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I have heard that...

because of the falling concrete and other structural problems that beset Wrigley Field last year, the Cubs have been requested, and have complied with said request, to sell fewer standing-room tickets this season.

This would explain why there have been only three announced crowds of over 40,000 this year, as compared to fourteen last year. In fact, looking at last year's game-by-game attendance record, there were no 40,000+ crowds in 2004 after game #49 -- the game of July 22, 2004, which was right around the time the falling-concrete story became public.

In connection with this, I have also heard rumors that eventually, the entire upper deck will have to be replaced as a result. This is actually a positive development -- it means that the Cubs have long-range plans to stay in Wrigley Field, and that in addition to the already-announced bleacher expansion proposal, that the Cubs could wind up adding more seats, skyboxes, etc. and stay in Wrigley Field for many years to come.

With a bit of a breather, I also wanted to give a couple of mini-reviews of two baseball/sports-related books I've read recently.

One of them you already know a bit about -- Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, about the lengths to which Alabama football fans go to follow their team, and which inspired me to write the "Why Are We Here" thread that's now on the right sidebar.

The title comes from, as the author explains, the title of a long-defunct 'Bama student publication ("Rammer Jammer") and the Alabama state bird.

Suffice to say this: it was well worth reading, because I recognized myself in so much of what Warren St. John wrote, and I think most of you will too. Being a fan of a team does, in fact, become in part, who you are, no matter whether it's Alabama football, or the Cubs. The feeling is universal, and St. John captures it well. The reason he does, of course, is that he's not just a New York writer doing this book -- he's doing the book because he grew up in Alabama loving the football team in the Bear Bryant era.

It chronicles one season -- the year is never identified, probably to make the book more timeless, but clues inside make it clear that it's the 1999 season. That's really not relevant, except for this fact -- I think any of us who are true fans of any sport, would try to figure this out, because... well, that's what we do. And that's kind of the point of the book.

Fun to read, great characters (you could NOT make these people up -- they have to be real!) and terrific stories. Highly recommended.

A couple of months ago, I also read Larceny & Old Leather, by Chicago-area attorney Eldon Ham. This book is kind of a wide-ranging summary of various types of "larceny", or cheating, in baseball history. It covers things like steroids, corked bats, spitballs, spying, betting, cheating of all kinds.

In trying to do all these things, I think the book bites off a little more than it can chew. I found it interesting, but a little unfocused, since it was trying to cover so many things. Ham is at his best when talking about the Pete Rose scandal. While I don't necessarily agree with his conclusions, it was the only part of the book where I felt Ham was putting passionate beliefs in something, rather than just reciting facts.

And that's another thing... the book could have stood proofreading and fact-checking. It was irritating to read, in the section on Sammy's corked-bat incident, that he had hit "twenty home runs in the first three weeks" of the 2003 season.

We could have only wished for that many!

Similarly, the book had Satchel Paige pitching for the "1965 Oakland Athletics" -- nope, they didn't move there from Kansas City till 1968 and has one-armed St. Louis Browns outfielder Pete Gray playing for the Browns in 1951, the same season the midget Eddie Gaedel batted for them (nope; Gray's one year for the Browns was 1945).

But these are nitpicks. Ham's book is well-written, and if you want a fun overview of what the cover calls the "mischievous legacy" of baseball, it's worth checking out.

Next on the reading list: Buzz Bissinger's "Three Nights In August", which is primarily focused on Cardinal manager Tony LaRussa's managerial ways, but is also of interest to Cub fans, because the "Three Nights" are the pennant-race-crucial series between the Cubs and Cardinals at Busch Stadium in late August, 2003.

And, for discussion of the Rafael Palmeiro steroid suspension, there's a diary on the right sidebar.

Enjoy the off day. Winning begins tomorrow.