Baseball Way Back: The 1908 West Side Cubs' 'Last Dance'

Herb Gould can say he watched the Cubs win two World Series.

He sat in Cleveland's Progressive Field to watch Game 7 of the 2016 Fall Classic.

And he saw the 1908 championship through the eye of his imagination in his fictional account of the season, "The Run Don't Count: The Life and Times of Frank Chance and His 1908 Chicago Cubs."

Gould's novel is a must-read for anyone eager to learn about the mighty Cubs of the 1900s, who fell short on the front end of achieving what the Bulls of the 1990s accomplished, a three-peat.

Gould's fictional account is a kind of a "Last Dance" for the Cubs of 1908 to 1910.

In a phone interview, the longtime Sun-Times sports writer said he drew upon his locker room experiences in re-creating the atmosphere of the Cubs clubhouse.

"I was in a lot of locker rooms for 30-some years," he said. "I was in the Bears locker room in '85, and that was back in the day when you really could get to know the guys."

He also covered the Cubs of Jim Frey and the White Sox of Tony La Russa and Jim Fregosi, and played on a softball team with Mike Royko and several minor leaguers.

Gould brings to life such characters as the battle-scarred Peerless Leader, Cubs manager-first baseman Chance.

He also devotes attention to the strange but brilliant collaboration between second baseman Johnny Evers and shortstop Joe Tinker, who would not speak to each other off the field but whose flawless communication on the diamond inspired poetry.

Another fascinating character is catcher Johnny Kling, whose possible Jewish background is a subject of speculation in the book.

And there is the affable pitcher Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown, who dominated National League hitting, even with a hand mangled as a youngster by farm machinery.

Throughout the narrative, Gould reveals internal dissension, as when Heinie Zimmerman hurls a bottle of ammonia at teammate Jimmy Sheckard, shattering it against his face, during a fight in 1908.

He also depicts the tension between the Cubs and their owner, Charles Murphy, whose penurious ways nearly provoked Kling and Tinker into leaving baseball, Kling for his billiards parlor and Tinker for the stage.

And no account of the 1908 season would be complete without New York Giants infielder and future Cub Fred Merkle's "bonehead" play in the game between the Giants and the Cubs that helped decide the NL pennant.

Merkle's failure to touch second base on what should have been a game-winning hit on Sept. 23 ultimately forced a rematch between the Giants and the Cubs on Oct. 8. The Cubs won the game and the pennant. Gould also focuses on a similar play from earlier that season that didn't go the Cubs' way but involved the same umpire, future Cubs manager Hank O'Day.

Gould tells the story from the viewpoint of a fictional former Cubs batboy who earned the job after a chance meeting - the Cubs manager's automobile strikes the work wagon the boy is pulling.

Gould said he liked the passive narrator and was thinking of the narrator from "The Great Gatsby."

" ... A guy who was sort of low-key but everybody confided in."

Gould also spent his youth working for the Cubs as a vendor and part-time member of the grounds crew at Wrigley. He remembers the longtime head groundskeeper, Pete Marcantonio, keeping a nail in his work area on which he hung pocket schedules dating back to the 1940s.

The genesis of Gould's book came in the 1970s. He originally intended to write a biography of one of the key characters in the book, National League President Harry Pulliam, whose tragic story is recounted in harrowing detail.

"Here's a guy who really lived and breathed baseball and wanted nothing but the best for baseball. And then he had to deal with these connivers who were looking out for their self-interest," Gould said.

One of the connivers was Cubs owner Murphy, who helped jack up the prices so much for the 1908 World Series that the attendance was shockingly low.

The book is rich in game detail, including the violence inflicted on Kling on the 1908 season's final day by Giants fans, who showered him with derby hats, bottles and newspapers as he attempted to catch a pop foul.

Gould researched at the Chicago History Museum and the Baseball Hall of Fame, and relied on such primary sources as the Chicago Record-Herald, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Daily News and the Chicago Inter-Ocean.

He even incorporates newspaper reporters of the period like I.E. Sanborn and Ring Lardner into his piece. I have a feeling those antique scribes would have appreciated Gould's effort.

Author Herb Gould was a longtime Chicago Sun-Times sports writer who's seen many pro locker rooms. Courtesy of Herb Gould
Harry Frazee, left, and Frank Chance, owner and manager of the Boston Red Sox, respectively, huddle at Yankee Stadium in 1923. Chance is a focus of a new book of fiction on the 1908 Cubs, for which Chance was the manager and first baseman. Associated Press
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