I reserved this book after hearing its author speak on the Cubs Talk Podcast. It sounded lurid. To be honest, most of the juiciest stories were told in the podcast (which can find here https://open.spotify.com/
Who are serious fans? People that try to watch every game. And if not the whole game, at least parts of it.
What I particularly loved about it, as a fan going back into the early 90's, is the way it situates 2016--and really the past 15 years--into the greater historical context of the franchise.
The further back it goes, the more memories it invokes. I haven't read a book like this before. There are so many iconic moments in a baseball season, and we forget so many because each year brings more. Of course there are some things that we will never forget, such as the end of the 2003 NLCS (just as there are things we'll always have, like Paris, which is where I watched those games).
But I think some people forget the '04 Cubs. They very nearly made the playoffs and finished with a respectable 90+ win season. They added Greg Maddux for his 300th victory celebration. They had Wood and Prior and Zambrano and Matt Clement was probably their Jose Quintana (though I haven't compared their stats - maybe Clement was better). Query which rotation was better.
Maddux was at the end of his career and no longer as effective--like Jon Lester in another year or two. Definitely take Lester over him.
Though Hendricks is the more apt comparison to Maddux, he could be matched to Prior, and I take Hendricks any day (Prior tried to make a comeback as late as this year; Zambrano currently is doing so, how serious he's taking it is another matter. How I wish they'd get another shot! But that does not seem to be the Theo way.)
Darvish is actually probably more like Prior (even though no one is a free agent pick up like him), or Wood for having an excellent start to his career and an uncertain future after Tommy John/other injuries. I'm still willing to bet on Yu. I don't think any of us are fully convinced he's turned the corner but he has been much better in 2019 on the whole.
Cole Hamels I guess maybe is the Maddux, but so far he's been much better than Maddux ever was on stint #2. And yes Jose Quintana = Matt Clement.
I won't go through all the hitters. I think 90% of fans will agree that the 2019 cubs are as likely to make it to the world series as the 2004 cubs. The 2005 Cubs, also, were not a joke. They were still in it at the end. 2006, however, was a joke.
That was the summer I lived down the street from the park, at 1516 w. Addison. I went to a lot of games that year and they lost every one, I think. Maybe I was bad luck. Who knows. Because somehow they came back to make the playoffs in '07 and '08. And they weren't that bad in '09 and not even that terrible in '10 I think. '11, '12, '13, and '14 were brutal, of course. And I find it crazy to see that Zambrano was on the team as late as he was, and how Wood came back for his victory lap to retire a Cub -- I vaguely remembered that, but I had forgotten.
Interspersed in there are anecdotes and analyses of players like Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Rich Hill, Milton Bradley, Derek Lee, Cliff Floyd, Daryle Ward, LaTroy Hawkins, Geovany Soto, Kenny Lofton, Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Alfonso Soriano, Henry Blanco, Michael Barrett, Jim Edmonds, Rich Harden, Mark DeRosa, Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Samarzdija, Randy Wells, Starlin Castro and others. Unfortunately, it misses the opportunity to reference Randall Simon and the sausage-race battery. And Zambrano's no-hitter apparently also didn't matter.
A real pleasure of this book is the way all the current Cubs crop are referenced much earlier in their lives. Such as Albert Almora, Jr. as a kid in Florida during the Marlins 2003 run. Or the improbable coincidence of Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez going from a high school-to-World Series rivalries. Or David Bote getting drafted even before Theo came onboard, and playing at the minor league level with almost every single player on the current MLB roster.
The anecdotes in this book will enrich any fan's appreciation of the game. It's not exactly a biography of everyone--but it is pretty comprehensive at a little over 300 pages and a major emphasis on the 2015-Present Cubs.
Because let's remember that Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Albert Almora, Jr., Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Pedro Strop (and maybe a couple others I'm forgetting), are all still on the team. Some have improved, some have declined, and others have been replaced. Dexter is gone, Jake is gone, Rossy is gone, Montgomery is gone (quite recently). [Ed. Carl Edwards, Jr., gone as of 7/31/19] A bunch of relief pitchers have been replaced. It's probably comparable to what we had before. Chapman got replaced by Davis who got replaced by Morrow who got replaced by Kimbrel. Right now it looks like Davis was arguably the best overall closer. Chapman was lights out, but pushed to the brink. Kimbrel concerns me. I've already seen him blow 2 or 3 games and he's only been playing a month or so. Still you can't criticize the deal they signed him to.
