Not An April Fools’ Joke: Tribe Wins Opener With A Shutout And George Will On Bud Selig And The Commissioner’s Job
Ah, the Cleveland Indians open with a win with a two run ninth in a 2-0 game in Oakland that went late for fans listening on the home front back in Ohio. America’s best sports writer, Terry Pluto, jotted a few notes on the big night for the Tribe.
If you didn’t get to hear my hour-long chat with George Will about his new book on Cubs’ fans collective misery and all things baseball, the audio and transcript will be posted below later today. Note that when I asked Will if he’d like to succeed Bud Selig as the Commission of MLB, the writer and gentleman didn’t say “no.” Baseball, like the Papacy, can be served well by men in their early 70s looking for a few wonderful years at the helm.
HH: And now, let us put aside for a while the cares of the health care system collapse, and the Crimea, and North and South Korea, and talk about baseball, and do so with George Will, who’s brand new book, A Nice Little Place On The North Side: Wrigley Field At 100, kept me company on vacation last week, and a fine company it was. George Will, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
GW: Thank you. Are you really a Cleveland Indians fan?
HH: Oh, from birth. And I…
HH: You see, he laughs. He laughs, but I was going to be kind and not bring up today the fact that baseball history was made in Pittsburgh when the first replay challenge was made by Chicago Cubs manager…
GW: Yes, and you saw what happened.
HH: They went with the umps over the Cubs, George Will.
GW: I called my friend, Bud Selig, the minute that happened, and I said I knew it. I knew the first replay would go against the Cubs, and it did.
HH: It did. You know, we have actually only met once, and that was on the field of Philadelphia in August of 2007 when my producer, Duane Patterson, threw out the first ball. You were covering Umpire Bruce Froemming, and you later wrote about him that he had called 370,000 pitches. There was a story today in the L.A. Times that a new study shows that umps get it wrong 14% of the time. Do you think that he got it wrong that much?
GW: I don’t, and I don’t believe that figure. I think 14% is A) way too high, and B) how do they know?
HH: They said…
GW: You remember when Rickey Henderson would come to the plate and he’d crouch down, and his strike zone was about the size of a postage stamp? And then the pitcher would come in and he’d stand up and it’s a size of Montana? I mean, how do you know these things?
HH: According to the Times, researchers Brayden King and Jerry Kim analyzed more than 700,000 pitches, and they made their study using pitch location data compiled by the high speed cameras used by Major League Baseball. And to that, George Will says?
GW: Anyone who spends part of his life analyzing 700,000 pitches needs to get out more.
HH: What are you numbers, George Will? How many Cubs games have you actually attended?
GW: Oh, gosh, I don’t know, but a lot. I’ve attended more in Baltimore and Washington, because I live here. But my heart goes back to Wrigley.
HH: Do you keep a scorecard when you attend?
GW: Absolutely. Now here’s the thing. You go to the really modern ballpark, and the scoreboard makes keeping score kind of irrelevant, because there’s so much information up there. But Wrigley Field has that old hand-operated scoreboard, and they don’t have all that stuff. And no Major League scoreboard has the statistic that I think’s most important, which is first pitch strikes. So I always mark down how many first pitch strikes to each batter the pitcher throws, and that makes me think that I’m doing something that only I can do.
HH: I will have to watch tonight. Justin Masterson’s leading off for the Indians against the A’s in a couple of hours, so I’ll see if he gets ahead in the count each batter. Let’s turn to A Nice Little Place On The North Side, specifically. You have made a number of arguments in here, one of them, I think, is that though the Cubs have left you with a lifetime of frustration, they did give us Ronald Reagan. Isn’t that your argument, that the Cubs are responsible for Ronald Reagan?
GW: The Cubs won the Cold War, and I’ll tell you how it happened. In 1919, William Wrigley, after whom the ballpark is named, bought Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California. In 1921, he sent his team out there to do spring training. In 1934-35, in the mid-30s, a radio broadcaster who did the Cubs games by recreation talked to his station in Des Moines and said look, would you send me to Catalina Island to cover the Cubs spring training? His name was Dutch Reagan. They sent him out there, and while he was out there, he said you know, I am going to try and get a screen test. He got a screen test, and became Ronald Reagan, became a movie star, stayed around long enough to get disgusted with the politics of Hollywood, became a conservative, gave the famous speech for Goldwater in ’64, ran for governor in ’66, got reelected in ’70, ran for president in ’76, got elected in ’80, won the Cold War, and that’s why the Cubs won the Cold War.
