Goatriders Book Club - "The Best Team Ever"
A Novel of America, Chicago, and the 1907 Cubs
also: the first Cubs book I ever read with graphic sex scenes!!
Yes, it's true, it's true. Lemme explain.
We were approached by Alan Alop and Doc Noel, co-authors of "The Best Team Ever - A Novel of America, Chicago, and the 1907 Cubs", not only for a review request, but also to present us with a sponsorship opportunity for our "Top 20 Prospects" series. I make this disclosure, but then I tell you that I don't give a frozen fig about the sponsorship, which should really surprise nobody here.
The past couple of years have seen a lot of new faces on the Cubs Bandwagon, and if I were the Conductor, I would require they read this book. People might learn something. Once again, it is a Novel of America, Chicago, and the 1907 Cubs, which is hierarchically valid in the order of listing. Having read the book, I'd list Chicago first, then the 1907 Cubs, then America. Content-wise, it is plain the authors did substantial research not only in the areas of Baseball History (a field in which I am well-versed) but also Chicago History (in which I am far from expert). Consider this novel a potent synthesis of months, maybe years of research in both subjects. The result is a page-turner, cleverly done and to me, quite entertaining.
The 1907 Cubs, the first of only two World's Champion teams we have ever boasted, really serves as the glue to this entire enterprise. Told in apparent "documentary" style, with frequent cut-ins from the "journal" of the main protagonist, one Blaine "Kid" Durbin, the reader definitely feels like they are inside probably the greatest competitive juggernaut in Cubs history. (I did not realize Durbin actually existed until I consulted about the team in Baseball Reference). Durbin, a seldom-used rookie pitcher in the days of complete games and a starting staff boasting Three-Finger Brown, Big Ed Reulbach, Carl Lundgren, Orval Overall, Jack Pfiester, and Brakeman Jack Taylor, finds himself with ample time to explore the most lively and dangerous city in America at the time.
Durbin becomes enmeshed in drama on both sides of the figurative (and literal) tracks during his first of two years with the Cubs. He befriends Connie, like himself a recent transplant from Rural America. Trusting Connie is seduced and nearly lost to the seedy world of prositution literally as she arrives by train. A sociopath employed by one of the many brothels in the Levee District takes advantage of her good nature and nearly succeeds in hooking Connie on opiates, which nearly always leads to a short, unhappy, and terminal career. Quite by chance, our man Durbin rescues Connie, and places her in the care of the Murphys, Durbin's employers due to the fact that they own the Cubs. Of course, the sociopath doesn't quit quite that easily, and the storyline threads throughout the championship season.
Then there are the Cubs, led by The Peerless Leader, Frank Chance. Well, it should come to no surprise that young athletic men from all times in our history would like their fun and games, on and off the field, and Alan and Doc take us there. The authors spare no details in speech or deed in describing the day-by-day exploits of Tinker, Evers, Chance, and the rest, from spring training at the West Baden Springs resort to the fourth and final win over Ty Cobb's Detroit Tigers. There are obscenty-laced tales, lots of squabbles between the frequently hung-over teammates, and coarse depictions of special moments between the eventual champions and their various assorted pieces of Road Beef. I mean, hey, we're not talking Penthouse Forum, but the "box score" of one of third baseman Harry Steinfeldt's conquests puts this tome in a category separate from, say, your Roger Halberstam.
Lest I have given you the wrong impression, the majority of this book gives its readers detailed descriptions of the many key games in this 107-win season. While it is true that this was nine less than the previous regular season, winning at a .704 clip does give the feeling like winning was expected every day, and each loss was taken hard. The second-best team those days was probably the New York Giants, managed by John McGraw. The Pittsburgh Pirates actually finished second in 1907, but this was most likely due to the near complete dominance the Chicagos held over the New Yorks that year. The Cubs played the Giants 22 times that year, and won 16. Particularly galling to McGraw was how Chance matched Three-Finger Brown against Christy Mathewson for every start. Christy was Miner Brown's bitch that year, as he was throughout their careers.
Do I have any negatives? Yes, the Epilogue. It utterly stands in contrast to the rest of the book, which was skillfully layered and crafted, like a great lasagna. Just buy the book, kids, tear out the Epilogue, use it to wipe or whatever, flush it, sit back, give yourself some time, because you're not going to want to put it down, and you're going to learn something while you read and laugh. What more do you want?
A lefthanded middle of the order bat? Yeah, me too.