inch brick and ivy dividers as it changed channels.  The index helps resolve this some, but going back to find one of the stories or details is difficult with no real trail of crumbs to follow.  It is just aesthetics.  I get it.  But this is my review, and, well, that stood out every time I picked up the book.  Other than that, it was a great choice, precise and direct enough that those who do not consider themselves avid readers would still hold in hand.

In closing, I would like to thank the Cubs for Lou Brock and Stan Muscial.  They looked great with the Birds on the Bat!

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