HH: You know, there is a new exhibition on baseball opening at the Reagan Library on April 4th. Are you going to be a part of that? Are you going to go sign A Nice Little Place On The North Side in the course of that?
GW: That’s a good idea. I should call them up and do that. There’s, in my book, as you have seen, there’s a wonderful picture of Ronald Reagan as a young man…
GW: …in a white sport coat and white buck shoes smoking a pipe in front of the, I think it’s, I can’t remember the name of the great radio station in Des Moines.
HH: I’m looking it up as…
GW: And he looks like lots of things, but not a president.
HH: It is a great picture. There’s another picture of Reagan as well throwing out the first pitch from Wrigley. And so those are pages 94-95. The exhibition has on it a cover quote, the one that’s opening this week at the Reagan Library. “I really do love baseball,” Reagan said, “and I wish we could do this out on the lawn every day. I wouldn’t even complain if a stray ball came through the Oval Office window every now and then.” But was he a Cubs fan for life, George Will? I don’t know that.
GW: I think he probably was. You know, he was a busy man, and he took up lots of things after he became a sportswriter. But Ronald Reagan had a great sense of nostalgia. He grew up in Central Illinois, as I did, and his first professional job was involving the Cubs. And I think he never forgot it.
HH: When did you first make your first trip to Wrigley?
GW: It was about 1950. A neighbor took me to Chicago. He was a Ford dealership, was a Dana Huddleston dealership in Champagne, Illinois, and he took me to Chicago, and we sat behind the first base dugout. And we played the Dodgers, and it was one of the most exciting experiences of my life. After that, my parents were faculty members and teachers, and they didn’t have much money. But once a year, they would take me to Chicago to see the Cubs, and it was worth it.
HH: Three times a summer, I would make the trip to the Mistake On the Lake, which you managed to insert that memory of Muni into A Nice Little Place On The North Side, which stands at the opposite end of baseball beauty spectrum.
HH: And I was the grandson, I’m named for a man who made forty consecutive Cleveland Indians home openers, and was celebrated by Mr. Feller on that 40th consecutive one. And I was telling a listener on the Weekly Standard cruise that story, and he stopped to tell me about how he had met Mr. Musial. And then we both remarked how we referred to them as Mr. Feller and Mr. Musial. They are, those distant ballplayers were very different from the kinds we are talking about today, George Will.
GW: I would never call Stan Musial Stan, and I knew Bob Feller. And I always referred to him as Mr. Feller. You know, if you gave Bob Feller back the four years that he lost to the Second World War, that would be at least 80 more wins, and almost everyone would say he’s one of the greatest two or three pitchers who ever lived.
HH: And an extraordinary gentleman. He would come a lot to Cleveland and spend a lot of time with fans, and was always and inevitably gracious. Now Leo Durocher, who also plays quite a role in A Nice Little Place On The North Side, was not such a gentleman. And there’s not, you’ve made me an appreciator, by the way, of Hack Wilson. I’d never really known anything about Hack Wilson. But I found that the Cubs perhaps have not attracted the same kind of gentlemen that the Indians did.
GW: Well you know, baseball in the early days was a rough sport, full of people who fought their way out of the mine of Pennsylvania and elsewhere to get into baseball. It wasn’t until about fifteen years ago that California passed Pennsylvania as the state that had provided the most Major League Baseball players. Baseball was an escape in a hard America with hard working conditions, and they fought like tigers to keep their jobs against the young people coming up. Hack Wilson is a terribly sad story.
GW: He was, for about five or six years, he was unbelievably productive. But he, like an awful lot of players back then, drank an awful lot too much alcohol, and he rose as fast as he declined, and disappeared and died in complete poverty. And it’s a telling story about the price of fame bought very difficult. I mean, if you look at Hack Wilson, he was about 5’ 6”. His shoe size was 5 ½. People now understand that the way he looked tells them of fetal alcohol syndrome, and he was indeed the child of about a 16 year old mother who was an alcoholic. So there’s a long strain, I don’t want to depress people, but there was a long strain of difficult, rough life in Major League Baseball back then.
