Some Cubs Traditions Just Won’t Go Away: Steve Goodman

The Cubs added lights to Wrigley Field. They started playing walk-up music instead of organ preludes. They might put an end to the celebrity 7th-inning stretch (not that I’ve heard anything, but it could happen). They could sell the naming rights to the ballpark. Willis Field has a certain ring to it. They could stop playing day games. They could move. Bleacher aristocrats could stop throwing home-run balls back onto the field. Almost any Cubbie tradition could come to an end.

Almost. The one the Cubs don’t appear to have any inclination to change is their bent toward losing with commitment and creativity. I posted this video around this time last year, so I thought I might as well make it a tradition for this blog. Because, although they might eventually choose a song other than “Go Cubs Go” to blare over the Wrigley loudspeakers, they’ll always manage to live up to the dismal hopes of this Steve Goodman rhapsody.

Wrigley Walk-Up Music: an Introduction to Suck

When I heard the Cubs had adopted the otherwise league-wide practice of playing pre-recorded walk-up music before every batter (as opposed to the traditional organ fare), I had almost no emotional response. As far as I’m concerned, and I doubt I’m alone in this, the Cubs picked the perfect time to introduce such a change: a time when our care-o-meter is at its lowest.

Fortunately, my youngest brother doesn’t know the meaning of the word apathy. That may be true both literally and figuratively, seeing as though he’s more of a music guy than a vocab wizard. I kid. He’s my baby brother. Sibling torture aside, the kid cares about his baseball.

The kid also has a kid of his own now who gets to experience the joy and pain of Cubs baseball on a regular basis. But I’ll let my brother tell that story in what is, as of this moment, an open letter to the Cubs in response to their use of walk-up music. As I alluded to earlier, Robbie is a guy who lives and breathes music, so it’s no small matter to him. As you read, I invite you to also take in this video featuring one of Robbie’s compositions. Originally titled “Nancy,” I prefer to think of it in this instance as “Robbie’s Lament.” (feel free to ignore the sappy photo array, it’s just easier for me to post videos than songs)

To whom it may concern,

My wife and 2-year old son took me to the Cubs game as an early father’s day gift, and they lost 9-5 to the A’s, but we had a great time. I couldn’t help but notice that the Wrigley staff seemed friendlier than ever. This was my son’s 6th Cubs game, and he had a blast. The highlights for him have always been the hotdogs, the 7th inning stretch, singing “Go Cubs Go” (when we’re so fortunate to see them win), the cup-holders, chanting “Let’s go Cubbies (clap, clap, clap, clap, clap), watching the game (of course), and yesterday he fell in love with “773-202-LUNA”).

We’ve taken him to see the Cubs play the Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, and to “Wrigley Field North” to see them play the Brewers. I even saw them play at old Yankee Stadium. None of these ballparks have the magic that Wrigley Field has. Going to a Cubs game is a very unique experience that is very different from these other parks, a much better experience. In fact, I would argue that if any of these other franchises wanted to improve their atmosphere, they should be trying to emulate Wrigley atmosphere. This, however, would prove to be an impossible task, since they do not have Wrigley Field itself.

For me, two highlights of Wrigley that set it apart from these other parks are the organ music, and the Dixieland band. When I hear this music, I feel like I’m getting a slice of Americana that is as classic as Wrigley Field itself. When I have gone to other parks, I have always bragged about how at Wrigley it’s about watching the game, and how Cubs fans actually do that. I’ve loved the fact that we don’t have “the wave” or blaring canned music to introduce each batter. You don’t see Derek Lee walking up to the plate in slow motion with Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” blaring as the opposing team’s pitcher shakes in his boots.

I read Paul Sullivan’s* article today about the giant mac ‘n cheese noodle and the Toyata sign (http://www.chicagobreakingsports.com/2010/06/cubs-install-giant-noodle-ad-outside-wrigley-field.html), and I don’t have a problem with any of this at all (I do miss the old Torco ad, but I digress). But yesterday, after sitting through a 1 hour 45 minute rain delay, my heart sank when Theriot walked up to the plate to Salt-N-Pepper’s “Push It.” I used to be able to hear fans cheer when the announcer announced each batter. I even liked it when the organ player played semi-obscure songs that play off of the batter’s name. In the aforementioned article Sullivan references this Soriano quote in regards to the song intros: “That motivates people when they go to home plate.” “I’ll wait to pick the perfect song, and I’ll be excited when I go to the plate.”

