April 29th marked the 30th anniversary of former Cubs’ Manager Lee Elia’s epic locker room rant. It seems like an opportune time to reflect on an excruciating character flaw – my Chicago Cubs’ fandom.
Of the minor missteps my mom took, influencing me to be a Cubs’ fan might be the most egregious. In general, red wine has treated me better and fostered slightly smarter decision-making. Let me take you back.
It didn’t have to be this way. Having recently moved from Kansas City where I was a four-year old George Brett fanatic, pictures from Halloween 1983 show a child in a Carlton Fisk White Sox jersey, complete with a Big League Chew habit that was the gateway to junior high escalations. But a tacit White Sox endorsement from my city-raised Pops was not long for this youngster, whose farm-raised mother was ready to pull the South Side weed and plant the seed of pain and broken dreams. A Cubs fan was born.
To put it into context, my mom is from central Illinois, where the accents are thick and they use the word ”feed” as a noun. I can sense conflict in her upbringing as well. Mom talks about her grandfather taking her to Cardinals’ games. My Uncle and her cousins are psychotic, plan-vacations-around-baseball type Cardinals fans. Yet due to my grandfather, and for what it’s worth, Mom evolved as a Cubs’ fan, but without the passive-aggressive racism that was standard issue for populist farmers of my grandpa’s ilk. (He used to call Lee Smith “Big Ugly,” which isn’t necessarily racist on its face, but…)
Mom loves baseball (and college basketball), so Dad conceded and that was that. But it was so close. I could’ve been a Cardinals’ fan – which would’ve meant timely hitting and championships (the reason why sports nerds love sports). But, still – Cardinals’ fans. I could’ve been a White Sox fan and been bred to be a low rent, excuse-making fusspot. But fusspots with a ring. Still…Sox fans.
But enough about me.
Back in 1983 then manger Lee Elia ripped into Cubs fans following a loss that dropped the team to 5-14. It is an epic rant. Elia demonstrates the moxie of Earl Weaver without any of the managerial chops. Take a listen.
1983 was a shitshow. That’s a theme. 1984 was heartbreak. That’s another theme. For all the grief heaped upon Bill Buckner for his infamous 1986 error, Leon Durham was the original Buckner. The Cubs’ had the NLCS. Had it. Then right through the Bull’s wickets went the season and Steve Garvey celebrated by impregnating a stranger.
I remember Game 5. Remember it well. Holding onto my initial Royals’ fandom, I was able to celebrate their ’85 title. I remember both these postseasons vividly – which is weird considering I was 6 years old and I can’t remember the last time I got the oil changed in my car.
On and on it has gone. Years of spectacular ineptitude interspersed with heartbreak (2003) and disappointment (1989, 2008).
However, is it possible that the eternal optimism of Cubs’ fans may finally be warranted? We’ve entered a new era – new ownership, and more importantly, 21st Century Management.
Full disclosure: I’ve been to maybe 2 game in the last 4 years (down fr. a height of about 20/yr). I can’t bring myself to watch them on television. So how can I finally be optimistic? It seems like grownups are in charge and the organization is evolving. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are astute and have a track record of building champions. Tom Ricketts, though he has made some missteps, is interested in updating the garbage ballpark and bringing in new revenue so that, pending a new tv deal, the Cubs will be able to financially sustain success without having to throw huge money and no-trade clauses at overrated free agents.
Here’s the problem. As Wrigley renovations creep forward, some of my fellow Cubs fans are bucking, reluctant to give up a “tradition” that has ruthlessly and repeatedly stomped on them before annually kicking them to the curb. Honestly, forget tradition. The Cubs’ laughable and losing tradition is so ubiquitous that it’s the butt of jokes for late night talk shows and people who don’t even know how many innings are in a game.
They don’t want the electronic scoreboard. No elevated seating. No more night games. Don’t build a hotel. Please don’t block the rooftop leeches! They want to retain all the urine-soaked mystique of 1983, the ”playground for the cocksuckers.”
These people – who include the grown men who wait on Waveland Ave. for a home run to exit the park 81 days a year so they can run after it with their gloves like the stupidest chickens in the henhouse – these people are who Lee Elia is talking about (“the motherfuckers don’t even work!”) and they persist to this day.
They talk about how it can be done without change. How it can be done without touching one men’s room trough. They talk about how the Red Sox won championships in Fenway Park. You know what? Fuck Fenway Park. Fenway is one of the most overrated venues I’ve ever attended, but it’s great if you want your seat to face the right fielder instead of home plate.
When I read op-eds like this one bemoaning the addition of a video scoreboard and increased signage (revenue streams), I get pissed. When I hear about the “poor roof top owners,” I boil with rage. Have you ever watched a game from up there? Trick question. You can’t. And they’re already a ripoff so seriously fuck them and fuck the homeowners. Quite frankly, I like having the stadium in the middle of Doucheville, but you can knock it down and build it next door (like the Yankees) or move it to another part of town. Wrigley is a shithole with shitty facilities, shitty scoreboards, and garbage food. US Cellular is a better place to watch baseball. I’ve always maintained that people who argue “the Cell” is in a bad neighborhood are more likely to get in an altercation with some drunk meathead around Wrigley. But that’s a red herring. Sox fans will look for any excuse not to come out to the ballpark.
The point is: forget tradition. The Cubs’ tradition is losing, and doing it in spectacular fashion.
From a baseball perspective, Theo and Jed have already turned one of the worst farm systems in baseball into an average one. That’s no small feat. Savvy signings like Pat Maholm and Travis Wood are not the future of your rotation. They’re trade bait to build internally. Rizzo and Castro signed long term deals that are extremely beneficial to the organization. I’m not sure people understand the extent of the damage that the Tribune Co. and Jim Hendry and his No-Trade-Clause dispenser did to the organization. Piece by piece, build from within and then you have money to timely throw at free agents when you’re ready to contend.
In conclusion: Burn. It. Down. As it rises from the ashes, Theo and Jed will cultivate the most overdue of championships. Print it!
Happy anniversary, Mr. Elia. Hit the ball. catch the ball. and get the fucking job done.