I became a Cubs fan around 1982 or ’83. I was a kid growing up in Michigan, so I was (and still am) a diehard Detroit Tigers fan. But I saw a segment on a TV show about loyal Cubs fans. I thought it was cool the way the fans never abandoned their team, so I decided I’d be a Cubs fan from that day forward. I was pretty excited during the 1984 season.
My two favorite teams on a collision course to face one another in the World Series. I understood the history of both franchises, but not to the extent I do now. I guess ’84 was my first taste of what it’s like being a Cubs fan.
Anyway, I considered myself a big Cubs fan throughout the 80s, 90s and into the aughts, but started to get discouraged by the fans and ownership. It’s one thing to be a loyal fan. It’s another thing entirely to reward mediocrity with your money.
Too Many “get drunk in the bleachers” Fans
I felt the Tribune Corporation knew it could put any 25 schmucks on the field and Cubs fans would still pack the stadium. I grew weary of that and it began to wear down my own status as a Cubs fan. It’s sort of ironic, really. The very thing that drew me to the Cubs was now pushing me away.
As I would say to friends, there are too many “get drunk in the bleachers” fans and not enough actual Cubs fans. I don’t say that to disparage my friends who are Cubs fans. I really don’t. For me, I simply couldn’t square in my mind that ownership was fleecing the fans and the fans seemed to go along with it. Truth is, I was angrier with ownership (but took it out on the fans, I suppose).
By contrast, look at the Detroit Tigers. From the late 80s until 2006, the team was a complete, wandering mess. After the Tigers’ 1987 playoff appearance, the team had just three winning seasons until 2006 (when they went to the World Series). Did attendance suffer in those waning years? You bet it did. And why wouldn’t it? I’m a Tigers fan, but I’m not going to reward management when they’re not even trying to compete.
“Wait ’til Next Year” & the Definition of Insanity
The Cubs had similar success and failure between 1989 and 2003 (let’s not talk about 2003), but their attendance never dipped as low as, say, Detroit’s attendance. I suppose the allure of Wrigley Field is enough to draw fans to the stadium, but it’s aggravating when ownership knows this and let’s it continue. On top of that, the lack of renovation to an old yard like Wrigley in the modern era also cheats fans out of simple amenities like clean restrooms and lack of falling concrete.
We can debate all day long about stadium lights and video scoreboards in the outfield, but I don’t believe either of these impedes the charm of Wrigley Field. As I’ve said before: they tore down The House That Ruth Built. Don’t believe for one second that Wrigley is untouchable.
I’m not advocating for the demolition of a stadium rich in history, mind you; just reminding fans that moving forward and modernizing does not mean a franchise sells its soul. Didn’t the New York Yankees play home games at Shea Stadium for a couple seasons in the 1970s while they rebuilt Yankee Stadium from the inside out? Just sayin’…
All this to say I grew more and more dismayed with what I perceived as stubbornness from Cubs fans. You can’t eschew change and evolution for 100 years and somehow expect the results to be different this year…or even if you “wait ’til next year,” as they say. Isn’t that the very definition of insanity? Rigid adherence to an archaic system borders on religiosity. The fans no longer celebrate success. They worship at the alter of the past for all the wrong reasons.
In other words, it felts like Cubs fans were embracing the “lovable losers” moniker a bit too much. It was similar to Boston Red Sox fans, who wallowed in “The Curse of the Bambino” for so many years they became the most insufferable fans in baseball. They’ve since gotten a taste of success and it’s changed their mentality, which is good, but they’re still insufferable fans. That’s another story for another time.
The game has changed. The players have changed. The competitive landscape has changed. You either evolve or die. It’s nice to reminisce about the bygone era of four-man rotations and fewer specialty players like middle relievers and closers, but look around. That day is long gone. Approaching the game, the marketing of the game and the stadiums in which the game is played is not anachronistically adorable. It’s a recipe for self-inflicted mediocrity.
A New Era of Cubs Baseball
Somewhere between the end of the 2003 season and 2009—when the Ricketts family purchased the Cubs from the Tribune Corporation—my fandom for the Cubs went dormant. It seemed all those things that frustrated me as a fan grew too much to bear anymore, so I threw it off and moved on as a Tigers fan, exclusively. I didn’t hate the Cubs. I simply chose to no longer be an active fan of them. I divested emotionally, you might say.
Even though I should recognize I appreciated the hiring of Lou Piniella, who immediately went to work on that “lovable losers” attitude among fans. The Cubs got to the playoffs a couple times with Lou running the show, but never quite got over the hump. Nevertheless, he echoed some of my sentiments and I did appreciate that.
It wasn’t until the Ricketts family came to town and ushered in a new era of Cubs baseball. Where many Cubs fans shrieked in horror at plans of plazas, video boards, luxury boxes and modern clubhouses, I applauded the efforts to modernize Wrigley Field.
Where many Cubs fans raged at the idea of blocking the view of the rooftops on Waveland and Sheffield, I applauded it. Whatever charm the rooftops had in the early days was completely lost on me as these building owners took to corporate sponsorship, constructing bleachers and “luxury boxes” and charging fans a fortune to pilfer a baseball game across the street. It was one thing when people who lived in these buildings had rooftop parties. It’s another thing entirely when you turn it into a corporate enterprise. No thanks. My hope is the Ricketts family one day buys all those properties and turns it into part of the Wrigley Field grounds, but that’s another story for another time.
While I’ve been pleased with the off-the-field changes for the Cubs, I’ve been even happier with the changes to the team since the Ricketts family took over. The hiring of Joe Maddon told me they were serious about winning.
Does winning make me a Cubs fan again? Well, I’m on the bandwagon, sure, but it would be disingenuous to say I’m a “Cubs Fan” again. As a baseball fan, I love seeing them in the World Series. For my 13-year old self who was a big Cubs fan, I love seeing them in the World Series. Even though I’m much happier with the Cubs over the past six or seven years than I was the previous 10, I can’t call myself a Cubs fan again. I say that out of respect to my diehard Cubs fan friends. This is their moment, not mine.
But I don’t mind riding the bandwagon as long as they don’t mind. Just as I walked away from the team over the culture of losing, I have to recognize the cultural change around the Cubs. They are no longer “lovable losers.” That’s all I ever wanted.
Go Cubs Go.