Isn’t that the job of the fans?

Sullivan also stated “The Cubs have also stopped playing organ music to introduce their players when they come to the plate. Now they have taped music, like most other ballparks.” Whether these song introductions are an idea of the players or of the marketing department, either way I think it is a mistake. Why is Wrigley trying to emulate any other lesser ballpark?

Over the years, I’ve seen the Cubs lose many games, but I’ve always left satisfied by the “buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks” atmosphere of old school Americana (with some modern upgrades). Wrigley is the field of dreams, it’s like you are going back to another era.

All that to say, while overall I had an awesome time yesterday watching the Cubs game as my son fell asleep in my arms, I could not help but feel disappointed by these new song intros for Cubs batters. I expect that sort of thing and even welcome it at a basketball game or even at a White Sox game, but not at a Cubs game.

Thank you for your time,

Robbie

Before reading this, I really wasn’t all that bothered by the decision to introduce walk-up music and was considering posting almost the exact opposite sentiment to what my brother wrote in his letter to the Cubs. But seeing it in practice and reading the thoughts of someone with a much better appreciation than I have for the effects of music on the hearts and minds of the people who hear it, I’ve changed my mind.

I don’t advocate tradition above progress if it stands in the way of actual improvements to the ball club or the fans’ ability to enjoy it: but this is a move that offers no advantage to anyone. As much as I’ve been mocking the fans this week, I don’t discount that the participation of the fans is more valuable for energizing our players than . . . Mony, Mony or whatever the crap these guys choose as their intro music.

I think it’s time for Gary Pressy to play his own introduction and welcome himself back to the role of player introductions . . . Baby Come Back? I Want You Back? Gary, Indiana? I’ll stop. These are all awful and nothing better’s ever going to surface. Anyway, bring back the organ.

*Pepin le Bref, as he’s known here.

Great Expectations

Aerosmith is a great band, but I’ve always felt that they peaked with their first hit, “Dream On.” Now, that’s a fine zenith, one that most bands would kill to reach, and a lot of my Aerosmith-loving friends would disagree with my assertion to begin with. But I know I’m not the only person to rank “Dream On” as Steven Tyler & Co.’s best song and one of the greatest in rock & roll history. You could argue they recorded a song or songs that were as good as “Dream On,” but I can’t be convinced that they’ve done anything that was better. (It was also the featured song of the above highlight reel ESPN played to close out 1999, which was, for me, the best of the uber-emotional musical sports montage genre . . . still gets me verklempt.)

Notice the price in the upper right of the ticket: $6.00

I bring this up now because of May 6 and May 7. You may recall a game that took place on May 6, 1998. Cubs. Astros. Ring a bell? You probably remember where you were when it happened. I do. I remember the telephone of my Chicago apartment ringing shortly after the game ended. It was my mom.

“Did you see the game?” she asked in a near shriek.

“Yeah,” I said calmly, followed by a pause for dramatic effect. “From the BLEACHERS!!!


I was supposed to have been at work. But for the third day in a row, I had been swinging a sledge hammer all day long, knocking down brick-plaster walls, picking up the scraps, and hauling away the wreckage. I was exhausted. So at about 11:30 I asked for the afternoon off. It just sounded like a good idea to catch a game. I thought Kerry Wood was pitching, and I really wanted to get to see him in person. One short El ride later, and I was at the Wrigley Field Box Office hoping, but skeptically, that there were still bleacher seats left. The attendant laughed off my skepticism.


“Oh yeah, we got plenty. We definitely have one.”


Score.


I took a seat in the left-center bleachers where there was plenty of room to stretch out. I was a bit worried by the clouds sweeping across the sky, some of them spilling a few drops here and there. It was one of those weird days when some of the ballpark was in sunshine while other seats were getting rained on. All in all, though, it was a beautiful day for me and 15,757 of my friends to enjoy.

Soon, a married couple of Astros fans (in town from Houston, they had seen the Astros win the night before) in Biggio jerseys sat in front of me. I felt a sting of anxiety when they smirked at Kerry’s first fastball, which sailed directly into Jerry Meals. But from that point on, the smirks were all mine.

