World’s Greatest Fans

Last night I lay awake wondering about Steve Bartman. I have no idea what brought it on, but the image of him being escorted out of Wrigley Field through a barrage of trash and violent threats just seeped into my consciousness for several sorrowful minutes. And that got me thinking about what it means to be a Cubs fan and second-guessing whether I wanted to be one in 2010.

Steve Bartman tried to catch a foul ball. He was one of about ten fans (and one Cub) to do so on that particular play. He didn’t catch it. Nobody did. He didn’t even get to keep the ball. As the inning unfolded and the Cubs collapsed, frustration boiled into rage, and people wanted to kill him. Not euphemistically. Had security not stepped in, Steve Bartman probably would have been killed. By Cub fans. Greatest fans in the world.

People say they love their Cubs, but that isn’t love. It’s beyond even fanaticism. It’s less excusable than insanity. That night, Cub fans (not a minority, mind you, but a significant bloodthirsty mob of them) behaved like savage idiots toward a guy who tried to catch a foul ball at a game of no real consequence. Greatest fans in the world.

I’m tempted to say that nobody wanted the Cubs to win that night more than I did. But I hope that’s not true. I don’t know. I’ve reacted to Cub tragedy in some pretty stupid ways. I’ve screamed, thrown things across the room, punched walls, beaten up furniture. I’ve behaved like a savage idiot, sure. So am I any better than the morons who wanted to tear Steve Bartman apart? Probably not at the time. I’ll never know.

I hope the incident taught me something about how much the Cubs should matter in my life. I want very badly for the Cubs to win a World Series, but I recognize it would change nothing but the conversations. I wouldn’t be a happier person in the long run. It wouldn’t improve my quality of life. It would be a euphoric distraction from reality, but it wouldn’t change reality.

Most fans, myself included, suspend disbelief in the truth that baseball doesn’t matter. Some of us make that decision consciously; others hypnotize ourselves to avoid ever acknowledging it, creating a grotesque marriage of entertainment and self-actualization, which is sad . . . but not uncommon. Still, all of us really want the Cubs to win. Does that make us great fans, the degree to which we want them to win?

No. Neither does statistical knowledge, appreciation of opponents’ skill level, color coordination, attendance percentage, or depth of loyalty. No, I think the best fans are the ones who maintain at least a basic level of human decency and perspective through it all.

The greatest fans in the world would have stopped security from ushering Steve Bartman away from the Game 6 madness. They would have demanded that his attackers—not the victim—be ejected from the scene. If that meant that half of Wrigley must be emptied, so be it. The greatest fans in the world would not be undone by a fly ball. The greatest fans in the world would react to blunders in the same way they would want their team to respond: with enthusiasm and hope. Are Cub fans the best at that? No, but we’re getting better.

Let’s face it, Cub fans have very little playoff experience. We’re really good at staying loyal to bad teams, but we need a little more practice facing postseason adversity. I hope the ’10s offer us plenty of opportunity, but as of now . . . we aren’t the greatest. We’re prospects at best.

Happy New Year . . . please.

Cubs Moment of the Decade

Somewhere in between the hubbub over the Lee-Halladay mega-deal, the Tiger Woods reality show, and the announcement of the Chicago-Seattle exchange of disgruntlement, I overheard a sports talk radio segment that had nothing to do with any of that. The host (I believe it was Scott Van Pelt) asked listeners to call in with their favorite sports moments of the decade. I didn’t hear anyone’s responses because A) I had to get out of the car, and B) I immediately began mentally sifting through ten years of sports memories.

It didn’t take long to lock onto the single best moment of the decade, and it was no surprise that it occurred at Wrigley Field. Another big shocker: it was bittersweet.

But there’s no question in my mind that my favorite sports moment of the decade was the seven-and-one-third-inning stretch that preceded the worst sports moment of the decade. Game 6 of the NLCS between the Cubs and the Marlins.

Mark Prior on the mound, tossing a shutout. Sammy Sosa driving in Kenny Lofton with a double in the 1st. Sosa scoring in the 6th on a Dontrelle Willis wild pitch. Paul Bako coming home on a Mark Grudzielanek 7th-inning single. The eighth inning begins, Mike Mordecai flies out to Moises Alou, and the Cubs are five outs away from their first World Series appearance in almost 60 years.

My oldest son was not even a month old. I had just received a promotion at work. I was standing up in my living room watching the Cubs play in front of red ivy at Wrigley, and they were five outs away from the World Series. That was the most excited I have ever been watching a sporting event. It seemed unreal, like my life was being transformed. I could hear Whtiney Houston singing, “One Moment in Time.” Best sports moment of the decade.

And then . . . you know. Horror. Pestilence. Weeping/gnashing of teeth. Whitney’s voice changed to . . . well, it changed to pretty much what it sounds like now. Moment gone. Champagne, unopened. Suckville, population: me.

