Curse of Cubs Fans pt. 2: Too Much Pressure

Dennis Eckersley . . . had just been traded to the Cubs and seemed dumbfounded by the intensity and the atmosphere. Sandberg said he had a pretty funny moment with Eckersley.

“He just sat there and watched,” Sandberg said, “and after the game I remember him saying, ‘Wow, Ryne, is every game like this in Wrigley Field?’ He just couldn’t believe what he saw, the excitement of the crowd and everything happening.”

Excerpt from Chicago Cubs: Memorable Stories of Baseball, by Lew Freedman

Cub fans love to hear that we provide a special playing environment enjoyed by our team and envied by visiting ballclubs. Even when wins are scarce, Cub fans somehow create a playoff atmosphere on a Tuesday against the Pirates. We need no jumbotron to incite an uproar when one of our pitchers gets a two-strike count on a batter. We autonomously rise to our feet when the Cubs get the chance to take the lead, even if it is the second inning. Well . . . sometimes. Other times we do the wave when the game is on the line.

The point is, Cubs fans have a reputation for being the most unconditionally supportive and vociferously optimistic cheerleaders in all of sports. When players come to Wrigley, they know they’ll be taking part in a game where everyone in the building cares to the utmost of their very souls. And that’s in June. When September and (with any luck not ruined by our jinx-happy fan base) October roll around, forget it. Wrigley Field is a pressure cooker.

And  maybe that’s the problem. Every game. Every at-bat. Every pitch carries the weight of 10 million hopes and dreams. Maybe it is every player’s dream to play in front of a raucous, wildly cheering crowd, but the pressure of living up to our expectations just may be too much for any team.

The obvious point of rebuttal plays in the Bronx. Yankee fans have higher expectations than Cubs fans, and they outnumber us, too. But Yankee fans merely ask their teams to live up to history. We’re asking the Cubs to erase it.

NPR recently ran a story on the American Psychoanalytic Association’s views on the mentality of baseball among fans and players. One quote in particular stands out, from Dr. Robert Pyles, who stands to be the APA’s next president: “I never thought of baseball as a sport. I thought of it as a mythic struggle between heroes and bad guys.” That’s all well and good in the mind of a fan, but a player elevated to hero status has to feel enormous pressure from a teeming throng of blue-clad worshipers expects him to slay a 102-year-old dragon.

You can see it in the eyes of Mark Prior in the 8th inning of Game 6 or in Alex Gonzales’s nervous hands or in Moises Alou’s irate gesticulation. Leon Durham in ’84. The offensive impotence of the 2007 playoffs or the complete defensive meltdown of ’08. In all these instances, the pressure imposed by Cubs fans appeared to be simply too much for talented mortals to bear.

And that’s just the positive pressure. Now that Cub fans have had a taste of near-glory, they’ve grown embittered to anything but perfection. The journalists in this town have turn to sadists. Bloggers are out of patients. The paying customers resorted to booing the youngest player in baseball on his Wrigley debut. Fan pressure turns a playoff team into a nervous mess, and it has turned an underperforming June swooning club into a steaming pile of mediocre.

The calls for Jim Hendry’s head are on Cub-fan speed-dial. Lou Piniella is only half as old and tired as the fire-Lou meme. The Ricketts clan is so occupied by the team sponsor image reclamation campaign that they really can’t be bothered with fan complaints. But if the fans really wanted to make a positive impact on this team both now and in the future, we’d cool the heck down, take a deep breath and enjoy the game.

Keep this pressure up, and the entire Cubs organization will need the number for Milton’s therapist.

And don’t worry if you disagree with everything I said here. I’ll make the exact opposite argument tomorrow.

Curse of Cubs Fans: We’re Jinxing Them

World’s Greatest Fans = World’s Worst Luck

Theodore Roosevelt Lilly stood atop the rain-soaked Wrigley Field mound Sunday night with a chance of realizing every pitcher’s dream: a no-hitter. During any no-no, pressure mounts for the pitcher, all the players, and the fans with every passing out. But this one carried a unique flair as both starting pitchers stretched their hitless performances into inning number seven. At least for this fan watching and tweeting from the comfort of his living room couch and referring to himself in the third person, the pressure of seeing Lilly preserve his chance at history was greatly reduced by Gavin Floyd’s pursuit of his own historicity.

