With a Cub World Series appearance seemingly farther away than ever these days, I thought it might be fun to read, and share with you, "When Chicago Ruled Baseball", a book about the 1906 Cubs/White Sox World Series, still the only one played entirely within the city limits.
It's written by Bernard Weisberger, a local historian of note. I first found out about this book when Weisberger appeared to talk about it on our ABC-7 Sunday morning show a few weeks ago, and joked that he was probably the oldest guest to ever appear on the show.
It is a sobering thought to realize that, too. Bernard Weisberger is 82 years old. And that means he was born seventeen years after that all-Chicago series, and fifteen years after the Cubs' last World Championship.
The book does a nice job of painting the scene for a fan of 100 years later -- Weisberger gives descriptions of what the city, state and country were like, what it was like to live everyday life in Chicago during that era, and what it was like being a baseball fan. Neither team, of course, played in the parks they inhabit now. The Cubs weren't even the "North Siders" -- they played at West Side Grounds, located in the area where Stroger Hospital currently stands. (Incidentally, in the current Cubs magazine "Vine Line", there is an article about a man who wants to have a historic marker placed on the site of West Side Grounds. Disclaimer: no one from Tribune Co. or the Cubs has asked me to make this plug, nor have I received any compensation for it.)
And, the White Sox, though they played on the South Side, were located in a ramshackle wooden park at 39th & Princeton. They were four years away from moving to the original Comiskey Park. The book details, in fact, the reason that the White Sox are the "South Siders". When the upstart Western League became the American League in 1900, trying to encroach on existing major league markets, an agreement was reached that no legal action would be taken as long as the new franchise would locate itself no further north than 35th Street -- where they reside to this day.
The book goes through each game of the 1906 World Series, detailing the play as well as how the fans approached it. Attendance seems low (the largest crowd was 23,257, small by today's standards, and some of them were as low as 12,000), until you realize the poor conditions of the ballpark, hear about the absolutely miserable weather they had in October 1906, and finally, the fact that counting attendance was a much more casual operation than it is today. At one point, an outer wooden wall at the White Sox' park was completely knocked down by fans trying to get into the park -- and some of them likely did, too, without paying.
And you think crowds today are tough.
One of the things that bothers me most about books about a specific historic event like this is that they rarely tell you about the aftermath. Weisberger, to his credit, does a really good job at this, devoting an entire chapter of the book to the Cubs and White Sox players and where they wound up after the 1906 Series -- many of them to disease and early death, most of them working very ordinary jobs where their baseball fame had long faded, and some (catcher Johnny Kling the prime example) who became quite wealthy.
This is an easy read, an enjoyable slice of baseball history, and yes, it makes you long for a repeat performance. It's not likely going to happen this year, the 100th anniversary of the Cubs/White Sox' only World Series.
But we can dream, can't we?