Why we cheer
I heard on the news this morning that IF the Cubs make it to the World Series, the tickets will be going for approximately $1800+...I may have just changed my mind about you going!!
An open letter from the Uncouth Sloth to all Goat Riders:
The above e-mail was sent to me this morning, and it’s not sitting well with me. So I mean to tell you all, right here and now: I AM GOING. I don’t know how, I don’t know when, and of course we don’t know IF it will be even necessary to have this conversation, and I don’t have two grand unaccounted for, but in the name of all that is holy, if the Cubs are playing in this year’s World Series, I am wedging my big fat butt up in there somehow! I will do any favor, call in any marker, shine any shoe, climb any mountain, walk on nails and fire, eat toadstools and broken glass, kiss any and all asses, toss any salad, and commit any felony below Class X to get in the door for one measly, lousy, stinkin’ World Series game with the Cubs!
So far you’re read Derek Smart compare his love for the Cubs to dating the Queen of the Trailer Park. You’ve seen GAHill equate the strength of his Cub Love to the strength of a Scary Black Man. Stantwone buried his beloved grandfather who never saw a World Series win. Tonker was drugged and brainwashed in the Dominican. Forklift was genetically pre-disposed at birth to Cubness, and has won and lost fortunes on the outcomes of Cubs games (OK, lost fortunes only). Butthead has his dad to blame for his curse. Cubbiebluestew, who was actually around in ’45 (and went to temple with Christ as a kid) risked a lifetime of perpetual guilt and sin to see a lousy NLCS back in ’89. Heartfelt pleas, all.
Let me take you DEEP…
If I had the kind of relationship with a human being that I do with the Cubs, I would have been forced, by law and restraining order, to disassociate myself with them a long time ago. You think Glenn Close was creepy in “Fatal Attraction”? You think Erika Christensen was psycho in “Swimfan”? You have no idea. If the Cubs were an ex-girlfriend, who kept leading me on so I bought her dinners, flowers, diamonds, even tampons when she needed them, only to creep with the starting point guard, and my supervisor at work, and the dumbfok wrench monkey with the long hair who races his motorbike on Sundays…if a human being broke my heart as savagely and as unexpectedly as the Cubs have over the years…she, along with her immediate family, and as many extended family members as I could reach before the authorities tracked me down, surrounded my compound and shot me full of lead, they all would die Die DIE DIE DIE…
…um, pause. Deep breaths. In, Out. In, Out. Breathe. 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1.
Obsessed? Hell YES, I’m obsessed. Read my bio, all that crap is true! I ain’t bein’ flippant about any of it. I have, to put it mildly, issues. When I was a kid, I HATED to lose at anything. I hated losing, and I always lost. I was nowhere near the athlete my friends were, and I had no older siblings to “show me the ropes” and teach me the tricks on how to win. No matter what it was, running, swinging, marbles, climbing, throwing, I always always lost, and I always cried about it. I had nobody that ever taught me how to control my competitiveness (kind of like Z) and to this day, there are many men in their mid-forties (and some women) back in Black Lung who don’t know me by anything else but “that kid who cried all the time back in grade school”.
I hated losing, and gatdamn, I dealt with a lot of losing, at school, on the little league diamonds, and most of all, with my all-time damn favorite team (you know the one). I was too young to really understand what happened in 1969, just remember my old man bitching about “them chokers blowing it”. It was unpleasant, and I cried. The next year, Ernie Banks broke down, Randy Hundley tore up his knee in mid-season, and replacements Joe Pepitone and Jack Hiatt pretty much drove the bus into the wall. I cried. In 1971, the Rebel didn’t come back, and Chris Cannizzaro couldn’t have sucked worse. Ernie all but retired, and this was the infamous year that the clubhouse revolted against the dictatorship of Leo Durocher. When we lost, again, I cried.
By 1972, I was savvy enough to know that players aged, broke down and eventually were either traded away or retired. I sensed at the beginning of the year that this was probably one of the last chances that ‘all the old boys’ would be together. Even though Billy Williams led the league in hitting, and two no-hitters were thrown, eventually Leo himself was fired, replaced by Whitey Lockman, who certainly Stew knew about, but at the time, I didn’t. All I ever knew was that Leo was the manager. Things were out of control with the Cubs, as far as I was concerned. We came up short, again, and I cried. Again.
By the next year, the Cubs were in flux, thus my life was in flux. Guys were getting traded or released, the Lockman guy was still managing, but the NL East was down that year, and in late July, the Cubs were holding a divisional lead, something they hadn’t done since Hundley tore up his knee in mid-1970. They then lost seven in a row before winning a couple, with new pitcher Rick Reuschel beating Bob Gibson to pull us to within a game-and-a-half at the end of July. Then they started losing again. They dropped pretty much one more game out of the lead every day for a month. I couldn’t deal with it anymore.
I was nine, the Cubs were blowing another season, the last one as a Cub for Hundley, Beckert, Jenkins, Hands, the Cubs were my life, and my life was falling apart , and during the 12-game streak in August, I forgot how to shit. Day after day went by, my mom chased me around, trying one thing after another, but I would hide for hours at a time, only appearing when the damn game came on, only to see them lose another damn game, and run off to be by myself again, so I didn’t have to crap. THAT’s obsessive.
