The romance that occasionally attaches itself to truly bad teams is one of the more peculiar phenomena of sport, but a very real one. In recent years New Orleans has made an affectionate joke of its incompetent Saints, brown paper bags and all, just as in the early '60s New York fell head over heels for the Amazin' Mets. And the adoration that Chicago bestows upon its Cubs, to whom every synonym for feckless can be applied, is becoming the stuff of baseball legend.
The Windy City's devotion to the Cubs is, or is alleged to be, the subject of Barry Gifford's The Neighborhood of Baseball ( E.P. Dutton, $12.50). Subtitled "A Personal History of the Chicago Cubs," the book covers about a dozen years from the early '50s to the mid '60s, when the author was in regular attendance at Wrigley Field. But only the most devoted Cub fan will have the patience to wade through its turgid prose—and it helps to be a Barry Gifford fan as well, because Gifford is his own chief subject.
Indeed, The Neighborhood of Baseball is about as self-indulgent a book as one could hope, or loathe, to read. Chapters recounting the history of the team are interspersed with chapters recapitulating the history of the author. Only occasionally do the two intersect. Perhaps there's some deep meaning for the Cubs in the story of Gifford's days at summer camp or his memories of Chip Hilton novels, but if there is he fails to demonstrate it. As for his history of the Cubs, it seems to have been lifted from newspaper clippings; only intermittently does Gifford manage to convey some sense of what it was like to be a fan in the Wrigley bleachers in those days.
There's one nice tale in the book: It involves Don Landrum, the erstwhile Cub outfielder who used good manners to deflect the taunts of one very cruel heckler and who perhaps taught his tormentor a lesson in the process. But one nice tale is not enough. The Neighborhood of Baseball is for readers who like bad books as much as they like bad teams.