Kerry’s fastball zipped so blindingly fast, there were times when I confused the smack of Sandy Martinez’s glove with the crack of a bat. Some of his pitches I genuinely could not see. But his breaking stuff? Normally I can’t tell a slider from a 2-seamer when I watch a game in person, but I could see Kerry’s slider swooping out of the strike zone like a Frisbee. I could see the fear in the Astros’ eyes, the wobble in their knees, and the swirly black thought bubble of frustration emanating from the tops of their heads.

As the game wore on, that crowd of less than 1/2 capacity exploded with ovations of glee. We were high-fiving. We were shouting. We were openly mocking the trespassers from the West who were outed by their Cardinals umbrellas when the rain got a bit too heavy for them. One guy to my left, wearing a newspaper for a rain hat, was announcing the strikeout totals with every batter. We were all grumbling slightly about Kevin Orie. We united as one in sheer joy over the crowning of baseball’s newest King of K’s.

After 2 hours and 19 minutes, we went home. Unbelievable. Unstoppable. Unequivocal.

Unrepeatable.

In the career of Kerry Lee Wood, the apex of his achievements occurred in his fifth start as a major leaguer. It was quite possibly the greatest display of pitching in the history of baseball. He could never improve upon that. Nobody could. I find it suddenly and incredibly sad to think that Kerry Wood’s finest moment, the most dramatic tear-jerking, goosebump-inducing highlight, came just a few steps into his journey as a pro.

It’s not exactly the same situation, but I’d hate for something similar to befall Starlin Castro. On May 7, 2010, he took the baseball world by storm, yet another 20-year-old Cub to set the standard for big-splash achievements. Starlin drove in 6 runs, 3 on a homer in his very first appearance at a big-league plate, and another 3 on a triple showcasing his yes-we-should-be-excited-about-this-kid speed. No player had ever begun his career with a 6-RBI game. Ever. How can Castro improve on that?

Tonight, Starlin has a chance to impress the Wrigley faithful as he debuts in a building that, according to Ozzie Guillen, he’s not even old enough to attend. The kid needs McLovin to help him buy beer, but 40,000 screaming fans are relying on him to deliver them a champion—you know, just another thing that hasn’t happened in over a century.

UPDATE: Starlin Castro went 0-2 with 2 walks and 3 errors. He got booed after the last one. Lou knew Starlin would be learning on the fly, but fans lack the patience for that. They want the prodigy but not the child. Starlin’s first lesson: Wrigley Field is infested with jerks, and the real cockroaches like to come out at night.

Cubs Facts that Go Without Saying (that I’ll say anyway)

The Cubs won’t go undefeated the rest of the season.

It is possible to put a Carlos Marmol pitch in play, after all.

Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez are not the two worst starting pitchers in baseball.

Ryan Theriot will never be mistaken for Rickey Henderson.

Jim Hendry will never be mistaken for Branch Rickey.

There is such a thing as too much beer.

Christie Brinkley has aged better than Chevy Chase.

Dead ivy isn’t any more charming than separated shoulders and concussed outfielders.

Green ivy is more charming (but not all that more comforting) than dead ivy.

He’s not on the team, but the spirit of Neifi Perez is waiting in the on-deck circle.

I don’t care how good they are, the Cardinals suck.

Starlin Castro should keep a bag packed at all times.

Wrigley Field is not a church. You won’t hear the organ playing at church.

No one cares about your fantasy team. Not even the people in your fantasy league.

“Obituary” is the nicest sounding word dedicated exclusively to the description of dead people.

The Cubs will not finish in last place.

Marlon Byrd is one smooth hombre.

It would be cool if the Cubs played the Yankees this year.

By 2015, advanced baseball metrics will be known as stats.

If the Cubs closed the Wrigley Field press box, there’s a good chance the baseball IQ in Chicago would go up.

Ron Santo deserves to be in the Hall of Fame and to watch the Cubs win a World Series, and none of this “looking down from heaven” business. Let’s get it done, people.

Top Ten Things Tom Ricketts Still Needs to Change at Wrigley Field

By law, this scoreboard must go unaltered forever. That includes general cleaning.

