It would be easy enough to state that Chris Jaffe’s "Evaluating Baseball's Managers, 1876-2008" will do for big league managers what “Bill James’ Baseball Handbook” has done for big league players. In a simplistic sense, this statement will prove to be true.
One major difference between the two books, though, is the ratio of subjectivity vs. objectivity in place. Jaffe, a writer for the sabermatician-friendly “The Hardball Times” website, relies much less on anecdotal evidence and more on pure, cold numbers than even James does. Now, my longtime followers know just how I feel about numbers – as a financial analyst by trade, I know how they can be twisted, omitted, and otherwise fudged to justify nearly any preconceived conclusion.
But Jaffe has done the heavy lifting, with big assists from the robust and exhaustive Birnbaum Database and Tendencies Database, to provide the stone cold facts that provide the preponderance of evidence behind his judgments of managerial effectiveness. Like any jury trial, certainly we cannot possibly be everywhere at anytime, and we rely on the unassailable facts to get as close to the truth as possible. Jaffe lays out his case better than the best District Attorneys. It can be said that Jaffe’s work is the next evolutionary step forward from James, just as James and his Run-Shares was once an evolutionary step forward from the ‘old-style’ method of player evaluation, which basically consisted of effusive praise for anyone who won a pennant for a New York or Boston club.
Regardless of the team you root for, Chris has the information on your historic managerial figures. From the perspective of an extremely provincial Cubs fan, I can give you detailed opinions on all their managers from Leo Durocher going forward. My humble opinions, but NOW I have the proof to back them up.
Thanks to “Evaluating”, I can now say, with confidence, that Durocher was cruising on his reputation alone during his tenure with us; that Don Zimmer either was too dumb or not respectful enough of the Unwritten “Book”, since he never used offensive platoons or put his best OBP men at the top of the batting order; that Dusty Baker was a touchy-feely Cali flake that did not understand pitching and hated walks, but as long as he led a team with a thick skin, he was ok; and that Sweet Lou Piniella also hates platoons, which may due to a deep-seated resentment from his own days as a platoon player, and our frequent complaints about his insistence of batting Soriano leadoff are justified, for he is one of the worst offenders in history of not penciling in his best OBP men at the top of the order (along with Baker, ol’ “Walks Clog Bases” himself.
For no other reason, buy this book and keep it handy, for those times when you feel like running down a beloved figure (like Lou Boudreau). When you are accused of being overly harsh towards a sweet old man who cannot defend himself from the grave, just point out that the numbers show that he relied too much on power and lost his competitive edge once he moved from “player-manager” to just “manager”. Jaffe’s got your back!
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.
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.
Based on Kyle's review from a few weeks ago, I DID manage to get ahold of my own copy of "Wrigleyworld - A Season in Baseball's Best Neighborhood", written during the 2005 season by Kevin Kaduk, current lord of Big League Stew on Yahoo! Sports, which is in my daily rotation. I obviously enjoy Duk's work on a daily basis, but my main misgiving was not that it would end up to be some pastoral tribute to the existential nature of Cubness. No, my problem was that the basic premise was already done in 1987 by one Lonnie Wheeler in "Bleachers - A Summer in Wrigley Field", which up until yesterday was my favorite book about the Cubs.
And, as it turns out, there are many similarities between the two. Sure, the Wheeler book focused on the bleachers (before they became the Bud Light Bleachers) themselves, whereas Duk worked the whole neighborhood. But to outsiders and not particularly careful readers (like myself), who plow through 280 page tomes in 4 hours, many of the next levels of premises were quite similar - established sports writers quitting their out-of-town jobs to "live the dream", then bartering, attending games, drinking, watching loss after loss, drinking, networking, freeloading, drinking, and importantly, trying to avoid Ronnie Woo Woo.
If you are not familiar with "Bleachers", then in and of itself "Wrigleyworld" is outstanding as it pays homage to the Ballhawks, lets us in on the dirty little secret that there ARE more bars besides the Big Six in which to slake one's thirst, and skewers Chad and Trixie and roasts them over a high flame, sizzling with the drippings. As I said, I picked it up, and four hours later, I put it down, cover to cover and damn happy for it.
What I think is the best development of the two journals, written 18 years apart, is the contrasts as Wrigleyville has developed. In 1987 (the year that Andre Dawson carried the Cubs on his wide shouders after handing Dallas Green a blank check), the whole Wrigleyville as Destination was still fairly new, having just been created by the holy trinity of Harry Caray, Ryne Sandberg, and John McDonough. Sure, Wrigley Field itself was always a destination, particularly by the bus tours of Cubs fans from Joliet, Keokuk and Waukegan. But as late as the early eighties, you got in, dropped close to the door, you got out and drove through the barrio that used to be Broadway, Irving Park and Halsted. Boys Town was a very dirty little secret, attracted to the area by the low rents and, I suppose, the relative privacy Gay residents enjoyed there. Bashers weren't gonna show up THERE to mess around. They might get shot, stabbed, or both.
