What Is the Problem with Cubs Fans?

Just to be clear: not all jerks are Cubs fans.

I’ve been determined not to talk about Milton Bradley, and I’m not. I have no intention of addressing the specific indignities committed against or by Mr. Bradley. The simple fact is that far too many people, fans and bystanders alike, have proven themselves incapable of rational thought whenever Milton’s name is involved. So any comments about Mr. Bradley have no relevance in this discussion. None.
Instead, let’s talk in generalities. A lot has been said about Cubs fans lately. There’s the argument that a minuscule fraction of the Cub-fan population, a mere handful of aberrant freaks, have given Cubs fans a bad name. I’d like to address that possibility. However, some proponents of that argument have constructed a straw man that any accusation of racism at Wrigley is an irrational blanket accusation against all Cubs fans. I have no desire to address that theory, because nobody really thinks that all Cubs fans are cross-burning racists and/or rabid slobbering jerks. Nobody. Thinks. That.
But a lot of people do think and have insinuated that the jerk-to-decent-human-being ratio is higher at Wrigley and among Cubs fans in general than it is at other ballparks and among other fan bases. That line of thinking warrants a serious look, although I won’t wage a full-scale investigation to settle the argument. I just want to know why that might be the case.

In the realm of statistics, intelligent people don’t give credence to small samples of data that lack a clear cause-effect relationship. For instance, Mark Grace hit well on Mother’s Day. Sammy Sosa hit well on his birthday. Ryne Sandberg may have had a .750 average in the seventh inning of road games in July against left-handed pitchers for teams with blue uniforms. We like those stats because of the sheer coincidence of it all. No one with a functioning cerebellum really thinks those stats mean anything. But when it comes to baseball matters outside of statistics (such as the behavior of fans of certain teams at certain stadiums) the demand for reliably determined cause-effect relationships too often goes out the window.

Is there any conceivable reason why Cub fans would be more prone to racism than would other fans? Is there something about the Cubs that is more attractive to racists? Should we expect Cubs fans to be more apt than the general public to assemble grassroots hate-mail campaigns? An argument could be made that Chicago is a racist city, but it is most definitely not the only one.

As a quick aside, I’m not going to pretend racism is all that less prevalent in America today than it was 30, 40, or even 50 years ago. But for the most part, decidedly racist people have learned it’s better to employ silent, subtle racism than the officially posted, vocally oppressive, publicly violent version of the segregated era. Just because  speaking the N-word has been ruled unacceptable by almost every subculture of America doesn’t mean no one ever thinks it or ascribes to the hate behind it. (I like Tom Lehrer’s prophetic views on the subject: publicly ignoring hate has little effect on people’s private views.)

But I also don’t think all the rage about Cubs fans is or should be confined to race. The fact is, it’s the same attitude that drives a fan to spit on a player of his own race as the one that motivates a white fan to send hate mail to a black player. People don’t do something like that because of race, they do it because of a vindictive, prideful jealousy. As much as fans love to live vicariously through their heroes and share in the glory of their success, we (yes, I’m making a universal claim here) like to do the reverse with the players we don’t think deserve the money, fame, and fulfillment that comes with being a Major League Baseball player. Booing makes us feel superior, like we have the power to strip them of their glory.

It’s the same thing that drives homely people to leaf through People‘s 50 Most Beautiful issue and complain about the ugly, horse-faced, overrated choices. It’s what causes music fans to slap the “talentless” label on Grammy-winning musicians they don’t like. That’s why, I’m sure, I critique American Idol performances. Who doesn’t enjoy taking the undeservedly famous down a notch or two?

There are some who take their glory-envy to the extreme. These are the ones who hurl racial epithets at star baseball players when they would never have the nerve to do the same to an average Joe. And yes, those same people would never think of doing that to the team’s best players (even Archie Bunker thought Sammy Davis Jr. was a god). But for the players on the opposing team, the guys they just don’t like, or even the fans who get in the way, common decency goes out the window. That’s not unique to Chicago. But is it more prevalent with Cubs fans?