Wrigley Field is a beautiful place, a holy cathedral of baseball’s highest order. But it’s also home to some of the foulest, sludgiest nooks and crannies this side of Jim Hendry’s colon. The Ricketts regime has already begun to make a few changes, replacing concrete slabs with monstrous photo banners and substituting a few troughs with IPPS’s*. But it’s not nearly enough. I’m sure Ozzie Guillen could think of many more, but here are 10 suggestions to get the Cubbies started:

10. Trough-style bidets.

9. Guess the Ambassador’s Age Contest. (Hint: the answer’s 85.)

Can we get a picture of Miles, just for old time’s sake?

8. Clearly marked “Entrance” and “Exit” signs for all restrooms. (Wait, they’re installed already? Then how do you explain the 5-idiot-per-second rate of people trying to get out the wrong way? They must just be friendly.)

7. Replace out-of-town scores with manually updated out-of-touch tweets from disgruntled White Sox fans.

6. Miss an inning in line for the restroom? No problem: piss-trough time machines.

5. Tickets that don’t cost 5 billion dollars.

4. Every 7th-inning stretch, every guest conductor: auto-tune.

3. Twenty-five percent discount on concessions for everyone who agrees to shower before coming to the game. With much thanks.

2. Keep “Go Cubs Go,” as the victory celebration song, but after losses everyone joins hands and sings “Kumbaya.”

1. A new World Series banner. (Seriously, it doesn’t even have to be real. Humor me.)

*individual pee-pee stations

When Did Wrigley Become the Star?

Over at ACB, they were discussing the Cubs’ ability to draw fans regardless of the state of the team due to the tourist attraction status of Wrigley Field. My comment ballooned into a blog post. I posted it over there, but I figured I’d include it here too given the week-long posting vacation I’ve been on.

I don’t think the team officially started exploiting the Wrigley advantage until 1998. I remember because I was trying to break into advertising in 1997, and part of my makeshift portfolio was a proposed campaign for exploiting the Wrigley advantage since the team sucked so bad yet never really promoted the uniqueness of the stadium. But the real reason the focus had never been on Wrigley as a place was because the Cubs had been a personality-driven franchise. The centerpiece personality was Harry Caray.

Harry joined the Cubs for the 1982 season and became, more or less, the instant face of the franchise. Not all that coincidentally, John McDonough joined the Cubs as director of sales and promotion in 1983, and moved steadily up the Cub corporate ladder, incorporating the broadcasting division into his official responsibilities in 1991.

During Harry’s 16 seasons with the Cubs, the key marketing advantage was not Wrigley Field, it was the national audience (radio & TV) for each and every game with Harry as the featured star in both media. You may have heard Mark Grace tell of Harry’s ability to draw crowds of fans away from Cub superstars like Grace, Sandberg, and Dawson, leaving them alone to marvel at his vastly superior fame.

I guarantee you, John McDonough is a smart guy, and he capitalized on and did everything he could to encourage Harry’s fame. Harry Caray (or the unabashed homer image he projected) was the focal point of Cub marketing and promotion throughout his tenure with the team.

When Harry died before spring training of 1998, that’s when the Wrigley experience took center stage. His passing was sad for all of us, but the timing of the marketing transition could not have been better.

The culture was primed for it. In 1989, Field of Dreams became a hit, and it swelled in popularity upon its release on home video. “If you build it, he will come” became the meme that wouldn’t die. The importance of baseball in familial relationships and the culture of America took on mythological status on a mass popular level. And the movie may have been centered around a bunch of dead ballplayers from the South Side, but the idea of a ballpark lost in time conjured images of Wrigley for every Cub fan.

The next year was the last season every played at Comiskey Park, the oldest functioning park still standing at the time. And in 1991, the New Comiskey opened its gates to people generally disenfranchised with its modern look, despite the plethora of outstanding amenities. Boo for progress.

The next year, 1992, Oriole Park at Camden Yards turned the inner harbor into a baseball time machine. It was the anti-Comiskey despite the fact that the same company designed and built both parks. But with Camden’s old-world (yet amenity-rich) feel came a newfound appreciation nationwide for the parks that already carried a sense of nostalgia.

