Chicago, 1907. Blaine “Kid” Durbin, a left-handed hurler from the Western Association, signed by the Chicago Cubs the year following a 116-36 1906 season that ended with defeat in the World Series to the south side rival White Sox, arrives in Chicago. Never having faced down a big-league batter in his life and joining possibly the best team in the game--or ever--his future as a big-league pitcher is rushing at him faster than he can imagine.
Young, naive, yet confident, and about to become a member of the 1907 Chicago Cubs, the second-to-last Chicago National League team to win the World Series, Kid Durbin is about to set out on an adventure with a team many believe to be the best to ever field a baseball diamond.
Flash forward to 2009. We’re 102 years removed from that season and about to embark on a bruising of all bruisings following back-to-back first-round exits.
I was at a charity event where I had donated a set of my at-the-time Cubs season tickets for a silent auction. Getting to talk with one of the other donors, mostly about the Cubs, he told me that I had to talk with this friend of his, a dentist from the west coast who had just written a book about the 1907 Cubs.
Thinking nothing of it, I gave him my e-mail address and within a couple days I received an e-mail from Doc Noel. Doc kept the message brief, telling me to give him a call to talk about the Cubs and his book.
Having some time to kill in the departure area at O’Hare that day, I called Doc and wound up having an hour-long conversation about the 1907 Cubs, his experiences at Wrigley throughout his life and the process he and co-author Alan Alop went through in writing the book. The hours, days and weeks of research on not only the 1907 team, but also the history of Chicago during that time, coming away with a one-of-a-kind story not only for Cubs fans, but for anyone.
The excitement in his voice is something I will never forget. This cat was a personality of a personality.
By the end of the conversation, he told me he would send me a copy of the book, and I promised to read it and get him my thoughts. Having been on a recent binge of baseball history books, I really couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I just had no idea how much I would enjoy it.
Centering on the rookie season of Kid Durbin, calling on excerpts from his journal, The Best Team Ever walks you through first experiences in a big city and with an established team of professional baseball players at a time when baseball was truly a game among games, albeit very much in its infancy.
There is spring training at the West Baden Springs Hotel in Indiana, with its springs supposedly giving off magical healing powers. A far cry from the new Cubs digs in Arizona.
There is the infighting between Frank Chance and some of his star players, most notably Johnny “The Crab” Evers. Egos have always been a part of the game.
There are the long train rides, the drinking, carousing, and barroom fights. Even in the juiced-up era of the game, I can't imagine getting into a worse fight than one with Frank Chance. He was quite the boxer and never backed down from--and rarely lost--a fight. Jim Corbett, former heavy-weight boxing champion and friend of Chance's, called him “the greatest amateur fighter in the world.”
Through vivid game descriptions, you literally feel like you are at West Side Park or The Polo Grounds, and you get to know some of the greatest players to ever wear Cubs uniforms, from Peerless Leader, to Kling, to Three Finger, to Crab and Jew. There are also some of the greatest villains of the time in John McGraw and Ty Cobb. Man, drop me in a time machine and send me back.
As an aside, if you ever get the chance, venture down to the UIC campus, where you can (somewhat) walk what should be a national historic landmark, the former site of West Side Park.
It’s all there, game by game, told through the Kid’s journal.
Then the authors provide a much different perspective of 1907 Chicago, told through the tragic story oof Kid’s love interest, a young girl who, upon her arrival in the city, found herself immersed in the very dark, evil element that bubbled in this growing metropolis at the time.
The Best Team Ever is a book that once you pick it up, you can’t put it down. Each page you move forward makes you a little more sad that the season has an end, but it is an end worth meeting, not to mention a book that you will read multiple times, as I have.
Flash back forward to 2009.
The bruising from that Cubs season is drawing to an ambulatory close. I had tickets to the last game of the year, which coincided with a weekend when Doc would be in Chicago from the West Coast. I invited him and Alan to be my guests for the game. It turned out to be one of the best games I had ever attended.
This was not because of what was on the field, as the Cubs got hosed by the D-Backs that day, but rather, sitting between two lifelong friends, listening to them tell their story about writing the book and providing way too much Cubs history for one to cram into his cranium in a single afternoon.
During the game, I was also given one of the coolest--and most cherished--gifts I have ever received. It is the manuscript for the chapter that didn’t make it, autographed by Doc and Alan. I read it just one time and will not share it with anyone else. It’s that sacred to me, that these two guys who poured so much love into that DFA’d chapter thought enough of me, just an average Joe, to share it with me.
It’s The Best Team Ever, possibly the greatest Cubs (or baseball) book you will read, written by two of the most passionate Cubs and baseball fans I have ever met.
It's going to be a long summer, Cubs fans. Put this book on your reading list, then tell me what you think of it.
Thanks for reading; if you enjoyed it, please share with others. And if you'd like to be updated on my future posts, and those from the rest of the Cubs Insider team, you can subscribe below.
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.
Filed under: Uncategorized