To those who think it’s just a few fans, I think you’re in denial. But you’re probably in denial about people in general and not just Cubs fans. There are plenty of unsavory people in this world, and quite a lot of them prove themselves as such when attending baseball games. Being a jerk might not be Americans’ favorite pastime, but it’s in the top 10. I’ve been to a lot of Cubs games and the ones that weren’t at all marred by obnoxious, rude fans have been somewhat rare. The same goes for the games I’ve attended in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, St. Louis, Comiskey, the Cell, Milwaukee, San Francisco, and Oakland.

I don’t hear racist comments at every game or even most games, but it happens. Usually someone speaks up in a “Hey cool it” kind of way. Other times it’s just a bunch of cold glares and awkward silences. But the moral outrage over racist or offensive behavior is much more common in message boards and comment threads than it is in the stands at baseball games. In my experience, this is pretty uniform no matter where you go, but over-the-line rudeness is anything but rare.

Okay, here’s the big question: why does it seem, at least to some, that offensive behavior at the stadium (and from the fans writing in at home) is worse among Cubs fans than in other fan bases? The Cubs do get more media attention than a lot of teams, but not all. And the other Chicago team has a manager who has the amazing knack of absorbing any negative publicity that comes his team’s way (seriously, the top story all spring in Cubs’ camp has been Milton Bradley, while the only White Sox news item of note has been Ozzie’s Twitter account). Could it be a century’s worth of frustration or just a stronger desire in Wrigleyville? I’m not buying it.

To me, there is one big difference at Wrigley Field that might invite an extra measure of obnoxiousness: the bleachers. I don’t think any outfield seating area is closer to the outfielders than the Wrigley Field bleachers. There’s something about the mob mentality, the fans’ high angle looking down on the lowly players, and the massive amount of liquid courage that instill in bleacher fans, a sense of superiority, entitlement, and invulnerability. The majority of fans in the bleachers are perfectly delightful, but the real snarly and hateful ones find the perfect forum atop the ivy.

The bleachers have their outspoken apologists, but plenty of other Cub fans take pride in the adversarial power wielded in the non-beer hands of the bleacher bums. Growing up, I took that view. I thought the real Cubs fans were the shouting, genuflecting soldiers in Andre’s Army, the fans who yelled insults at, dumped beer on, and generally made life hell for opposing outfielders. At some point I realized that was stupid, but I’m sure there are plenty of fans who still identify with that mentality, even some who don’t frequent Wrigley Field.

I would guess that there is a lot more rude, offensive, and even racist behavior in the bleachers than in other areas of the ballpark, so why wouldn’t I expect it to be more prevalent in the Wrigley bleachers than in other stadiums in general where the fans’ proximity to the players isn’t so pronounced? And why wouldn’t I expect that to spill over to the fans watching at home? I can’t think of a reason.

The only way I know how to conclude this monstrosity is this: I doubt Cubs fans in general are inherently any more racist or rude or offensive than any other fans. But I do suspect that Wrigley might bring out the worst in a lot of us. I think as fans we have to make a conscious effort to curb that trend.

Down with Castro?

Starlin Castro looks like Rudy. That is all.

Pepin le Bref is once again stirring up rumors about players who aren’t on the Cubs roster, only this time it’s a guy with a solid chance to work his way onto it. Starlin Castro was a non-roster invitee to the Cubs’ spring training festivities, but he has looked like a guy you wouldn’t mind having on the big-league club.

In 15 plate appearances.

Pepin would have you believe the Cubs brass is conflicted about what to do with the phenom sporting the 1.600 OPS (in 15 PA): start him in AAA or give him a shot on the opening-day roster. As previously reported by his Bref-ness, Lou wouldn’t want Starlin to be a bench player; the kid needs to play:

Cubs manager Lou Piniella ended any speculation Sunday that Andres Blanco’s knee injury would open up a job for 19-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro. 

“No, no,” he said. “Starlin is going to start the season in Triple-A (Iowa) and play. The only way Starlin would come into this equation, and I’ve said this before, is if he shows he’s ready to play here and there’s a problem physically with Theriot.

