Book review: Wrigleyworld: A Season in Baseball's Best Neighborhood, by Kevin Kaduk

originally posted elsewhere: February 20, 2007

tl;dr: Further proof that Chicago is a drinking town with a sports problem...

The idea behind Kevin Kaduk's Wrigleyworld is greater in its promise than its execution, unfortunately. Kaduk, a mid-twenties sportswriter bored with working his way up from the bottom by covering primarily high school sporting events while in exile in Kansas City, moves back to his hometown of Chicago and the Wrigleyville neighborhood around Wrigley Field. He vows to attend as many Cubs game as possible, while partaking in and chronicling the atmosphere and assorted characters that surround Wrigley Field in the year 2005, the second season after the Cubs blew the 2003 National League Championship Series after taking a 3-1 lead in games over the Florida Marlins.

Given that Kaduk manages to attend a large majority of the games, has been a Cubs fan for years, and is a trained professional sportswriter looking to leapfrog his way up into the big leagues of major city daily sports journalism, I was expecting a much more insightful book. Kevin Kaduk is no Peter Gammons, Bill Simmons or Mike Royko, unfortunately. I was hoping for more historical context, more explanation for the Cubs nearly 100 years of failure, and more parallels between the events of 2005 and previous campaigns. While Kaduk says that his main focus is on the Wrigleyville neighborhood and its people, rather than the Cubs, his accounts of people and the goings on around Wrigley are shallow. He writes in the short sentences typical of an average sportswriter filing a story five minutes before deadline, throws in some quotes, and leaves people's motives and character unexplored.

A book cover, with the book's title, subtitle and author's name, superimposed over two pictures, the top one of a dozen or so fans in the first two rows of the bleachers at Wrigley Field above the brick, ivy-covered outfield wall, the bottom one a distant view of Wrigley's outfield bleachers, scoreboard, and surrounding buildings at dusk

Then there is the drinking. While I certainly enjoy a beer or two at the game, Kaduk spends a major portion of the book chronicling one binge drinking episode after another. Of course, this does accurately portray the average Cubs fan and Wrigley, the largest beer garden in the United States, where the action on the field is secondary to the party in the stands. The partying and the partiers are the major attraction of the Cubs to Kaduk, thereby illustrating the Cubs problem: they don't have to field a winner, as the stands are filled regardless. Kaduk realizes that people like himself are part of the problem. At one point he attends a Yankees game in the alcohol-free bleachers of Yankee Stadium, and is impressed with the attention the fans pay to the action on the field (he makes the same observation at a late-season Cubs game during rainy weather in which only the baseball diehards turn out). As much as Kaduk speaks admiringly of these times, he closes his book with the last of multiple paeans to the late Harry Caray, whom Kaduk wishes would return to Wrigley to lead the party forever.

Wrigleyworld, like the Cubs, could have achieved a lot more than it actually did.