Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Cub fans as racists


On December 3rd 2003, the Chicago Cubs signed one of the top free agent relievers in the game -- LaTroy Hawkins. Hawkins was a failed closer who proved to be an ideal set-up man, posting ERAs of 2.13 and 1.86 in 2002 and 2003 for the Twins. He was also the first of a string of players to accuse Cub fans of racist tactics and behaviors. Hawkins told Bob Nightengale that he used to receive "boos, taunts, and racial mail and phone calls" when he was with the Cubs.  The implication being fans hated him (obviously) because he's black.

After the Hawkins experiment failed, the Cubs went out and spent a lot of money on another former Twin, Jacque Jones who replaced the extremely white Jeremy Burnitz in right field. By 2006, he too claimed Cub fans were racist -- and cited that Hawkins had warned him -- while, at the same time, we learned that another Twin, Torii Hunter, had specifically said he would never accept a trade to the Cubs because he didn't want to play in front of racist fans.

Later, Dusty Baker would cite the racist phone calls and letters he had received, with his wife chiming in to say that she and Baker's son stopped going to the ballpark toward the end of Dusty's tenure at Wrigley Field because it was such a hostile atmosphere.

Last year, when Kosuke Fukudome hit Chicago, vendors around the ballpark were selling "Horry Cow" t-shirts, depicting a slant-eyed Cubbie bear with Harry Caray glasses and Fukudome's number on the back. Wittenmyer wrote at the time "Apparently, it's not only the Cubs' World Series form that's stuck in a 100-year time warp. For all the innocently mistranslated signs, bows and zealous cheering from right-field bleacher regulars for the franchise's first Japanese major-leaguer, the mere creation of this shirt -- but especially its popularity -- sends a raw, vulgar message about Fukudome's new hometown." Then again, these are the same vendors who sold "We've Got Wood" t-shirts to fans for years. Both are inappropriate, aren't they?

All of this leads us to this season, Milton Bradley. Already on his 7th team in 10 seasons, Wittenmyer -- who seems to enjoy stoking the "racist Cub fan" fire -- wrote that Bradley expects to be mistreated by fans and will not be phased by their taunts. Since then, of course, Milton has been suspended, booed, ridiculed, and has voiced his feelings of isolation and unhappiness.

Wittenmyer also wrote that "crowds at Wrigley and Boston’s Fenway Park also are considered among the worst by African-American players for a racist element comprising at least vocal minorities."

Let's look back on all of this. Since the end of the heart-breaking 2003 season, Cub fans have demonstrated unbridled anger and hostility to Baker, Hawkins, Jones, and Bradley, all "targets of racists." They've all been called racist names, received racist threats, and dealt with racist hostility.

Or maybe -- just maybe -- they all sucked as players in Chicago and that was why fans booed them.

Don't get me wrong. I am sure that there are fans in the crowd who will call Bradley a "noogie" at every chance. Shockingly, though, I doubt that people uproot their homes across the country to move to Chicago for that opportunity -- racists are everywhere, they follow every team. But chances are, any hostility that Bradley receives, just like Soriano, just like Fukudome, just like anybody stems from the bitter, angry disappointment that fans feel from the poor level of play their superstars have received.

Contrary to what the race-baiter Gordon Wittenmyer seems to feel very strongly about (as he has written on the topic numerous times over various years, making him the Lead Race-Baiter by far) the fans are doing mostly as they should. Aside from the fact that there surely must be a handful of legitimate racists in the crowd (because there are racists in every crowd), Cub fans are booing effort and results. LaTroy Hawkins was the single worst closer I've ever seen pitch for the Cubs -- and I was alive when Mel Rojas was on the team! Jacque Jones was a multi-million dollar right fielder who had the outfield arm of a quadriplegic and hit an amazing 5 homeruns in his final season with the Cubs. Dusty Baker was the "genius" manager brought in to win the World Series who pitched multiple young arms into oblivion.

Maybe they were all hated because they weren't good.