As to Chapman, another distinct pleasure of this book is reliving classic moments from games and Joe Maddon's WTF managerial decisions. Like leaving Chapman in forever. Or letting Strop bat in a crazy situation with the wild card berth on the line in 2018:
"The Cubs won the game 4-3 in 10 innings, a much-needed victory. But while Pedro Strop got the win, giving up no runs in 1 2/3 innings, it was a play involving him that stirred up a lot of talk about Maddon's managing and the future of this team.
Strop replaced Brian Duensing with one out in the 8th inning and the game tied 3-3. He made it through that inning and the 9th with just one hit allowed in 21 pitches.
Then, in the 10th inning, with one out and the bases loaded and the Cubs up a run after a Javy Baez's [sic] RBI bunt single, Maddon let Strop hit.
He wasn't out of position players. It was only the 10th inning. Strop hit a grounder to third and busted it down the line to beat a double play. He ran so hard he injured his hamstring. This was bad managing - death by overthinking.
'That's so unfortunate,' Maddon said. 'If we scored, he was going back out. If we don't score, he wasn't. That was it. And we scored. But listen, he hit the ball hard. This guy can swing the bat a little; that wasn't a fluke. He tried to beat it out, almost did, and you can never fault an athlete for competing.'" (294-295)
Other stories are provided deeper detail, such as the legend of Daniel Murphy on the Mets in '15 and the Nats in '17 and his '18 stint on the Cubs and the tacit acceptance of homophobia. Actually I never thought Murphy was homophobic, I just assumed he was deeply embedded in Christian theology and unable to veer from the path of the righteous. Greenberg's gloss on his comments is big-hearted and humane, yet sharp. We should not lump Zobrist in with Murphy solely on the basis of spirituality but there is a cutting reference to his walk-up music (a song by his wife--ostensibly about him--ripping off Elton John) and now one could make a dark joke about it. Zobrist has been out most of the season with a divorce, but is making his comeback as we write. One hopes that his return will spark the team in the same way Schwarber did in the World Series, another story beautifully told here.
And Brandon Morrow. Morrow is glossed over. His injury from putting on pants is hardly mined for laughs. His extended rehab is basically a long-running gag. However, he could be available late this year.
One notable omission is the suspension of Addison Russell. While the domestic violence charges are referenced briefly, the more lurid details are kept confidential. Perhaps some of the stories hadn't come up at press time, though his "robotic" press conference in spring training made it in under the wire. Russell is a complicated story to tell. He is given short shrift here, as he has generally this year. For all of his shortcomings as a player in recent years, and despite odious past behavior, I feel for the guy when nobody gives him the benefit of the doubt, when nobody believes that people can change. I doubted whether the Cubs were making the right decision not to release him, but ultimately I think the front office handled it about as humanely and professionally as practicable. It would be a nice story if Addison Russell turned it on 2015 Starlin Castro-style and became the player everyone thought he was.
So there are some storylines currently being written that are not quite as compelling as the overall scope of 2016, but still arguably more compelling than any other team's, except perhaps the Angels--the consensus emotional favorite to win the World Series due to player personnel and strength through adversity (like the 2002 Cardinals after the death of Darryl Kile, or the 2001 Yankees after 9/11). That is, however, an extremely unlikely scenario. It will probably be the Dodgers and the Astros again. I believe, however, that there will be another Cubs-Dodgers NLCS this year, and that anything is possible.
I doubted the hype around Theo for a long time, probably until the 2014-2015 off season. At this point I'll concede that, while every decision he's made hasn't been perfect, he is still the greatest executive in sports today, and one of the greatest in history. He will be remembered forever for the towering accomplishment of bringing titles to the two most legendary franchise droughts in sports history. It was twice with the Red Sox, so let's hope it's twice with the Cubs.