HH: It’s a very touching, I’ll read as we go into break from Page 76, “Hack Wilson died destitute. His body was unclaimed for three days. Ford Frick, the president of the National League, wired $350 dollars to pay for Wilson’s funeral.” But Wilson had given an interview to CBS Radio. This was part of it, and you quote it, George Will. “Talent isn’t enough. You need common sense and good advice. If anyone tries to tell you different, tell them the story of Hack Wilson. Kids in and out of baseball who think because they have talent they have the world by the tail? It isn’t so, kids. Don’t be too big to accept advice. Don’t let what happened to me happen to you.” That’s about the saddest page in an otherwise joy-filled book.
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HH: That, of course, Harry Carey, who is, I do believe, George Will, my guest’s, favorite announcer in baseball, George Will, of course, the author of A Nice Little Place On The North Side: Wrigley Field At 100, the perfect guest for opening day, and the perfect book for baseball fans. You weren’t really a Harry Carey fan, were you, George Will?
GW: I grew up in Champagne, Illinois, midway between Chicago and St. Louis. And at an age too tender to make life-shaping decisions, I had to choose between being a Cub fan and a Cardinal fan. All my friends became Cardinal fans and grew up cheerful and liberal. And I became a gloomy, embattled conservative, partly because Harry Carey, who was the Cardinals broadcaster, was so insufferably supportive of the Cardinals. Now I understand that’s the job of the play by play broadcaster. But he sort of drove me into the arms of the Cubs, and therefore ruined my life.
HH: I am conducting an interview with a man whose team has never won a World Series. My team, the Indians, have never won a World Series in my lifetime, and the Cubs have never won one in yours. But I wrote a review of your book for the Washington…
GW: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. How old are you?
HH: I’m 58. They last…
GW: Okay, so you were not alive in…
HH: Nope. Nope. Missed it by eight years.
GW: Oh, man, you see, your team is a relatively recent success.
HH: (laughing) I’ve never heard…
GW: Your team won a World Series 40 years after mine did.
HH: That’s true. But in my review of your book in the Washington Examiner today, I asked the existential question whether, since you did not spread your bets, and you’re merely an all-in Cubs fan, and I am a Browns-Indians and Cavaliers fan, I think I’ve actually suffered more than you have suffered.
GW: I think in quantity of suffering, you win.
HH: Now I was also looking for overlap. We share in common Bill Veeck, who gets due treatment in A Nice Little Place On The North Side.
HH: He was something of a genius, wouldn’t you say?
GW: Bill Veeck was a genius. He was irreverent, he fought in the Second World War, he had lots of injuries, lots of infections. He had a terrible leg. He had to have his leg amputated. They gave him a wooden leg. He had cancer, but he installed in his wooden leg an ashtray. He never quit smoking. That was just the kind of guy he was. As a young man before the war in 1937, he was the one who planted the ivy on the outfield wall, except it wasn’t ivy. What he actually planted was called bittersweet, which is a really good plant for a Cub fan. And they covered the wall, and at one point, he was in charge of the vendors at Wrigley Field. And he had a vendor who they all knew as a ne’er-do-well, that he was cheating the fans in various ways. And Bill Veeck would try and watch this guy from upstairs with a telescope. The guy’s name was Jack Rubenstein.
GW: Later, he left Chicago, moved to Dallas, changed his name to Jack Ruby, started the Carousel Nightclub, and shot Lee Harvey Oswald after Oswald had shot Kennedy.
HH: There are a couple of stories like that in A Nice Little Place On The North Side. Ruth Ann Steinhagen, I had never heard of her, and she shot, was it your centerfielder?
GW: Well, she, gunshots echo through this book, I’m afraid to say.
HH: Yes, they do.