The double bid seemed to cancel out the cardinal rule of superstitious baseball etiquette: don’t jinx the no-no.

Now, one might think that recording 27 outs without allowing a single hit is impossibly rare, not due to the speech patterns of observing fans, but because of just how easy it is for a professional baseball player to get a hit, especially given almost 30 opportunities to do so. I mean, think about that for a minute. If an individual player slides into an 0-27 slump, fans would boo him mercilessly. Aramis Ramirez, as bad as this year has been for him, never went 27 at bats without a hit (though he did reach an 0-20 hole). Aaron Miles’s colossal failfest in 2010 topped out at 20 consecutive hitless at bats. As bad as that looked, Miles never took a personal no-hit streak past the theoretical seventh inning.

So if it’s that rare for a hitter at his worst to make 27 outs before recording a single hit, shouldn’t we attribute the fall of a no-hitter to the overwhelming improbability of a pitcher retiring 27 batters without allowing even a remote base knock? Do we really need to add to the improbability by expecting all of humanity to refrain from saying, “no-hitter,” until it’s over?

Yes, maybe we do. A lot of people mentioned the no hitter, and it didn’t happen for either guy. Obviously we screwed it up. I mean, come on, what are the chances that the no-hitters would be broken up by Alfonso Soriano (who had been 1 for his previous 22) and Juan Pierre (0 for his last 11)? That’s gotta be roughly the same odds as Lady Gaga blending in . . . anywhere. Fate must have intervened.

Since I’m exploring the various ways in which Cub fans are destroying their own team, I want to look at more than just the disintegration of the no-hitter. What if the jinx goes beyond single-game probabilities? What if Cub fans are jinxing this team’s World Series chances because we can’t stop talking about 1908?

Obviously broadcasters aren’t playing along. You can’t go past the third inning of a nationally broadcast Cubs game (or, for that matter, an hour into any broadcast of any game in any sport in which either team is or has a chance of becoming the reigning world champion) without hearing a reference to the Cubs’ championship drought. But broadcasters have a job to do and time to fill. You can’t really expect them to shut up about it.

The fans are even worse, and I might be the chief among sinners. This entire blog is a shrine to the neverending chronicle of winlessness. Is it possible that every time I mention the (at least) 102-year span between championship celebrations, I lower the already infinitesimal probability that the Cubs might actually win it all?

Of course it’s possible. You could say it’s bordering on undeniable fact. All we have to do to ensure the Cubs end the curse of the billy goat (which is stupid and doesn’t exist and every sensible person knows this beyond a shadow of a doubt) is to go an entire year without any of us saying anything about a World Series or 1908 or 100+ years or any of that. Because every time we do, we are angering the baseball gods. And, if you haven’t noticed, the baseball gods are already pretty ticked off at the Cubs. If the Cubs were Ferris Bueller, the baseball gods would be Edward Rooney. But the Cubs aren’t Ferris Bueller. They’re Cameron Frye. They could be Abe flipping Froman, but it still wouldn’t change the fact that they have to bum trophies off of people.

But look, I can’t tell you what to do. Mention 1908. Don’t mention 1908. Just know that by doing so, we’re all jinxing the Cubs on a daily basis and we are killing this team’s chances at a World Series. When you sit there scratching your head, yelling at your TV, or trying to suffocate yourself with a 1945 commemorative pillow wondering how this team could play so badly, just remind yourself that it’s our fault. We’re jinxing it with every passing mention of the legacy of futility and the for baseball absolution that comprises the anguish and unrequited anticipation that is Cub fandom.

Issue One: Suck or Cynic?

No, seriously, get off my lawn.