It’s pretty pathetic that the moment I remember most (and even most fondly) is something that ended in tragedy. Such is the life of a Cubs fan.

Hendry Should Brush up on French History

The Chicago sports media have been reporting ad nauseam that the Cubs can’t make a free agent signing until they move Milton Bradley. Some say it’s the money. Some say it’s the uncertainty of the layout of the team. I say hogwash. We all know the Cubs have more money than you can shake Sam Waterston at. And it doesn’t make a ton of sense for Jim Hendry to postpone free agent signings for fear of running out of holes on his roster. Right now, no one is offering the Cubs anyone for Milton Bradley, let alone any player worthy of occupying an everyday position.

The Cubs don’t lack the funds or the foresight to sign the players they want—Mike Cameron and/or Marlon Byrd, Joel Piñiero, and Alfredo Amezaga are among the candidates—but somehow they seem intent on broadcasting to the world that they lack flexibility.

Ever since “Milton Bradley” and “must trade” became redundancies, Jim Hendry has looked like a trapped coyote without enough fortitude to gnaw himself free from the jaws of Milton Bradley’s contract. No GM who sees him in that light will ever want to A) take home a Milton Bradley steel trap, or B) help Hendry salvage any of his $21 million leg. The metaphor’s falling apart, so I’ll move on.

It’s time for a French lesson. I give to you, Jim Hendry, the legend of Carcassonne:

In 760, “Pepin the Short”*, King of the Franks, took most of the south of France back from the Saracens, except for Carcassonne. True to its reputation, it remained an impregnable fortress. After a long siege, the Franks had good reason to think that the inhabitants of Carcassonne would soon starve and surrender. But Dame Carcas, the widow of the Sarrasin lord of the castle, devised a plan to save the city. She had a pig fed with the last sacks of grain the inhabitants could find. When the pig was fat enough, it was thrown over the city’s ramparts. At the sight of such a well-fed fat animal, the astonished assailants concluded that the inhabitants still had enough food in stock to stave off famine and weren’t about to surrender any time soon. And so they gave up and quickly lifted the siege. Dame Carcas rang all the bells of the city all day long to celebrate the victory. Legend has it that Dame “Carcas sonne” (Dame “Carcas rings”) is where the name of the city came from.

If Hendry wants to change the way other teams view his situation, and if keeping Milton Bradley really is impossible, he needs to throw a big fat pig over the wall. Give a free agent way too much money. Make a trade for a guy you can’t afford to sign to an extension. Do something no one not named Steinbrenner would be willing to do.

Hendry needs to show the rest of Major League Baseball that he has plenty of options, plenty of money, and no intentions of getting screwed over. A fat free-agent contract (something worth about 2 or 3 John Grabow’s) would send a message that the Cubs can afford to keep Milton Bradley and they aren’t preoccupied with moving him—even if the exact opposite is true.

Do that, and maybe then a GM who cares more about OPS than congeniality will extend his grubby little paws in the direction of Milton’s death grip.

*Paul Sullivan shall heretofore be known on this site as Pepin le Bref.

Almost Lifelike

I was going to try to post a thoughtful introspective about the pros and cons of keeping Milton Bradley and the basic question of who is more detrimental to a team: an underperforming player or a so-called clubhouse cancer. That kind of talk will have to wait, because I found this video on ESPN, and I think it’s hilarious.

I’ll entertain arguments from just about anyone on just about any topic, but I refuse to believe anyone trying to convince me that those aren’t Sid and Marty Krofft puppets. I’ll resist the urge to comment on Levine’s wardrobe. It really does a magnificent job of making fun of itself.

Does Dawson Belong? Not My Problem.

There are people who make a great case for Andre Dawson’s Hall of Fame qualifications. There are those who don’t, and I don’t feel compelled to link to them.

The debate over what constitutes a Hall of Fame career is over my head. There are some magic plateaus that, in the past, have made the conversation pretty easy: 300 wins; 3,000 hits; 500 home runs. The advent of PEDs has rendered even those landmarks somewhat powerless. Mark McGwire can attest to (and Sosa, Bonds, and Clemens will soon learn about) the strange veil of judgment under which the Hall of Fame question is currently enshrouded.

I don’t think there’s one answer for what constitutes a Hall of Fame career looks like. Sometimes it’s stats (Tony Gwynn). Sometimes it’s championships (pick a Yankee). Sometimes it’s superhuman skill emanating from your pores (Ozzie Smith). Sometimes it’s just . . . fame (Jim Rice). But I’m approaching Dawson’s candidate as a fan, not an objective sportswriter. So when you ask me if I think Dawson’s accomplishments have earned him a place in Cooperstown, this is how I respond.