I finally let go when they won sometime around the 15th, but the damage was done, the Cubs finished fifth. This was strange to me, because all I ever remember was second place, from 1969-72, just one, little, step on the ladder. All we ever needed (as far as I ever knew) was to finish One. Place. Higher. But now they sucked, and had a bunch of strangers wearing the laundry. Steve Swisher wore Hundley’s Number 9. Andre Thornton wore Santo’s 10. Bill Madlock had Beckert’s 18. That’s when I should have let go, that was the perfect time. But I didn’t.
Eventually, I have had to undergo months, years, nay, decades of therapy and self-examination, anger management and conditioning myself to handle disappointment more constructively, just like that little squirrelly bastard with the greasy mustache at the hospital told me to do. I don’t cry anymore when I get passed up for promotions, or when I miss the damn hole with the beanbag while my drunken slob neighbor hits three of four, or especially when the Cubs lose. But it still hurts just as much as when I was nine. I just force myself now to go shit, as much as I don’t want to.
I wish I could chip in here with a more lively, upbeat, heroic, inspirational tale of why I Cheer For the Cubs. Why, if I could somehow wrap my feelings up in a bright, shiny package, my story could get picked up by some of the higher traffic blogs, like Big League Stew, FanHouse, and Deadspin, then maybe someone would look at what I wrote and say ‘gee howdy’ and sign me to a three-book deal because, hey, as lousy and miserable as this world has become, people FLOCK to great stories of inspiration. They eat it up! But it is not meant to be.
Painters have to paint; writers have to write; sculptors have to sculpt; photographers have to take pictures; George Bush has to raise oil prices. True artists cannot cease doing what they do any more than they can deny breathing. I can’t paint or sculpt (or write) or raise prices or anything else beautiful or profound. Here’s what I am: I was born to see the Cubs win a World Series, or at the very least, play in one. I say that today, that a Pennant would suffice, but if I really force myself to consider my true feelings, I know that’s a lie, too. I must feel True Victory, to the core of my very being. This is what I was born to do, to see the Cubs crowned as the best team in the world, and whatever comes after that, well, I guess that will be the first day of the rest of my life.
That is why I Cheer For the Cubs, because I Have To. I know no other way. And that is WHY I am getting in the damn park, even if I have to walk on the back of all your mothers’ necks to get there! So if anyone whatsoever can help me with this in the next few weeks, please call or write me. You may save a life.
The line I use about being a Cub fan is that, above all else, it requires a deep commitment to overwhelming institutional mediocrity. Of course, this is meant as a joke, but the sad part is that, like any attempt at humor, when it works, it's because there's truth behind it. In this case, about 100 years worth.
Which raises, I suppose, the perfectly logical question of "why?" Why follow a team that so consistently fails expectations? Why be a fan of a club that at various points in its history can be legitimately accused of not trying very hard to get better? Why torture yourself year after year when realistic assessments tell you time and again that your hope is a fool's hope?
The answer for me, and for many of you, I'd guess, is love. Somewhere along the line, against your better judgment, you fell in love with the Chicago Cubs. The method doesn't matter. Whether you came into it because of your father, or the teevee, or seeing a special player strut their stuff on the cool, green grass, we're all in the same boat. This isn't shiny-happy, picket-fence-two-kids-and-a-dog love. This is messy, nasty, dish-breaking, knife-throwing, toss-your-stuff-on-the-lawn, make-up-sex, five-breakup, late-night-stalking, restraining-order-love. It's an "I wish I knew how to quit you" thing that none of us has the answer to, much as we wish we might.
But you know what? Even if they never get it done, even if I spend my entire life rooting for the Cubs, never seeing them reach the promised land, it won't have been a waste. Although they've given much pain over the years, they've also given buckets of joy and enjoyment. Love hurts sometimes, and expecting otherwise is Pollyannatude in the highest. I am nothing if not realistic, so I know my love could break my heart at any moment, but isn't love about a certain amount of hope and faith? It may be a fool's hope, and it may be faith misplaced, but it's all I've got, and I don't know about you, but I think it's going to pay off any day now.
For kicks, I have created a Why We Cheer graphic that will be used at the start of every article written by our loyal Goat Readers and friends.
I'd like to thank you all for contributing and we'll be looking for Cub fan stories until the playoffs, at the very least. And so long as people want to write them, we'll publish them here, be it next week, next month, or next year.
I've also been looking for Cubs bloggers to join in. Derek Smart of Baseball Toaster has written his, which we will be publishing a little later today, and we've already gotten posts from Tonker of HJE and Forklift of Hockee Night. However, it does not look as though Al Yellon of Bleed Cubbie Blue will be participating. I EMailed him an invitation to join in, along with a request for permission to invite the many members of the BCB community on their fanposts page. Al declined the invitation to submit one himself, citing a story he'd already written for BCB, and he completely ignored the second part of my invitation all together.
It seems to me that there is a fair amount of worry between bloggers about, well, other bloggers. I know of people who have been banned from certain websites for posting links to their blogs in their signatures, and I know even more people who've been banned before they even had the chance to post a single time. I'm not sure as to why there seems to be so much hostility, concern, and even jealousy between bloggers. Perhaps it's an issue of competition - although what are we competing for? Readership? Ad revenue? Or maybe we're all just a little thin skinned and cannot handle a little criticism, be it fair or unfair. Now, I say "we" because I am certainly not entirely innocent here. We've had readers in the past who would respond to an article and say "that's an interesting thought. I've written something similar on my blog here..." and post a link. I don't mind it if people link their blogs here, but at the time I felt it was a little distasteful to solicit readership in such a manner.