I hated it when I was a kid, but I’ve grown to love The McLaughlin Group. Led by curmudgeonly debating dictator John McLaughlin, this talking-head free-for-all might carry the blame for the parade of political punditry running through television around the clock, but that’s only because they do it right. They step on each other’s sentences and stumble their way through a bipartisan spectrum (composed of drastically slanted extremes). It’s entertaining, informative, and everything a political talk show should be.

Be that as it may, Johnny has drawn lighthearted criticism for his less-than-subtle manner of implying his cynical opinions are superior to all others, a caricature made famous by Dana Carvey and imitated by Cub fans everywhere.

I’m probably just as guilty as anyone of dismissing dissenting opinions, so don’t read this as a personal attack just because you know I know you’re wrong. But there’s something I find so irritating about the cynicism that follows a Cubs loss, bad inning, John Grabow run given up, Aramis Ramirez strikeout, Lou Piniella managerial decision/quote/shaving holiday . . . you name it. And, yes, I even get irritated at myself for succumbing to it. It’s the attitude that I can draw sound conclusions about this team or this player based on the last game, at bat, series, or even two weeks of play. 
We all know that’s not true, but when a small sample agrees with our general conclusions, it’s oh so tempting to set our opinions in stone. And then laminate them.
The first week of the season, everyone jokes about it. Samardzija’s ERA is infinity. Marlon Byrd is on pace to hit 456 homers. The Cubs will go 0-162. But after the first month of the season, and especially after the first two, fans tend to forget how unreliable small samples are, especially the fans who don’t know what constitutes a significant sample.
The Cubs are 1-7 against the Pirates. What does that tell us? It tells us that the Cubs have a woeful record against the Pirates this year. Are the Pirates better than the Cubs? Let’s entertain the thought. Here are some other imaginary conclusions we can draw from the Cubs/Pirates season series: 
  • The Cubs are 23-22 against the rest of baseball, so the Pirates must be the best team the Cubs have played this year. 
  • The Pirates are 15-30 against non-Cubs teams, so the Cubs must be the worst team the Pirates have played, including the Astros who have yet to lose to the Bucs and have lost just one to the Cubs.
  • Somehow the Cubs are an otherwise above-.500 team that is also the worst opponent the Pirates have faced, so the Pirates must have the toughest schedule in all of baseball. Ever.
  • Xavier Nady is an unstoppable force, he and his 1.065 OPS against the untouchable Pirate pitching staff.
  • Marlon Byrd doesn’t hustle nearly as hard as Alfonso Soriano.
I won’t go on. No one believes those conclusions, but for some reason, “The Cubs suck” is the most obvious fact ever presented before the public eye because of the Cubs’ 8 games against the Pirates, even though it doesn’t really agree with what the other games have told us. The Pirates have the second worst pitching staff in the National League (Milwaukee is the worst). Although the Cubs have absolutely pounded on Brewer pitching, the Pirate hurlers have been tougher on the Cubs than have all but three opposing staffs. It doesn’t make sense. And, in small samples, neither does baseball.
To be fair, the optimists who get overly excited when the Cubs are on a hot streak (read: me) are just as deceived by recency and selective sampling as the cynics who proclaim doom every time the L flag flies over Wrigley. But cynicism especially irritates me because it’s the cop-out attitude. It’s safe. It’s the defense mechanism of every fan.
Anyone quick to judge the Cubs as uber-sucky, other than opposing fans who frame their identities around criticizing the very team they hate (and really, this has to be the most pathetic segment of sporting society), is happy to be proved wrong. Generally, Cubs fans aren’t happy to see their team fail, so the doubters take solace in the fact that they saw the collapse coming. If the Cubs lose: “I knew it, and you’re an idiot if you’re surprised by this.” Cubs win: “Yay, I was wrong! This won’t last.”
See how that works? Call the desired outcome impossible, and you’ll never be disappointed. The only problem is, it doesn’t mean you’re a good prognosticator, it just means you’re skilled at covering your butt.
The people calling for Lou’s head because he leaves starting pitchers in too long are the same ones who get irate when he brings in the wrong reliever. The people saying Lou was a fool for starting the all-bench lineup are the same ones who, 24 hours earlier, were begging him to shake things up. They have to blame unexpected results on someone, and the unpredictability of baseball isn’t an option. It’s this: Lou sucks. The Cubs suck. If I can’t get the outcome I want, at least I can feel better blaming it on the people stupid enough not to be as cynical as I am right now.
Well, that sucks. I’m not saying everyone has to predict the Cubs to win or to bounce back. I’m not saying the optimists are right and the pessimists are wrong. I’m just saying the cynics, in this case and in life in general, are taking the easiest path, especially when it’s based on only the most recent or selective observations. If you think the Cubs suck (and their record agrees with you) I’d hope you’d form that opinion from something more than the final score to one game or even eight.
I’ll leave you with two things: 1) MLB’s collection of highlights carrying the Starlin Castro tag; 2) Exit question: on a scale of 1-10, 1 being the suckiest team in the history of spheroidal suction and 10 being the metaphysical pinnacle of baseball existence, how good do you think the Cubs are?

