I'll say it right now: I don't know what to do with the Cubs. You can't help feeling that you're dealing with some of the biggest losers in all of sports history, not just any losers, but losers who transcend any bounds of human decency and mortal time, losers who as an abstract entity, as a sports franchise, transcend any owner, manager, or individual player's merits. Get that damn Todd Van Poppel off the pitcher's mound, bring in Fassero or Gordon, and they're still losers. Sammy Sosa hits his 400th homer, they're leading their division, and they're still goddamn losers. It's an unshakeable stench that's clung to this team since 1908 worse than the foul drench of Old Style (the only beer the stadium serves).
But let me back up a bit. I went to a Cubs game on Tuesday, my first since the days of Greg Maddux in the early 90's. Ironically, they won. Sammy was out for the game with a strained back-muscle, and they almost ran through the roster in the bullpen trying to compensate for Julian Tavarez's early incompetence, but they won, they beat the Reds 5-3, their second win of the season. This'll be the year, of course. Just like the last 92 years.
It was a miserable night for a game, rain pouring down for a half-hour delay in the middle of the 3rd inning, further watering down the $4.75 - it feels like getting sodomized by the grinning wash-out with the tray hanging off his shoulders - by swill splashing around in my paper cup. I was sitting just about 20 rows from the back, just off the left outfield, getting soaked, and cursing my own lack of foresight in not bringing a jacket, or at least showing up early enough to get a free hat. It was a nice break from the beer when the man behind me offered me a swig of his fifth of whiskey, and while I sat there, slowly getting pickled, I started noticing the actual stadium.
The damn place has History, you know. You walk into the 87-year-old stadium, finish getting grilled by those fascists at the gate frisking you for foreign liquor, and hit a large sign, with two rules: 1) No ties, 2) Any homer hit by the away team gets thrown back. I've never seen anybody break the rules here. This is of course the place where Babe Ruth made the infamous called shot, one of the last parks in the country to get flood-lights for night games, because Wrigley decided he'd donate the lights he'd bought for the park in 1941 to the war effort. The famous Chicago wind flaps through Ernie Banks' #14 on the leftfield foul pole, Billy Williams' #26 on the right, and in the center, from the bleachers, rises one of the last boards in America where the numbers are still changed by hand. It's a great ballpark for such...losers.
They weren't always losers. The team was founded by William Hulbert, then president of the National League, in 1876, nicknamed the Chicago White Stockings - though the name seems to have changed at every away game . They won their first game against Louisville 4-0, and even won the first penant that year. Next year they met up with Louisville again and set the record for the most runs scored by one team in a game, 36-7. A journalist came up with the name Cubs to describe the team of absurdly young players in 1902, the year of their first World Series victory, and the name became official in 1907. 1908 followed with their second, against Detroit, with Mordecai "three fingers" Brown pitching. A glorious 32 years for the team. Philadelphia knocks the Cubs off their World series streak the next year in the final game, and they haven't won one since. (This'll be the year).
But why? The cubs have been the home-team to players like Mordecai Brown, Hack Wilson, Ernie Banks, Billy Wilson, Ryne Sandberg, Gred Maddux, Mark Grace, and now, Sammy Sosa. Maybe it's the ballpark? The Cubs start losing, and in 1914, Wrigley Field, then Weeghman Park, is built. But it's a little unfair, since their losing wasn't so sudden, really. The Cubs managed to win the National Penant in 1876, 1906, 1910, 1929, 1938...I'm sure I'm missing a few (pretty much all 1906-1910). See a pattern? Another famous explanation, and part of Cubs lore, is that it all comes down to a goat. 1945, the Cubs are in the World Series against Detroit, when the Greek immigrant owner of the Billy Goat Tavern decides to go to a game with his pet goat. When they kick him and his goat out, he swears that the Cubs will never win another World Series until his goat is allowed back in. They haven't, of course. In 1983, they tried to bring a descendant of the goat in; they did win the National League East title the following year, if that counts for anything. Does that even count? Doesn't it have to be the original goat? I'm not even sure how these curses are supposed to work, but it seems like cheating. The goat is dead, died 50 years ago, it's head stuffed and mounted above the bar in the tavern across from the Tribune Towers.
This all runs through my head as I take another swig to warm up and half-heartedly watch Miguel Cairo step up to bat again. The man in front of me, dressed to the nines in Cubs apparel covered by a white rain-coat, starts heckling the players, gets bored, starts heckling the row in front of him; I can see his gap-toothed grin as he turns back and smiles at me, enjoying himself immensely. For some reason, 5 men are behind me in the aisles, playing along to the organ with trumpets, a tuba, trombone, clarinet and banjo, competing with the shouts of the Bleacher Bums and the hoots of Ronnie Woo Woo up front.
I guess he takes some explanation, and that's where I'll end. He looks like a homeless man who somehow managed to get a Cubs jersey with the words "Woo-Woo" printed onto the back. Apparently he lives on the near north side, works as a window washer. And every game, rain or shine, night or day, he's at Wrigley Field, somewhere near the front with seats that must have put one helluva dent into that window-washer salary, calling every play. He shouts, "Sammy! Woo! Sosa! Woo! At! Woo! Bat! Woo!" and "Chicago! Woo! Cubs Woo!" (think the first half of Homer Simpson's Woohoo!). Why? Damned if I know, and by this time in the game I'm too drunk to care. But so help me, God, if he doesn't show up to every single goddamn game to watch those filthy losers play ball, and has for at least the past 15 years. He's like every other person here: die hard fans who'll swear on their mothers' graves that This'll Be The Year.
I finally stumble out of Wrigley Field at a little past 11:00. Ronnie Woo Woo ends up walking in front of me as we all herd out towards a man drumming a beat on three garbage pails, keeping time for the horde of dancing, shirtless frat-boys shouting "Cubs Win! Reds Suck!" in perfect rhythm. I eventually make my way, past 20,000 fans, to the Red Line to head back home. And I keep on trying to avoid phrases like Loveable Losers or Chicago Insitution or Hometeam Pride running through my beer-soaked, vaguely conscious brain. It can't just be about a bunch of jocks swinging a stick at a little white ball, then taking off running like a junkie spotted near the district station. Because I can't remember watching much of the game, just the fans around me. I mean, who the hell shows up to the drunken orgies surrounding the Kentucky Derby just to watch the fucking horses, right? But my God, what losers.
I have just read Shovelbearer
's writeup. Quod erat demonstrandum