Friday, November 19, 2010


We fans of professional sports are an odd lot indeed, spending our hard earned time, money, and emotional energy on a team made up of multi-millionaires who are loyal to whomever signs their paycheck and not necessarily to their team, its traditions, or the city the team represents. At least at the collegiate or high school levels there is some real connection and commitment between a school, its players and fans.

There are a few distinct categories of sports fans. There's the fan who's never satisfied. Last night the Bears played a splendid game against the Miami Dolphins, winning 16-0, dominating the game on both sides of the ball as they say in football parlance. But listening to some of the calls coming in on the post-game radio show, you'd think the score had been the other way around. The Bears settled for field goals when they should have gotten into the end zone, our quarterback threw a terrible interception (granted he did do that), and even though the defense "pitched" a shutout, it wasn't all that impressive since Miami's quarterback was a third stringer with little experience. And on it went.

Then there is the fan whose team can do no wrong. I have a friend who told me once in a mildly drunken stupor: "in life there's only one thing I believe in, and that's the Chicago Bears." This is the kind of fan for whom there are only two possible outcomes to a game, either his team wins, or the game was stolen from them.

Finally, there are Cubs fans. There's not much to say about the Cubs and their fans that hasn't been said before. Simply put, they are the fans of a team who has not won a championship in over 100 years. The Cubs have not even appeared in a World Series since, well as the late Steve Goodman once sang: "since we dropped the bomb on Japan."

Yet they cluster to the old ballpark on the north side like moths to a flame every spring when hope springs eternal, only to have their hopes dashed, usually by mid-July. But they keep coming until the bitter end in early fall, just before the ivy on the outfield walls changes color.

On those rare occasions when they are still playing ball at Wrigley Field after the ivy has turned a lovely shade of rust, Cubs fans are dealt the cruelest blow of all. That's when the eternal hope that turned into cautious anticipation in July, which later blossomed into passionate frenzy by September, has been crushed to a pulp in October, when the Cubs find yet another creative way to lose.

Odds alone would say that with all those years and opportunities, the Cubs somehow would have managed to stumble into the World Series. But it has not been meant to be. Surely it must be destiny or some other outside force that is preventing the men in blue from success.

Which is why Cubs fans turn to that old reliable comfort in times of trouble, the scapegoat. The Cubs fans' most enduring scapegoat has in fact been a real goat. It seems that during the 1945 World Series, a local barkeep was banned from the ballpark along with his "lucky" goat. So incensed was he that he placed a curse on the Cubs who didn't win then and they haven't won since. The barkeep's ancestor, Sam Sianis, current proprietor of the subterranean institution known as the Billy Goat Tavern has tried in vain for years to remove the curse but so far, no luck. The "curse of the billy goat" endures to this day.

A couple of winning seasons were laid to rest late in the year and the scapegoats were individual players for their less than sterling play in the field. In 1969 it was outfielder Don Young, and in 1984 it was the normally reliable Leon Durham, doing exactly what Bill Buckner so famously did a few years later in the World Series for the Red Sox, namely letting a routine ground ball trickle between his legs. Of course as the old adage goes, "you win as a team and lose as a team" and those players' gaffs were only the most memorable of many that led to the Cubs' demise in those years.

By far the most unjust scapegoat of all was a twenty-something, lifelong Cub fan who attended a fateful playoff game in 2003. That year the Cubs seemed finally destined for the World Series. They swept the Braves in the first round of the playoffs, then in the League Championship Series, came home to Chicago with a 3 games to 2 lead on the Florida Marlins, their two best pitchers, at the time two of the most dominant pitchers in the majors scheduled to pitch games 6 and 7. With one out in the top of the eighth, the Cubs were coasting with a 3-0 lead in the game, and five outs away from the pennant. Louis Castillo of the Marlins hit a foul pop-up. It was headed for the stands with Cubs left fielder Mioses Alou in pursuit. When he got to the wall, Alou jumped, reached into the stands but couldn't come up with the ball. It would have been just another out of play foul ball except Alou and pitcher Mark Prior made an impassioned plea to the umpires that fans interfered with the ball. The umps immediately dismissed Alou's plea as they should have.