Are You a Real Cubs Fan?

Even facebook thinks fans are stupid. Anything beyond “like” is too much for Zuckerberg.
from reface.me

The Cubs have yet another marketing campaign, although this one is for a good cause. Not that trying in vain to win a World Series isn’t a good cause, it’s just that more conscientious uses of natural resources is probably a better one (though the world is likely to end once the Cubs finally win it all, so maybe there’s some conflict there). The new slogan is “Real Fans Recycle.”

I don’t care to comment on the recycling so much as the use of the phrase, Real Fans. The topic has come up several times in recent days, especially as the Blackhawks bring their increasingly loaded bandwagon ever closer to Stanley Cup junction. A lot of extra-fanatic fans are calling into question the integrity of the newcomers. If the state of Blackhawk fandom were the state of Arizona, the die-hards would be asking a lot of fair-weathers to produce their papers. But is it really necessary to secure the borders of Blackhawk Nation or that of the real fanbase of any other team?

Come on.

I’m no expert on the Blackhawks, but I consider myself a fan. I follow their progress. I watch a fair amount of their games. I want them to do well every year. Hockey is not my favorite sport, mostly because I have an impossible time imagining I could play it. This makes the game a bit harder to relate to, but in no way does it diminish the grandeur of the sport. I’m more impressed by the talent and athleticism of hockey players than those of any other competitive endeavor, no matter how hard it is to see the puck. So, I’m a fan. I like the team. I like their fans, too. But I’m sure a lot of people would call my fanaticism a big frozen block of fail. So be it. I’ll still call myself a fan, though not loudly.

I say this as a die-hard Cubs fan, because as much as I like the team, I find it entirely silly to evaluate the fanhood of my fellow enthusiasts. If you just started cheering for the Cubs in 2003, welcome. If you’re a centenarian on life support waiting for the first World Series championship in your lifetime . . . I applaud you. Loudly. If you just became a fan because of the thrill ride that was the 2009 Milton Bradley saga . . . you’re weird. But you’re no better fan than I. Even if you jump from team to team, commandeering the bandwagon of whichever team wins it all, I can’t wait for you to superficially don the Cubbie pinstripes. You’re all real fans, congrats.

The key to all this is, being called a fan is not a compliment. Take as much pride as you want in being a fan, but don’t expect anyone but other like-minded, affirmation-deprived souls to congratulate you. The reward of being a fan comes in the experience itself. If you cheer for a winner, the victory and its complementary bragging rights are your spoils, but no fan gets to keep them all to themselves. No one can dictate who gets to be happy about a win or sad about a loss, and there’s no extra commendation to bestow upon us poor applauding fools. The sound of our own jubilation is all we get. Well, that and whatever merchandise we care to buy to commemorate our idiocy.

Plenty of fans will argue the existence of some code of honor among fanatics, that their choice of team is something nobler than rooting for the most likely winner. They’re from my hometown. This team is different. They have the cutest butts. They play with heart. They play with valor. They play with themselves. What we really want to cheer for is a team that plays well, and most of us stick with the same team not because we want to be noble but because we want to be right.