New parks continued to spring up (the Jake, the Ballpark at Arlington, Pac Bell, Coors Field, etc.) in attempts to marry the classic Americana vibe with the modern cry for additional attractions. But the baseball stoppage of 1994 cost the league a World Series, and it broke any illusions fans may have had about Major League Baseball’s quaint sense of history.

When Harry died in ’98, baseball was still recovering from the aftermath and fans were still disenfranchised. But instead of marking the demise of baseball as we know it, Harry’s passing turned Wrigley Field into a shrine to everything baseball was meant to be, at least in the eyes of the fans.

The tradition of the 7th-inning stretch being sung poorly continued. Homages to Harry popped up around the neighborhood. In a single game, Kerry Wood struck out an Astro for every year of his life. Sammy Sosa hit sixty-effing-six homers for the season. Ron Santo cemented his place as the slight reincarnation of Harry Caray (Noooooooooo!). The Cubs made the playoffs in as dramatic fashion as fans could possibly dream.

Wrigley became . . . magical. It was no longer Harry Caray’s personal stage. It had become his own small section of heaven.

That, my friends, is when Wrigley Field itself became the center of the hype. At a distance, it’s easy to see that the talk of magic and curses and overwhelming sentimentality is a bit of a crock, but in the moment, it all just seemed too perfect. Even looking back now, I get a little wrapped up in the emotion of it all.

Still, the storybook drama has worn off. I’m not alone in wanting to move on from the nonessential drama and just win a championship already. The thing is, I think the Cubs as an organization have moved on, too. Turning Wrigley into more of a place of business and less of St. Harry’s Cathedral might help all of us step into a new era: the age of winning.

Cubs’ Deal with Toyota Won’t Slow Down

Whoa!!! Cubs wanna advertise! Photo: Crain’s Chicago Business
Not satisfied with one extravagant multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract with brake problems perched in left field, the Cubs have filed an application with the city of Chicago for the rights to slap a Toyota sign in the bleachers of the landmark in which they play baseball. The good news is this deal will make the Cubs money. Probably not Soriano money, but maybe something in the Theriot neighborhood. The bad news is the Cubs need approval from the city of Chicago, which will also probably require half of Carlos Silva’s contract, food allowance, and a third round pick.
The sign, an illuminated, insignia-shaped billboard towering 75 feet above Waveland Avenue, isn’t the slightest bit objectionable to those who don’t own rooftops with Horseshoe Casino painted on them. But it’s also not a video replay board, and the Horseshoe/Budweiser/WGN Radio rooftop looked to be the most promising destination for something of that nature. Actually, the spot the Cubs management picked for the Toyota sign ain’t a bad place for such a thing. 
The question is, should we consider the ongoing lack of a giant replay board  (and the semi-permanent billboard in its most suitable future home) a matter of good news or bad?
I have heard both sides of the argument. The main pros are: 1) all fans really want to see replays when they’re at the game (admit it); 2) a JumboTron could bring in a lot of advertising revenue. How much? Does it matter? I’m sure it’s plenty. 
The cons are: 1) Wrigley is supposed to transcend time and provide an escape from the flashy, sensory overload, “Make Some NOISE!!!” brand of baseball featured at other parks; 2) a video replay board would distract from the existing, manually updated scoreboard; 3) a JumboTron could obscure the view from the rooftops as well as spoil the neighborhood skyline the fans currently enjoy.
The pros and cons have their problems, though. I agree, part of the charm of Wrigley is the time-warp feel of the place. Logic be damned, who knows how much of Wrigley’s timeless value (or, more accurately, the value of Wrigley’s timelessness) would be lost if modernization became pronounced in hi-def over drunken heads of the bleacher bums. Would enough Cub fans feel so jilted as to withhold their cash and offset the financial gain from selling Wrigley’s soul? I don’t know. That’s kind of dramatic, even if you think a JumboTron would murder the Wrigley brand.
Business matters aside, I wonder what it would do the experience at Wrigley. Despite my rage-fueled yearning to see video evidence of just how safe Kosuke Fukudome was on that force play at second, I know it’s good for me to be forced to enjoy the game as it is sans screen. I don’t care if they put a James Cameron 3D IMAX screen in left, there’s nothing like taking in the spectacle of the real thing on one take. Adding a giant video screen tends to draw the eyes of the crowd, any crowd, more than the event itself. Here’s an example.
I used to work at a college with it’s own coffee house. It was more of a coffee section really, but it carried the atmosphere of a coffee house. Indie music. Disaffected college students. Coffee. And you couldn’t help but get ensnared in great conversation while waiting for your non-express espresso. 
One year, the senior class of the college chose as its gift to the school a large-screen plasma TV for the coffee place. They turned the volume down and kept it tuned in to a news channel, but the lively conversation that once owned the place all but died. Worst gift ever.
I hate to tell you this, JT* haters, that ship has sailed. Not only have the Cubs announced plans to add WiFi to the stadium so fans can watch replays and get stats on enabled phones, but . . . well, people have their phones. Everybody’s got a phone. There’s no end to the texting, the looking down, the basking in the glow of the wireless mosaic tethers. The conversation hasn’t died, per se. It’s gone online and relies on the opposable thumbs of the users, but face it: our eyes aren’t on the game. 
There is no time travel. The friendly confines are body surfing on the sore-thumbed hands of the Wrigley faithful helplessly, for better or worse into the 21st century. Blocking the installation of a mega-sponsored video replay board won’t change that. Putting one up probably won’t even accelerate it all that much.
The modernization of Wrigley is like a runaway Toyota—you just can’t stop it.