Regardless, I'm making the invitation again, this time publicly. If you have a blog and would like to post your story of Cub fandom here, then you are more than welcome. I will happily include a link back to your blog, and I welcome you to post a link of your article on your blog as well.
I'm not innocent enough to think that we'll ever be a happy Cubs Blog Army community, but we shouldn't be so worried about each other that we stifle opinions and forbid links. Unless maybe we're worried that there are better writers out there who may steal our readership, but I'd hardly consider that to be a good reason to do a dickish thing. Point of fact - there isn't a good reason, at least not in my opinion.
Alright, Glenallen Hill is not the reason I cheer for the Cubs. I cheer for the Cubs for many, many reasons just like everyone else--WGN force-feeding me Cub baseball, Wrigley Field, Ryno, Gracie, etc. etc. etc.
That said, Cub fans are a different breed in that they embrace the non-superstars almost as much. For every Andre Dawson there is a Bobby Denier that we hold close to our little Cubbie hearts. I mean, after this season, does anyone really believe that Mike Fontenot is going to have to buy a beer in Chicago ever again? It's a unique aspect that is often overlooked by the sports media who is too interested in talking about Steve Bartman and goats and whatnot.
For me--and my screen name namesake--one of those players is Glenallen Hill.
There are several reasons for my strage infatuation with GA. The obvious one is that he hit home runs a very, very long way. But the other reasons were, well, he was just funny. The way his legs didn't move when he swung a bat, the way he basically waddled towards pop flys in the outfield (he did play in the outfield from time-to-time)--he was just a unique player, possessing the kind of idiosyncrasies that only ballplayers can possess and be successful in their sport. One of the many reasons baseball is so unique. And, of course, he was part of that amazing (now tarnished) season of 1998.
All that said, there was a story I was told at Wrigley one day that officially made him one of my all-time favorites. I saw a guy in his (I'm guessing) 50's wearing a Glenallen Hill authentic jersey. Mind you, this was in 2003. GA had been long gone. My mind was swimming with different reasons the guy had a Glenallen Hill jersey on, and it was well before the game started, so I thought I'd just go talk to him.
Turns out he was sitting with his son (who was roughly my age), and they told me that GA was indeed one of their favorite players, for many of the reasons he was one of mine. However, they were telling me that they had a special nickname for him because of a great story they had heard from one of the son's best friends. They called him M.F. Hill.
"Why 'M.F.?", I asked.
Then the dad--who looked like he easily could have taken the train to the park after teaching an econ class at the University of Chicago--replied: "because he is such a mother f***er."
They proceeded to tell me that the son's buddy was a journalism student at UC, and was given the opportunity to interview Glenallen. He said it was going about as well as you would think--short, snappy answers; no depth, just generally GA wanting to be doing anything in the world other than this interview. So, as a last grasp at getting something good out of him, the buddy asked GA:
"OK, Glenallen, last question: describe yourself in three words."
GA: "Scary. Black. Man."
Needless to say, the dad, son, and I were absolutely rolling. It was a beautiful day at Wrigley Field, not a cloud in sight, cold beers, and telling great baseball stories.
Ultimately, that's probably the point. It's not about Wrigley, it's not about Ryno, it's not about curses, WGN, 100 years, or any of that crap. It's about a fanbase that has a true passion for baseball and the strongest sense of community among our fellow fans. It's about sitting in the sun, embracing the players on the field and cheering as loudly as possible, then living to tell stories about it with total strangers that for brief moments become long-lost friends.
People speak of the poor, down-trodden Cub fan like we're some pity case. They always ask how you can handle all the losing and cheering for a team that never wins.
With moments like that one in Wrigley, the answers to those questions become pretty easy.
We all became Cubs fans for different reasons and God knows it's not because of the winning. It either has to do with family reasons, being from Chicago, the greatness of BWF as it is called on this site or because of the copious amounts of Cubs games on national tv via WGN. For me it was a combination.
The summer (1991) before I was to enter the 1st grade my mother decided to go back to work. Therefore, daycare was needed for my brother and I. Sidenote: My parents moved to Dallas from Chicago in 1982. I was born Oct. '85 in Dallas and was promptly ditched with the neighbors on a January Sunday of 1986 while my parents went to New Orleans for a few days to see a beatdown of epic proportions in SB XX. Sidenote 2: As a born and bred Dallasite I'm a Cowboys fan so go ahead and hate me. I digress. Continuing, my mother did not trust any daycare places so we were left in the care of my recently retired and transpanted to Texas grandfather (played minor league ball for the Sox in the late 40s before blowing out his arm). My grandfather was the Cubs fan that epitomizes all Cubs fans. Even took his daughters out of school early for every Friday day game. I was able to play with friends in the morning, eat lunch, then work on my reading until the Cubs game started. I would then spend the next 3 hours learning about baseball and the Cubs. Greg Maddux and Ryno and the Hawk and Gracie had me hooked. But, this isn't really about me, all of us have a story about a player or a season that got us hooked. For me it was just spending time with my grandfather, which is getting to my point. After the 1992 season when the Cubs refused to resign the reigning Cy Young winner, he finally gave up on the Cubs. Swore them off completely. Became a Braves fan. Even went as far as to buy a new Maddux Braves jersey and a few years later replaced Ryno with Chipper Jones as his favorite player. I, on the other hand had not experienced the misery of being a Cubs fan or the disappointment of being let down my management for the umpteenth time. I still had no idea about the College of Coaches or the undying frugalness of the Tribune Company, so my love for the Cubs lived on. Instead my grandfather left me alone while watching the Cubs in the afternoon and we had our baseball bonding times during Braves night games (the only ones I'd watch were when Maddux pitched). This went on throughout the '93 season. He never once discussed the Cubs with me. So the '94 season rolls around and he's still my afternoon babysitter. I come home from school on opening day around 3 PM and lo and behold there is my grandfather watching the Cubs. He played it off like he didn't care and accidentally stumbled upon them and left it on "cuz it was a baseball game." Over the next 2 seasons this became a frequent occurance. My grandmother even found him cursing at Cubs score in the paper the next day on occasion. Even when the Braves won in '95 he couldn't be happy about it because even he knew he was still a Cubs fan. But as stubborn as they come, he refused to admit it. In '98 when the Cubs played the Braves he was pissed when the Cubs lost. Which brings me to my point.
