Cubs Nation: 162 Games. 162 Stories. 1 Addiction by Gene Wojciechowski, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Cubs Nation: 162 Games. 162 Stories. 1 Addiction

Cubs Nation: 162 Games. 162 Stories. 1 Addiction

5.0 1
by Gene Wojciechowski
     
 

Better than season tickets to Wrigley Field, this behind-the-scenes, vibrant, entertaining chronicle of the Chicago Cubs’ 2004 season (as well a retelling of one of the most interesting histories in baseball) takes readers into the clubhouse, onto the field, and into the nostalgic richness of the team that epitomizes pure baseball.

The Chicago

Overview

Better than season tickets to Wrigley Field, this behind-the-scenes, vibrant, entertaining chronicle of the Chicago Cubs’ 2004 season (as well a retelling of one of the most interesting histories in baseball) takes readers into the clubhouse, onto the field, and into the nostalgic richness of the team that epitomizes pure baseball.

The Chicago Cubs inspire a rare kind of devotion, a never-give-up, wait-till-next-year enthusiasm undiminished by ninety-five years without a World Series victory. In this thrilling day-to-day account of the 2004 season, celebrated sportswriter Gene Wojciechowski captures the indelible spirit of a team—and its astounding fans. With full access to players, coaches, front-office personnel, groundskeepers, and almost everyone else connected to the franchise, Wojciechowski opens the door and presents an inside perspective that all baseball fans will relish.

From Ernie Banks, the legendary “Mr. Cub,” to Sammy Sosa, today’s record-setting sensation, CUBS NATION traces the history of a team that often had everything going for it and yet was so hampered by losses that it came to define the term “lovable losers.” Wojciechowski conjures up the classic ivy-covered stadium, its fabled manual scoreboard, and the ”ballhawks” who have caught literally thousands of home-run balls on the streets alongside Wrigley. In a wonderful blend of exciting moment-by-moment reporting, revealing interviews, and nostalgic vignettes, Wojciechowski pulls back the curtain to uncover the fascinating inner workings of a storied Major League Baseball team—and he shows why the Cubs stand for everything that isgood about baseball, win or lose.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
From sportswriter Wojciechowski (ESPN: The Magazine), the story of a year spent with Wrigley Field as home base, with trips radiating out into the surrounding neighborhoods (and to away ballparks). In some circles, it was thought that 2004 might be the year the Chicago Cubs would snap their 95 consecutive seasons without a World Series win. So, to position himself for a particularly good story, Wojciechowski attended each of the team's 162 games to chart its quest for glory. Victory didn't arrive for the ball club, but Wojciechowski came up with gold. Each game is an opportunity for a story, sometimes as sweet and distilled as condensed milk; others are spun out over a few pages, still others take a more serious tack-poring over the murder of a fan outside the park, in one terrible instance. Lesser but still hurtful passages include rude trades and declining talents. The author recounts discussions-sometimes as interviews, sometimes as quick prose pieces-with radio announcers, or with the guy who sings "The Star-Spangled Banner," or the one who muffed throwing in the first pitch, with the umps, the park organist, the fans who wait outside the park for homerun balls, and the scouts. There are admiring, low-key tributes to writers like Mike Royko and Ron Shelton, who penned the screenplay for Bull Durham. And there are the ballplayers themselves, from the bench-sitters to the Hall of Fame prospects, including Greg Maddux, seeking his 300th win as a starting pitcher, and Sammy Sosa, swinging for the fences but suffering a slump year. Wojciechowski works the ironies and the absurdities of throwing in your lot with a baseball team, and he conjures the special pleasures of Wrigley Field, itslack of commercialization, its greensward, its ivy walls. A wide-screen feast for Cubs fans and a quick-witted standard for sportswriters.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385513005
Publisher:
Doubleday Publishing
Publication date:
04/12/2005
Pages:
432
Product dimensions:
6.48(w) x 9.04(h) x 1.34(d)

Read an Excerpt

APRIL

GAME 1
Monday, April 5, 2004... Cubs 7, Cincinnati Reds 4... Great American Ball Park... Cubs NL Central pennant flies: First place (record, 1-0)... Stuff: The game sells out in a franchise-record 16 minutes.... Disabled list resident Mark Prior does a live, on-field interview with CNBC? What, they want to discuss Prior’s portfolio? But the real news is Prior’s sideline throwing session, his first since March 22 because of an inflamed right Achilles tendon and inflamed right elbow.... Sammy Sosa on the “Lovable Losers” tag: “All the things they say about Chicago is going to be over pretty soon.”

