As a lifelong Cub fan, I have always been interested in all things Cubs. So when I first heard the story of the Merkle play of Sept. 23, 1908, while watching Ken Burns’ 1994 baseball documentary, I couldn’t believe that I had never before heard the story of that craziest of all baseball plays, especially since it led directly to the Cubs winning their last World Series until 2016. I became obsessed with the 1908 Cubs and that season in general. I began to research it with no other goal in mind than to learn as much as I could about the players and the 1908 pennant race.

One important figure quickly emerged as the most interesting character among a cast of colorful players, owners, umpires, ward healers, chorus girls, gamblers, prostitutes and other nefarious types: National League President Harry Pulliam. As I pieced together his story from newspaper accounts from the time, including his obituary, I immediately thought of both the writer Oscar Wilde and the composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, both of whom were gay and both of whom were made to suffer because of it. So what started as a rather raucous and at times hilarious story of the last Cubs World Series championship soon developed into a tragedy. 

The original plan was to write Pulliam’s biography, but I came to the conclusion that a full bio would be almost impossible. I contacted several members of the extended Pulliam family, but could not locate any personal papers or diaries. His sister’s granddaughter was very helpful but could shed no light on Pulliam’s life. I traveled to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York but found little there. I contacted Major League Baseball, but they had no idea where league records from that long ago might be found. So I thought of E.L. Doctorow and historical novels in general and decided to follow that path.

The resulting novel, Called Out: A novel of base ball and America in 1908, is the story of the struggles of Harry Pulliam, a gay executive in a rough-and-tumble “man’s world,” and Lenore Caylor, league stenographer, as they fight the machinations of those who would exploit the game, often illegally, to further their own narrow interests. 

The game of base ball (two words, as it was spelled in 1908) was clawing its way into the 20th century, trying desperately through the efforts of Pulliam and a few others to shed its image as being little better than a rat fight, marred by gambling, bribery, cheating scandals, and violence. In many ways it mirrored the growth of America in general and the often painful transition from an agrarian society into an urban civilization coming to terms with the modern industrial inventions that appeared in seemingly rapid succession, such as telephones, automobiles, movies, phonographs and airplanes.

My previous books include a Cubs memoir, Waiting for the Cubs, and a collection of essays and oral histories that I edited called Old Comiskey Park. I am retired but continue to work from time to time as a freelance photographer and writer, and I am on the Board of Directors of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. 

I grew up in Oak Park and graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School in 1968, where I took my first creative writing course and worked on the yearbook. Our class is getting together this year for our 50th anniversary at the Nineteenth Century Club where, coincidentally, my presentation will take place on April 12.

If you go

“Called Out: A novel of base ball and America in 1908” is available at the Book Table in Oak Park and at Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Forest Park. See author Floyd Sullivan discussing the book on Thursday, April 12, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at The Nineteenth Century Club. Books will be available for purchase and a signing follows the discussion. $10, suggested donation to cover program costs. Questions: jangel@nineteenthcentury.org, 708-386-2729. 178 Forest Ave., Oak Park.

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