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.

Random Cubs Facts, Opinions, Fabrications, and Outright Diversions

Firing Jim Hendry is a bad idea.

Jay Leno is not as unfunny as people give him discredit for. He’s also not as funny as Conan.

1998 was the best year of my adult life. The home run race was a part (nowhere near all) of that. I wouldn’t change a thing.

If the Cubs win the World Series this year by cheating, I will celebrate until I collapse in an unethical heap of exasperation.

If the Cubs win the World Series this year through methods of interrogative torture that cross lines even Jack Bauer wouldn’t step over, I would have second thoughts.

I do not endorse cheating, torture, illegal steroid use, or the designated hitter.

Wrigley Field is unique and one of my favorite places in the world. So is the house I grew up in, but I’m glad my parents remodeled.

If Wrigley had a JumboTron that could replay controversial calls, they’d have to stop the game every other inning to rid the playing field of angrily discarded beer cups.

Everyone’s at least a little racist.

Ryan Theriot isn’t getting any better.

Put an @ before someone’s user name to make sure they read your tweet. Use @@ to attack them with a giant 4-legged robot.

Going two-sies in the Wrigley troughs is a breach of etiquette.

The best Cubs-related movie of all time is Die Hard.

Dick Stockton will be the play-by-play guy for every Cubs 1st-round playoff game from now until the end of time.

I looked up the word curse in the dictionary, and I don’t see a single definition that doesn’t apply to the Cubs.

I love the Cubs, I hate the Cardinals, but to each his or her own.

Former players are entitled to their opinions about steroids, but I expect them to be no more objective than they were when they argued with umpires.

Parking at Wrigley has the exact same cost-to-pain ratio as getting a root canal.

Just once I’d like to catch a foul ball at Wrigley Field.

Alfonso Soriano will be great again.

Carlos Zambrano is the best Cubs pitcher, and he’s worth every penny.

The Cubs will win it all in my lifetime.

I am not to be trusted.

See You @ Wrigley

It’s game day today. I’ll admit, I don’t make it to a lot of Cubs games. Ever since they became good ridiculously marketable, the price of tickets (and fees and taxes and fees on taxes and the overwhelming convenience of it all) has exceeded my desire to have beer spilled on me watch frat boys act like they’re running the place enjoy the sound of 30,000 texts being tapped into cell phones while as many heads bow in ignorant worship of the wireless devices of their own destruction see the games live on a regular basis.

But this is it: my 3rd and probably final Cubs game of the year. My wife, my five-year-old son (who is right now anxiously awaiting the El ride to the station that shares his name and who will spend the majority of the game anxiously awaiting the El ride back), and I will all make our way to that holy hall, equal parts friendly and confining.
I hope the Cubs can reclaim first place. I hope the Cardinals’ season gets cancelled. I hope my son can join the throng in jubilant Goodman chorus as we serenade the rising W flag.
If all else fails, we’ve always got next year, when the little brother should be old enough to join us.