Ironically, many of the same fans who are now labeled as racists worshiped the toilet Sammy Sosa pooped (Latino) in. They bowed in reverence to Andre Dawson (African-American) at every opportunity. They crafted silly signs promoting an unearned optimism toward Shawon Duston (African-American). They cheered on the greatest Cubs pitcher of the 70's Fergie Jenkins (black and Canadian).

And even if it's true that racism is a part of the team's past -- and it may be true, I'm sure the Wrigleys weren't exactly known for their charity toward the blakes -- who was the most-loved Cub of the 1950's? Who earned the moniker "Mr. Cub" and remains the single greatest to ever wear a Big Red C on his uniform? Hint: he won't be leading KKK rallies any time soon.

Have we ever stopped to think that maybe it's not that Cub fans are racist so much as they are stingy, they are disappointed, and they want to win? Does anybody really think that fans would be booing Milton Bradley if he did the things he was brought to Chicago to do?

Anyway, a few days ago I shot Gordon an EMail. It (mostly) reads as follows:

Hi Gordon,

My name is Kurtis Evans. I'm a writer for a Cubs blog you may have heard of called Goat Riders of the Apocalypse (www.goatriders.org).

Not too long ago you wrote some articles which seemed to imply an opinion that Cub fans are racist (specifically pertaining to how they treat Milton Bradley). I will be writing a piece on this subject for my site and I thought I'd ask you for clarification before making any assumptions.

Do you think Cub fans are racist? (Some, all, many, or few?)

If Cub fans aren't racist, why do you think they might be booing Bradley?

I'd appreciate if you could help me out.

Cheers,

Kurt

Shockingly, he never got back to me. So I'll answer my own questions:

Gord Wittenmyer is a race-baiting idiot. It's probably no coincidence that Cub players claiming racism is relatively new while their claims of a media-created hostile environment is old and storied. It's probably no coincidence that shortly after Wittenmyer's original story was published, Bradley went on a week-long media boycott and later complained to Carrie Muskat about "certain journalists."

I'm sure that if Wittenmyer wanted to write about paranoid Cub fans who wear tinfoil hats, he could probably find a few to justify the column inches. That still doesn't make him right for painting his broad picture of Cub fans as racists. But because of his vendetta against the Cubs and Cub fans, because of his disturbing articles, the reputation will spread and stick, players will come here with hostile expectations or they won't come here at all, and it will be that much harder to build the arsenal necessary to win a World Series. Let's all thank Gordon for that: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Couldn't agree more

I have to assume the vast majority of negativity received by the aforementioned African-American players is simple booing and standard sports jeers (i.e. ya bum!). Sure, there are a few people out there who focus their negative-reinforcement efforts in the wrong direction, calling the underperforming out by race, rather than referring to their lack of ability and/or effort, but those are VERY few.

I usually sit in the bleachers, arguably the "loud mouth" section, and I cannot remember a single incident of racism being directed at a player. If there had been, say the guy a few rows in front of me yelled something inappropriate to Jacquestrap Jones, I can say with certainty, the entire crowd around him would be shocked, and the fan would be -at the very least- heavily jeered by those around him, likely taking a pelting with beer and/or nachos dripping with cheese.

Sounds to me like player and Dusty complaints are blown way out of proportion, in a possibly subconscious effort to deflect criticism of their poor performance.

More and more smoke

I for one have never heard a racist comment at Wrigley, and I'm going on my 27th year of living here. Maybe the mail and calls they receive is for playing for one of the few clubs that have a national following, and that might be part of the territory. The Cubs simply have more fans than most, allowing for more of a chance some of them may be neanderthal morons. Do Jeter or Sabathia or Lugo or did Crisp get the same when they played for teams that have the same national following? Never heard about it if they did.
At the same time, I look at the makeup of Cubs fans around here, and it's hard to ignore it being a bunch of rich white kids from the burbs who moved here to get drunk and work at dad's law firm. It is from such places that racism nests, not just in cornfields as well. And why is Sam Fuld about to be elected to to the hall-of-fame in this town? You better believe it has something to do with his ability to sunburn easily. I just don't think it's such a ridiculous claim.

You yourself say you've

You yourself say you've "never heard a racist comment at Wrigley." As for why you've never heard Jeter, Sabathio, Lugo, or Crisp talk about racism, it's either because they've never struggled enough to warrant being booed or because they don't have a Gordon Wittenmyer to create stories about it.