After a ridiculously long to do about the play, the Cubs, especially Prior lost their composure and gave up 8 runs that inning which cost them the game.

During all this, the TV announcers took it upon themselves to determine what kind of "ignoramus" could possibly interfere with such an important play for the home team. Replay and slow motion technology determined which of the many hands going for the ball actually made contact deflecting it away from Alou's glove.

Then with the most abhorrent misuse of their power as broadcasters, for all the world to see, the camera zoomed in on a young man wearing a Cubs hat and headphones, all by himself, sitting sheepishly in his seat. The announcers proclaimed: "That's the guy."

The rest is history. The Cubs went on to lose game seven and the series the following evening. The young man received death threats, was blamed for the Cubs losing the game and the series, and forever more his name will be affixed to that season of Cub fan misery.

Over the last couple of weeks, there's been a new scapegoat in town held responsible for the Cubs' losing ways. It's none other than the Friendly Confines itself, the home of the Cubs since 1914, beautiful Wrigley Field. The new chant around town is: "given the choice between keeping Wrigley Field and a championship for the Cubs. I'd take the championship hands down." Now I'm not sure if this is a hypothetical choice between two unrelated events, like saying "given the choice between me winning the lottery and having peace on earth..." or if there is a real cause and effect relationship, saying that Wrigley Field is somehow preventing the Cubs from success on the field. Some say the facilities are too old, the weight rooms and training areas for the players are decrepit, the locker rooms are uncomfortable and the food is no good.

What is absolutely indisputable is the fact that the Cubs are a tremendously successful franchise at the box office, and the main engine behind that success is none other than Wrigley Field. The team markets the "Wrigley experience" and what an experience it is. It is one of only two places in the world, the other being Fenway Park in Boston, where you can see a major league baseball game in a classic park that has seen nearly 100 years of baseball history. At these ballparks it's all about the game, you are not inundated with the distractions of incessant nonsense on a Jumbotron scoreboard and blasting music over the PA system. Of course ballclubs like all that stuff because it brings in advertising revenue. So does plastering up ads in every available nook and cranny of the park. Somehow much of that has been avoided at Wrigley.

Then there's the shear beauty of the place, I won't go into it here because I've written about it before in this space.

In this article, Steve Chapman of the Tribune points out all reasons he thinks Wrigley Field should be torn down. The article is filled with such nonsense that frankly I'm not sure if it's intended to be serious or just tongue-in cheek. Assuming the former, I'll say that I think he's dead wrong about virtually everything he says in the piece:

Blessed with one of the biggest markets in America, and fans who turn out win or lose, they (the Cubs) are not about to pick up and move to Nashville.

One of the biggest markets, absolutely true.

Why, because of the quality of baseball?


Could it be Wrigley Field?

I'd be willing to bet my firstborn.

No they're not going to Nashville because Wrigley Field is in Chicago.

A new park would rid the Cubs of their maintenance headaches, while providing them better ways to relieve fans of cash — lots of luxury boxes, better dining, new shops and diversions.

There are already significant methods in place at Wrigley Field to relieve fans of their cash, seven dollars for a crappy beer is just a start. And what's better, to have 40,000 people at the park, sitting in the stands, or have 15,000 in the park, half of them in the skyboxes the other half in shops and other diversions?

It would allow the team to hire better players and pamper them in style.

How would it allow the team to hire better players? Do good players NOT come here because of Wrigley Field? I don't think so. The Cubs have one of the top payrolls in the major leagues. Clearly money is not an issue. And what the heck constitutes "pampering" more than paying a single player millions of dollars per year to play baseball? I just don't get it.

The architect could lovingly re-create the treasured features of the existing stadium, while omitting the shortcomings...

Yes like the architects of new baseball parks all over the country are imitating the treasured features of Wrigley Field. We have the real thing here, why replace it?