“Now, we don’t want that. But I’ll tell you what, I’ve been very impressed with Starlin. He’s smooth up there, got a nice throwing arm, good hands. He gives you a nice at-bat. But no, we’re going to go with Theriot at shortstop, and certainly (Castro) wouldn’t be up here backing up under any circumstances. We want this kid to play.”

Less than a week after collecting that gem from Lou, le Bref suggests the decision isn’t so clear cut, even though Lou hasn’t changed one iota of his story:

Manager Lou Piniella continues to insist Ryan Theriot is his shortstop and he’s not interested in moving him to second to make room for Castro at short.

Prospects headed to the minors typically get sent to minor league camp midway through Cactus League games. Will the Cubs give Castro a longer look?

“That’s going to be up to (general manager) Jim Hendry and (assistant GM Randy Bush),” Piniella said. “Unless the kid is going to start here, their preference in the past has been to send these kids out to get them familiar with where they are going to play.”

But few Cubs prospects have performed as well as Castro has early in the games. When he smacked a first-pitch home run to left in the fifth inning, Piniella looked at bench coach Alan Trammell with a wild-eyed grin on his face.

So why manufacture a story that goes against every quote from the people who matter and is supported by nothing but 15 plate appearances and a post-homer smile?

Well, to give Pepi some credit, Castro is an exciting player. He’s bigger and faster than Theriot, but he’s also a full 10 years younger. Meanwhile, Theriot is having just as much success as Castro this spring (not to mention how ridiculous it is to base any significant decisions on a handful of spring at-bats against a bunch of guys with sub-Silva type stuff . . . oh, crap, I just mentioned it; but it was in parentheses, so it doesn’t really count).

But I don’t think Piniella, Hendry, or Bush will be making a decision based on Castro’s numbers. Frankly, they probably won’t be basing that decision on anything other than what they’ve already said. Their decision is all but made, and if they do change their minds it will be because of what they see of him in person, not on paper. They won’t gamble the fate of this season or, more importantly, the future of a could-be superstar, when they’re perfectly content with Ryan Theriot at short.

Except that Ryan Theriot isn’t really the guy to compare to Castro, because he wouldn’t be the one to get bumped out of the lineup. It’s the Fontenot/Baker platoon that would get replaced as Castro stepped in at short and Theriot moseyed on to the other side of second base.

That’s the question of the moment: would the Cubs rather have a middle infield of Theriot/Bakenot or Castro/Theriot? And would they rather have a batting order featuring Castro’s sizzling speed and a font of potential or . . . just Fontebaker? I understand those who think either one of those guys could be solid, but I don’t know how often anyone will actually utter the words, “Oh good, Fontenot is up,” or “Sweet, it’s Baker time!”

Look, I’m excited to see what Starlin Castro can do as the Cubs’ everyday shortstop, but I can wait. I’m not setting myself up to become incensed by the impending news of Castro’s assignment to AAA Iowa. But I’m certainly not begging the front office to indulge their sense of patience. I think there’s a decent chance that Starlin Castro would outperform Theriot in the field, that he’d outperform Bakenot at the plate, and that Theriot would improve the defense at second.

But I also don’t know jack, and I trust Lou’s judgment. And Jim’s. And Randy’s. I’m just glad to see Castro pass yet another test on the way to Wrigley.

Idol Eyes: Top 16, the Guys

Why Keith Urban? Shut up, I don’t know.

After seeing the remaining guys introduced, the performances seem like a waste of time. It’s pretty obvious which two remaining guys need to grab their luggage and get the rock outta here, but where’s the fun in that? Let’s give the chumps one last chance to inspire my sense of cruelty.