I think that Sam Fuld, meanwhile, is "about to be elected to the hall-of-fame in this town" for the same reason that non-white Augie Ojeda was. He's a little guy and we LOVE that.

In fact, during his brief stay with the Cubs I recall reading stories about how Ojeda received more fanmail than just about anybody else on the team. Therefore, suggesting that Fuld is loved because he's white is just ridiculous and contrary to your statement about "never" hearing racist comments at Wrigley.

And we'll just ignore the "rich white kids" line, which in itself is derrogatory toward a class or sub-class of people.

(not to mention the fact that

(not to mention the fact that Fuld's religion would tend to be a reason why he would NOT in fact be seen as "electable to the hall-of-fame" by the so-called racists who abuse the minorities on the Cubs. In other words, those who tend not to like blacks also often have problems with Jews)

Much of this post and the

Much of this post and the attached comments seem to be directed towards the general direction that racism is mostly hate-based. This is just incorrect.

Racism can be a novelty for some - a sideshow if you will - based on perceived inferiority/superiority as a form of entertainment. The blackface performers of the 19th and 20th centuries come to mind. White performers would paint their faces black and act like black individuals. This wasn't a direct hate action. Rather the actors were highlighting the "inferior" traits of rural blacks for comedy.

The same thing (to a lesser extent) is happens at Wrigley. Just look at all the Fukudome garbage (which Kurt mentions in his post). The "Horry Cow" shirts, the straw hats, the rising-sun headbands. These aren't direct taunts directed at Fukudome's Asian background, but rather they mock his culture. He is a spectacle not because of his play on the field, but of who he is as a person. Perhaps it is ignorance at best, but I see nothing but racism and I am ashamed to call myself a Cubs fan every time I see one of us wearing a "Horry Cow" shirt.

There is no doubt that many of those black players who claimed racism at Wrigley were probably hearing a decent amount of fair commentary based on their poor play and not on their color. That I can buy.

I just don't think you can say that because players like Ernie Banks, Sammy Sosa and Fergie Jenkins were loved by Cubdom means that the fan base is absolved of racism.

I don't agree with Wittenmyer, I just want to make sure that we look at racism from all sides here.

I never said that there

I never said that there aren't racist Cub fans out there, but I sincerely and completely object to the idea that Cub fans are MORE racist than any other fanbase.

Maybe we should look a little deeper at the fact that the only players thus far to complain about racism have been the ones who sucked ass and heard about it every day at the ballpark.

As for the Fukudome shirt, I'd agree that it's in bad taste and plays on a stereotype. But Meriam-Webster's defines racism as follows:

1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2 : racial prejudice or discrimination

When those t-shirts were sold, Fukudome was a new star in Chicago who the fans voiced a lot of love for. I don't think haters of Fooky bought the shirt, or wore it to the park. More I think it was people who were both ignorant and suffered from terrible taste. So, they thought the shirt was funny and they bought it. Is it racism? No. Is it stereotyping? Yes. Should we stereotype? No. Are Cub fans alone in that behavior? No.

Taking it a step further,

Taking it a step further, stereotyping -- while never "good" -- cannot always be characterized as racism. For example... perhaps you or I believe that all (or many) elderly people are wise. That is a stereotype that does not hurt anybody, and it's also untrue. Likewise, you or I might believe that all (or many) black people are superior athletes. Also stereotyping but not racism per se. A racist remark would be to say "blacks are better at sports but worse at intellectual pursuits."

I mention it only because I think there's an important distinction to make. Probably like you, and certainly like a LOT of people, I object to the "hory cow" t-shirt. I'd never buy it and I'd scold any friend who did because it's a stupid, wrong stereotype.

But I also am very liberal about peoples' abilities to speak freely, to make a buck, and to say or do things that are both ironic and satirical -- and even stupid and wrong. I would never support banning the sale of the shirt, even though I don't like it. Then again, I also would never support banning the sale of a shirt which depicts Cub fans as being drunk, spoiled, rich white people -- even if I'd object to that one, too.

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