Once the Cubs grab ahold of us there is nothing we can do. They are like a dibilitating, addictive drug. They torture us, make us cry, make us angry. And we are powerless to stop it. It doesn't matter how badly they hurt us, we keep coming back for more. We love the Cubs despite them not returning the favor. They are our family and we could never truly turn our back on them. Through all the pain and misery I have never spoken to one Cubs fan, no matter their age, that wishes they rooted for another team. The Cubs are huge parts of our lives. Most of us watch a lot of them games, spend hours discussing them (I spend roughly 2 hours a week talking Cubs with my dad), reading blogs about the Cubs. Hell, after games like today's which I watched in it's entirety, I made sure to catch the highlights on sportcenter, rewatch Geo's HR a dozen times on Cubs.com, and read all kinds of blogs about the game. We all love the Cubs because they make our lives better. Plain and simple. Through the good times and the bad, they enrich our lives. They give us something to believe in. We know they will eventually win it all and it would have all been worth it. Even if they don't ever win we will still have had the times of our lives at BWF, meeting new people, going on roadtrips, etc that we never would have experienced were it not for the Cubs. While I don't think I could honestly handle living the rest of my life without us winning the Series, I wouldn't want to be a fan of any other team.
My gradfather passed away in 2002 without ever seeing the Cubs win a World Series, but I know he's still watching every game. The bond I shared with him over the Cubs I have shared with my father ever since. The Cubs are a genetic disease in our family that I hope I eventually pass on to my kid.
Editor's Note: This is actually reprinted with the author's permission from an article written a few moons ago. In that time, Sammy has fallen from grace, many Cub fans are embarassed to have ever cheered for him, but the author in question - Jeff "Tonker" Thomas, retired Goat Rider and current blogger for Hire Jim Essian - simply said "the story would remain the same even if I rewrote it, anyway - you only find the Cubs once in your life, after all. Thank God." He also admits to not really having time to blog at HJE, but feel free to check them out anyway. They're a good bunch.
My name is Jeff, otherwise known as Tonker, and I am a Cubs fan.
I'm not, however, from Chicago. I'm not even an American. In fact, I'm a Scotsman who lives in The Hague in the Netherlands - hardly Cubs territory at all, really.
The majority of the poor, beknighted Cubs fans that I know have some excuse. They're from Chicago, or their father was a Cubs fan, or they grew up watching WGN in some far-flung corner of the United States. I, on the other hand, cannot lay the blame on any of those things. There is one person, and one person only who is responsible for consigning me to a life of futility and pain - Samuel Peralta "Slammin' Sammy" Sosa.
Imagine the scene. You're stuck in England in the summer of 1998, sitting through innumerable, endless meetings at work whilst outside it chucks it down with rain in temperatures better suited to a Wisconsin winter. You and your bird decide to get away from it all for a couple of weeks, and settle upon the Dominican Republic as a suitably hot and inaction-packed destination. A couple of weeks later you land at Puerto Plata, transfer to your hotel and begin the serious business of making a dent in the hotel's all-inclusive bar.
But what's this? On the telly behind the counter, there is a strange sport showing. It looks a little bit like cricket...
...except that they don't stop for tea. You collar the Barman for another Brugal 151 (not having learned your lesson the first time, evidently), and whilst you're at it, you ask him what's happening on the box.
He breaks into a broad grin and tells you that a) it's beisbol; b) the Cubs are playing; and c) Sammy's going to hit one out today. You smile, nod, and back away slowly. Whatever floats his boat is all right by you, and besides, there's a large rum which needs your love and attention.
The holiday continues and you spend your days sitting by the pool and hiding under a mattress in your bathroom when Hurricane Georges hits. The hotel "Hurricane Survival Kit" is comprised of a candle and a pack of playing cards, but somehow you live to tell the tale anyway. On the odd occasion that you venture out of your resort, though, you notice that pretty much every car in the entire country has "Sosa #60", "Sosa #61","Sosa #62" (you're noticing a pattern by now) painted in white on its rear windscreen, so you decide to look into this Sosa chap a little further.
Next thing you know, you've confined yourself to your room and are watching with bated breath as Shooter Beck closes down another game for the Cubbies...
...or Brant Brown drops a routine flyball to left; or the Cubs win the one-game playoff against San Fran - and just like that, you're addicted. Gone - hook, line and sinker. And you have no idea, not the slightest inkling, what you've let yourself in for.
Cut forward to the present day...
