From the Pages of Vine Line: Stretching Out with George Will
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and author George Will is probably best known for his conservative political commentary. But the Champaign, Illinois, native is also a huge baseball fan who has written extensively on the game. His newest book, A Nice Little Place on the North Side, is a deeply personal look at the Chicago Cubs, the team he has rooted for since he was a boy, and their iconic home, Wrigley Field.
Vine Line: You’ve now done three books on baseball. What keeps you coming back to the game?
George Will: I really only write about politics to support my baseball habit. I was just thinking I’ve published 14 books now, three of them on baseball, and I’m sure those three will sell more than the others combined. Baseball is fun. It’s endlessly fascinating. It has such a long history, unlike every other American sport. It goes back well into the 19th century and beyond.
VL: You grew up downstate, so you had a choice between the Cardinals and Cubs. How did you become a Cubs fan?
GW: I’m not sure I remember how. The funny thing is I remember the Cardinals’ radio broadcaster annoyed me—some guy named Harry Caray, who left St. Louis, went to Oakland, went to the South Side of Chicago, and, of course, wound up being an iconic figure in Cubs history. What annoyed me when he was with the Cardinals was how much he supported the Cardinals. I didn’t mind him supporting the Cubs.
VL: From your book, I take it you’re a reluctant modernist. You like Wrigley Field the way it is, but you see the need for change.
GW: This ballpark is older than the Supreme Court Building, the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, Mt. Rushmore, Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge—it’s old. And like a lot of old things and people, it needs maintenance. So, first of all, you have to spend on maintenance. Second, every major league team’s ballpark is a revenue producer, and it helps them put a better product on the field. And third, the Cubs need certain things like weight rooms and video rooms and batting cages they can use during games. The modern athlete demands more and deserves more.
VL: What compelled you to devote a book to Wrigley?
GW: I just wanted to know all the interesting things and, frankly, the fun things that have happened. Not many Cubs fans know that Jack Ruby, the guy who shot Lee Harvey Oswald after Oswald shot Kennedy, was a vendor in Wrigley Field. Not many people know that Ray Kroc, before he founded McDonald’s, was selling plastic cups to the vendors here to serve soft drinks in. Not many people really know the story, sad and glorious at the same time, of Hack Wilson, who has one of the records that has resisted breaking more than almost any other—191 RBI in one season. So it’s an enormous amount of history just concentrated in this one little spot on the North Side.