GW: Let me give you one of the examples. The Cubs had a shortstop named Billy Jurges. This was back when the Cubs were really good in the late 20s and early 30s. And he had a girlfriend, and they had a little falling out, and she had a handgun. And that was a bad combination. So she shoots the Cub shortstop. Suddenly, the Cubs are in a pennant race in 1932, they need a shortstop. They go to the Pacific Coast League and get a shortstop named Koenig, who five years earlier on the fabled 1927 Yankees team had been a teammate of Babe Ruth. Hadn’t liked Babe Ruth. In fact, he got in a fight with him in the clubhouse. But the Cubs get Koenig, and they ride all the way to the World Series against the Yankees. But the Cubs on the way decided not to vote Koenig a full World Series share. That makes all the Yankees mad, even Babe Ruth, who didn’t like Koenig. So Babe Ruth was at the plate, they’re yelling at the Cubs in the dugout, gesticulating, carrying on, and in the midst of all this, supposedly, he points to centerfield, where he’s supposedly going to hit the ball, and indeed on the next pitch, hits a home run there. Now the question is that’s the famous Ruth’s called shot at Wrigley Field.
HH: And you are suspicious of it.
GW: I don’t think it happened. But there’s no definitive video, this is 1932. It’s interesting, there are two rather famous Americans were at that game. One was the Democratic candidate for president that year, the governor of New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and also a 12 or 13 year old young Chicagoan named John Paul Stevens, who grew up to become one of the very distinguished Supreme Court justices of our era. So all kinds of people intersect with the Chicago Cubs.
HH: Oh, they do. Now…
GW: And there’s a lot of gunfire.
HH: There is a lot of gunfire. We also, we Tribesmen, share in common with you Cubs fans Milton Bradley, who we will not say more of. But here’s the rare thing. Now very rarely in baseball does a trade work for both teams, but on June 13th, 1984, Dallas Green sent a bunch of prospects to the Indians in exchange for Rick Sutcliffe. We got Joe Carter.
HH: You got Rick Sutcliffe. I think that was a pretty good deal for both sides.
GW: It was. Rick Sutcliffe came to the Cubs and was 16-1 with the Cubs. And the Cubs went all the way to the playoffs.
GW: Now let me tell you what happened in the playoffs. It’s 1984. The Cubs go to the playoffs, they’re playing the San Diego Padres, best of five, first two games in Wrigley Field. The Cubs win the first two games. I’m walking out of Wrigley Field with Don Drysdale, the Hall Of Fame Dodgers pitcher who broadcast that game for ABC. He turns to me and says all right, Will, now do you Cub fans believe? And I said Don, every Cub fans knows it’s the Padres in five.
HH: You know, this is, your pessimism…
GW: Wait a minute. I’ve got to finish this. It gets worse. The Cubs go to San Diego, they lose the first two games, of course, so it’s game 5, 2-2, ground ball right at the Cub first baseman, Leon Durham, right through his legs. Cubs lose, giving rise to a famous joke. Leon Durham tries to commit suicide by jumping in front of a bus, but the bus runs through his legs.
HH: And that is, Kevin Mack of the Cleveland Browns leaves the ball in the end zone, my dad calls me and says he tried to commit suicide, but don’t worry, he dropped the gun. But you are all the same. At the conclusion of the infamous Bartman game in 2003, you recount that upon leaving Wrigley, a fan calls out, we’ll get them tomorrow, Mr. Will, and you replied not a chance.
GW: Not a chance. Not a chance.
HH: That is, the difference is I flew all the way back to Cleveland for game 4 of the ALCS in 2007 at the Jake, and as we Indians won, 9-8, and we went up 3-1, and I turned to my brother, John, and my pals Rob Ganarie and Pat Wilson who had come with me, and I said my work is done here, and I went home to California, and the Indians promptly lost three. But we always think we’re going to win, and you never think you’re going to win.
GW: No, we’re never disappointed. Now can I ask you something? If I bring up 1997, will you be unhappy?
HH: Of course, I will be. Luckily, we’re coming to a break. When we come back, I’ll find some way to avoid that subject.
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HH: It’s opening day, it’s the perfect companion even if you are an American League man or woman, like I am an American League man, then you will still love this. But I do not, I was racking my brain through the break to figure out how you were going to connect 1997 to the Cubs. Of course, it’s the year that will live in infamy, the bottom of the 9th in the 7th game of the World Series, Jose Mesa gives up the only lead in World Series history to be given up in such circumstances. How do the Cubs connect to that?
