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Published: Sunday, 12/11/2005

Tribute to baseball s lovable losers

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

CUBS: FROM TINKER TO BANKS TO SANDBERG TO TODAY. By Joe Distelheim and Joe Hoppel. Sporting News Books. 224 pages. $24.95.

In baseball, the title of America s team no doubt belongs to the Chicago Cubs. The lovable losers, as they have been known to generations of fans, have garnered a national following through the far-reaching tentacles of WGN-TV, the Internet, sports talk radio, fantasy baseball camps, and untold thousands of transplanted Northside rooters.

When the Boston Red Sox ended an 86-year-old World Series drought last year, a region rejoiced. When Chicago s other team, the southside-based White Sox, won the championship in October for the first time since 1917, half a city celebrated.

If the Cubs were ever to end their 97-years-and-counting championship drought, they might hold a parade in Bangkok.

Although the Cubs have long been thought of as losers, they were in fact one of baseball s most successful franchises during the sport s first 60 years. Few teams have had more legendary players and characters don their uniform, and no team has played in a more magical and revered stadium.

Naturally, the team has been a favorite subject of countless scribes over the years. The most recent effort, Cubs, might be subtitled The History of America s Favorite Team. Lifelong Cub fans Joe Distelheim, a former Detroit Free Press sports editor, and Joe Hoppel, a senior editor at the Sporting News, recount the team s successes and failures and its most notable players, managers, and other personalities in a detailed and charming recap of the Cubs 129-year membership in the National League. Included in the coffee table-sized book are nearly 450 photographs of famous Cubbies and Cub associates, ranging from Mordecai Three-Finger Brown and James Hippo Vaughn to Hack Wilson, Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, Sammy Sosa, and broadcaster Harry Caray.

The book, appropriately, contains nine chapters or innings, as the authors call them. Inning Two, a beautifully crafted essay by Mr. Distelheim on the joys and sorrows of being a lifelong Cubs fan waiting for that first title, is probably the best.

Our day will come, though we worry that it won t. And admit it we worry a little that it will. In the most secret parts of our minds we wonder what will happen to us, to our very being, if the Cubs really do win it all in our lifetimes, he writes.

There s a chapter devoted to baseball s most famous park, Wrigley Field, which, we learn, was built in 1914 for the late Chicago Whales of the Federal League. After the Federal League folded in 1916, Whales owner Charlie Weeghman bought the Cubs and moved them to the ball diamond at Clark and Addison streets, which he called Weeghman Park.

Hardcore Cubs fans will love the chapter titled Champions, while baseball fans not current on Cubs history will be surprised with what they uncover. The team has won 16 pennants and were the best team in baseball in three different eras. Yet for all its success, the team has won as many world championships as the Florida Marlins, founded in 1993. It once went 38 straight years without playing a postseason game, and when it finally did make it, the Cubs managed on two occasions to squander what seemed to be insurmountable leads, the last after a Cubs fan interfered with a play.

The authors name their all-time Cubs team, list an A-Z glossary of key Cubs figures, and recap the 10 most memorable moments and 10 greatest performances in team history. Along the way, there are humorous stories and unforgettable tidbits and tales that only baseball of all the sports can furnish. For instance, after watching Grover Cleveland Alexander pitch another stellar game while apparently under the influence, Cubs manager Rogers Hornsby said, I d rather have him pitch a crucial game for me drunk than anyone I ve ever known sober.

Cubs would be a wonderful addition to the library of any Cubs fans and most serious baseball fans.Browsing through the book s pages is a great way to get stoked for the new season. Maybe it will be the Cubs year.

Contact George Tanber at: gtanber@theblade.com or 734-241-3610.



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