Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Cubs Nation

Today's 4-1 loss to the Brewers reminded me so much of last year that I don't even want to talk about it. So, since I'm already thinking about the 2004 Cubs, I'm going to present you with a review of the recently released book Cubs Nation, by Gene Wojciechowski.

I'll start off by saying that I've been anticipating this book since I heard that Wojciechowski was working on it, in November of last year. I'm an avid reader, and I particularly like sports books (especially those about my favorite teams) but it was more than that. You see, while victory and triumph look good on TV, nothing serves the written word better than failure. Take a look in any bookstore, and you'll find a lot more books on Enron than about successful companies. That's because with failure usually comes conflict. And the 2004 Cubs were heavy on both. When ESPN the Magazine carried a small article by Wojciechowski in March which detailed Sammy Sosa's early exit from game 162, and the subsequent boom box smashing by an unnamed Cub, well, that just wet my appetite even more.

So I'm sorry to say that I was disappointed by Cubs Nation. You see, the full title is "Cubs Nation, 162 Games, 162 Stories, 1 Addiction". And the book delivers on that. Wojciechowski gives a short capsule review of each game, followed by a report on some aspect of being a Cub fan, or an interview with someone who's either a Cub fan, employee, or involved some occupation which the Cubs affect. The stories and interviews are very good. Wojciechowski has an easy writing style and his book seems to very much capture the essence of the groups of people that make up Cubs Nation, from the umpire room attendant, to the ball hawks on Waveland to the organist to the bookies in Vegas who Cub fans are constantly enriching, Wojciechowski covers them all. Unfortunately, this book could have been written about any Cubs season. The majority of the on field focus is on the Cubs NLCS collapse in 2003 (note, if you cannot think about games 6 and 7 without weeping, do NOT read this book) and while there are extensive player interviews, most of these sit downs involve questions about what it's like to be a Cub in general, never really giving us any insight into what it's like being a 2004 Cub.

It's my feeling that while Wojciechowski has written a nice book, he missed out on a golden opportunity. To put it simply, we all know that this team spent all season fighting itself and media, instead of its opponents, yet Gene never really dishes the dirt. We get nothing substantial on Sosa's deteriorating relationship with Baker, his teammates and management, Wojciechowski just sort of tells us that well, Sammy's numbers are going down, and hey, he left early that one time. Likewise, what we get on subjects like the Merker/Stone feud, the Zambrano/Edmonds incident and Kyle Farnsworth's descent into madness is pretty much what we read from the beat reporters at the time. There's an early chapter dealing with new trainer Dave Groeschner and the injuries to Prior and Wood, but he disappears from the book after that, with his firing noted in a throw away line in the epilogue (no mention is every made of the constantly changing timetable on Todd Hollandsworth's injury).

So my beef with Cubs Nation is this: the 2004 Chicago Cubs were laden with talent and expectations. They fought with umpires, opponents, fans, the press and each other. They collapsed horrificly in the final week of the season, while seemingly more preoccupied with their own broadcasters than the games they needed to win. I could write a 350 page book on this team, just stringing together the rumors and psychological problems that floated around that team. Yet Wojciechowski drops the ball. He had virtually a free run of the clubhouse, and since he wasn't a beat reporter (or even a reporter for a local publication) there really wasn't much that the players could do to him in terms of retribution. I wanted the dirty secrets of this band of nitwits laid bare for everyone to see. This book should have been the Bronx Zoo all over again. Instead, it's simply a nice summary of the ups and downs of being a Cub fan. Maybe someday, when my memory of the 2004 team is a little rosier, I'll appreciate Cubs Nation more. But for now, under the weight of my own expectations, it's a disappointment.

Yeah, I know, I shouldn't rag on a book for what it's not, but it's my blog, I'll do what I want. In conclusion, if you want to read a good book about every aspect of being a Cub fan, then I recommend this book to you. If you want to read an expose of the 2004 season, then I don't.

5 Comments:

Blogger Chuck said...

Nice work. Saves me $18.

6:46 AM  
Blogger Byron said...

I'll keep my money too.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try reading "Wrigley Blues." It focues entirely on chronicling 2004 -- and puts the ups and downs (especially the downs) of the season in an historical context -- and it does so with the humor that any Cubs fan would appreciate.

4:55 PM  
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11:21 PM  
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