GW: I didn’t. I was just trying to injure you.
HH: Oh, see…
GW: Now I was at that game in Marlins park, and I’m sitting there, and what was it, the 7th inning, the Indians give up the lead? Something like that.
HH: No, no, the 9th inning, bottom of the 9th.
GW: That’s it. Okay, there’s a young kid, maybe 10 years old behind me, the sweetest little boy wearing an Indians T-shirt. And the minute the Indians lose the lead, he starts to cry. He cries through the rest of the game like a good Indians fan who knew he was doomed.
HH: You see, I think we are different in this. You are resigned, we are hopeful. Now I love…
GW: That’s the awful thing, you see. We’re never disappointed.
HH: I once broadcast from Cooperstown in 2009 on the occasion of a symposium honoring George Powles that was organized by California Appellate Justice George Nicholson, and I went, do you know George Powles? He was the greatest high school baseball coach of all time, perhaps?
HH: And when we went there, Duane and I sat up, and it’s not an easy place to broadcast from, because it’s technology in the last century, and I don’t mean the 20th. But what amazed me is the number of books and baseball historians that pour out every year about baseball. So when you produce A Nice Little Place On The North Side, and it rockets up the bestseller list, do those baseball historians love you, or do they hate you, George Will?
GW: I think they like it. I think anyone that appreciates the fundamental appeal of baseball, which is that it has such a history, such a rich sediment of numbers, it’s a game of episodes, pitch by pitch, out by out, inning by inning, game by game, season by season, and it produces this enormous sediment of numbers that enables you to make these extraordinary comparisons. Let me ask you something. You’re an NFL fan, which I think’s a character flaw, but let’s go with it.
GW: You’re an NFL…who holds the record for the most touchdowns in a season.
HH: I have no idea.
GW: You don’t know. See, records are different.
GW: …than baseball.
HH: I know who has the greatest yards per average per carry. That’s Jimmy Brown, but that’s only because I’m peculiar.
GW: Well, see, that’s just you being a perverse Browns fan.
HH: Yes, but that…you’re right.
GW: My point is this. Baseball is old. There is even a record in the diary of a soldier at Valley Forge referring to playing a game of base as it was then called. Valley Forge.
HH: That’s remarkable.
GW: In 1777.
HH: And there are these characters like Powles, and for the benefit of the audience, he coached not only Frank Robinson, Joe Morgan and Curt Flood, and 14 other Major Leaguers, but also Bill Russell and John Brody, and they did it for the love of the game at high school for their entire lives.
HH: Now I had a guest host for many years. His name was Frank Pastore. Frank died tragically last year. He was hosting his own show in Los Angeles. He took me to an Angels game once, and he saw a completely different game. And there’s a hierarchy of fans. There are one team fans like me. You are a sport fan, and then there are, you know, there are initiates and there are people who wander through. But there really is a hierarchy of baseballdom that Frank revealed to me. Do you watch baseball that way?
GW: Oh, yes. While you and I are talking, I have on my television muted the Rockies-Marlins game.
HH: So you are a complete, whatever goes, you will watch? You can’t walk past a…
GW: I only write about politics to support my baseball habit, which is getting worse and worse.
HH: Well, you and Charles Krauthammer together at a Nationals-Cubs game, I’m not sure that’s a good pairing.
GW: I hope not.
HH: Has that happened?
GW: No, no. That would divide two good friends.
HH: Okay, now when you, in your book, casually try and make an argument that beer is also integrated into the game, you mention in passing two of my favorite books – Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map, and Daniel Okrent’s Last Call. And these are both, I hadn’t realize it, they’re both connected to beer, and they’re both connected to baseball, thus.
GW: Oh, absolutely. I mean, beer, not only did it give us civilization as I can demonstrate in my book that people back when we had a hunter-gatherer economy, the fermentation, we made beer before we made bread, human beings did, which is a sign of good priorities, I have to say. And beer grew up, and beer was essential the survival of the human race when water was full of vermin and bacteria. And beer was safe, because the alcohol would kill that stuff and make fluid safe to drink. So it was a wonderful thing. And you get to the late 19th Century and into the 20th Century, and beer and the manufacture of lager, particularly, it became essential to baseball fans. And the two, the sport and the business grew up together. And Lord knows, they’re still connected.
