Book review: When Chicago Ruled Baseball: The Cubs-White Sox World Series of 1906, by Bernard A. Weisberger

originally posted elsewhere: August 20, 2006

tl;dr: Compelling subject matter rates 4 of 5 stars for Sox & Cubs fans; fewer for others...

Having recently moved to Chicago and become a White Sox rooter during their Cinderella season of 2005, I eagerly anticipated using Bernard Weisberger's When Chicago Ruled Baseball as a means of introducing myself to the history of the city's two storied franchises. Certainly, the subject matter the book covers is worthy of a treatise, as the 1906 World Series between the Sox and Cubs was noteworthy from multiple perspectives. The book's compelling subject matter kept my interest, but if Weisberger had taken more time to polish his prose and delve into more detail, the book could have been much better.

To his credit, Weisberger puts the 1906 World Series into historical perspective, and uses it as a springboard to discuss other important related subjects, including a portrait of turn-of-the-century Chicago (the 1906 World Series was just 35 years after the great Chicago fire); the genesis and formative early years of the major professional baseball leagues; and the formation of Chicago's two major league ball clubs (the original White Stockings who became the Cubs, and the upstart American League's White Sox). Each of these topics in and of itself is worthy of a book, and indeed Weisberger relies upon and cites several primary source books. So, When Chicago Ruled Baseball provides a surface-level overview of these subjects, along with game descriptions of the actual contests, drawn from newspaper accounts.

A book cover with a blue banner at the top containing a blurb, a large block of gray pinstripes on a white background which contains the book's title along with two oldtime emblems of baseball teams, then a blue banner with the book's subtitle, and on the bottom a black-and-white photo of baseball players in turn-of-the-20th-century uniforms warming up by playing catch, with a single-story grandstand in the background

It left me wishing for more. If Weisberger had delivered 284 pages of prose instead of 184 he would have been able to delve more deeply into each of the major subject areas, other than the game descriptions (lacking an audio or visual record of the games, there is only so much that can be perused from newspaper write-ups). My other major complaint is that the writing was unpolished and flat at times.

When Chicago Ruled Baseball will be most appealing to, no surprise here, Sox and Cubs fans who don't already know the early history of their teams and their World Series appearances. That described me, so I am glad I read the book. Others might want to proceed cautiously, or choose to read one of the books that Weisberger relied upon.