Well, now, of course, I realise what a bloody mess I'm in. Not only do I spend approximately 75% of my waking life thinking about baseball in general, and the Cubs in particular, but I've spent far, far too much otherwise potentially useful income following my addiction. At the last count, I'd been to the States three times for the express purpose of watching the Cubs (record in person : 3-2) and had pissed several thousand of your British Pounds up the wall in the process.
And what do I have to show for it? Well, if you know anything about baseball, you know the answer to that question : "nothing". Nichts, nada, rien, niente, zip. Sammy has made my life, and the life of The Beautiful Wife (who has the patience of a Saint), an utter, utter misery. The Cubs giveth, and the Cubs taketh away, except that they don't seem to be doing an awful lot of givething, to be honest. Just think of all that useful, enjoyable stuff I could have been doing instead of worrying about Dusty and his boys. It's enough to make me weep.
So - thanks, Sammy. Thanks for the memories. Thanks for making me think that life could be one long afternoon on the beach, sipping Cuba Libres and watching the Cubs make the post-season. You used me, you bastard, and you took my innocence. I hope you're happy now.
Well, I suppose it's not all bad. There have been high spots on my brief, but condensed odyssey. I got to read "Ball Four". I made lots of new friends, and they all share my affliction. I found "Perry's Deli"...
...and Chuck Gitles bought me breakfast (now there's a claim to fame.) Jen, a barmaid at the Cubby Bear, gave me lots of free beer. But that's about it.
So, there you go - now you know a little something about me. If you want to know more about what I think about the Cubs, pop on over to Hire Jim Essian. Alternatively, check out the message board at Andy Dolan's indispensible "Desipio", where I post as Tonker. Drop me a line to wrigleyman (at) hotmail (dot) com if you want to commiserate, even. If I haven't yet slit my wrists, I might just reply.
Editor's Note: Forklift is a blogger who can currently be read at hockeenight.com. We've known him for years, and you won't meet may bigger Cub fans. After you're done reading this, go to his Blackhawks blog, Hockee Night.
Getting on the Howard St. “A” train at Argyle, heading downtown. I’ve ridden the train with my dad before, but never with butterflies in my stomach the way they were then. I hadn’t yet turned five, and was bouncing around the train as much as, well, a kid not yet turned five generally does.
We had to switch at Wilson to the “B” train, which seemed to take an eternity to show up. Once it came, I couldn’t wait. When the train made the turn by Sheridan, I could see the flags flapping. I’d seen it before, but this time it was a destination instead of just a place that looked like fun.
Dad bought me a cap and a pennant on the way in. Once he bought us our bleacher tickets, I ran up the ramp that seemed to curve and rise forever toward the sunshine. When I got to the top of the ramp, I was hit by the sunshine, and looked out at the green grass. The Cubs were playing the Phillies, and the blue and red of the hats and socks seemed to be the same contrast as the picture on my All-Star Baseball game at home.
I confess, I still feel a thrill when I go to see the Cubs play. My dad’s been a Cub fan since 1947, me since 1967. I actually don’t remember my first TV game, I’m guessing my infancy was spent with my dad suffering through the 1963 season. I’m still not sure if being a Cub fan is a defect in my DNA that my father passed along to me, or if it’s an environmental defect.
Anyway, there’s something intrinsically beautiful about baseball. While hockey is like an action movie, baseball is like a book. You sit back, relax, and let it all unfold in front of you. Over the years I’ve seen exciting games and dull games. I’ve seen absurd games, like the one where the Cubs were beaten by Pittsburgh 22-0. I’ve seen Mike Schmidt hit 4 HRs in a game. I’ve seen Cubs win games with a swing of the bat.
The NFL prides itself on the fact that “Any Given Sunday”, any team can beat any other team. That’s fine, except with baseball that’s every day of the week.
But the Cubs. There are those Cub fans who are “Cubbie fans”, and I tend to loathe them. They can’t seem to grasp the fact that there are years the Cubs manage to assemble a truly shitty assortment of players. Know what? The past 100 years haven’t been an accident.
As long as I brought it up, before anyone brings up a goat, or a cat, or a schlemiel with headphones, go fuck yourself. A goat didn’t trade Lou Brock. A cat didn’t trade Bill Madlock for Bobby Murcer. Steve Bartman didn’t mismanage the Cubs’ pitching staff in the 2003 NLCS.
No, the Cubs earned it all on their own. I think being a Cub fan is like having a ne’er-do-well relative. You keep swearing this is the last time you let him sleep on your couch, and at the same time you know you’ll always give him another shot because one of these times he’ll actually straighten his shit out.
It doesn’t mean you won’t get grey hairs a little faster, or develop a nice hole in your stomach lining. But at the end of the day, you remember the good times instead of those tough times when he’s sleeping on your couch. And you know deep in your heart that one of these days, everything will work out.
We’re always running up the ramp that seems to curve and rise forever, toward the sunshine.
Editor's Note: Best known on the Desipio Message Boards as Butthead, our next guest contributor tells a tale from 1984. Incidentally, if you would like to join in this series, feel free to either post a blog entry or EMail something to me at kjsevans (at) gmail (dot) com.
Jody Davis hit a home run in game five of the 1984 NLCS. I was eight years old. For some reason, this is the only vivid memory I have of the Cubs in the playoffs that year. The regular season is a different story. I remember watching Sarge and Ryno and Dernier and Cey almost everyday that summer, or at least listening to the games on the radio in the backyard while my dad grilled and my brother and I played catch. But the playoffs are a blur.
