We were sitting comfortably in the waiting room of my dad’s oncologist. We were there for his one year post-chemo follow up exam.
I took this book, which I intended to start reading, out from my day pack and showed it to him. He read the title: “Wrigley Field’s Last World Series – The Wartime Chicago Cubs And The Pennant Of 1945” by Charles N. Billington, with the photography of George Brace. Foreword by Andy Pafko.
As he read those words and looked at the photos on the cover, his face broke into a big smile, like he was seeing an old friend again, after a long separation.
“1945. Charley Grimm was the manager. I was at Fort Worth, Texas.” he said, handing the book back to me.
“Ft. Worth?” I asked. “What were you doing there?”
The smile was replaced with a sigh of exasperation. The retired schoolteacher was going to have to repeat the lesson one more time. He spoke slowly and deliberately:
“The war ended in August. This was October. They didn’t know what to do with us. They sent me to Mountain Home, Idaho for a while, then to Ft. Worth, Texas. Eventually I made it back home to Chicago.”
Yeah, I guess he did. My mom and dad were married in Chicago on Valentine’s Day, 1946. My sister arrived nine months and two weeks later. I made my grand entrance three years after that, on a Friday night, between sets.
The smile returned. “I lost $5.00 to a guy from Detroit.”
“How’d that happen?” I asked, innocently.
The exasperation returned. “He wanted the Tigers. They won the series.”
“But dad,” I countered. “You know that you never bet on the Cubs after the 4th of July”. CubbieDude logic.
Another big sigh, accompanied this time by an “are you puttin’ me on?” look: “He was from DETROIT!”
End of lesson, grasshopper.
The five paragraph summary on the back cover tells us that, (despite my lovely wife’s opinion to the contrary):
- “On the eve of world War II, baseball truly was America’s national pastime.”
And it continues:
- “One thing is clear: 1945, the last time the Cubs went to the World Series, was a turning point in the team’s fortune. For in the first half of the twentieth century, few teams were as good as Chicago; in the second half, few teams were as bad.”
- “Incorporating statistical analysis, descriptions of key teams, and player biographies, Billington paints an evolving and exciting portrait of the 1945 Cubs and the wider national baseball scene of a war-torn era.”
I enjoyed reading about the effects that World War II had on life in general, and on baseball in specific.
I especially enjoyed reading about life on the Northside for Cubs players as the season began, including interesting dollar amounts.
I also enjoyed reading about the exhibition game on July, 25 between the Cubs and the Great Lakes Naval Station Bluejackets at Constitution Field in North Chicago, Illinois. (The Cubs lost 1-0.)
Mr. Billington (“The Pride of St. Olaf College”) closes the book by listing five reasons the Cubs’ fortunes in the last half of the twentieth century were so different from those of the first half.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
- “Americans’ interest in baseball in the late 1930s was such that roughly 330 cities boasted professional minor league teams.”
- “Lou Boudreau, Phil Cavarretta, Marty Marion, Hal Newhouser, Ernie Lombardi, and Mort Cooper are just a few of the many excellent ballplayers with 4-F classifications.”
- “In 1941 Chicago became the first team to install an organ in their stadium for the enjoyment of the fans;”
- “Helping the team’s bottom line were the tremendous concession sales, $121,145, dwarfing the amounts received by other teams.”
- “While the fans probably heard the national anthem before the opening game on April 17, the song was not sung at every game but was saved for special events. At the time, this was also the practice of the armed forces; the national anthem was performed only on special occasions, such as national holidays. ‘There is a difference between patriotism and commercialization,’ Wrigley would explain.”
- “He also set an unrecorded record that will almost certainly never be broken, striking out only nine times in 636 at bats, an unheard-of ratio for anyone with his power production.”
- “DiMaggio set a new major league record by hitting four grand slam home runs in one season.”
While I was not physically present for the events recounted in this excellent book, I feel like I arrived on the scene soon enough afterward to have been catching fleeting glimpses of shadows and ghosts my whole life. “Wrigley Field’s Last World Series” helped to flesh-out those shadows, to fill in the blanks as it were.
So join me. Set the “Wayback Machine” for 1945. Put on your retrospectoscopes. Travel to a different time, not all that long ago.
I truly enjoyed reading this book. I recommend it very highly, especially to those with an interest in the World War II era.
I want to thank Lake Claremont Press in Chicago for providing me with a copy of this book to read and review.