Dusty Baker stabs his fork at the postgame salad as if the lettuce leaves and cucumbers are a threat to leap from the bowl. His Cubs are 25 minutes removed from an Opening Day victory against the payroll-challenged and Ken Griffey Jr.—less Reds. Three waves of reporters–TV, then radio, then print–have made their way through the visiting manager’s office at the one-year-old Great American Ball Park. Baker, still wearing most of his Cubs gray road uni, is fried.

He didn’t sleep well a night earlier. He never does before Opening Day. Too many butterflies spreading their wings in his tummy.

This is Baker’s second season as the Cubs’ manager, but unlike 2003, when expectations were modest at best, this year’s team is the chic choice to go long and far in the postseason. ESPN baseball analyst Peter Gammons, a long-su_ering New Englander, has the Cubs beating the equally cursed Boston Red Sox in a seven-gameWorld Series. Sports Illustrated also predicts a Cubs World Series title. “Hell Freezes Over,” reads the SI cover headline. ESPN The Magazine goes with the Cubs too.

“I don’t read predictions,” Baker says. “You can spend time getting ready, or you can be ready.”

Johnnie B. Baker Jr. is ready. What other manager wears personalized No. 12 wristbands during a game–as if he were playing? And who else in the big leagues has on his desk a book entitled Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun?

Baker, 54, is a managerial confluence of Old School and New Age thinking. He hasn’t overseen a team with a losing record since 1996. His former Atlanta Braves teammate, the legendary Hank Aaron, used to tell him, “Nervous is good, but just don’t be scared.” Baker was nervous as he tossed and turned in the wee hours of Monday. But scared? Scared is undergoing a three-hour surgical procedure in 2001 to rid his body of prostate cancer. This was just baseball.

Baker was up by 6 A.M., two hours before his alarm was set to buzz. He said prayers for his family, for his players and staff. He worried and wondered about the new season. By 9:30 he was at the ballpark, nearly a full five hours before the first pitch.

“You get to the park, but you’re not really hungry,” he says. “You try not to be nervous, but you are. You go around and wish everybody well. Then you have the chaplain come in and say a prayer before we start. Then we go about our day.”

There were no pregame speeches today. Baker did that at Sunday’s workout at Great American. He detailed what the Cubs had to do to win. The shopping list is short and sweet: no jealousy, no selfishness, pull for each other, make fundamental plays. He emphasized the importance of comeback victories, of getting leads and holding them, of winning one-run games, of winning the first game of a series, of winning getaway games.

End of lecture series.

Baker’s pregame preparation includes putting together his statistical cheat sheets, which right now are based on last season’s numbers. The pair of sheets are no bigger than a couple slices of French toast, and the key stats and info are highlighted by a green marker (Baker keeps a fistful of different-colored highlighters in a zippered bank pouch). Who hits better against whom? Who hits better against right-handers and left-handers? Who hits well with runners in scoring position? Baker considers an assortment of possible game strategies. Then he waits.

“The best time for me is after they play the National Anthem,” he says. That’s when he’s in his favorite place: in a dugout, with his team, away from the media, a Tea Tree Australian Chewing Stick (flavored toothpick, to you and me) poking from his mouth. It’s just Baker and the game.

Monday was different because it was Opening Day, but also because Vice President Dick Cheney–and about 11,000 Secret Service agents packing heat, plus more bomb-sniiffng dogs than you could shake a bag of Purina at–was here to throw out the first pitch. Ohio is a Republican stronghold, which explains the GOP-sponsored voter registration trailer located just outside the stadium. Baker is a registered Democrat.

“That’s OK,” he says. “He’s a man you have to respect.”

Baker introduced the Veep to everyone in the clubhouse. Cubs traveling secretary Jimmy Bank asked Cheney to autograph a baseball and the back of two business cards. Then Cheney, members of his advance staff, and his security entourage moved on. Afterward, Daily Herald beat writer Bruce Miles said, “If Cheney is supposed to be in a secret location, why isn’t he at Comiskey Park?”

