In the interest of full disclosure, we'd like to inform you that HarperCollins provided Steve and I with a couple of free copies of this book. We both decided to not write a thing until we read the book and decided if we liked it. Clearly we did, hence the whoring ourselves. They also gave us extra for our readers, so stay tuned, as there will be an opportunity for free swag in the next day or so.
After the thudding depression we've read throughout the blogosphere over the past few days, it's clear that there's something hanging over our collective heads - 1908. No matter where a conversation about our Cubs begins or ends, it's always rooted in that seminal year when our team was last on top. As depressed as the connotation makes us every year at about the time when we kick our own asses out of contention, 1908 may be just the prescription to do what psychiatrists call "cheering yourself the fuck up."
Case in point - Fortune editor Cait Murphy's book "Crazy '08." Despite throwing out the date like candy at a parade, I'd say that a great deal of Cubs fans aren't all that familiar with that seminal year in franchise history. I'm not sure that most of the 19-year olds drinking Jager bombs on fake IDs at Merkle's know why the place is named as it is. Prior to reading this book, I'd say that I was largely ignorant as well. With all the high-profile failures to sob over, I never managed to get all the way back to the good stuff. Blame it on the personality of those '69, '84, and '03 teams. There's even the temptation among younger fans raised on the Sosa/McGwire home run orgy to consider the flannel uniform era boring. That would be a terrible terrible mistake.
The ballplayers of 1908 were a bunch of hard-drinking, hard-fighting, hard-hitting sons of bitches. As were the men in the stands. And some of the women, for that matter. There was whiskey in the stands, and frequently in the dugout. Home field advantage was a much more literal term, as some grounds would scarcely be fit to host a tee-ball game today. A popular pastime was throwing bottles at the umpires. In short, it was no time or place for the kind of pink-hatted casual fan that loudly asks "do we have to stay for the whole game?" when the Cubbies are up 1 run on the Cards in the 7th. In fact, they would spit chaw in your face for using the perjorative "Cubbies" in the first place. Even hung over, these 5'8" spitfires were far more terrifying than any of the UnderArmor-clad prima donnas we pay to see today. Our best pitcher lost fingers to a feed chopper, and he absolutely owned Christy Mathewson.
This was, I remind you, prior to the introduction of the NLCS, much less the Wild Card. Whoever finished with the best record in the league would go to the newfangled World Series. Whoever finished with the second best got to go back to farming, or moving pianos, or whatever they did for work in the offseason. Tough luck, thanks for playing 162. The astonishing thing is that the entire National League went right down to the wire - and perhaps the most controversial game in baseball history. This was the Merkle game, and to describe it here wouldn't do justice to the passion and drama that turned Chicago and New York into baseball-mad metropoli where the presidential election ran a distant second in the hearts and minds of citizens. This was an era where the regular season meant almost everything, and Murphy does a great job showing both the humor and horror of a nail-biting pennant race. She calls it the greatest season in baseball history, and we're inclined to agree. But then again, we might be biased.
There are also welcome sidelines into the golden era of Chicago political corruption, headline-grabbing murder, and the nascent fan culture that suddenly exploded with the excitement of the 1908 season. Best of all, you get a tangible feeling of Cubs dominance, and that's something that we don't get too often these days.
So as to end this shameless whoring, I will end by giving "Crazy '08" two stumps up. Pick it up if you're inclined - that new Cubs World Series book is at least a year off.