“The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse” by Rich Cohen, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 273 pages, $26.
Virtually every person in the United States is by now aware that the 2016 Chicago Cubs broke a 108-year-old dry spell by winning the World Series. Numerous successful books have previously been published on this topic. As a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan this reviewer had low expectations of enjoyment from Rich Cohen’s recent contribution to the genre, “The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse.”
Most Red Sox aficionados have believed the level of suicidal pessimism elicited by their own 86-year-old curse far exceeded the angst felt by the beer-guzzling bleacher denizens in Chicago. Surprisingly, Cohen, who has written for The New Yorker and Sports Illustrated magazines and published previous books on topics as diverse as Jewish gangsters, the Rolling Stones and the Chicago Bears, has produced the best sports book of 2017.
The finest baseball announcers adapt to the rhythms of a game where short bursts of action punctuate long spans of inactivity. True masters of their craft like Vin Scully, Red Barber, Bob Costas, and yes, Harry Caray, can dissipate the building tension of a baseball game with reminiscences, personal anecdotes and meandering tales which only enhance the game’s ambiance.
Author Cohen’s genius is that he realizes this as a writer and his digressions into Cub history are what make this work memorable. He incorporates vignettes on Nebraskan Grover Cleveland Alexander, Eddie Waitkus and Bill Buckner into the narrative seamlessly despite the fact that they were playing in St. Louis, Philadelphia and Boston during their most notorious career incidents. Insightful character sketches of Ernie Banks, Leo Durocher and “Three Finger” Brown share space with Theo Epstein. In short, even a Cardinal fan will find something to like about this book.
While the final segment describing the dramatic World Series against the Indians should appease the appetite of the most ardent Cubs fanboy, this reviewer personally identified most with Cohen’s bittersweet realization that the ultimate Cub victory would also mark the end of his own childhood.
Any individual with a remote interest in the Cubs or with a love for the game of baseball will be fortunate to find this book beneath the Christmas tree.