Nowhere is this more relevant than in the other sports-related fan word: fantasy. Those of us who play fantasy sports will, on occasion, select a player from our favorite team or just a person we generally admire. But when we’re the ones doing the competing, most of us will choose the players we think we will perform the best. We choose practicality over sentiment or we lose. Everyone loves the fantasy sports participants who choose with their hearts instead of their heads. Are they better people? No. Are they certain to lose? Absolutely, that’s why we love them!

So, go Blackhawks. Go Cubs. Go real fans everywhere. But if you’re going around telling people they aren’t real fans, take a moment to make sure you have an actual life. To be a real fan, I believe technically you have to be a real person.

In Our Own Image

Chicago Cubs' Alfonso Soriano homers against the Houston Astros
Even I can run hard out of the box (which would be odd after a strikeout).
They make millions of dollars a year. They get paid those millions to play the game we love. They should consider themselves lucky to be professional baseball players and collect the hard earned money we shell out to watch them play the game we love. The least these players can do is to try their best.
Except, actually, that’s not the least they can do—that’s the most we could do. If we (and by we, I mean society . . . specifically the non-professional baseball playing segment of it) were to play baseball in the majors, we would absolutely suck. We wouldn’t be able to hit. We wouldn’t be able to pitch. We wouldn’t be able to hit the cutoff man. But we could try really hard. We could run out our ground-outs and pop-ups. We could make smart decisions. We could hustle. We could not admire our non-homers. We could dirty our uniforms. We could be scrappy.

For fans who wish we could play, it’s hard to forgive a multimillionaire for failing to do the things we know we could do or for making the mistakes we know we could avoid. So when Alfonso Soriano or Aramis Ramirez don’t sprint out of the batter’s box or when Ryan Theriot gets TOOTBLAN’d or when Lou decides John Grabow should pitch in a game we think the Cubs have a chance to win, we self-respecting Cub fans get a bit angry. I’ve been trying to figure out the reason behind the outrage, and the conclusion I’ve come to doesn’t reflect on us all too well.


The thought came to me as I was remembering the accounts and myriad replays of Carlton Fisk’s dramatic home run in Game 6. Pudge watched that homer. He jumped around and waved like a maniac. It’s the stuff of legend because he acted exactly the way any person capable of emotion would have . . . and because it won Game 6 of the 1975 World Series in the 12th freaking inning. Here’s my personal favorite recollection of that shot, courtesy of Good Will Hunting. It’s extremely NSFW, with a big stinking emphasis on the F. But I love the scene. Just don’t play it if you’re in an un-effing-friendly environment.

Anyway, I got to wondering: Pudge was waving because he wanted it to stay fair, but what if fair/foul wasn’t the problem? (It hit the foul pole, for crying out loud. How beautiful is that drama?) But what if it stayed fair and ricocheted off the Green Monster? Fisk could have been held to a single or even thrown out at second. What he did in that glorious moment—watched the ball and gestured emotionally—resembles pretty closely the antics of some of the most derided players in the game. What’s the big difference? The moment? The stakes? The results? Ultimately, I think the difference is the answer to the question, What would I have done if it were me?

We are proud people. As much as we want to live vicariously through the athletes who do what for us would be impossible, we just as badly want them to reflect the qualities we claim to possess in ourselves.

Sometimes it’s as simple as geography. I went to Valparaiso High School. Jeff Samardzija did, too. So I and all of my fellow Valpo Vikings wanted to see the kid succeed. It would promote the notion that somebody from our town could be great. Someone like me could be a big-league baseball player. As it is, I have to live vicariously through the graduates of Fort Osage High School.

Obviously our personal stock in our favorite players isn’t limited to such specific minutiae. If you’re a hard-working, blue-collar type, you’ll tend to admire the multimillionaires who aren’t afraid to sacrifice their bodies to break up a double play. The intense competitors in the stands greatly appreciate those players who, when they hit routine grounders to short, consider the dash to first a race against death. Perfectionists love a guy with ridiculously impeccable fundamentals. Dancing bears bow to Kevin Millar. You get the idea.

