Friday, February 29, 2008

Wrigley Field's Last World Series: The Wartime Chicago Cubs and the Pennant of 1945 by Charles N. Billington

The Chicago Cubs played their first Cactus League game yesterday against the San Francisco Giants and won. Could it be a pennant season? A world championship season? It has been 100 years since the Cubbies won the World Series and 63 years since the team was even in the Series. It seems a good time, while hopes are high, to suggest Wrigley Field's Last World Series: The Wartime Chicago Cubs and the Pennant of 1945 by Charles N. Billington, a close look at the last season that resulted in a National League Championship for Chicago.

The author first sets the scene with an account of all the National League teams during the World War II years. President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted baseball to continue through the national struggle, so people on the home front, including families of soldiers and defense industry workers, would have something other than just war on the radio and in the daily papers. What the president did not offer to teams were deferments, and many of the sport's top players ended up in military service. This left major league rosters loaded with older and younger players, a few with strange injuries, and some who had war effort jobs in the off season, including farmers.

Because federal transportation regulators imposed travel limits, the Cubs held 1945 spring training in French Lick, Indiana. Few player appeared at the camp in the initial week, which was just as well, as the fields were flooded from heavy rains. Team management was uncertain who from the previous year was available, as draft boards were reassessing their previous 4-F decisions and several players were holding out for better salaries. The situation was so bad that the Cubs actually allowed walk-ons to take part in intra-squad games.

The bulk of the book is a daily account of the season with profiles of many of the players, like Andy Pafko, Phil Cavvaretta, Stan Hack, Claude Passeau, and Hank Borowy. Billington describes key games and tells how the results of each series with the other National League teams. The team won a lot of games in the summer and won just enough in September to edge out the St. Louis Cardinals for the pennant.

The story of the 1945 World Series against the Detroit Tigers will remind Cub fans of every other time their hopes have been dashed against the brick wall behind outfield ivy.

Wrigley Field's Last World Series is a bit too detailed for someone with only a passing interest in the game, but true fans will find it a very interesting read. All Chicago area public libraries should have this book. Other libraries with large baseball collections should consider it.

Billington, Charles N. Wrigley Field's Last World Series: The Wartime Cubs and the Pennant of 1945. Lake Claremont Press, 2005. ISBN 1893121453

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