Lee Dewyze
Fireflies? What are you, 12? The quality of his voice has some serious potential, but the quality of his note singing makes me skin want to come off. He finished well. He kinda looks like Elijah Wood on a Snickers diet.
Odds of Going Home: 20 to 1

Alex Lambert
You can’t go wrong with Ray LaMontagne, unless you can’t sing, and Alex can. I’m so glad he’s coming along. He can definitely go further, and I think he definitely will. I really think he’s the Allison Iraheta of this season. The cool thing is that he sang Ray without messing up the song or blatantly copying the style. Very nice.
Odds of Going Home: 30 to 1 . . . the crappy guys better find some magic vocal chords

Tim Urban
This is definitely Tim’s best performance. And he should go home right now. I see a highly successful career in the Children’s Music genre for Tim. He’s just so darn deliberate. But his voice sounded much, much better than it has. And Ellen is awesome.
Odds of Going Home: 4 to 1

Andrew Garcia
Alright, the weekly attempt to completely reinvent a song commences. If I hear, “It wasn’t as good as ‘Straight Up’ ” one more time, I’m gonna have an aneurysm. For some reason I knew it would be “Genie in a Bottle,” when I heard it was a Christina Aguilera song, and for some reason, I really liked it. There’s something so Jose Feliciano-y about him. But I’m not entirely sure America will feel the same way. The dude needs to sing a song just plain normal, though. He’s basically doing a Jimmy-Fallon-does-Neil-Young routine to random vapid pop songs, and if he keeps it up he might just break music.
Odds of Going Home: 9 to 1

Iron Man

Casey James
One impossibly sexy dude covers another . . . wait, that came out wrong. Keith Urban song, great choice. Holy crap, this dude is good. In this song, he sounds pretty much exactly like Bob Seger. Randy’s an idiot. Kara’s a fraud. There’s no way Casey James is going home.
Odds of Going Home: Didn’t you read what I just wrote?

Aaron Kelly
Oh dear. Don’t sing a song with lines along the lines of ‘When you coming home?’ ‘I’m already there.’ Just a tip. Also, if you’re going to sing those songs, try to not suck. When it was low, he was weak. When the song got big, he lost control. His voice is good, but his ability to use it is not coming on stage with him.
Odds of Going Home: Directly proportional to the texting powers of whoever the crap is making Justin Bieber trend on Twitter

Todrick Hall
Dude, just sing the dang Queen song. If you change it, you die. . . . Okay, he’s singing the song. The performance had its moments, it started shaky, building, building . . . and then he pulls back at the climax of the song! Why? Dude! Why? Oh, man, I think he did a good job, and probably enough to save his sorry act for another week. But he had a chance to make it great, and he just kinda turned around and chilled for awhile.
Odds of Going Home: 5 to 1 if America has a memory; 10 to 1 if they don’t

Michael Lynch
A phenomenal Diana Ross impression to start the song. Outstanding. I honestly don’t know what he’s singing, but I like it. I think it’s his best performance so far, and I definitely think he’ll be back. Maxwell, okay, I wondered. Alright, yeah, that was great. Michael’s got something about him.
Odds of Going Home: Butter

Quick update: the guys are definitively better than the girls. It’s not an enormous gap, but they’re clearly better.

Who’s going home? Dude, I don’t know. Andrew Garcia and Tim Urban

Mad about . . . you know

I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore.

I can’t say the people’s names. I don’t want to give them the satisfaction of the publicity. I don’t even want to discuss the stupid topics they’ve decided to raise. You know who they are. You know what they’re talking about. We all know how stupid it all is.

And yet, there it is, all over the news. All over the sports section. All along the interwebs. Saturating sports talk radio. Taking over Twitter.

So this is me not talking about it. This is me not reading it. This is me not touching the accused publications with a ten foot pole. I don’t own a ten foot pole. But if I did, I wouldn’t use it to touch those people. Actually, maybe I would. Never mind. I’m not talking about it.

Idol Eyes: Top 16, the Girls

I’m still getting used to transitioning from Lost to American Idol, so if I refer to a bad performance as getting smacked around by the smoke monster, forgive me. The show is down to an hour and in a total rush, so I’ll follow suit.