Hello, IRS audit.

Baker’s first managerial decision of the day was when he took pen to lineup card. Players use spring training to prepare for the season; so do managers. Baker tinkered with the Cubs’ lineup in Arizona. By the time he arrives in Cincinnati, his batting order is set: Mark Grudzielanek, 2B; Corey Patterson, CF; Sammy Sosa, RF; Moises Alou, LF; Aramis Ramirez, 3B; Derrek Lee, 1B; Alex Gonzalez, SS; Michael Barrett, C; Kerry Wood, SP.

A year ago, the Opening Day lineup was considerably less imposing. Baker had to use the light-hitting Gonzalez in the No. 2 spot. Rookie first baseman Hee Seop Choi was in the five hole. Third baseman Mark Bell-horn batted sixth. Patterson, with only 212 big league games to his credit, batted seventh. Catcher Damian Miller hit eighth.

Now Choi is with the Florida Marlins, Bellhorn with the Boston Red Sox, and Miller with the Oakland Athletics.

During Baker’s 15-plus seasons in the big leagues he batted fifth, then third, then seventh, then sixth, then fifth again, then third again. He knows how lineups work.

“The second hitter, generally speaking, should be unselfish and your smartest hitter: take pitches, hit and run, bunt, handle the bat,” says Baker. “Your third hitter is generally your best hitter. He’s a guy who can get on base, a guy who can run, a guy who’s going to score as many as he drives in. Your fourth hitter drives in runs. Your fifth hitter is the clutch man to me. He’s basically the foundation man. He’s your RBI man. Your sixth hitter is double-leado_: an RBI guy in case your fourth and fifth guy get on. A real foundation man is your seventh hitter. If he’s good, that makes everybody else in between good. Your eighth hitter is a guy who can drive in some key runs and get the pitcher to the plate with two outs. That way I don’t have to pinch-hit for him the next inning. Or he has to be a guy who can get on base so the pitcher can bunt him over.”

The Cubs made it relatively easy on Baker in the early innings of the season opener. Patterson hit a 1-0 pitch by Reds starter Cory Lidle into the right-field seats for a first-inning, one-run lead. Midway through the third, the Cubs led, 4-0. All was well.

But Wood scu_ed in the bottom of the third, thanks to a wild pitch, a walk, an RBI single, an RBI groundout, and a growing pitch count. Baker could read the scoreboard pitch count total too. So when Wood gave up a one-out single in the fifth inning, then a walk, then a two-run double to Sean Casey, Baker had what he now says was the decision of the game: pull Wood with a one-run lead–but only two outs away from qualifying for a decision–or risk a tie or losing the lead altogether by letting him face home run threats Austin Kearns or Adam Dunn?

Kearns, who struggled during the spring while recovering from arthroscopic shoulder surgery, was less of a consideration to Baker. Sure enough, Kearns flied to Patterson. But the left-handed-hitting Dunn, who led the Reds in homers last season and had had an impressive spring, worried Baker. A lot.

Baker had his cheat sheet. Entering the game, Dunn was a career 4-of-20 with one homer against Wood. Baker stayed with his starter and Wood rewarded him by inducing a fly ball to Alou.

“Thank God,” says Baker.

With Wood’s pitch count at 95, Baker decided to replace the right-hander with Michael Wuertz, who was making his Major League debut after spending his entire six-year career in the Cubs’ farm system. Wuertz, 25, was a nonroster invitee to spring training.

“I always say in spring training that I’m looking for a surprise,” says Baker.

Wuertz, thanks to a 1.15 ERA in 13 spring appearances, was his surprise.

Nursing a one-run lead–and with Wood’s W on the line–is no easy thing. But Baker helped Wuertz by purposely having him face the bottom of the Reds’ order. Wuertz, whose parents and brother had driven to Cincinnati from Austin, Minnesota, struck out Jason LaRue and Ryan Freel, then got Juan Castro to ground out to second.

“I knew I only needed him for one inning,” says Baker. That’s because he used veteran lefty Kent Mercker in the seventh (loved the matchups) and Kyle Farnsworth in the eighth (loved the 100 mph radar readings).

Next decision: Use setup man LaTroy Hawkins?