... the cramped concourses, primitive restrooms, modest kitchen facilities and obstructed views.

  • Far be it for me to judge but don't most people go to a ballgame to see the game? Yes I know many like the diversions of stores, places to eat, sideshows, etc. But it's the game, the field and the stands that count isn't it? Or could the 40,000 people who show up to every game at Wrigley Field be wrong?
  • Giving up the columns that create the obstructed views means you have to build high and far from the field. It's a tradeoff, go to the nosebleed seats at the Cell if you don't believe me.
  • I could write a book on the superiority of the in and out efficiency of the "primitive" troughs found in the johns at Wrigley vs. the modern individual urinals found everywhere else, but I won't. You're welcome.
  • I can't comment on the women's rooms at Wrigley Field since I haven't been there, sorry ladies. But let's face it, no one is ever satisfied with women's rooms in any large public venue.
If you own a building that is falling apart, you should either sell it, spend the money to fix it up or admit it's not worth saving — not ask your neighbors to pick up the tab.

With this I agree. Some of the on-line comments to this article questioned the the logic of someone buying a team then not being able to afford maintenance of the stadium. I don't believe that the Ricketts family is being straight with us on this one, and if they are, then they had no business buying the team in the first place.

To even think of replacing the nostalgia-drenched ballpark is heresy to diehard Cubs fans. But Yankee Stadium was even richer in history and tradition — winning tradition, by the way — when the Yankees abandoned it in 2008.

Yes they tore down old Yankee Stadium and there was tremendous opposition to it. One big difference is that the "House that Ruth Built" was remodeled beyond recognition in the seventies. In the end it bore no resemblance to the old ballpark.

They built New Yankee Stadium next door to the old one and made it to resemble the Yankee Stadium of old. Building a new park for the Cubs in Wrigleyville is inconceivable as space there is at a premium. There is no parking lot to build on top of. In fact it's hard to conceive a site, on the north side at least where they could build. One possibility is the former site of US Steel in South Chicago. plenty of land, lots of room for parking, heck they could even build apartment buildings with roof top decks down there to recreate the atmosphere of Wrigley Field. Then Chicago would have two teams, the South Siders being the White Sox, and the really far South Siders, the Cubs. Unlikely to appeal to your average brie and chablis north side Cub fan.

Well there are always the suburbs who would welcome the team with open arms. However it's very likely that a future Mayor Mosley-Brown, Del Valle, or Emmanuel would not take too kindly for the team to use the City of Chicago in their name. So we may end up with the Schaumburg Cubs. Problem is there's already a Schaumburg baseball team, a minor league team called the Flyers.

Chapman points out a huge difference between the Cubs and the Yankees in his argument when he brings up the "winning tradition." Think of the Yankees and what names come to mind? Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Roger Marris, Reggie (Mr. October) Jackson just to name a few. Think of the nicknames, the Bronx Bombers, Murderer's Row, the Iron Horse, all the great teams, all those championships.

What makes a winning tradition? Great players and even more important, a great team. The Cubs have had a few great players over the last hundred years. Ernie, Billy, Fergie and Ryno, all hall of famers who played on so so teams. It's a shame for those players as well as for the fans. The bottom line is that management for whatever reason has failed to put together a team that could win it all. Period.

Wrigley Field means more to the Cubs franchise than any other ballpark with the possible exception of Fenway Park. When they tried to replace that venerable ballpark with a new one across the street, with architects "lovingly re-creating the treasured features of the existing stadium, while omitting the shortcomings", the uproar was so great, they bagged the idea.

Tearing down Wrigley Field would not be merely heresy, it would be plain stupid.

Take the Yankees out of Yankee Stadium and you have future hall of famers Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees playing in New Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

Take the Cubs out of Wrigley Field and what do you have? Overpaid underachievers Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke (Mr. April) Fukudome and Carlos Zambrano of the Illinois Cubs of Schaumburg playing in brand spanking new IKEA Park. I can just hear the vendors now, "Meatballs, get your Swedish Meatballs."

Now there's a team for the ages.

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