Book Review - The Best Team Ever: A Novel of America, Chicago, and the 1907 Cubs
Every once in a while, GROTA is contacted by publishing companies and writers who have published books on the Cubs. The Best Team Ever: A Novel of America, Chicago, and the 1907 Cubs is both the most recent and the most fascinating I've read. We were contacted by somebody representing the book a few weeks ago, and have been fortunate enough to not only receive copies (I assume Rob will be getting his shortly and writing his own review soon thereafter), but also to begin a sponsorship program with the book's website, aptly called 1907cubs.com. While these guys are buying advertising with us, this book review is not a part of what they've paid for. I only mention it because I'm going to say some incredibly glowing things, and I can only assure you that I'm saying them because the book earned it.
I had the chance to read the book over Thanksgiving weekend, and I can describe it in six words: a triumphant work of immense passion. I heartily recommend it to both baseball fans and history buffs in general, and Cub fans in particular.
The writing team of this novel are Alan Alop, whose day-time job is that of a Chicago lawyer and Deputy Director of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, and Doc Noel, whose career is in health promotion but his passion is in baseball. Both men are obvious fans of the Chicago Cubs, and I am only a little sad to say that both are better writers than me ... which is probably why they are published and I'm not.
The book itself is told from two perspectives - the first is from the journal of Blaine Alphonsis Durbin, known as "Kid," a 20-year old lefty pitcher who spent his rookie season playing for The Best Team Ever. Durbin's journal entries are fascinating and incredibly well-written, to the point where, like Dickens of the Mounted, the reader will be left wondering if it could possibly be the real deal right up until the very end of the book. The second perspective is more of a straight up history - detailing not just that of the 1907 Cubs and their most bitter opponents, but also of the city of Chicago, from the politics to the crime and beyond.
It's hard to imagine what it would've felt like to have followed in person the most successful Cubs team in franchise history. And that's what the 1907 Cubs were - they went beyond good, beyond successful, they were flat out amazing. As the writers themselves say, they were a team built around speed, defense, and cunning, plus pitching, pitching, and more pitching. In fact, the '07 Cubs had a team ERA of 1.73, the lowest in baseball history, and four 1907 Cubs eventually entered the Hall of Fame (and, as the authors note, it could be argued that three more deserve strong consideration).
The book chronicles in awesome detail a season and a team that should never have been forgotten, but 101 years later is hardly remembered. If you choose to buy the book - and I do believe it makes for an ideal Christmas gift for any Cub fan - make no mistake, you'll be getting your money's worth. Alop and Noel pour their heart into the tale, giving us a healthy 500 pages on a Cubs team unlike any we've seen in our lifetimes. (Y'know, on account of how they won.)
In a lot of ways, The Best Team Ever reminds me of the best Halberstam books, such as Summer of '49 and October 1964, to the point where you can practically smell the grass and hear the ball smack leather over the steady hum of a grandstand full of fans. The stories are good, there are some hilarious moments which leave you wondering why baseball has had to change for the worse, and as you read on you will find yourself coming to the end far too quickly.
All of that said, if you are interested in the book, then you can buy The Best Team Ever right here at the author's website and save four dollars off the listed price. Additionally, as we lead up to Christmas, we will be running a series of the Top 20 Cubs Prospects of 2009, which 1907cubs.com has been kind enough to sponsor. You will have plenty of chances to buy the book for a friend or relative before the holidays roll around, which your Cub fan friends or family will appreciate. The Best Team Ever is a perfect gift, especially for a Cubs fan who has an interest in knowing more about the history of the team. We recommend it heartily, and we hope you give it a look.