The thing that stands out about Jody’s homer was my dad’s reaction when it went out. I was sitting on the floor looking up at my dad who was sitting in his recliner as usual, and as the ball went over the fence he clenched and pumped both of his fists and cheered. It wasn’t a loud cheer, but more of a quiet but intense “Yes!” The seriousness of his reaction made an impression on me.
I didn’t quite get it at the time, but he…obviously…. really wanted a win that day. Up to that point I understood cheering for my teams. I was excited when they won, but not really heartbroken when they would lose. But after the Cubs lost that game five, and seeing how depressed my dad was, I kind of started to understand how much you really fall in love with your favorite teams. He had waited 41 years to see the Cubs have a chance to win a pennant…I’m not counting the World Series appearance they had when he was a toddler. He saw a lot of shitty baseball up to that point, but he waited patiently for his Cubs to win something. Just winning the division had to be a thrill. I’ll never be able to relate to that. I’m only 32 and have seen the Cubs in the playoffs five times. But to wait 41 years to see them win anything is amazing. And to see them get so close to a pennant, to have it right there, but not get it after waiting all those years…. well that is heartbreaking.
Sports were a big part of my life growing up. I don’t think it would have been possible for my brother and I not to root for my dad’s teams. He had a lot of passions in life…but he didn’t love anything more than Notre Dame football, the Chicago Bears, and the Cubs. And he took it seriously…maybe too seriously. My mom is still amazed at how upset he would get when he was distracted while watching a game, because his lapse in concentration was surely the cause of the Bears giving up a touchdown. He was always the angriest when the phone would ring on Sunday afternoons. I can still hear him…”who the hell would call during the Bear game!?” I learned early on that if I wanted to watch a game with him I had better sit still and really pay attention to the game.
Even though I’ve been pretty lucky as a sports fan so far….I’ve seen championships from the Bears and Irish, plus six Bulls winners….it’s that damn pennant and World Series win I really want. I think I wanted it more for my dad than me though. I figure I have a lot of time still to see the Cubs win. In ’03 it was really close. I was living on the west coast at the time, so I wasn’t able to watch the games with my dad and brother….we always watched important games together. Before game five of the ’03 NLCS I was pretty cocky. I had a good feeling about the game and decided to call home to talk about how the pennant was going to be ours later that day. The only problem was it was on a Sunday, and the Bears were playing. The conversation went something like this….
Me: “Hey Dad, this is it! This is the day you’ve been waiting for your whole life! We’re winning this thing today! We’re going to the World Series!”
Dad: “Why are you calling me during the Bear game?”
So I guess he wasn’t as excited as I was that day…at least until the Bears were done. Of course things did not work out that game or the next two games either. A few weeks later I was talking to my mom on the phone and she told me dad told her he felt bad about the whole Cubs thing. She basically said he was sorry my brother and I had to watch all this crappy baseball. But there was no way we were not going to be Cubs fans, and I can’t imagine it any other way.
One of these days the Cubs are going to win the damn World Series and it will all be worth it, except my dad won’t be around to see it. He passed away a few years ago, and since then I’ve thought a lot about what it will be like when the Cubs finally win it. I’m sure I’ll cry like a baby when it happens, partly because I’m happy, and partly because he won’t be here to see it.
Editor's Note: Between now and, well, whenever, we will be running a series of stories written by various fans of the Cub Nation. This particular piece was crafted by a candidate for the ESPN series, known best as cubbiebluestew, who is responsible for the creation of the Cubs Coven.
As any baseball fan knows, Yom Kippur has played a part in baseball history. Yom Kippur is a solemn day. It is associated with sin and redemption. Even Jews who rarely attend synagogue feel a sense of obligation to do something to observe this day of fasting and repentance. The most famous example was Hank Greenberg, who although he was a very good baseball player, owed much of his fame to being Jewish. He was not particularly religious, yet he once famously refused to play in a World Series game that fell on Yom Kippur. Most other Jewish baseball players have not been so fortunate as to be on a team that was still playing in October. But occasionally sports writers will conjecture as to whether a Ken Holtzman would pitch if the occasion arose. (They didn't ask this while he was a Cub, of course.)
So we know that Yom Kippur plays a part in baseball history for some players, but what about the fans? I have to confess to my role in losing the 1989 playoff series for the Cubs. Yom Kippur is about guilt and sin. It is a sin to not observe Yom kippur with prayer and solemn contemplation. But I held tickets to the three playoff games in San Francisco between the Giants and the Cubs. The first two games of the potential 7 game series were in Chicago. The series came to San Francisco even at one game for each team. I have been a Cub fan since 1942. I listened to the 1945 World Series by running home from school to catch the last few innings. My family moved from Chicago to San Francisco in 1949, and I wasn't able to see the Cubs in person until the Giants moved from New York in 1959, the year I married Mrs Cubbiebluestew. We went to games at old Seals Stadium and then at Candlestick each time the Cubs came to town. Mrs. Cubbieblue is not a Cub fan, but she jumped at the chance to fly back to Chicago for the playoff series in 1984. Therefore, going to the playoff series in San Francisco in 1989 was a foregone conclusion. Or was it?
