George Will is best known as a political columnist and commentator — and as a Pulitzer Prize winner — but that may be about to change. George Will is a Chiago Cubs fan, and he’s written a book titled A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field At One Hundred.
Will joined Bill Littlefield on Only A Game.
Highlights from Bill’s Conversation with George Will
BL: You write that you‘ve produced this book in the “106th year of the Cubs’ rebuilding effort.” Is that what makes the Cubs the Cubs: they provide the best punch lines in baseball?
GW: I don’t know what makes the Cubs the Cubs. They used to be called “lovable losers” but I think then people held that little label up to the light and said, “What’s lovable about putting mediocrity in front of customers for a century?”
The Cubs have had their ups and downs. The trouble is that the Cubs were the Yankees. The Cubs dominated baseball right before they got to Wrigley Field. It’s when they got to Wrigley Field that things begin to go badly.
They’ve been to the World Series a few times but not since 1945 when I was 4-years-old, three years before I decided to become a Cub fan — and a decision I probably shouldn’t have made at that tender an age.
BL: There is, of course, a lot of Cubs history in your book. Did you grind your teeth while you were doing your research or were you able to laugh?
GW: The worst of the Cubs’ history is in my lifetime, but to watch the evolution of a franchise — and to watch the evolution really of baseball from a small, decentralized semi-industry into something now that’s an $8-billion industry — was part of the fun of watching the Cubs as a repeatedly failed business model. One of the themes of my book is that Wrigley Field, although a gem and a large part of the attraction of the team, is also part of the problem.When William Wrigley, after whom the field was named, died and P.K. Wrigley inherited it, that was much to his dismay. He really didn’t like baseball and didn’t care that much to be an owner of the Cubs, so he said, “You know, we’re really not very good, but we have this terrific venue where the ivy is lush, and the grass is green, and the sun is warm, and the beer is cold, and therefore, we’re trying to get people who aren’t that interested in baseball.” He certainly had the right target audience.
BL: Wrigley Field is turning 100 this season but it is about to undergo a $300-million renovation. As a Cubs fan do you welcome the most recent changes at Wrigley?
GW: As a Cubs fan and a conservative, I’m against all change at any time. But yes, I’m reconciled to this, partly because the ballpark has to make money and the Cubs have to make more money if they’re going to be competitive in this astonishing era of baseball revenues.
Bill’s Thoughts On A Nice Little Place on the North SideWhat makes A Nice Little Place on the North Side such fun to read is not the “nice little place,” which is Wrigley Field. That ballpark has been sufficiently celebrated. The fun is in the writing of George Will, who unapologetically strays from the subject of the Cubs and their home into all sorts of realms.
For instance, writing about the assassination of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, slain by the bullet meant for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Will writes, “He supposedly said, ‘I’m glad it was me and not you.’ Isn’t it pretty to think so.”
Part of what Will finds most charming about Wrigley is its singular purpose. He compares a Cubs game to – say – a Chicago Bulls game: “The NBA experience – strobe lights, lasers, smoke, and cacophonous music – is like being held prisoner in a Wurlitzer jukebox,” whereas fans at Wrigley “consider the game sufficient for their happiness.”
Toward the beginning of the book, Will promises that he won’t “gush,” because “gushing is never worse than when Cub fans get going about Wrigley Field.” On the last page of A Nice Little Place on the North Side, Will claims Wrigley has lasted 100 years “because it is, like a clipper ship, elegantly practical.” Readers will have to decide for themselves whether that simile constitutes “gushing.”