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HH: Before I go to the central core thesis of A Nice Little Place On The North Side, George Will, you mentioned your friend, Bud Selig. He’s retiring. Would you like to be the commissioner of baseball?
GW: I don’t know, partly because baseball’s the only relaxation I have. I don’t want to turn it into work, and partly because Bud has been so wonderfully the best commissioner we’ve ever had. He’s a very tough act to follow. Look what’s happened. He becomes acting commissioner and then commissioner in 1992. 22 new ballparks, wild card, second wild card, revenue sharing, interleague play, an astonishing transformation of the game from a $1.4 billion dollar industry to a $9 billion dollar industry this year, fans pouring through the turnstiles as never before. He’s a tough act to follow.
HH: Let the record show that was not a no, America.
HH: I also, I wanted, the one thing I think I would urge Will for Commish for is we share your abhorrence of loud music at the baseball parks. And on Page 173, you note that some owners are trying to replicate the awfulness of the NBA experience.
GW: Well, you go to an NBA arena, it’s like being locked inside a jukebox. It’s just horrible with lights and smoke and screaming and carrying on. Part of the beauty of baseball is the occasional silence, if not silence, at least a pause. It’s a game of episodes, so between pitches, between outs, you can turn to the person next to you and say what did you think of that, what should we do next, what should they have done. It allows for something that we’re losing in America, which is conversation.
HH: Agreed. Now I want to get to the central core thesis. It’s on Page 87. “This became the Cubs’ conscious business model. If the team is bad, strive mightily to improve the ballpark.” Sadly, George Will, for Cub fans, it seems to have worked, economically and to the detriment of the team.
GW: Well, exactly, and I blame the Cub fans for this, of whom, of course, I am one. Here’s what happened. William Wrigley, after whom the ballpark is named dies, and the team is inherited by his son, P.K. Wrigley, a sweet-tempered, nice man who had no interest in being the owner of a baseball team, but he thinks it’s his legacy. He looks around and says you know, we’re a really terrible team, but we have a really beautiful ballpark, so let’s merchandise the ballpark. And the theme was that the ivy would be so lush, and the grass so green, and the sunshine so warm, and the beer so cold, that no one would care what the scoreboard said. And amazingly, it worked.
GW: His father had been a great merchandiser. He invented Ladies’ Day, where they would open the ballpark to any woman who showed up, had a free seat. They had 17,000 women would show up, and they’d stand, they ran out of seats, so they’d put them in the outfield in their high heels, people dressed up to go to baseball games then, and they’d stand in the outfield, their heels sinking into the grass, restrained by a little rope that now defined the outfield, and the game would be played with them in centerfield, right and left field.
HH: And what’s amazing about the numbers that you produced, they’ve had amazing attendance. In the 60s when the Indians were so awful, 5,000 people would go to Muni, and there would be capacity for 88,000, and you could move up to the first row and no one would bother you after the 3rd inning. You couldn’t get away with that, but your attendance never suffered, really.
GW: That’s the trouble. The Cub fans were so loyal, it’s said that Wrigley Field is the greatest single bar on the North Side, it could be it. Well, actually, to be strictly accurate, our new owner, Tom Ricketts, who’s a terrific guy, met his wife in the bleachers at Wrigley Field.
HH: Now you just…
GW: He lived for a while over a bar at the corner of Sheffield and Clark. I mean, this is a real Cubs guy.
HH: You just mentioned…our new owner, and there is that sense of possession, and when franchises moved, like the Braves and others, bad things happen. And I’m trying to think, did your pal, Bud, allow any franchise moves on his watch?
GW: I can’t remember, but I think there probably have been some, maybe not. The great mobility occurred really before that when baseball said look, we have to face the fact that we can’t go on having St. Louis the westernmost outpost of baseball, and with two teams, for Pete’s sake, in St. Louis. The Browns actually moved west to east to become Baltimore. The Boston Braves moved from Boston all the way to Milwaukee before moving back to Atlanta. But it was the great movement west with the rest of the country that changed the face of baseball.
