Friday, May 4, 2018

David Rapp's "Tinker to Evers to Chance"

David Rapp has been a political journalist and publishing executive in Washington, DC, for more than thirty years. He is the former editor of Congressional Quarterly, as well as the author of How the U.S. Got into Agriculture—and Why It Can’t Get Out.

Rapp applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Tinker to Evers to Chance: The Chicago Cubs and the Dawn of Modern America, and reported the following:
From page 99, a passage from Chapter 5, “Baseball Revival: 1903-1905” (I include a paragraph from the page before and one from the page after to round out the context):
Anyone who knew the recent history of the Chicago Nationals had no reason to think this season would bring any better fortune than the previous year. No new stars had been signed, no budding prospects had risen above the pack of greenhorns. “[The] club this year as compared with last season is fully 50 percent better,” allowed a Chicago Daily News correspondent, already hedging his bet. The manager “expressed great satisfaction with the looks of his men,” reported a noncommittal Chicago Record Herald. The Sporting Life weekly took note of the general drift and concluded that the Nationals “are a nice, willing set of boys, but seem rather weak with the war club.”

And yet a writer in another Chicago paper proffered a much sunnier outlook. “This has been a great day for the Colts,” beamed the anonymous dispatch in the Chicago Inter Ocean, using that paper’s preferred nickname for the team. “To begin with, the weather was just ideal for ball playing. The day was warm, with just a light breeze blowing across the park to remind them of their proximity to the coast.” The sentences were cheerful, confident, and no doubt naive, yet their forecast for Chicago and its frigid sports fans concealed an uncanny feminine intuition of better days to come.

Most Chicago baseball fans had few reasons to expect the summer to be one of joy and celebration. Their team had finished fifth in the eight- team league in 1902, another in a string of sixteen lackluster campaigns. No trophy had fallen into the team’s clutches since 1886. It was going to be a challenge to recapture the public’s interest in the bedraggled Colts or the sullied game of baseball itself. An even bigger leap was to win back the city’s faith and allegiance.

James A. Hart, the club’s owner and president, was keen to try. Hart had made the arrangements for the West Coast trip, his first spring training since taking sole financial control of the franchise the previous summer. His longtime boss and mentor, sporting goods magnate Albert G. Spalding, was now out of the picture. Hart had decided to make the expensive excursion to the far west—the longest train trip ever for a baseball team in that day—to help revive the players’ spirits and jump-start the team’s prospects. Perhaps he also wanted to show he was no longer Spalding’s lackey but finally a baseball magnate of his own accord. Either way, Hart needed to raise the city’s low expectations for this moribund franchise.

Frank G. Selee, Hart’s field manager, came aboard the year before with a stellar reputation as a talent scout and turnaround artist. Hart gave Selee complete freedom to remake the roster. They assembled seventeen players in Santa Monica, a motley crew from all corners of the nation. Among them were several holdovers—including a slick infielder named Tinker from Kansas City, and a sturdy backup catcher named Chance from California, plus a more recent pickup from upstate New York whom everyone called Little Evers.

Selee had played this rebuilding role before, a dozen years previous, when he lifted the Boston Nationals from fifth to first in just one year. And he had a brainy, methodical way of going about the task. He collected these and other prospects like marbles, tossing away the rejects and, wherever possible, buffing up the hidden jewels. “You must be on the lookout for new material all the time,” he said. At the end of the day, however, few seasoned baseball watchers expected any miracles from such a nondescript outfit. The restoration of Chicago’s baseball fortunes was going to be a long, hard slog.
I like this passage because it weaves together four of the key themes of my book:
  1. The revival of the Chicago National League franchise led by the little-known Frank Selee—this chapter includes the only extensive biographical treatment of a baseball mastermind (and ultimately tragic figure) who finally made it into the Hall of Fame in 1999.
  2. I foreshadow the introduction of his “secret weapon,” as I called her later: Selee’s wife, Bridget “May” Grant, an Irish lass of unbounded enthusiasm and remarkable brains for baseball. (It’s revealed later that she was the anonymous correspondent behind the optimistic spring training dispatch.)
  3. I touch upon baseball’s “sullied” reputation from the 1890s, hinting at the Cubs’ impending revival and their role in bringing the game back to social respectability and acceptance.
  4. Here’s the first assembly of my three protagonists, who up to this point I had written about as young boys on the rise in distinct and very different regions of 19th century America.
So, while my Page 99, in and of itself, may come across as a rather serviceable passage in the overall narrative of the book, it does provide an essential purpose in alerting the reader to several of the larger biographical and cultural topics to come.
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--Marshal Zeringue