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Book review: ‘The Franchise: Chicago Cubs’

There have been a lot of histories written about the Cubs. This one’s breezy and fun.

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There have been many histories written about the Cubs, but I found Bruce Miles and Jesse Rogers’ “The Franchise: Chicago Cubs” particularly fascinating because it weaves in stories and interviews about things you’ve probably heard about before, but perhaps not in this exact way.

The book is separated into five sections, which cover “The Stars,” “The Managers,” “The Trades,” “The Lovable Losers” and “The Oddities.” It’s not intended to be a comprehensive history of the ballclub, as noted in the subtitle “A Curated History of the North Siders.”

The first section about stars has a long, interesting examination of Gabby Hartnett’s “Homer In The Gloamin’,” for which Miles interviewed Hartnett’s granddaughter Joanne Biebrach. That provides some personal color for a player who’s been deceased for more than half a century. Bruce told me: “It’s bothered me for a long time how the Homer in the Gloamin’ has been lost to time.” I agree with that — Hartnett is one of the greatest players in the history of the Cubs and at the time of his retirement was generally recognized as the greatest catcher in N.L. history. Even today he’s probably no worse than fifth (Bench, Piazza, Carter, Campanella rank near or ahead of him), and Hartnett holds his own with a couple of those guys.

Miles and Rogers touch on other great and popular Cubs such as Sammy Sosa, Andre Dawson and Kerry Wood, look at good and bad trades — both Brock for Broglio and the Ryne Sandberg deal are discussed — and the “lovable losers” section touches on both the great 1969 Cubs and their aftermath as well as the 1997 club that set a team and N.L. record by losing their first 14 games.

Here’s how the two writers split up the book, per John Dietz at the Daily Herald:

Miles wrote on nine subjects, while Rogers tackled four — including a terrific closing chapter on pranksters Ryan Dempster, Rick Sutcliffe and Ryne Sandberg.

One of the topics Bruce wrote about, in the “Oddities” section, is the myth that the Cubs lost a home game in the 1984 NLCS. I’ve written about that here several times, most recently in 2018, where I provided definitive proof that they didn’t. Bruce quoted from that article at length, but also shows how this false information got put forth by quite a number of mainstream media writers over the years.

Thanks to Bruce for that, and seriously, this book is a fun read. You can pre-order at this link and it will be in bookstores June 6.