We feel strongly about players who do the little things because the little things are all we have. When a professional with all-world talent still manages to play with the heart and grit of one of us common slow-pitch softball junkies, it makes us forget about the salaries they make and reminds us of what we could have been if only Disney hadn’t lied to us about all that dreams-come-true mumbo jumbo. Living out our dreams through someone else is more believable when that someone does things the way we do. Watching them do something that goes against our character feels like a betrayal of our dreams, like they’re dancing on the graves of our aspirations. Lazy selfish ballplayers make lousy vicars.

Our desire as fans to cheer for athletes who conform to our own image causes us to place too much importance on rather insignificant details and arrive at inaccurate conclusions. That could have been a triple. He shouldn’t have dived headfirst into first base. Or he should have. He doesn’t care. He’s lazy. He only cares about his own stats. He’s a clubhouse cancer. If he was more like me, he’d be a much better ball player.

Let’s get one thing straight: if players were more like us, baseball wouldn’t be very fun to watch. I don’t fault anyone who likes a player for espousing their same values or work ethic or haircut. But we need to understand the difference between what makes us like a player and what makes him a good player. Sometimes they’re the same thing, but not as often as we think.

On the other hand, talented people often think they’re above doing the things common people have to do to get by. And that sucks. But at some point, we need to realize that, if we’re honest with ourselves, we appreciate talent much more than character, hustle, grit, or work ethic. If Mr. Rogers were the starting second baseman for the Chicago Cubs and he made 6 errors in a game and went 0-5 with 5 strikeouts (but tried real hard doing it) we’d boo his face off. That’s a fact. But rousing applause will greet any Cub that hits two homers in a game, regardless of the little things he neglects and big blunders to which he’s prone.

Why? Because deep down we know the qualities we possess are much less valuable in a baseball player than the talent we lack. 


Cubs Flashback: Ozzie’s Right. We are Stupid.

Without the time, energy, or emotional fortitude to post something original, here’s a rerun from last year . . . kinda suits the occasion.


Seriously. Ozzie is on to something.

When the White Sox first made Ozzie Guillen their manager, my instant response was one word: Genius. I didn’t think he was a genius, I just thought the move was genius. If any person in my lifetime has embodied what it means to be a part of the White Sox . . . thing, it was Ozzie. Perfect guy for the job. Perfect face of the organization. Perfect person for Sox fans to love and Cub fans to hate.

But something happened in the years that followed: Ozzie grew on me.
To be perfectly honest, I have come to acknowledge that Ozzie Guillen really is a managerial genius. I’m not talking about his X’s and O’s (whatever that term really means in baseball). I mean, Ozzie is the quintessential baseball evil genius.
Ozzie works the Chicago media (and, at times, the national media) like marionettes in his diabolical hands. He takes pressure off his players when they need that. He puts pressure on his players when they need a kick in the butt. He enters into the psyche of opposing teams and fans. And when he’s really backed into a corner, he can just ramble on unintelligibly for five minutes—and like an R.E.M. song or a Tarantino film, people just kind of get it, even though they don’t know why.
After the Cubs/Sox series, Ozzie responded to a Lou Piniella comment about the Sox and their inability to draw fans for anyone but the Cubs. His words: “Our fans aren’t stupid like Cubs fans. Our fans know we’re [expletive]. Cub fans will watch any game, because “Wrigley Field is just a bar.”
A lot of outrage exploded throughout Cubdom, but I’ve got news for you, Cub fans, and it really shouldn’t be news: Ozzie is right. We are stupid, and this team is [expletive] right now. Heck, not even right now. Have you glanced at the sports section in the last century? Cub baseball is not where it’s at. We’re idiots. We’re dumb. We’re mindless. We’re dreamers.
And proud of it.
Look, only an idiot would have anticipated that Rudy would see on-field action for the fighting Irish. Only a moron would have placed his money on Milan to win the 1954 Indiana high school state basketball championship. The dummies picked David over Goliath. Cheering for the Cubs is not smart.
But we do it because we long for that feeling of overcoming the odds (which were actually pretty good heading into the season). We cheer for the underdog (even though the Cubs have paid enough, but haven’t won enough, to shed that tag). We show up to watch an expletive team and put ourselves through expletive for the chance at seeing history, affixing ourselves to it, and proclaiming to the world, “Holy expletive! The Cubs won the Series!”
It is stupid. It is far-fetched. It is a terrible commentary on our intellect. But it is our hope, and it’s all we got. Well, that and a mighty fine bar in which to drown our sorrows.