We didn't pay much attention to the fact that game number three was on Yom Kippur. The Cubs were down 3 games to one, and we not only had tickets for the game, we had tickets for Yom Kippur services at our synagogue in Berkeley, where Mrs. Cubbieblue was an officer, and where I took very seriously my obligation to my ancestors. But we had to support the Cubs. They were one game away from elimination and who knew if they would ever come this close again? If Hank Greenberg could refuse to play on Yom Kippur and he wasn't even religious, how could I attend the game and skip observing the holiest most solemn day of the year?
We compromised. We decided to do both. Typically services on Yom Kippur start at 9 in the morning and go until noon. At noon there is a short break followed by a noon service for about an hour. Then there is a break, not a lunch break because we are fasting. And then services resume at 3pm and to about 8pm. We went to the 9 am service and at noon we changed our clothes at the synagogue. We drove (a sin) to San Francisco and ran to our seats in time for the first pitch. We continued our fasts while we watched a close game which turned out to be between Mark Grace and Will Clark. We watched the game come apart in the eighth and ninth innings. I couldn't stand to see the final out. We ran to the car and changed our clothes in the parking lot. It was very private. Everyone else was watching Will Clark playing God's messenger to Cubbiebluestew. We heard the Cubs lose as we pulled out of the lot and headed back to Berkeley where we were in time for the late afternoon service.
I know, deep in my heart that it was my fault. Some will say that it was Mitch Williams breakdown, others will say it was Clark's heroics. I know that they were just playing the roles assigned to them to punish me on the spot for my irreverence and failure to observe Yom Kippur without accommodations for my Cub fetish. Warning: This year Yom Kippur starts at sundown on October 8 and continues to sundown on October 9. I expect the Cubs to be in the playoffs.
This is the story that got me on ESPN. I've been waiting for more than a month to share it with everybody here, although it is something I've written about twice before and will almost certainly write about sometime again as my own story continues to change and grow.
Unlike many of you, I was not born into a Cubs family. My father was never a huge baseball fan to begin with and my brother bleeds Sawx red. I became a Cubs fan in 1987, primarily because my best friend in kindergarten was also a Cubs fan.
I think that there are essentially three phases that Cub fans go through as they age. When we're young, we are those wide-eyed optimists, wearing the rose colored glasses while swilling our Cubbie Blue Kool-Aid. We are too innocent to realize that we've fallen for an organization as poorly run as a Bush-presided oil company. We do not yet recognize that the Chicago owners are a faceless corporation with both eyes on the profit margin whose final interest is not in the team's place in the standings, but their yearly attendance figures. However, when I was a kid, it was easy to believe that the Cubs were going to be good.
My first season where I watched the majority of the games was 1989. It was easy to be a Cub fan back then - they were a good young team, they were one of the best in the NL, and they charged into the playoffs where they were quickly dispatched by the Giants. In some ways, I knew more then than I do now. I could have told you the names of every player, his position, the number on his back and his statistics in the box scores. I couldn't do that today, although I probably could go into graphic detail about Kerry Wood's grizzled beard and Darryl Ward's bulbous ass.
My real trials as a Cub fan, however, would come in the half decade after 1989. The Cubs fell into the pool of mediocre, and with a few exceptions they were mostly a 78 win team. I certainly didn't understand at the time why it was that they sucked so badly. I was confused by it, and I believed with bright abandon that any game the Cubs played was a game they should win. I failed to understand the disparity between players like Derrick May and Barry Bonds. C'mon, it wasn't my fault -- I was a kid. My confusion only escalated as time went on. I was certainly surprised when the Cubs allowed Andre Dawson to leave town a homer shy of 400 on his career. I was befuddled when they let Greg Maddux go, as he was the best pitcher in the world. And I was flabbergasted when Ryne Sandberg retired early, in the horrible 1994 season. I didn't really see the thing that connected these events. I didn't see that they were a team without direction. It wouldn't be until I was in my early 20's that I'd experience that first taste of bitterness.
1995 was a defining year for me as a fan. Sure, I always loved the Cubs. I followed them closely. However, it was the final series of the '95 season that I crossed over the threshold from being a casual fan to becoming an obessed one. The Cubs had hired Andy MacPhail that year. He was a man with a pedigree and a track record, the savior the organization had needed, and for a brief time it looked as though he'd actually deliver on his reputation.
The '95 Cubs were a decent team. They started out strongly, winning what seemed like a lot of games late. They played hard, they had fun, and they benefited from surprisingly good seasons from pitchers like Jim Bullinger, Kevin Foster, Frank Castillo, and Jamie Navarro. Toward the end of the year, they went on something like a 7 game winning streak extending into a final 4 game series against the Houston Astros at Wrigley Field. With only a handful of games remaining, the Cubs were still in the hunt for the new Wild Card spot. They were playing September baseball that actually mattered.
It was the most thrilling regular season baseball I had ever seen. It was better than prime time television. Every game was close. Every contest was high scoring. The Cubs lost the last 2, missing the playoffs, but it didn't matter. I loved it. But the thing that really got to me was what happened after the last game, when Harry Caray was saying goodbye to the fans for another long winter.
He was standing in the booth, saying farewell, and he started crying. By then, he'd been a veteran of broadcasting for something like 50 years. He was a professional, he was old school, and yet he was crying, saying "this is not like me, I'm not like this, I don't know why this is happening." But I know why. The Cubs had gotten to him. That's what they do - they get to people. It doesn't matter if you're a conservative in a suit, it doesn't matter if you're dry and reserved, sooner or later the Cubs will get to you and you will be a blubbering mass sobbing in front of the world.
