Not for the first or last time, I have failed as a book reviewer. There are readers and baseball fans who commit themselves to read a new baseball book at the outset of every season. Jack Bales’ new book, “Before They Were the Cubs,” was available in time for spring training this year, but I did not get around to reading it until recently. It is truly a perfect book to start a baseball season with. Not reading it before the season started certainly does not make it a less perfect book, but what a book to whet the appetite of any baseball fan and a must-read for fans of the Chicago Cubs.
Bales is the Reference and Humanities librarian at the University of Mary Washington, so it is not surprising that “Before They Were Cubs” features a tremendous amount of research and an astounding array of newspaper articles and clips of the day. The Cubs’ story begins in the 1860s and the newspaper accounts of the day that are included in the book are pure magic. Not only do they provide a glimpse into the infancy of baseball but they also provide a reminder of how wonderful the newspaper sportswriting was of yore. This entire review could simply be the reprinting of passages such as the opening dispatch from a Cincinnati reporter on a loss to the hated Chicago side in 1870.
“We were beaten! We know it, we feel it, but how could we help it? The umpire was against us, the weather was against us, the crowd was against us, the heavens were against us, the weather was against us, the pestilential air of the Chicago river was against us, the Chicago Nine was against us, and last, but not least, the score was against us.
Our gallant boys entered the city where they were doomed to be sacrificed at about eleven o’clock on Wednesday evening, and at once sought their temporary abiding place, the Briggs House. The night was spent by the boys in the arms of the god of sleep, and when the blazing rays of the rising sun burst upon the city of wickedness, not a sound issued from th[ei]r chambers but the labored breathing, indicative of the deepest repose.”
In case you were unable to tell from the above, Chicago and Cincinnati did not care for each other. In that day, baseball teams, especially in the Midwest, were a source of civic pride and beating Cincinnati elevated the city of Chicago to new heights and also launched a love affair between a city and the baseball team that was, in 1902, to become forever the beloved Chicago Cubs.