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Mr. Wrigley's Ball Club: Chicago and the Cubs during the Jazz Age Hardcover – April 1, 2013

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Editorial Reviews


"Roberts Ehrgott has written a graceful, engrossing account of an era in which the Cubs, while already falling short of winning the World Series, built a national following in the age of flash, flappers, mobsters, molls, bank runs and breadlines."—Scott Simon, Chicago Tribune
(Scott Simon Chicago Tribune 2013-04-05)

"The Second City couldn't get enough of this team of assorted alcoholics, teetotalers, brawlers, carousers, fitness buffs and gamblers that captured two pennants and featured numerous eventual Hall of Famers. . . . An absolute must for any baseball fan's library."—Kirkus starred review
(Kirkus 2013-02-01)

"A fun read . . . full of anecdote and color. Recommended for fans of the Cubs or Chicago or baseball history."—Library Journal
(Library Journal)

"What sets the book apart from many set in baseball is how Roberts Ehrgott handles the context in which the fun and games transpired. In the '20s, Chicago was certainly the Cubs, but it was also Al Capone, and, as Ehrgott writes, "Chicagoans venturing to other parts of the country and abroad learned that their city was becoming a byword for mayhem and violence." . . . Chicago's dizzy baseball hopes and dreams seem especially poignant against the background of the onset of the Great Depression."—Bill Littlefield, Boston Globe
(Bill Littlefield Boston Globe 2013-06-08)

"[Mr. Wrigley's Ball Club] is a smartly written, well-researched look at the Cubs from 1925 to 1932."—Bob D'Angelo, Tampa Tribune
(Bob D'Angelo Tampa Tribune 2013-06-02)

"Roberts Ehrgott takes us back to the days when the Cubs were kings and Chicago was a growing, thrilling, dangerous melting pot of Al Capone, speakeasies, "flappers" and vaudeville in his meticulously researched and extremely well crafted new book."—Terry Keshner, Seamheads
(Terry Keshner Seamheads 2013-11-20)

"EHRGOTT, ROBERT. Mr. Wrigley’s Ball Club: Chicago and the Cubs during the Jazz Age.Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013. Pp. ix+485. Notes, photographs, additional source comments, bibliography, and index. $34.95 hb.
Five years after purchasing a minority stake in the Chicago Cubs in 1916, chewing gum magnate William Wrigley had controlling interest in the team and the financial means to make the North Siders an annual contender for the National League pennant. In Mr. Wrigley’s Ball Club: Chicago and the Cubs during the Jazz Age, Roberts Ehrgott crafts an exciting narrative about the Cubs’ rise to national prominence in the late 1920s and early 1930s, contextualized in the culture, music, economics, and crime of Chicago of the period. Along the way, Ehrgott tells the story of visionary owner Wrigley, ingenious general manager Bill Veeck, Sr., and a cast of players and managers whose rise and sometimes fall were inextricably tied to the fortunes of the Cubs and excesses of the Second City. With impeccable research and encyclopedic knowledge, Ehrgott transports the reader back to the 1920s with the sounds and sights around Wrigley Field (called Cubs Park at
the time), the north side of Chicago, and beyond. More than just about baseball, Mr. Wrigley’s Ball Club reveals a symbiotic relationship between the baseball team and the city. The reader learns about Wrigley’s almost maniacal desire to win a championship and how he spared no expense doing so. On his personal paradise of Catalina Island, off the coast of Los Angeles, he established a utopian spring training facility with unparalleled amenities. Ehrgott reveals Wrigley’s passion for his team, his emotional investment, and his sincere interest in making the club the country’s finest.