Katie Stevens
The hard part of “Breakaway,” you would think, is the hammer-the-high-notes chorus. But since Katie brought the song down into a more attainable range, the chorus was a bit breezier, easier. The opening verse, though, was way below her power. All in all, there were about six notes she sang well. The judges can go on about song choice or image, but she just sang really poorly. And Kara has a new hair color, which is pretty.
Odds of Going Home: 2 to 1

Siobhan Magnus
A capella “House of the Rising Sun” intro? Good. The power finish? Awesome. The reason I’m asking myself questions? Because it’s my blog and I can do what I want. There’s also not much need for me to critique the song, because Siobhan kicked its tail. Randy touched on an important note by saying she doesn’t listen to their advice. Bottom line? If you need the judges’ advice all that much, you won’t last long. And Simon will change his mind when he watches this again.
Odds of Going Home: No.

Lacey Brown
Do you know this song? (See, I’m asking you questions now.) I don’t. And that’s a brilliant move for Lacey, because she’s making me like a song I can’t remember ever hearing before, and she’s singing the crap out of it. Another really great performance for the show, and Lacey’s best ever. She still looks too colorful for Avatar, but whatever.
Odds of Going Home: 18 to 1

Katelyn Epperly
Oh no, the earth is moving under her feet. As Heather said, her hair kinda looks like a puppy dog. She sounded less like Carole King and more like Carrie Okey. I apologize for the awful joke, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the performance. Her singing wasn’t awful, it just had that uneasy quality that said, “I think I can do a better job when I perform this on results night.”
Odds of Going Home: 4 to 1

Didi Benami
Let’s do two reviews. The first is the guitar playing: NOOOOOO! The second is the singing: yes, dear. I’m not sure which was more convincing, the degree to which the girl can sing or the degree to which she can’t play the guitar. There was just no reason to play the guitar there. But she sang effortlessly and mellow but completely meaningful. Very nice.
Odds of Going Home: 11 to 1

Paige Miles
She’s not singing that “Smile,” is she? Oh. She is. And for the first time ever on this show, she’s not smiling. That’s weird. Oh, dear, it’s like someone shot Toni Braxton. Paige really looked uncomfortable. Like people she loves are being held hostage and their lives depend on her performance. Aw, sweetie. I hope you told them you love them.
Odds of Going Home: Really, Really Good. And home is nice.

Crystal Bowersox
Girl, plug in your guitar. Can’t hear it. And please start singing the . . . oh, my, there you go. Now your singing. Oh, she’s ripping it. She’s killing it. She killed it! Well, that was lovely. If you’re gonna choose between starting well and ending well . . . she picked the right one. Very cool.
Odds of Going Home: 1 Billion Trillion to 1

Lilly Scott
Patsy Cline, huh? Sweet. She kept the country twang but sang it all Bjorky. I wouldn’t listen to it on a loop or anything, but it’s way cool. Lilly is Cyndi Lauper fun. The judges have to race through their praise of her, but she deserves more. I loved it.
Odds of Going Home: 15 to 1

Who’s out: Based on these performances? (Yeah, I did it again.) Katie and Paige

The Cubs Best Outfielder Is Ivy

I love this commercial. It features a lot of the things I loved most about my first trip to Wrigley. The things I loved back in 1981 when my idea of advanced baseball wisdom was the fact that Ivan DeJesus wasn’t pronounced I-vuhn de-JEE-zus. The scoreboard changed by hand. The brilliant colors. The flags. The ivy. Harry Caray. He was real then, not a statue, and there were no light standards protruding from the Wrigley Field rooftop. But at that time, I had no idea who the players were. Honestly, at my first Cubs game, my familiarity with the game (and our seats) was so poor, I wasn’t even sure where the infield was. It didn’t matter. Just being there was enough to make the experience, the Wrigley Field experience, a religious conversion of sorts.

I hate this commercial. Like the other facets of the Chicago Cubs 2010 marketing campaign, not a single player makes an appearance. It’s all ivy and blue skies and icons. It tells me I should love this team because of something bigger than any one person. It reminds me that the Chicago Cubs are all about feeling good and loving life and having fun. 2009 was a freak storm, an erroneous blip, a flaw in the baseball diamond. 2010 will be good again. It will be pure and Milton Bradley free. Pepin le Bref will be a messenger of joy. And the quality of the baseball being played in these hallowed halls need not factor into the equation.

