Winning at any cost
Why We're Here
As mentioned on Friday - and expounded upon later by Rob - Wayne Drehs recently wrote a response column to a Bill Simmons article which itself was lamenting the devaluation of a Red Sox championship through the cheating ways of Manny Ramirez. (Phew, that was a long sentence.) In other words, this article is a continuation of Rob's response to Wayne's take on Bill's opinion about the Red Sox's title as impacted by Manny's cheating. Lots of effect, single cause.
I wrote a brief response in the comments section of Wayne's article which I will expand upon now.
What would I sacrifice for a Cubs championship? For starters...
Years ago a very standard opinion was that Wrigley Field was holding the Cubs back. The park was too small to hold enough people to spend enough money to build a winner. The day games took too much of a toll for the players to remain at a level necessary to win in the playoffs.
Since I first heard that argument, the Cubs have slowly begun to increase the number of night games at Wrigley while jacking up ticket prices and selling more than three million seats on a yearly basis - all things nobody anticipated. So when this debate appears nowadays I take it to be more of a commentary about how Cub fans were conditioned to love Wrigley Field more than the team itself. Anybody who would actually choose Wrigley over winning isn't a Cub fan but instead is a fan of a beautiful ballpark. These people should buy and wear Wrigley Field jerseys, not Cub jerseys. But I'm in it for the team. I don't care what happens to Wrigley; they can rename it, they can spray paint Sears ads into the ivy, it doesn't matter to me.
Not to mention that if I knew with absolute certainty that a Wrigleyless Cubs would win the World Series I'd volunteer to blow it up myself. But since we can never be certain of anything, then the question of Wrigley becomes one of income and that feeds into the second part of this article.
How much money?
One reason to keep Wrigley Field around is this simple truth: Wrigley without a competitive Cubs team is still worth two million seats a year. Wrigley with a competitive Cubs team is worth more than three million, regardless of the cost of the tickets. Based on the rabid fanbase and the relative unavailability of seats, the Chicago Cubs could -- and should! -- sell the most expensive tickets in baseball. As a relatively poor Cub fan who has to spend hundreds upon hundreds of dollars to go to just one game a year, the actual physical cost of a ticket means nothing to me.
With that in mind, so long as they consistently put the majority of that money into the team -- giving the Cubs one of the most expensive payrolls in the game -- then I don't care what they charge for tickets. $50 for bleachers? No problem. $1,000 for behind home plate? Sounds like a party! So while I wouldn't care if the Cubs bulldozed Wrigley Field for a new ballpark with all the modern conveniences, I have come to believe that they are more likely to win in Wrigley than anywhere else because -- for good or bad -- the ballpark is part of the attraction and that makes it a valuable tool in getting money to build a winner.
And anybody who argues that the organization has less incentive to build a winner because the ballpark is the attraction is nuts. I wouldn't need complex flow charts and statistical analysis to tell you that a Cubs World Championship would be hugely, immensely profitable for the team owner. As much cash as the Cubs generate now, it'll be even bigger and better once they win. Guaranteed.
Cheat to win? Isn't that sort of the point?
Poor Bill Simmons. He's not sure how he'll be able to look his son in the eye someday. A perfect season has been soiled for him. His heroes are apparently the first team to ever win a World Championship by cheating! Gasp!
I am extremely fond of pointing out that probably the vast majority of baseball players have been consuming greenies since the time of the Korean War. There are legends enshrined in Cooperstown who got there because they threw nasty spit balls and were exceptionally good at hiding nails and sandpaper in their gloves. Managers and players have actually spent real money on hiring people to put jinxes on their opponents. In baseball they actually have a statistic to measure a person's success at stealing - and if you're a really good base thief you'll probably get into the Hall of Fame!
I will not only be totally unsurprised if the Cubs cheat to win, I actually expect it. If they don't have a guy in the scoreboard with binoculars and a transmitter along with another guy in the dugout with an ear piece then I will be shocked and disappointed. You will never be able to show me with absolute certainty a team that won without cheating, it doesn't matter the sport or the level.
But let's take it a step further. What if, the day after the Cubs win the World Series, the FBI catches half the team in an alleyway buying steroids and HGH from a dealer?
Well, I'd be pissed off at their stupidity for getting caught, but I'd be relieved that it didn't happen until after they won. And cheat or not they'd still be winners.
Obviously it's not possible to erase the Jordan years, or to remove from history the '85 Bears. Obviously we can't change history. But if the Cubs actually win a World Series then Cub fans would be losing connection to a huge part of our shared history and a very big part of our identities.
After all, we are known far-and-wide for our pain, heartbreak, and suffering. The Cubs are well known for their history of being lovable losers. It's as much a part of their identity as is Wrigley Field -- and one of the most annoying phrases in my vernacular. But if the Cubs won, all of that would change.
It'd be like you looking back on when you were 12 and remembering how exactly it felt to be tortured by an older brother, teased by a girl in school, and forced into pointless labor by a distant father. No matter how hard you try you probably won't be able to capture that exact feeling of righteous frustration. Once the Cubs are winners -- and especially as the years go by -- we will lose connection with how it felt when they were hard-luck losers.
So yes. It is possible to sacrifice history in the name of winning. And since I am not exactly proud of the Cubs' history of losing I am perfectly content with that. I can't wait for it to happen.
Of course it would be entirely fitting for the Cubs to follow this course -- keep Wrigley, charge an arm and a leg, and win at all costs -- only to win in unusual and unexpected circumstances.
In other words, once the Ricketts Family steps in and begins to direct this team, watch what will happen. The year Wrigley is shut down to be renovated -- in other words, the year the Cubs play in US Cellular -- that will be when they win it all.
And even that would be perfectly okay with me. Anything for a title.