A column by Michael Lopez.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different outcome or something to that effect. I’m a lifelong South Sider…and I’m a Cubs fan. People (Sox fans) have chided me my whole life when I confess my loyalty to a team that plays its baseball on the North Side, approximately twenty-two miles from my house. In one instance I remember being at a “classic” Cubs White Sox matchup at “The Cell”. The Cubs score and I cheered. No big deal, right? They were probably losing anyway. But the look of sheer disdain on the faces of those whom I was with that summer afternoon was comical to me. “You’re a Cubs fan?” A friend of a friend blurted at me, barely able to hide his disgust, “What’s wrong with you?!?” Yes, it’s true. How? Because they were on WGN in the afternoon, and I used to get home from school and turn the games on.
It started in 1984, when I was in grade school and was able to watch the team as soon as I got home from school. That year they won the National League East and it was pretty exciting to witness. Winning the division used to mean something because as some of you may not know or remember, there were no play-in Wild Card games or Wild Card Series or even a Central Division in either the American or National Leagues. Two divisions, that’s it. There was the East and the West, FOUR teams total, no bullshit and no month-long playoffs. (No Joe Buck, either). There was a maximum of twelve playoff games. (Five Divisional games and seven World Series games). The Mets won 90 games in ’84, which is pretty damn good and would easily capture a NL East title today. But the Cubs won 96 and kept a good Mets team out. Unfortunately the joy was short lived because the San Diego Padres took the series and the NL pennant in five games. And so this was only the beginning of my lifelong journey of Baseball Heartbreak. From the Billygoat hex and the Scapegoat debacle of 2003 I’ve damn near started to believe in curses.
It feels like no matter how hard they’ve tried they just could not break through to that championship caliber team they aspired to be. This is from a fan who has witnessed the likes of Jim Essian, Tom Trebelhorn, Mike Quade and Dale Sveum patrolling the dugout in search of anything resembling a contender. They were handed shit and told to polish it up and send it out to play. But we could only stand by as they were overpowered by better teams and better organizations.
And what about the managers with the baseball cred and experience like Don Zimmer, Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella? They were stocked with proven vets who played nice long professional careers. Where did it go wrong for them? I think it was a glaring lack of leadership and accountability among those veteran-heavy teams. Especially when your self-appointed captain under Baker, Sammy Sosa, will forever be remembered for his alleged steroid use and the way he walked out on the team.
In 2003 they were a mere 5 outs away from their first World Series berth since 1945 and it fell apart in such a way that can only happen to the Cubs, with a bloop foul down the left field foul line. But what sticks out in my mind the most about the 2003 NL Championship series in particular game five at Wrigley isn’t the Bartman/Moises Alou fiasco, or sure-handed Alex Gonzales booting a routine grounder to short. It’s the four assholes in Florida Marlins gear and the over the top anti-Cubs bullshit they were pulling in the bar I was in. I was getting hotter by the minute as they obnoxiously cheering for a team they didn’t really care about but for the fact they were playing the hated Chubbie Wubbie Cubbies. If I had a .38 that night I’d be in prison (maybe not, this is Illinois) right now, I was so pissed.
When the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, I’ll admit I wasn’t very thrilled or super excited. But I sure as hell didn’t start cheering for the Houston Astros. I was glad to see them win because all of my friends got to see something that no one had seen since 1917, their team win a baseball championship. I was very happy for them because up until then the only championships in our lifetime were the Bulls dynasty years and the Bears ’85 Super Bowl. My close friends were happy and I was happy for them. It was a great year for the White Sox and their fans. And I never begrudged that.
Lou Piniella came along in 2007 and was saddled with an extremely volatile $91 million dollar pitcher in Carlos Zambrano, who was a complete nutjob. Here’s a guy who got in a fist fight with his catcher in the dugout during a game. Yet Piniella had them firing on all cylinders for two straight seasons and back to back NL Central titles in 2007 and 2008. But the Cubs had no playoff victories to show for it in either year. They were soundly and swiftly dismantled by the Arizona Diomandbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers respectively and whimpered out of the playoffs. Sox fans, of course, rejoiced with glee.