Permission to Speak?

I don’t care to start a blog war or even a twitter sissy slap party, I really don’t. But something I read this morning really struck a nerve. As fashionable as it is for blogs to blast other blogs, I’m not going to deride BCB or its author for annoying the crap out of me. He has that right. I do, however, want to obliterate the ridiculous sentiment behind the post.

It’s difficult to say this without being hypocritical, because the essence of my argument is that allowing people to think, speak, report, blog, comment, and tweet freely is important. It’s more than important. It’s essential to the integrity of society. So far be it from me to undercut anyone’s First Amendment rights as they relate to the Cubs blogocracy or the free world in general.

On the other hand, part of the freedom of speech is the freedom, nay, the responsibility to freely point out when an idea is a crock. So, my fellow citizens of Earth, the value of truth compels me to say, the half-baked notion that Twitter is ruining spring training is a simmering slow cooker full of fecal matter. But don’t let me tell you what to think.

Here’s all you really need to read to understand the post:

In general, I believe the relentless, breathless nature of Twitter is spoiling one of the best things about spring training:

Optimism.

To show this isn’t a personal attack, I’ll try to give his overall point a fair summary. Journalists disseminate updates via twitter at a breakneck rate, feeding rabid Cubs fans insatiable appetite for knowledge and triggering explosive and irrational reactions throughout social networks of all stripes. The trend has turned Cubs fans from hopeful, optimistic sunbeams into mopey, whiny, dark clouds of humbug. If the journatweets were more selective about their updates or fans were more patient in their thirst for and reaction to said info, we’d be much happier people.

None of this is worthy of Bill of Rights-grade outrage, but the fundamental argument behind it is: people can’t be trusted with facts; withhold information until it can be sanitized and spun; wait for the team management to disperse their version of the truth before you go drawing your own conclusions; it’s not journalism unless it passes the desk of an editor; if it’s important enough to affect the entire season, you can wait a few hours or until the next day before you hear it; leave the critical thinking to the experts.

I’d expect as much from the Cubs’ PR machine. But to espouse that nonsense as part of a free society is downright irresponsible.

I don’t care if you hate Twitter. Hate it. Don’t use it. Register and block everyone out of spite. I really don’t care. Twitter is not in your face. It’s a way that some people choose to communicate. That’s it. If a beat reporter uses it to communicate news to a lot of people, great. If a serious journalist refuses to use it, awesome. Take your time and write your dissertation. I might read it. But if people just stop communicating and opt instead to withhold breaking information for more prudent times, the only winner is ignorance.

If Starlin Castro gets hit in the butt with an errant Marmol fastball, I want to know. If some dude in his mom’s basement thinks that spells the end of the Cubs’ World Series hopes, I want him to say it. Smart people, dumb people, pessimists, and optimists, I want them telling whoever will listen what they know and what they think, because that’s how people learn. I hope the right people correct the wrong people and the optimists cheer up the pessimists and the ignorant listen to the informed and the irritable ignore the annoying.

There are few things more bothersome than people who would rather put a damper on truth than change the way they think and feel. If your optimism depends on the restriction or suppression of information, your optimism is stupid. The same is true of pessimism. And realism. And socialist fascism. As much as I’d like to tell people to shut up, I don’t really want them to. I mean, they should take the time to listen occasionally, but come on. Communication is good.  Do it more, not less. And if you believe in willingly constructing a false sense of optimism for the sake of tradition by withholding the truth from the masses, feel free to do it somewhere else.

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.