Usually after the last game of the World Series, climaxing a long season, Tom Verducci looks forward to one thing.
“Sleep,” Verducci said.
This year, Verducci did anything but. Instead of resting, he went full-bore into researching and writing a 140,000-word book on the 2016 Cubs. And he had to do it in less than two months, hitting the send button on New Year’s Eve.
“I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone,” Verducci said.
Then again, the Sports Illustrated veteran might be the only writer capable of pulling off such a feat. He also was the most qualified, as the Cubs’ epic World Series triumph almost demanded that Verducci, arguably the best baseball writer of this generation, weigh in with his perspective.
His new book, “The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building The Best Team in Baseball and Breaking The Curse,” delivers in a big way with unique analysis that takes a deep, deep dive in trying to explain the wizardry of Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Joe Maddon and the entire Cubs braintrust.
Verducci began to shop the idea for a Cubs book during the postseason last October. He said it was going to be written regardless of how the Cubs fared against Cleveland in the World Series. If they lost, he said it would have allowed him time more with an expected publishing date prior to the 2017 World Series.
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However, the Cubs dramatic comeback from a 3 games to 1 deficit, and the historic nature of their first title in 108 years, demanded the book get to the market as quickly as possible.
Verducci insists he wasn’t rooting for the Cubs (“I’m good at not worrying about what I can’t control”), but you can be sure Crown Archetype, the publisher, definitely was pulling for a Chicago victory. With the interest in the Cubs at an all-time high, the book is certain to be a big seller.
“The Cubs winning is such a huge baseball story,” Verducci said.
Verducci immediately went to work after the last out, relying on his core reporting strength: Relationships. He has known Epstein, the Cubs president of baseball operations, ever since he was typing out press notes for the San Diego Padres, and Maddon, the Cubs manager, dating back to his days as a bench coach for the Angels.
Those relationships, Verducci said, then produced long and candid interviews with those principal characters and more in November. It would have been “difficult, if not impossible, if I was just introduced to those guys last year,” he said.
“Relationships are the backbone of any good reporting,” Verducci said. “I always say TV shows like ‘CSI’ may use technology to solve cases, but the best work still is done by the cop on the street. He knows his sources.
Verducci also excels at mining details and anecdotes that add extra dimensions to the story. He says it comes from his years writing for Sports Illustrated, where his magazine pieces, often coming out days after an event occurred, required him to unearth information that hadn’t been reported in previous accounts.
Verducci points to a passage featuring David Ross. He got into what was going through the Cubs’ catcher’s head when he hit a pivotal and unexpected homer off of star Cleveland reliever Andrew Miller in Game 7.
“If you write ‘Ross hit a homer in his last Major League at-bat,’ that’s a great story. That’s Hollywood stuff,” Verducci said. “But I was fascinated by what he was thinking. How did he do that? He did his homework on Miller. He knew when Miller shook off the catcher’s sign with a two-strike count, he was going to throw a fastball 90 percent of the time. So Ross was waiting for a fastball, and got all of it.”
Working for Fox Sports as an on-field reporter during the World Series gave Verducci incredible access to Maddon. His opening chapter is a stirring account of being with the Cubs manager in the moments before Game 7 in Cleveland. Even though you already know the outcome of the game, that opening chapter gets the heart pumping, setting the tone for the rest of the book.
Verducci then details each game of the World Series, capturing the lows early on and then the highs for the Cubs.
“I want the readers to feel as if they are experiencing it again,” Verducci said.
Writing a book isn’t supposed to be a sprint, but that’s what Verducci had to do to get it done. However, throughout the process, he knew the reader didn’t care if he was on a short deadline. The bottom line always was delivering a quality book, one that Verducci hopes, will hold up 10, 20 years from now when fans go back to recall the 2016 World Series.
Verducci says he was contracted to deliver a 80,000-word book. That proved to be a speed bump, as the final count exceeded 140,000 words.
That was a sign of how much Verducci, who is passionate about baseball, enjoyed getting inside the minds of the Cubs braintrust. He actually had mixed emotions when he completed the final chapter.
“Even though this book was so labor intensive, each day I looked forward to doing the reporting and writing,” Verducci said. “I knew I had a good subject and that I had a lot of material. Even though at times it was mentally taxing, it also was invigorating. When the book was done, I actually missed it.”