That was when I crossed over a line and became obsessed.
Unfortunately for me, and for Ryne Sanderg who was also inspired by the '95 squad, the '96 and '97 teams failed to deliver. But 1998 was special. I was a senior in high school and I probably watched on TV or listened on the radio to all but a dozen games. I was there for Kerry Wood's 20 strikeout game and Sammy Sosa's 20 homerun month. On the day I graduated high school, I piled into a rented convertable with my brother, sister, and friends, and we drove to Chicago in order to see my first game at Wrigley Field. It was on July 1, against the Diamondbacks. Kerry Wood struck out 12, Sammy Sosa blasted 2 doubles off the ivy, and Rod Beck walked a tight rope to get another save.
The '98 team was a thrill to watch. They were my first playoff Cubs team as an adult, but they never had a chance. They were three-and-done in October, Kerry Wood would go on to suffer the first of umpteen arm injuries, and 1999 was an unforgettably forgettable season as the Cubs crashed back to mediocrity.
And still I believed.
I said earlier that there are phases in every Cub fan's life, and the first is blind optimism. It wasn't until 2003 that I began to really exit that phase. You know what happened that year, and if you're anything like me, you know where I went next as a Cub fan.
I'll be honest with you. I followed 2003 just as closely as I follow any Cubs season. I watched the games and I even went to some. I lived and died with them in October, but when Bartman deflected that ball, when Prior imploded on the mound, when Dusty remained on the bench, and when Gonzalez bobbled the double play ball I lost that season. It's like my brain hit the eject button. I remember next to nothing. I have no warm memories of how they played like anything but the Cubs that year. I know they buried the Cardinals early in September, but I don't remember who did what or how the games went. What I do know - what I remember - is that they broke my heart.
I think the second phase of Cubs fandom is bitterness and anger. Look around. I'm sure you know some 40-year-old diehards. They're probably not the most pleasant bunch to speak with on the day after a brutal Cubs loss. It seems to me that a lot of Cub fans battle depression, they battle alcoholism, and they experience divorces. I can't really blame them.
The way I have to look at it is simple. Cubs fans invest thousands if not tens of thousands of hours watching, talking, and thinking about the Cubs. Likewise, we spend thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars in supporting the Cubs. We don't do it for kicks. We invest so much time, money, and passion into Cubs baseball with an expectation of getting a return - victory. The Cubs have not delivered on our investment.
How can people blame us for becoming sad, or bitter, or angry? How could anybody expect any other kind of result? I am now in my 21st season of waiting for the Cubs to win for once. That's 2 decades for me. Some of us are in their 9th. The weight only gets heavier.
I will admit that there are some people out there who just don't get it. I'm sure that, if you're a Cubs fan, you've heard somebody say to you, "why don't you just become a fan of the Yankees?" The worst is when a koolaid-swilling Cubbie fan makes that remark. People just don't get it. We're frustrated, but we can't give up. We can't stop now. We've invested too much.
However, I have noticed something since 2004. I haven't met a Cub fan who's quit, but I have heard on more than one occasion Cubs fans proclaim that they will hide their love of the team from their children. They don't want their kids to go through the same lifetime of disappointment, especially when the world is soul-crushing in
so many other ways. Me, I'm not there yet. I'm hurt by what happened in '03 and '04, I'm angry that so little was done in '05 and '06, but I'm not convinced that it's a lost cause. In fact, I don't think many people really are.
I'm certain now that I was not the only one to notice the remorse of Cub fans. I think that somebody in the organization noticed, too, because in 2007, the team began to make some amazing changes. For the first time in my life, they went out and acquired the best players, the most necessary, in order for them to compete. From Soriano to Lilly to Fukudome, Jim Hendry has acquired every player he's wanted since bitter Cub fans left Wrigley Field half empty in September 2006. It seems to me that things are looking better.
And that's just it. I'm 28 years old now, and I will be 29 in November. In my lifetime, I've seen 10 winning seasons, and soon I will have seen 6 playoff appearances. I really don't know if the Cubs will finally win the World Series this year, but I believe it could happen. In fact, I believe it will happen.
I titled this article "why we cheer." In my case, I cheer not only because I have to, but because I want to. I am proud to be a Cub fan. I am excited, and I believe they will win, and soon. And while a World Series victory would not make up for a lifetime of crushing defeats, it would at the very least justify living through it all. It's like I said to Wayne. Maybe we will need to have lived a lifetime of sports misery in order to experience a solitary moment of unrelenting joy. And that's what it would be like.
When the Cubs win the World Series, it will be unlike anything we've seen. It will be like a religious experience. It will be amazing. That is why I cheer. I want to be there to see it. I'm going to see it soon; I don't doubt it for a second, and neither should you.
When we redesigned GROTA the first time back in the spring of aught seven, we debated internally about having a reader's blog. We saw the community that Al Yellon had over at Bleed Cubbie Blue and we thought, "hey, maybe we can get in on some of that action!" However, at the time we declined, choosing instead to stay the course.
This time around, we made it a reality. Sure, you can respond and comment as you always have, but what I want to see above all else is people posting blogs just like this one. You can see them by clicking here. You can post your own by looking under "My Account" on the left hand column and clicking on "Create Content; Blog Entry." You can blog about the Cubs until your heart is content over there. You disagree with me? Write a blog about it. You have your own spin? Blog away. We want to know your take. We want to know why you cheer. Tell us there.