Baker had some flexibility in his bullpen, thanks to that scheduled off day. He could use four relievers, maybe more if necessary, because of the gameless Tuesday.

“A lot of times people don’t understand that you manage to the schedule,” he says. “If we didn’t have a day off tomorrow–say we were in the middle of 15 days in a row, and that was the first day–then you manage a little di_erent than if you had an o_ day two or three days from now.”

Baker used closer Joe Borowski to get the save, though there were a few perspiration moments.

Afterward, Baker meets the press, shrugs o_ the questions about Borowski’s medium-sized struggles, and then digs into his salad. General manager Jim Hendry sits nearby on a small couch. Gary Hughes, Hendry’s special assistant, also takes a seat. They’re waiting for Baker.

One day of a season is complete. Baker and the Cubs have survived and conquered. Attila would have been proud.

GAME 2

Wednesday, April 7, 2004... Reds 3, Cubs 1... Great American Ball Park... Stat of the game: Greg Maddux, who made his Cubs debut exactly 11 years, 6 months, and 8 days ago–and lost–returns for a second tour–and loses.... Stuff: Mark Prior is the subject of a torturously trite “Prior Watch” in the Chicago Tribune (complete with photo of the pitcher’s feet, as well as daily updates of his physical condition).

His brown hair is still damp from the shower, and his body language all but screams, “Let’s get this over with.” Greg Maddux is 0-1, thanks mostly to three mistakes: a second-inning cutter to Reds lug Adam Dunn that stayed over the tubby part of the plate and soon found itself in the right-field bleachers (“I don’t think he put it where he wanted it,” says Dunn, almost apologetically), a third-inning walk to D’Angelo Jimenez, followed shortly thereafter by Ken Griffey Jr.’s homer that traveled farther than some Gemini space flights.

Now Maddux sits unhappily at a small table inside an interview room and tries to explain six innings of decent but flawed pitching (four hits, two walks, three strikeouts, two hit batsmen). His wife, Kathy, and two children, Amanda and Chase, stand at the back of the room near the doors. Kathy knows her husband; this isn’t going to take long.

On Opening Day he had sat at this same table, with the same indifferent look, and spoken succinctly about his return to the Cubs.

“I’m doing something I’ve always done, just wearing a different shirt,” he said.

It’s a little more complicated than that. Maddux didn’t sign with, say, Tampa Bay, but with a franchise born in 1876, the same year, apparently, as Julio Franco. And Maddux and the Cubs have a little history together– six-plus years of wins and, sadly, contract problems followed by a quickie Atlanta divorce. But now, reconciliation... plus a three-year, $24-million deal and a team good enough to do some damage.

“I believe in talent,” Maddux said on Opening Day. “I think this team has a lot of talent.”

What he doesn’t believe in is this idea of Maddux as Father Figure. Sure, he’s happy to help the younger guys, but the Cubs aren’t paying him that kind of coin to show Carlos Zambrano how to grip a two-seamer.

“I’m a player,” he said. “I’m a player first, second, third, and fourth. These guys were pretty good before I got here.”

I like Maddux because he uses words like “privilege” when talking about starting a game. Tonight’s start was the 572nd of his Hall of Fame career, and still he’s humble and smart enough to cherish each one. He also knows this season is still in diapers. If he’s scuffling in June, then he’ll chat.

Maddux has owned the outer edges of the plate for the better part of 20 seasons. Against the Reds he struggled occasionally with the two items that matter most to him: locating his fastball and changing speeds.

Junior’s homer was No. 482, so there’s no shame in being taken deep by a Hall of Fame candidate. And Dunn, whose thighs weigh more than Mad-dux, led the Reds in dingers a season ago. Homers happen with these guys.

“I actually had a good time,” says Maddux afterward. “It would have been better if we had won.”

There are a few more mumbled, halfhearted comments, and then he is gone, making a beeline for his family and those double doors.


From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. He lives in Wheaton, Illinois.

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Cubs Nation: 162 Games. 162 Stories. 1 Addiction 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Knowing the outcome of this trip through a hopeful Cubs season doesn't offer much joy, but Gene Wojciechowski pulls it all together perfectly. Along the way you learn so much about the Cubs -- individually and as team -- plus Wrigley Field and people behind the scenes. You'll miss the read once you've finished the book.