Sox fans do not like Cubs fans. Plain and simple, they just have this dislike that sometimes covers the spectrum from the hilarious to the absurd to just plain mean. I’ve heard Sox fans admit they would rather step in dogshit than Wrigley Field. A Sox fan would prefer that their sisters work in a whore house than date a Cubs fan. And of course there’s always the tie-in to the LGBT community that is situated adjacent to the park. I don’t need to be specific but you can figure out for yourselves what some Sox fans have to say about that.
The one thing I do agree with Sox fans is that Wrigley itself and the party atmosphere created a bit of a monster. Everyone loves a good party so let’s go to Wrigley and get drunk and “hook-up.” Who cares who wins! The Cubs front office didn’t seem to mind the fact the team stunk as long as the seats kept filling up. To a fan of the game it’s annoying as hell to say the least. I once saw a woman at a Cubs-Cardinals game READING A BOOK. That is a complete waste of a ticket, if you ask me. I sat in front of four business-suit types at another Cubs-Cardinals game and they were trying to order wine. Seriously, wine at a baseball game? This isn’t tennis, get a goddamn beer! However the team is rolling toward the playoffs and the bandwagon is back. Former Cubs manager Lee Elia in his famous rant from 1983 called the place “a playground for the cocksuckers!” He went on to encourage the fans in attendance that day to “go out and get a fuckin’ job.” Lee Elia was not invited back for the 1984 season.
The Times They Are a Changin’
Since the Cubs hired Theo Epstein as their President in the fall of 2011 the Cubs have been through three managers, Dale Sveum, Rick Renteria and now Joe Maddon. And (excluding Maddon) 286 losses. You read that right: two hundred eighty-six losses and 86 games UNDER .500. They elevated dreadful to an art-form. Wrigley was transformed into the Louvre of Loss and the Museum of Modern Futility. It’s also worth noting that mixed in amongst all those losses they surpassed their 10,000th franchise loss. Those losses equal almost 62 seasons based on a 162 game schedule (I just saved you the trouble of flipping on your calculator).
All the while the Cubs Epstein had a “Plan” to return the team to the glory of the championship years. You remember the Glory Years, right? Before the Bomb, when there was a Kingdom of Prussia, before cell phones, when you can go to the drug store and buy coke and a Coke. Hmm…I guess not. I mean, Shit, the Chinese were still in the final stages of dynastic rule when this team won its last championship. (The Qing Dynasty if you you’re consulting Encyclopedia Britannica or the internet.)
We’ve seen the Cubs return to the playoffs, once under the old format in 1989 and four times, ’98, ’03, ’07 and ‘08 in the modern, expanded playoff format. But they’ve only needed the benefit of a Wild-Card berth once, in 1998. But then they promptly went and got the shit kicked out of them by the Atlanta Braves. Times have changed and quickly too. As of this writing the Cubs are sitting on course to make the playoffs as a Wild Card team. With a record of 87-62 they’ve already surpassed their 2014 win total. This “Cub Way” that the brash, youthful New Yorker spoke of in 2011 appears to be taking shape. After all he credited as one of the reasons for a steering the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years back in 2004. And now the organization has released playoff tickets for the 2015 season. I’m dumbfounded at the last sentence I just wrote.
There’s no way this should really be taking place when your roster includes four rookies in the lineup. Rookies Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler have had quite an impact at times throughout the season but the one player that has really come through is Kris Bryant. This guy is a home run machine! He launched 500 foot bomb on September 6th that could’ve landed somewhere on Kenmore Avenue if the massive scoreboard hadn’t interfered. On the day of his debut on April 17th against the San Diego Padres, Bryant went 0 for 4 and Sox fans wasted no time expressing their joy on social media at the complete and utter failure that the Cubs and their fans had been waiting for.
I explained in the beginning I’ve spent pretty much my entire life watching this team fail in so many creative ways I don’t know what to expect anymore. In fact I had no expectations going into the 2015 campaign. I’ve been so beaten down by this organization I’m just enjoying this moment one game at a time. But what I as a baseball fan and a Cub fan in particular really appreciate is that there appears to be something that I’ve never seen before from this team; a future of sustained success. But, we will see….