Siberian Baseball

Friday, May 02, 2008

The more things change...

Among the handful of books on my shelf that I'm always trying to work through is a fairly steady stream of recommendations from my dad.

I held off a bit on Cait Murphy's Crazy '08 because - despite the urging of folksy wisdom and after school specials on racism - I judged the book by its cover. I figured a book on the 1908 season was more than likely a vanity piece done by a wistful Cubs fan who would list the president and what a gallon of milk cost acentury ago, only for 250 sluggish pages.

I couldn't have been more wrong. I'm going out of my way to take the El lately to have time to myself to read to keep plowing through the book. It's a phenomenal recap of the race to the pennant between the Cubs, Giants and Pirates and is just a wonderful read. If you're a fan of David Halberstam's work, you should groove nicely right into this read.

Just be ready for jarring passages of the Cubs as the dominant force in the league who talked trash and assumed it would win the pennant year in and year out. All references to Cub luck at the turn of the century are done without a hint of irony. What a strange, wonderful world.

I can't recommend it enough.

It's a fun mix of history and baseball wrapped up together, giving glimpses into the national landscape in 1908 and before, with commentary on the average fan and steps baseball took to make the game more palatable to families among other cool anecdotes.

What caught my eye today was a two paragraph breakdown that I've heard nearly word for word at least a half dozen times from White Sox fans in the past two years:

According to sportswriter William Phelon, half the fans at a typical Cubs's game enjoy themselves regardless of who wins. Another chunk might as well be nicknamed "Dummy" [SB note: as in deaf and dumb] for all the noise they make. Only a small fraction, Phelon reports, "actually go wild over Cub success." The Cubs attract healthier crowds - the attendance record the team sets in 1908 will last until 1923 - but "there is far less partisanship," says Phelon, "than prevails in many burgs." Instead, separated from the action by the vast foul territory and outfield, many see a game only of metaphorical giants.

The physical distance may lead to a kind of emotional distance. Unlike White Sox fans on the South Side, , whom Ty Cobb describes as "often rough and many times unruly."

When the Georgia Peach thinks you're a bunch of jackasses, there are issues that run deep. Still, it's comforting to know that despite a century of progress, the fan bases are pretty much the same.

The question remains - who'll be the loathed ballplayer who trash talks Sox fans? Before you answer, keep in mind that Cobb was regarded as one of the nastiest ballplayers in history and once allegedly beat the hell out of a crippled fan at the ballpark. That bar is set pretty high.

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