HH: Now I also, before I leave Wrigley for our last segment, I want to talk about your views, which surprised me, on the rooftop entrepreneurs, which were vaguely Kelo-ish. You were, you are hostile to these entrepreneurs of their position.
GW: Well, opposite right and left field in Wrigleyville, as the neighborhood is called, there are these row houses about three or four stories tall, and on top of which the owners have built bleachers, and they sell seats, they sell tickets for people to sit up there, and they’ve put in bars, and everyone has a good time, and they look over the fence into Wrigley Field and watch the game. Now my view is they didn’t build a team, they didn’t pay anything. All they’re doing is buying and selling, they’re selling something they didn’t build. So my feeling is the rooftop people are actually taking from the Cubs, and they ought to go away. But they won’t, I understand that, but it’s bothersome.
HH: As a matter of political theory, though, it seems to me that they’ve seen their opportunity and they took it…
GW: Yes, and you’re quoting George Washington Plunkitt.
GW: As you know, who was a great grafter in the Tammany Hall era. All I’m saying is John Locke says you acquire property by mixing your labor with the creation of wealth, and they didn’t create anything.
HH: I’m telling you, I think the great hidden controversy that will spring up is people read George Will’s A Nice Little Place On The North Side, is that he is anti-the property rights of those well-located fans who have taken opportunity that is…but they reached an accord, did they not, to allow the lights to go in?
GW: They let the lights go in, but they’re still fighting there. And what I’m saying is let them assert their property rights, but let the Ricketts people and the Cubs assert their property rights, and erect a big scoreboard that blocks out those thieves of our baseball.
HH: That would be fair. That would be fair.
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HH: I hope my friends at the Reagan Library somehow arrange for George Will to make it out when they open their new exhibition on baseball April 4th. George Will, I would be in trouble with the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt if I did not read a paragraph on Page 117 that mentions her old family friend, Duke Snider. She grew up in Fallbrook where the Duke retired. And it also mentioned Mr. Cub. So I want to read this paragraph. “His Major League contemporaries in the second half of the 50s included future Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Frank Robinson and Duke Snider. Snider his more home runs in the 50s than anyone else in either league. In the second half of the decade, however, Ernie Banks hit more home runs than any of them.” You clearly, there’s a great few pages on Ernie Banks, so we should close by talking about the man who defines the Chicago Cubs for so many people.
GW: Well, there’s a statue of Ernie outside Wrigley Field as there ought to be. He was brought to the Cubs directly from the Negro Leagues, one of the last players in the Major Leagues to play in the Negro Leagues. He played with the Cubs all those seasons, never got to the [World Series]. He holds, I think, the record for the most games played in the Big Leagues without ever getting to the postseason, let alone to the World Series, and he was unfailingly cheerful and played hard all the way. And his famous saying was that roses are red, violets are blue, it’s a beautiful day, let’s play two. And they probably would have lost two, but he didn’t, really, no one said he didn’t care. He cared, but he knew he was there to do his best, and boy, was he good. He won the most valuable award in ’57 and ’58 on a team that was not very good.
HH: It’s a remarkable baseball life. My last question, you mentioned one of your closest friends, a great American, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, lacked the baseball gene. Now at the end of the book, you caution against putting too much emphasis on baseball. You don’t want to make it into something that it’s not. It’s a part of our leisurely life. But how do some people not get that gene, some people like Moynihan?
GW: I don’t know. Pat, you know, said we’ve, he did understand that for all the talk about modern man is beyond religion, beyond ethnicity, beyond tribal loyalties, he understood that in fact, one of the things that people really want is to belong to something. And when you go to a city, a city becomes a dust of individuals. But within this dust of individuals, you acquire certain loyalties to your neighborhood or to a sports team. And people gather together for three hours a day at the ballpark, and suddenly, they’re no longer anonymous in a city. They’re a member of a tribe, a voluntary tribe, a temporary tribe, one that will disburse after 9 innings. But for three hours, it was absolutely perfect.
HH: And the best tribe is the Tribe. But Terry Pluto isn’t my guest. George Will is. George Will, congratulations on A Nice Little Place On The North Side. May the Cubs and the Indians meet in the 2014 World Series. If not, perhaps we’ll meet at the Reagan Library when you sign your book at some point.
End of interview.