Don’t manipulate me, Chicago Cubs marketing staff. I’m a fan, and that’s not changing. But don’t try to tell me the baseball itself doesn’t matter. That’s the wrong message to send. Show me Cub homers. Show me Cardinal strikeouts. Show me prospects whose stars are still rising. More importantly, show me an owner willing to pay the price of winning a World Series. I’ve had your back this offseason, Tom Ricketts. I won’t be so kind if you play this whole season on the cheap.

UPDATE: A million bonus points to Jodi for pointing out that the commercial is probably for WGN, not the Cubs specifically. What’s more, the sale leveraged transfer of the team means those two entities are no longer under the same umbrella. My fault. Mea culpa. Mia Farrow. Let’s not forget, baseball makes me stupid.

March 8, 2010 question – 5-finger Trivia

So, it’s been awhile since the trivia office sent anything over the wire. Don’t worry. Everything’s okay. Our fax machine is broken. Our coffee machine is in dire need of a replacement. And our calendar is still on February. But don’t worry. Your trivia is important to us, and we’re sorry about the wait. Also, we aren’t really we. We’re just me. But it sounds more official to pluralize myself. We know, we’re pretentious.

But let’s catch up on what we’ve missed. Happy Halloween! Happy Thanksgiving! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Happy President’s Day! Happy Valentine’s Day! Happy Casimir Pulaski Day! Oscars! Happy International Women’s Day! Aw, it’s Monday. Booo. Let’s get to the question, which I just had fed to me by my Sesame Street friends.

Today’s Question
Sesame Street
Who is the only Sesame Street Muppet with five fingers? (the rest have four)

Previous Answer
And the People Who Knew It
Little Richard was the guy James brown credited for bringing funk into rock ‘n’ roll. I’m pretty sure Jason knew. That was 6 months ago.

Cubs Spring Training 3000

The Cubs play on TV today against the White Sox. Meh. Since the advent of interleague play, the allure of these quasi-crosstown spring-training showdowns carry negligible currency in the Chicago bragging exchange. I suppose the Reinsdorfian Cubs tax embargo brings an ounce or two of intrigue to the game, but that’s nothing compared to what is sure to be the pinnacle of today’s excitement.

Julie DiCaro (A League of Her Own, @aleagueofherown), Tim McGinnis (Tales from Aisle 424, @Aisle424), and I will be live riffing the first hour of this game in MST3K fashion. Just like the marooned space voyager and his robot friends endured the torture of awful sci-fi B movies by verbally lampooning the disasters before their eyes, we’ll be staving off Cub-induced lunacy with a bit of the funnies. Or we’ll bomb. I don’t know, but I expect it to be all kinds of fun.

You can listen here, and call in here: (347) 884-8570. And if you’d rather type your comments, there’s always the live-game thread at LOHO.

Okay, I gotta get ready to riff.

Cubs Baseball Makes Me Stupid

This morning it hit me. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. And the promise of Cubs baseball was in the air. But for whatever reason, it took me about three hours before I was capable of composing a lucid thought. And it just took me another hour to think of the word lucid. I’m not even sure I used it right.

You see, on paper, I’m not an idiot. I got a 770 on the math section of my SAT. It doesn’t make me Doogie Howser, but it’s better than most cavemen. And just a few days ago I was feeling productive, clear-headed, and . . . I don’t know, I can’t think of the word for the third part in that series, but I’m pretty sure there was something else I was feeling that related to my brain functioning properly.

But as today approached, things started getting fuzzier. Words like butt and fart started getting funnier. And a third thing that would complete the comedic rule of 3’s. Suddenly I realized that the problem is baseball. I’m pretty sure it’s Cubs baseball, but the idiocy is really sinking in.

Cubs baseball is to me what sex is to George Costanza. Without it, the part of my brain that is normally obsessed with baseball is freed up to think about other things.

The offseason might actually make me understand baseball better.

But once that first spring training game starts,

I’m all “Take me to your leader!”

I couldn’t find a way to embed that last video, and there’s no way I’m figuring it out today. I should probably wrap up with some kind of witty conclusion. Uh . . . Cubs!!!