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by Derek Smart
A lot of the time I spend reading gets used in the pursuit of biographies or history texts. Of the two books I enjoyed most last year, one was the biography of a President, while the other dealt with the British and German Navies during the Great War. Many folks would find this stuff tedious and dry, but it's fascinating to me. Gaining a better understanding of the people and events that shaped our lives, even if the direct force of their impact has been lessened with time, never ceases to bring me pleasure.
Which is why it's so strange that I've never really delved into the history of baseball. I don't have an explanation for it, other than to say it's one of those things I keep meaning to do but somehow manage to lose sight of - like exercising more or improving my parallel parking.
So, with an eye to fixing the deficiency, I recently purchased a number of baseball books that had been recommended to me; and as befits my Cubcentricity, I've begun with a tome titled Wrigleyville that deals with the history of our own beloved Cuddle Bears.
I mention this, not because I'm about to review it (although when I'm done, I just might), but because of this passage about the last man to lead the Cubs to a World Series victory, player/manager Frank Chance:
As a manager Chance had certain philosophies. He was a firm believer that a batter should take pitches, especially at the start of the game. Taking pitches, Chance believed, enabled a batter to familiarize himself with the pitcher. And after the at bat, the batter was expected to pass on his knowledge to the rest of the team. A batter who couldn't do that didn't last long on the Cubs.
JOHNNY EVERS: "A few years ago the Chicago club purchased a player late in the season who was one of the great batters of the American Association. His hitting helped the team to win the pennant, yet Chance released him without even bringing him to Chicago to play the final games. The act surprised the followers of the Cubs and someone asked Chance why the man was released.
"'First ball hitter,' explained Chance."
Now in all fairness, Chance was also enamored of manufacturing runs by using the sacrifice bunt and stealing tons of bases (Chance still holds the Cub team record for most bags thieved in a season with 67), although I'd wager that had as much to do with the dead ball in use at the time as anything else.
I just find it refreshing and encouraging that somewhere in the deep recesses of collective memory, an impulse from past successes might break free and cause a Cub hitter, every once in a while, to be just a little more patient.