Mr. Wrigley’s Ball Club uncovers the drastic and substantial changes occurring in society and sports in the late 1920 and early 1930s. The Cubs’ success and heartbreaks mirrors the country’s confidence after World War I and its struggles with economic collapse as the Great Depression wreaked havoc in Chicago. With the White Sox floundering since the “Black Sox” scandal and World Series fix in 1919, Cubs Park became a national showcase for baseball. Wrigley and General Manager Bill Veeck ushered in a modern era as they embraced radio broadcasts as a way to market the teams well beyond the traditional
160 Volume 41, Number 1
borders of the north side of Chicago. From 1926 to 1932 the Cubs led the National
League in attendance, setting a league record with almost 1.5 million in 1929 (about 100,000 less than the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers had combined). In an effort to attract and keep female fans, Wrigley and Veeck offered Ladies Day at the park where it was not uncommon to have 20,000 female fans clamoring for tickets often necessitating police to keep order.

Above all, Mr. Wrigley’s Ball Club is an engrossing story about the Cubs’ players and managers. Ehrgott captivates and holds the reader’s attention by portraying the players and managers as “everyday” people with whom fans can associate, cheer after a win, and boo after a loss. Some struggled with alcohol, became entangled in sexual controversies (one was even shot by a lover), fought with teammates and opposing players, and could be the hero and goat in the same game. In the days long before the exorbitant salaries of the
post-free agency era, players seemed like approachable gods whose greatness and folly were viewed daily. Wrigley took a chance on Joe McCarthy, a career minor league manager who guided the team to the 1929 pennant. A player’s manager, McCarthy was charged with motivating a group of annual underachievers and then keeping them together once the team acquired Rogers Hornsby in 1929, baseball’s most egotistical and divisive superstar.
Under McCarthy’s mentoring, Hack Wilson, the diminutive 5-foot-6, 200-pound outfielder, developed into the National League’s most prodigious slugger and arguably baseball’s biggest attraction other than Babe Ruth. The Cubs of the era were a veritable soap opera with sensations and controversies, perhaps captured best by a photograph of catcher Gabby Hartnett posing with Al Capone at Comiskey Park, where the Cubs and White Sox played their annual City Series when neither team was involved in the World Series. While “could-have-beens” is an ageless phrase in sports, Ehrgott reveals a kind of heartbreak unique to the Cubs’ century-long championship drought without falling into sentimental brooding. The informed fan already knows that the Cubs lost the World Series in 1929 and 1932, but Mr. Wrigley’s Ball Club is not about the wins or losses; rather
it is about a team, its players and manager, owner and general manager, who together captured the attention of nation."—GREGORY H. WOLF (North Central College)

About the Author

Roberts Ehrgott has written for and edited several national publications, including the Saturday Evening Post. He served as a historical consultant for Mark Jacob and Stephen Green’s Wrigley Field: A Celebration of the Friendly Confines.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press (April 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080326478X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803264786
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #893,365 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Paul Tognetti TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The city of Chicago was an incredibly exciting place to be in the 1920's. People were flocking to this thriving midwestern metropolis from such faraway places as Ireland, Lithuania and Poland as well as from the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta, all in search of a better life. Prohibition was the law of the land and nowhere in America was this statute more disregarded than in Chicago. This dubious piece of legislation would give rise to bootleggers, speakeasies, illegal breweries, gang wars, judicial corruption and of course Al Capone. Gambling and prostitution were running rampant and corrupt politicians were everywhere to be found. Meanwhile, jazz and ragtime were all the rage in the Windy City. Vaudeville was struggling to compete with the movies and women were beginning to demand their rights. In the world of sports, boxing was in its heyday and towards the end of the decade things were getting mighty interesting on the north side of town. The National League's Chicago Cubs, under the tutelage of manager Joe McCarthy, were playing an exhilarating brand of baseball before increasingly large crowds at Wrigley Field. It seems that Cubs owner William Wrigley and team President Bill Veeck Sr. had figured out a few things about how to attract new patrons long before anyone else did. The story of these Cubs and the culture of the city in which they played is the subject of Roberts Ehrgott's extraordinary new book "Mr. Wrigley's Ball Club: Chicago and the Cubs During the Jazz Age". Whether you are an ardent fan of the game or a voracious history buff you will discover that "Mr. Wrigley's Ball Club" has an awful lot to offer. Here is a book that will grab your attention in the opening chapters and simply never let go.Read more ›
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bill Emblom on May 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is great baseball and social history of Chicago during the years 1926-1932. There was no world championship for the Small Bears during this time period, but this book is full of anecdotes involving some of the greats of the game and those that ran the ball club. We learn about the alcoholic Joe McCarthy at the helm of owner Mr. William Wrigley's team with stars such as the hard-living Lewis "Hack" Wilson, the blunt-spoken Rogers Hornsby, Hazen "Kiki" Cuyler, and Riggs Stephenson all of which grace the cover of this book. Other baseball luminaries such as Charles Comiskey, William Veeck Sr., Philip Wrigley, Leo "Gabby" Hartnett, Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Jolly Cholly Grimm among others are included. This book is loaded with anecdotes involving each of the individuals listed above. An anecdote not listed in the book involving Cuyler is how he received his nickname "Kiki". The book does say he stuttered but does not say he had difficulty saying his last name which came out as "Kiki Cuyler" when he pronounced it.