I don’t care. I want Dawson there because I really, really like Andre Dawson. He gave me a lot of good memories at the expense of his knees. He picked the Cubs. Just gave them a blank check and said, “Sign me. Pay me what you want. I’m playing here.” That may have been a stupid thing for him to do, but so is cheering for the Cubs. I mind-numbingly chose the Cubs three decades ago, and I’ll do it again. I can’t explain why I’m a Cubs fan, and I can’t explain why Dawson decided he wanted to play here. But that decision (and the time he spent patrolling right field in Wrigley) is more than enough to command my loyalty.

And so he has it. Look, one of the things I remember most about Dawson as a Cub was the simple fact that his knees were already shot when they got here. I remember the media dogging him for being so hobbled. I remember the questions of whether he was too crippled by his swollen knees to keep playing professional baseball. I don’t remember him as an unstoppable force on the North Side. I remember him like a kind of grandpa who showed more heart, grit, and bad-assedness than I had ever seen from a baseball player. Yeah, I remember him being awesome when he wore the Montreal elb* on his hat. But the bulk of my personal memories were of him struggling to walk as much as dominating.

I think Dawson deserves to be in the Hall, but that’s not my decision. And it’s not my job to be objective. I want him in. So I’ll keep tweeting #Dawson4theHall, hoping it becomes a trending topic and a conversation item among voters. Will it work? I don’t know, and I don’t care.

*Yes, I know it was a letter M. But it freaking looked like it said elb.You know it. I know it. The Canadian people know it.

Humor Bogey?

Dear Adam,

I’m afraid I might have crossed the line. Last night I portrayed Tiger Woods in a sketch mocking the plight of the best golfer in the world. Originally, I thought it was kinda funny. Actually, it was hilarious. It killed!

I don’t mean that it actually killed anyone. No one was hurt in the sketch. Normally I wouldn’t feel the need to clarify, but I’m feeling a little self-conscious. Some people feel like we were making light of domestic violence, and they’re accusing us of being especially insensitive to our musical guest, Rihanna—a victim of domestic violence herself. But I wasn’t making fun of Rihanna. I was just making fun of Tiger Woods. Or so I thought.

Now I’m not sure what to think. Should I apologize for being insensitive? Are the haters right in being offended? Do I need to be afraid of the critics attacking my SUV with golf clubs? What do I do?

Clubbed in NY

Dear Clubbed,

Man, you should not apologize for that sketch. True, there’s nothing funny about domestic violence, but unfortunately the same can be said of Saturday Night Live these days. The Tiger Woods bit was the only chuckle-worthy part of last night’s performance (with the possible exception of Rihanna’s chain-mail headgear).

Spousal abuse isn’t funny, but Tiger’s public statements about the incident deserve to be lampooned. You called attention to the fact that Tiger can somehow deny the allegations that his wife attacked him, despite substantial evidence to the contrary, and get away with it. That’s laughable. Your weapon is humor, and you were right to attack that.

If Tiger’s story had happened to a woman instead of the strongest, most athletic male golfer in the history of the world, the domestic violence rumors couldn’t be swept away so easily. As it is, Tiger’s stuck with the label of “player,” not “victim.” Rihanna, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky. She hasn’t just been labeled as a victim, she’s been publicly redefined as such.

Sure, there are some who would have SNL look the other way on the Tiger Woods story. Those same critics found it prudent to shine a spotlight on Rihanna . . . again. If they cared about her feelings, or battered women in general, they would have laughed and cheered at the thought of putting the bruise on the other eye.

Rihanna had no transgression to apologize for. Tiger cheated on his wife, and I’d argue that infidelity is a form of emotional abuse. Tiger gets his privacy. Rihanna gets her ER photographs blasted across the Internet. Passing on this story would have been a travesty. Seems to me you picked the perfect time to make Tiger squirm. The only thing that could have made it better would have been letting Rihanna swing the club.

As for the other 85 minutes of SNL, I’m not sure I can ever forgive you for re-airing the Swine Fever commercial.

Stay relevant, and you just might stay funny,

Adam

AL vs. NL Smackdown

I posted today at LOHO about the supposed AL supremacy over the NL. After looking at the numbers, it seems the supremacy has been very real the past several years. I hate to say it, but I don’t see it changing any time soon, either.

Also, be sure to check out the campaign launched by Cubscast to voice support for Andre Dawson’s election into the Hall of Fame. And there has never been a better time to visitHawk4theHall. There’s a lot of cool information on that site about Dawson that makes a strong case for Hawk.

Personally, I just really want the guy to get in. One of my favorite Cub memories was going to a game in ’87 when Dawson came to the plate in the bottom of the 9th with two men out, two on, and the Cubs down three. Even from some pretty mediocre seats I had a great look at Dawson icing the pitcher with his trademark badass stare. And then he crushed one to send Wrigley into hysterics and the game into extras.

After that it got pretty boring. Seeing Harry sing a second 7th inning stretch was fun, and then Thad Bosley drove in the winning run . . . or something like that. I was 10, that’s pretty much all I remember.

Anyway, just thought I should post something finally. Didn’t want to keep you both waiting.