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Game 53: Twins at Cubs

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Including a book review that will interest more Cubs fans than Twins ones.

Ronald W. Reagan;Harry Caray
One of these people sometimes drank on the job
Photo by Diana Walker/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images

Time: 7:15 Central. Vegas Line: -120 CHC / MIN +110

Weather: Clear, some cliched Windy City gusts, 57° at first pitch

Opponent’s SB site: Bleed Cubbie Blue

TV: FSN. Radio: Stuck in a Chicago hotel since Monday

Minnesota Twins baseball players, among the dwindling number of Twins fans who don’t believe their season essentially ended yesterday, will face #2 Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks tonight.

Hendricks has been something of a fan favorite wherever he goes; he’s reportedly very unassuming. He was never considered a hot draft pick, and didn’t go to a top baseball college – a 4.0 student, he picked Dartmouth because they guaranteed him a spot on the team. (At high school in Southern California, Hendricks was such a terrible bunter that his coach brought in a special instructor to help teach him, one Rod Carew.)

He’s never thrown very hard, either, topping out at about 88, and relies on control of a sinker/four-seam/change combo to keep airborne balls from going very far. Hendricks is supposedly a very good amateur golfer, and did not marry a lady from his hometown; she met him as a fan attending a minor-league game. (So that’s why Manfred wants to eliminate minor-league teams; he hates love as much as he hates baseball.) Several teammates attended their wedding, and it looks like adult beverages were consumed.

Rich Hill you know by now. In six starts, he’s lasted less innings and struck out fewer batters than the Twins had hoped. Whether this is due to his offseason medical procedure or simply age doing its methodical work is impossible to tell. TwinsDaily in March had a detailed explanation of the procedure which made me glad I never pitched professional baseball. 2020 digits:

Those OPS splits for Hendricks are usually more balanced; OPS overall for Hill was always lower before this year.

The following is going to be a little dry. Lineups are at the bottom.

I promised a literary publicist I would try to review Thomas Wolf’s new The Called Shot: Babe Ruth, The Chicago Cubs, And The Unforgettable Major League Baseball Season Of 1932. I’ve had a difficult time doing so, as I had a difficult time reading the book. Like the title, it is thorough and dense; somewhat too dense for my taste, although I believe it would appeal to readers with a particular interest in the subject.

Almost every baseball fan knows the story; Babe Ruth visited a sick child in the hospital, promised to hit a home run for him, then in that day’s World Series game pointed to the stands before hitting a homer. It’s been dramatized in multiple Ruth biopics, and referenced/parodied in countless other fashions.

Most fans are also aware that the story is only dubiously true. Ruth did promise a sick child to hit a home run in the 1926 series then hit one; Ruth did visit an injured teenager in a Chicago hospital during the 1932 series and make the same promise (as Wolf mentions, Ruth visited hospitals often). He did hit a home run. Some sort of gesture towards the outfield preceded it. It’s completely unknown/unknowable if the gesture was meant to “call” a home run. Teammates, eyewitnesses, and Ruth himself have given varying accounts.

Since there is no way to know for sure, Wolf expands his subject into the 1932 season and year as a whole, “deftly placing the homer in the social and economic contexts of the time.” That quote is provided by the publisher. It’s also not a quote about Wolf’s book, but about Ed Sherman’s 2014 The Called Shot. I have not read Sherman’s book, but Wolf lists it in his bibliography, so I’m sure he was careful to avoid covering the same territory.

This is really two books merged into a single volume; one is about the 1932 season, following the major contending teams and players. The other is about 1932 in America; the Depression, the election, the high levels of violence associated with extreme poverty and illegal substance sales. (Then, as now, the popular media preferred to focus on sensationalized coverage of this violence rather than substantive investigations into its roots).

Strangely, for a baseball book, I found the material about 1932 America far more interesting than Wolf’s descriptions of the 1932 season. I’ll admit that about halfway through, I started skimming the baseball parts to get to the sociocultural parts. (This is by no means meant as an insult; I’ve done the same with some chapters in A Song Of Ice And Fire books, even though I admire George R.R. Martin very much.) It is simply quite difficult to recap games in an interesting fashion – I struggle with it often – and that much more difficult if you weren’t following the game live.

Several chapters I enjoyed tremendously. “Chicago Conventions” (both the Republican and Democratic conventions were held in Chicago that year) was fascinating; conventions worked quite differently in those days. “Wicked Chicago” was an absolute delight, and far too short; I could read forever sentences like “Chicago was said to have more than a thousand brothels and at least five thousand full-time prostitutes. No one knows how many other young women were working part time as independent contractors.” “Independent contractors” is a great phrase; truly, some things predate Uber.

“Wicked Chicago” also contains one of Wolf’s main throughlines; the 1932 shooting of Cubs infielder Billy Jurges by a jilted lover. (Jurges fully recovered.) It’s Wolf’s belief that this incident, and its subsequent, widely-covered trial, was the inspiration for a similar plot point in Bernard Malamud’s classic 1952 novel The Natural. (The movie has Robert Redford’s character “calling” a home run shot; no such scene appears in the novel.)

There are many strange anecdotes in Wolf’s book, some amusing, some grim or tragic, several about people who would go on to be famous or connected to fame. A 1918 bombing of the Federal Building in Chicago may have been intended as revenge for a controversial ruling by Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, later baseball’s first commissioner. A young postal worker in the building was Walt Disney. A newsie in attendance for Babe Ruth’s final home run in 1935 was twelve-year-old Paul Warhola; his youngest brother, Andy, was none other than Andy Warhol.

(Oddly, while 1932 Yankee Ben Chapman is often mentioned, and his brief Philadelphia Phillies managerial career referred to in a what-happened-later chapter, Wolf doesn’t include the infamous 1947 incident where Chapman hurled exceedingly vile racist slurs at Jackie Robinson; but I do not expect professional baseball historians to necessarily be fans of baseball movies!)

Ultimately, while I would not recommend this book to the general reader, I would to anyone with a specific interest in the 1932 season, particularly regarding the Cubs or Yankees. Or those who enjoy baseball history of that era and would like a general overview of American history in the period. As always, support your library.

And there, now I’ve reviewed it.

Today's Lineups

TWINS CUBS
Byron Buxton - CF Anthony Rizzo - 1B
Josh Donaldson - 3B Kris Bryant - 3B
Nelson Cruz - DH Willson Contreras - C
Eddie Rosario - LF Kyle Schwarber - LF
Miguel Sano - 1B Javier Baez - SS
Mitch Garver - C Jason Heyward - RF
Jake Cave - RF Cameron Maybin - CF
Jorge Polanco - SS Jason Kipnis - DH
Marwin Gonzalez - 2B Nico Hoerner - 2B
Rich Hill - LHP Kyle Hendricks - RHP

It’s where we always wanted Buxton. Let’s see how it works!