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©2002, Roger Snell

Loyal Cub fans started every season with high hopes. Reality was dealt in cruel doses by September, sometimes earlier.

Despite this history of failure, the 1929 season really did hold more promise than usual.

An off-season deal over the winter added Rogers Hornsby to one of the best offenses in baseball. Hornsby joined Hack Wilson, Kiki Cuyler, Charlie Grimm, Gabby Hartnett, Riggs Stephenson and Woody English.

The pitching staff was solid, anchored by ace Charlie Root and rounded out by Sheriff Blake, Guy Bush, Hal Carlson and Pat Malone.

As pitchers and catchers reported to Catalina Island in February 1929, the Cubs were getting ready to write history.

But Root had a secret that was certain to be exposed, as spring training opened at this baseball paradise just off the Pacific Coast from Los Angeles.

A former team doctor told Root that he needed arm surgery during the off-season, a potential career-ending risk that he was unwilling to take. Everything was riding on his right arm -- the only career he ever knew, the new home in Los Angeles, the apartment in Chicago, and the livelihood for a wife and two children.

As reporters crowded around to get the newest quotes from Hornsby, a shy, quiet, 30-year-old rookie was lingering in the background. Berly Horne nervously reported to the Cubs training camp, riding the train west of Ohio for the first time in his life.

The Cubs invited him just one month earlier because of his 1928 season in Jersey City. His three shutouts and 3.01 ERA were his best stats in 11 seasons in the minors.

Catalina provided the last chance for a 30-year-old rookie.

Follow award-winning journalist Roger Snell's account of the best team the Cubs ever fielded, from spring training until the dramatic World Series finale.

Snell traces rookie Horne's last try to make the majors and Root's life on and off the field as recorded by his daughter, Della, now 83, and other family members. Added to these interviews are exhaustive research that goes beyond the box scores and includes the players' own words and daily reports of sportswriter Ed Burns of the Chicago Tribune.

Snell follows the famous and infamous for that one season, starting with Root stepping to the mound at Catalina, punctuated by gunshots in a Chicago warehouse during the rise of Al Capone, just hours before Horne steps aboard the Chicago train bound for California.