In case you missed it a few weeks ago, we BN’ers are lucky to have one of our own as a published author. Chris Neitzel – better known to you as Oswego Chris – recently wrote and published ‘Beyond Bartman, Curses, and Goats: 104 Reasons It’s Been 104 Years.’ The book is a 293-page history lesson, diving into why the Bartman/curse/goat/whatever explanations for the Chicago Cubs’ more-than-a-century of championship-less baseball are bullcrap. In meticulous detail, Chris goes through 104 individual reasons why the Cubs haven’t won it all since 1908. It’s a great read, both fun and informative – and you can read more about it here.
Chris was good enough to lend me a few minutes for an interview about the book, which I think will be of some interest to you folks.
Brett: Thanks for taking the time to chat, Chris. I suck at interviewing, so I’m just going to dive in head first: Talk a little bit about what the book is and what it isn’t, and what you think it provides Cubs fans.
Chris: The book is meant for fans to take a logical, rational, look at the team’s history and why the Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908. There are silly excuses every time the Cubs’ don’t win; and people think there are external forces at work. Many Boston fans actually believed in “The Curse of the Bambino”… two World Series later and it’s not talked about. The Red Sox, Phillies and White Sox all went 75+ years between World Series wins and the Indians are going on year 65, but the Cubs’ streak stands out. It’s not easy to win a World Series, and yes, the Cubs have been bad for most of 104 years …. but it has nothing to do with Steve Bartman, curses or goats.
Brett: Ok, I’m totally with all of that. But I have to ask – what are your thoughts about the “Bartman Game” – were you there? Were you watching? What did you think then, and what do you think now?
Chris: Just watching at home – and I can honestly say that I was one of those people who never for one minute blamed Steve Bartman, or thought that the play had any bearing on the outcome. I did refuse to watch the highlights of it over and over again. The only thought that I have differently is if Moises Alou wouldn’t have made such a spectacle of it, no one probably hears about the poor guy. I really wish the Cubs would reach out to the him (Bartman) … maybe they have. I think most fans now realize he was not responsible.
Brett: I think you’re right that, by now, most rational folks wouldn’t call him “responsible.” It does feel like there’s still residual bad feelings, though. Like you, I just feel bad for the guy, and kind of hate that he’s become the story of that season. So, how and when did you get the idea for the book?
Chris: I teach, and yes, I am off during much of the summer. One night in June of last year, I was doing a little research on some of the 2003 pitch counts that Mark Prior and Kerry Wood endured … and I planned on writing about it on Bleacher Nation the next morning. As morning came, and I found myself mentally preparing my message board entry as I was drifting in and out of sleep (this may sound silly), the title just came to me: ‘Beyond Bartman, Curses and Goats: 104 Reasons Why It’s Been 104 Years.’ I felt it was a truly unique idea, and I knew I had to give it a shot.
Brett: It certainly was. I remember when you first told me about the idea and it instantly resonated. Simple, useful, thoughtful … the best kind of idea. Talk a little bit about the actual process of writing the book – I think very few people realize just how involved the process is, and I’m sure they would enjoy a peak behind the curtain.
Chris: I really wish I would have logged the hours that I spent writing and revising. Not for sympathy purposes … but for my own confidence as a writer. One of my favorite authors is Malcolm Gladwell, and in his extraordinary book, ‘Outliers,’ he demonstrates that success is not luck, and in most cases, skilled people endure around 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. People like the Beatles, Bobby Fischer, Michael Jordan, and even Bill Gates (please don’t think I am comparing myself to any of these people) are all deemed to be geniuses, yet they all worked and practiced incredibly hard at their crafts. As the summer wound down, I could actually sense myself getting better at writing. I know it wasn’t 10,000 hours, but I could feel myself improving. In fact I cringe now at some of the early drafts I sent to you, Brett. One more thing I have to mention regarding the process: my beautiful wife Krista, my life partner since high school, is an English teacher and in fact a much better writer than I am. Her editing was essential to me finishing this project.
Brett: How does she feel now about the process? Working with a spouse on something so personal … I can imagine the challenges.
Chris: Well like most people in our society, if we had time to just sit down together and work on the book it would have been a lot less challenging. But with a daughter involved in high school activities, a daughter that is a competitive dancer, and a son playing travel hockey, I am really surprised we pulled it off. We did actually go out to dinner the other night by ourselves, and started talking about future writing projects if this book is a success.
Brett: Nice. I’m sure even just going out to dinner was a treat. How has the book been received?
Chris: So far so good. Most people seem to really enjoy it (not sure if they would tell me differently), but it was very cool getting the first review on Amazon from a total stranger who loved it. As far as publishing goes, the book is in its infancy, and I am hoping/waiting for a professional review. Dave Kaplan of WGN/CSN requested a copy, and I hope he gets around to reading it sometime – the man is the busiest guy in Chicago sports so it may take him a while to get to it – but obviously I would love to hear what a Cubs’ expert like Kap has to say.
Brett: Any favorite parts of the book?
Chris: Probably the last chapter (Blunders: Historical, Philosophical and Just Plain Stupid). I found myself starting out with a premise (i.e. the Cubs historically don’t draw enough walks) and the research would just always be so strong and conclusive. It was great … I would text my brother and say “listen to this,”and the Cubs’ ineptitude in certain areas always amazed. I also really liked working on the chapter regarding poor drafting, because I think drafts are one of the coolest things in all sports.
Brett: So, what you’re saying is, you loved chronicling the worst aspects of the Cubs’ existence?
Chris: This made me laugh, so if you want to do the cliched (laughs) thing here … (Brett: Ha. I decided to just leave your script in here.) Not so much that I loved chronicling them as that they gave me ample material to work with. Most of us Cubs fans say things like “they never have lefties” or “they never have an ace” or “they always change managers.” But to find such correlative and convincing data was rewarding. When I did the reasons dealing with the Cubs’ lack of Gold Glove catchers and center fielders, I had no idea that so many World Series champions had Gold Glovers or previous winners in these positions. I just started with the old premise of a team being “strong up the middle,” and then BOOM … the data really backed up my reasons.
Brett: So, you’ve got this one in the bag. Where do you go from here?
Chris: Well, assuming the Cubs do not win this year (insert your own giggle), I have already contacted the publisher about including Reason 105 come the Fall (I am looking at you, Hayden Simpson, and the horrible draft of 2010!). I want to keep the book relevant and as up-to-date as possible, and also keep it as a potential stocking stuffer for the 2013 Holiday Season! Actually, I am itching to start writing again, and I have a few baseball/Cubs ideas I want to do this Summer … I just haven’t tied it all together yet. I plan on writing something a bit lighter – more comedy if I can. Then, if this becomes a habit (and at least a little profitable), I have a grand Chicago Bears idea ready to work on this Winter and in the Spring of 2014 … assuming the Bears don’t win the Super Bowl this year. Once again, insert your own giggle.
Thanks to Chris for taking the time to chat, and you are reminded that you can pick up Chris’ book on Amazon.