By 1987, the stuffy little bars surrounding Wrigley were undergoing transition, as their regulars were still trying to hold on against the invading hordes of Yuppies (and yes, this is a proper use of the term considering the time). The old-time denizens of the bleachers, the Gamblers and remnants of the Bleacher Bums, confided in Wheeler, lamenting the loss of their turf to night nurses and the CBOT traders who came to hit on them. Also, lights had not made their appearence yet, so Cubs baseball was strictly a daytime proposition, although the Tribune was applying blistering heat to the neighborhood, and opposition groups such as Citizens United by Baseball in the Sunshine (CUBS) were exhausting all their options to avoid the inevitable.
Of course, by the time Duk quit his KC Star gig and moved back "home", the Gamblers and Bums had disappeared, the fifth or sixth generations of Chad and Trixie were entrenched (shelf life between the time Chad/Trixie graduate their Big Ten University, settle in Wrigleyville, life the live before deciding to move back to the Suburbs to raise their demon spawn - four years), and property values, already on a steep incline in 1987, had risen to some of the most expensive real estate in the entire country. I found it interesting that both men only briefly mention the 'artistic' communities within East Lake View (the true name of the neighborhood) who would love nothing more than to see Wrigley Field either bulldozed or redeveloped into a series of galleries and shoppes. I also found it interesting that Duk didn't even mention "Bleachers". I thought he would have been aware, and gave it a little shout.
You'd have to read both - "Bleachers", then "Wrigleyworld", which is a wonderful activity while waiting to see if we win today, the Brewers lose tonight, and (if necessary) we win tomorrow. It would actually be best if Prince and the boys could pull it together for one night, so we can try to clinch in real time and not while the team watched TVs in its clubhouse while we all waited in the streets and pubs. Anyway, back to the books - for us old timers, both books give us a great ride to the drastic changes the neighborhood has undergone. For you damn whippersnappers, you need to read both, especially "Bleachers", because the gatdamn circus on Clark and Sheffield hasn't always been there. Wrigleyville - the House that Ryno, Sut, Maddux, Hawk, Woody, Sosa, Harry, McDonough, you and I built!
On occasion, I like to dabble in books and other literary pieces…especially when I have been without cable or Interwebs the last few days because I’ve just moved into my new apartment.
But that’s neither here nor there. No hard feelings Comcast…for now.
Anyway, a few years ago my dad gave me a book to read before I headed back to campus to start my junior year of college called Wrigleyworld and I decided to give it a reread to pass the time.
My first thoughts were that Wrigleyworld was going to be yet another book waxing poetic justice about the majesty of Wrigley Field and its powerful influence on the neighborhood and city.
Written by Kevin Kaduk – a former sports journalist/columnist and now editor for Big League Stew – covering the less-than-fantastic 2004 Chicago Cubs season from start to finish, “Wrigleyworld” is about the fans.
After growing up a Cubs fan in the Chicagoland area, Kaduk gives up his sports writing beat in Kansas City to move into a crappy apartment near Wrigley in order to live the dream of attending as many Cubs home game as humanly possible (with the occasional road trip for good measure).
While most writers would have focused on the players or the mystique of the Cubs, Kaduk looks around at all the stories sitting in the stands with him. He watches games from the bleachers, bars, rooftops and streets, and in doing so, tells the story of the Cubs better than anyone with press credentials ever could.
If you like the style of writing we have here at GROTA, then I’m sure you’ll like Kaduk. Here’s a little taste:
At six this morning, I entered Hi-Tops, located across from the right field entrance on Sheffield. On the stage stood a goateed Chicago shock jock and his posse. In front, a crowd of twenty-somethings, most of them wearing hard-ass black, paid close attention. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, so I craned my neck to see what I was missing.
Two men were pouring lighter fluid on their testicles.
For some reason (and Lord knows why), I wasn’t fazed. Seconds later, a flame lit, causing each man to dance around for what were presumably a few uncomfortable seconds. The crowd squirmed, the roared. A few fans with video cameras pushed closer to the stage.
The gross-out contest continued for two more steps, the details of which I am hesitant to reveal here. (However, I will tell you it involved the following: strippers, peanut butter, and vomit.) When one of the men left the stage, a swarm of questions went through my mind.
Were Opening Day tickets at stake? Would you like some aloe for, uh, your…uh, err…you know…your [points toward crotch]? What in the name of Durocher is wrong with you?
Instead, I went with a simple: “Why would you do something like that?”
“I just love life, man,” said the obviously drunk contestant, before immediately heading to the bathroom.
And, truly, what expresses a love for life more than a flaming nut sack?
There are few books that have made me laugh out loud like Wrigelyworld, but I have embarrassed myself several times in public places while reading it.
From one Cubs fan to another, it’s a solid book that doesn’t take long to read and it reminds us why we love not just this team, but why we love being a fan in the first place