Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pg. 99: Cait Murphy's "Crazy '08"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: Cait Murphy's Crazy '08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History.

About the book, from the publisher:

From the perspective of 2007, the unintentional irony of Chance's boast is manifest — these days, the question is when will the Cubs ever win a game they have to have. In October 1908, though, no one would have laughed: The Cubs were, without doubt, baseball's greatest team — the first dynasty of the 20th century.

Crazy '08 recounts the 1908 season — the year when Peerless Leader Frank Chance's men went toe to toe to toe with John McGraw and Christy Mathewson's New York Giants and Honus Wagner's Pittsburgh Pirates in the greatest pennant race the National League has ever seen. The American League has its own three-cornered pennant fight, and players like Cy Young, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, and the egregiously crooked Hal Chase ensured that the junior circuit had its moments. But it was the National League's — and the Cubs' — year.

Crazy '08, however, is not just the exciting story of a great season. It is also about the forces that created modern baseball, and the America that produced it. In 1908, crooked pols run Chicago's First Ward, and gambling magnates control the Yankees. Fans regularly invade the field to do handstands or argue with the umps; others shoot guns from rickety grandstands prone to burning. There are anarchists on the loose and racial killings in the town that made Lincoln. On the flimsiest of pretexts, General Abner Doubleday becomes a symbol of Americanism, and baseball's own anthem, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," is a hit.

Picaresque and dramatic, 1908 is a season in which so many weird and wonderful things happen that it is somehow unsurprising that a hairpiece, a swarm of gnats, a sudden bout of lumbago, and a disaster down in the mines all play a role in its outcome. And sometimes the events are not so wonderful at all. There are several deaths by baseball, and the shadow of corruption creeps closer to the heart of baseball — the honesty of the game itself. Simply put, 1908 is the year that baseball grew up.

Oh, and it was the last time the Cubs won the World Series.

Among the reviews and endorsements for Crazy '08:

Crazy '08 is a lovely look (but one as searching as it is affectionate) about the dandiest season and the goofiest ballsters there ever were. As the players in 1908 played, so does Cait Murphy write with pluck and ginger.”
--Frank Deford, author of The Entitled

“The joy of Murphy's book is that it transports us to a magical time in the history of baseball, when the sport was marching toward modernity (the rules were essentially the same as they are today, and some of the all-time greats roamed the field), but its rough-hewn 19th Century origins remained largely intact (ethnic Irish and German names filled the lineups, and players, umpires and fans routinely fought each other). Murphy provides concise accounts of such topics as ballpark design, the history of scoreboards and baseball as a business. And she reminds us that, for all the glory that was the times, "baseball in this era suffered a surfeit of psychic torment and premature death." From 1900 to 1920, some two dozen players committed suicide.”
--Chicago Tribune

"Entertaining and meticulously researched."
--Wall Street Journal

"[A] rollicking tour ... will fascinate students of baseball ... cause today’s Cub fans to experience an unaccustomed feeling -- pride..."
--New York Times Book Review

"It's been almost a century since the loopy shenanigans of 1908 that produced what Fortune magazine editor Cait Murphy calls "the year that baseball comes of age," but the resultant drama has hardly faded with time. Although baseball books tend to sag with nostalgia, Murphy's wisecracking yarn digs right into the era's brawling, vivid ugliness with little regard for such niceties, and is all the better for it. Her book is so rife with corruption, greed, stupidity and downright weirdness that it makes today's sport of sanctimony and clean behavior look positively sleepy in comparison. This isn't surprising, given that 1908 was not just the last year that the shockingly victorious Chicago Cubs won the World Series, but also the year when a game would be called a tie through sheer Rashomon-like confusion and when a game day riot would take the lives of two people. The titanic matches between the rival Cubs and New York Giants are thrilling enough, but what really makes Murphy's book an addictive pleasure is the joy the author takes in the colorful asides where she fills in the chaotic blanks of an America discovering not just the joy of its national pastime but its very character."
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Visit Cait Murphy's website and read an excerpt from Crazy '08.

The Page 99 Test: Crazy '08.

--Marshal Zeringue