Hard-boiled Hornsby with his love of the race track and his players distaste of his managerial methods replaced by the easy-going Charlie Grimm on August 2, 1931. Newspaperman Warren Brown having the inside track on Marse Joe McCarthy's switch from the Cubs to the lordly Yankees. The magical year of 1930 for Hack Wilson in which he achieved an unbelievable 191 runs batted in. Incidents involving Chicago gangsters during this time period are also included.

The book concludes following the 1932 World Series in which the Bronx Bombers swept the Cubs in four straight games. Author Roberts Ehrgott avoids controversy regarding the Babe's so-called "called shot.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Willona Graham Goers on July 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Couldn't put this down! All of the great Cubs of the 20's are here .. Hartnett, Hornsby, Alexander, Cuyler, Wilson, Grimm. In this book, the players come alive.. and we see them on the field as well as off and the good as well as the bad. The book ends with the backstory to Ruth's "called shot." A history of Chicago in this era of course would not be complete without Capone, corrupt politicians, and what life in Chicago was in those days. I TOTALLY recommend this book to ALL Cub fans, baseball fans, and those interested in Chicago history.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Gary L on August 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a SABR member and long-time baseball historian, I want to echo the sentiments of the other 5-star reviews of "Mr. Wrigley's Ball Club." This is a wonderful book and easily makes my top ten all-time favorites list. The other reviewers have articulated well the many interesting topics covered in the book, so I won't rehash all that, other than to say it's incredibly well written and researched, and was a joy to read.

To me the real star of the book is William Veeck, Sr., one of the truly unsung and forgotten heros of the early decades of baseball. Veeck has been totally overshadowed by his more flamboyant son, Bill Veeck, Jr. When people hear the name "Veeck" they immediately think of Bill Veeck, Jr. and the White Sox. But Mr. Veeck, Sr. has an impressive legacy of his own (as others have mentioned), including innovative ideas like Ladies Day, and being the first to grasp the possibilities of radio coverage. Not mentioned by other reviewers is that Mr. Veeck restructured Wrigley Field into it's modern appearance, including adding the bleachers, the upperdeck, and the scoreboard ( his son put in the ivy!). Veeck, Sr. also had the foresight to hire a "bush league" manager named Joe McCarthy, which at the time, was an unheard of idea. All McCarthy did was bring a pennant to Chicago and go on to be the winningest manager in baseball history (highest all-time winning percentage, nine pennants, seven World Series championships), all because Bill Veeck, Sr. was willing to give him his first chance. Not mentioned in the book was that Mr. Veeck was the first baseball executive to hire a woman into the front office: Margaret "Midge" Donohue. Veeck recognized her talents and defied all baseball custom by hiring her in the 1920's.
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