The King is Dead
©2011 Ross Williams
Being a Cubs fan is difficult for all the well-known reasons. It’s also difficult for some not-so well-known reasons – particularly when the Cubs fan lives around St Lose. My wife spent a decade in Chicago, becoming a Cubs fan during that time, and always thought I was joking – or at least grossly exaggerating – when I told her what it was like to live twenty-five miles from the Arch.
Then she moved in with me and found out for herself.
I was not joking. I was not exaggerating.
Within two months, as we were walking down a street, some young-ish woman crossed the street to insult us. Soon after, a guy she sorta works with and doesn’t know very well came up behind her and started yelling at her about the evil, rude and unreasonable things the Cubs had recently done – like taken a series against the Cardinals or something.
I’ve been assaulted at Busch Stadium, I’ve watched other out-of-town-team fans being assaulted at Busch Stadium – in front of stadium “security” – who did nothing about it [and I could swear I’ve seen the same “security” person at Lambert in a TSA uniform recently], I’ve been screamed at across parking lots to “go shopping in Chicago, loser” by adults in their sixties who should know better than to be so childish, I’ve been screamed at by strangers at work when Cubs pitchers beat the Cardinals, I’ve been insulted in foreign countries by Cardinals fans who cannot manage to leave their childishness at home, and I once had a guy follow me 25 miles from my office to a Home Depot parking lot because I have a Cubs license plate holder only to insult me and drive off laughing.
Cardinals’ fans are, on the whole, ass holes. They are poor sport turds, and very annoying.
They are neck-and-neck annoying with the group of idiot Cubs fans who make the rest of us look like twits. Here is their story.
The Cubs were owned for decades by the Wrigley family, the people who made chewing gum. And for decades the Cubs had decent teams, winning the pennant every three years for a long span. Then they stopped being good. Old man Wrigley got old and tired, his kids would rather spend the family money than learn how to make it [with gum or baseball, either one], and the team languished. They had a few decent runs in the late 60s and early 70s, but each time lost out to the Mets, and the Wrigley family sold the Cubs to the Chicago Tribune in the early 80s.
The idiot Cubs fans hadn’t been created yet, but this event – Wrigley selling the Cubs to TribCo – is a watershed moment in the idiot Cubs fan history.
“Yay”, screamed Cubs fans; “Someone with money and a vested interest in having a good team now owns it, and they’ll make the Cubs better!” TribCo operates both WGN radio and WGN television which, at the time, broadcast the Cubs exclusively. Having a good team would mean ratings and ad revenue. TribCo also operates the Chicago Tribune, one of the nation’s leading daily newspapers, and which covered the Cubs significantly more than it did the crosstown White Sox.
Among the first things that TribCo did was hire the Phillies GM, Dallas Green, who’d built a great Phillies team of the late 70s, and it hired Harry Caray, the larger-than-life broadcaster whose drinking and womanizing exploits were nearly as legendary as his broadcasting personality. Caray, virtually singlehandedly, built a nation-wide Cubs fanbase on WGN-TV, one of three “superstations” among the cable television companies springing up around the country.
Kids the nation over would get home from school, turn on the TV hooked up to their new cable system, and watch the Cubs. Millions of fans were born.
And they became the core of the idiots.
In ’84 the Cubs had the best team in the National League and lost in the playoffs to an inferior Padres team, arguably influenced by the dictates of the Major League front office which could get more money for themselves by rearranging the playoff schedule so that the fifth game, if there was one, would be played in San Diego instead of Chicago as it should have been. There was a fifth game ... in San Diego ... and the Cubs fell apart after leading the game at one point.
The Cubs had another playoff team in ’89 and lost in four to the Giants.
But hey! two playoff teams in a decade after none at all in the 70s, the 60s, the 50s ... since ’45! Good going TribCo. This is improvement.
Then the 90s arrived. The Cubs were middle-of-the-pack also-rans, and the legion of Cubs fans born of Harry Caray’s eloquence which, by the fifth inning, would be quite slurred, were used to having a playoff team every five years. Then Caray had a stroke in ’96 and his slurring became medical instead of medicinal, and the ’97 team started out 0-fer-April. All this on top of a new pastime that had recently been invented allowing baseball fans to pretend to be General Managers on their own by using the previous day’s game stats, and the Idiot Cubs Fan movement was in full swing.
Suddenly everyone who had a successful rotisserie team – or even an unsuccessful one – knew more about how to construct a baseball team than the people who actually play, coach and manage the game. The legion of Cubs fans started demanding specific off-season moves be made. And the Cubs, probably moreso than any other team, are particularly sensitive to the whims and wishes of its fans, whether consciously or sub-. Yankees fans had always been there for them – they are The Yankees, after all. The Red Sox fans were always there as well – they were the not-Yankees. The Cardinals fans were always there ... being assholes – they were the only team for a thousand miles in any direction for decades.
The Cubs? Chicago was north-side, south-side until TribCo bought them and WGN went superstation. Then it was nation-wide, south-side. But what publicity giveth publicity taketh away, and keeping the fans happy became job one.
It was no longer enough to have a well-heeled owner coughing up cash to buy an expensive team – which the Cubs did very consistently under TribCo. They also had to win. Consistently. And now.
And every cultivated after-school Cubs fan who could read the Baseball Encyclopedia could tell the suits at TribCo exactly how winning was done, and could do it far better than those who had spent their lives in the game. The after-school Cubs fans were armed with arbitrary statistical reductions that were only coincidentally relevant; those in the game were not, and thus they knew nothing about it.
This premier arrogance created – or compounded – a large number of preposterous situations that would never have happened with other teams. Cubs fans, to the degree that online grousing constitutes en masse unity, have demanded that managers get fired, GMs fired, players traded ... and it eventually comes to pass. Cardinals fans hate Tony Larussa, for example; he is a slimy, left-coast liberal in the mostly conservative Midwest, he is an animal rights sissy boy in farm country, he is a vegetarian in meat and taters land, he is, for godsake, a loyyer. He’s moody and snippy and condescending, he’s talked down to Cardinals fans on multiple occasions, not to mention the beat reporters – there’s much to talk down to on both fronts, frankly – and he uses his managerial fiat in ways that Cardinals fans, who also play rotisserie baseball, cannot comprehend. They cannot comprehend it because they mostly never played baseball, or never played baseball beyond little league.
They don’t know what they’re talking about.
But the Cardinals’ front office does. The Cardinals have yet to pass on Larussa, they trade popular players, keep unpopular players, and ignore the protests of the fan mass left and right. The Cardinals are a business and, as much as it grieves me to say, a successful one.
Whether the Cubs are aware of it or not, the Cubs organization is being run as a democracy and not as a business. And it’s run as the worst form of democracy possible: catering to the passing whims of the loudest mouths in the mob.
Those loudest mouths demanded that “can’t miss” Corey Patterson be promoted post-haste. He was, but didn’t understand major league baseball, and he flopped. Those loudest mouths demanded that “can’t miss” Mark Prior be treated like a china doll. He was, and broke when too many people looked at him cross-eyed. The loudest mouths demanded that Sammy Sosa be jettisoned for being a prima dona instead of slapped with a team fine and scolded. He was jettisoned.
Then those loudest mouths demanded one right fielder after another to make up for the loss of Sosa, who the loudest mouths continually complained about not being able to field, throw, hit without striking out or run the bases. And the Cubs supplied those loudest mouths with one right fielder after another, and who have mostly been decent, serviceable players, but none of whom were Sosa and so all were demanded to be jettisoned as well.
Jeromy Burnitz was the first. The high-power, low average hitter. Great guy. Lasted a year.
Jacque Jones. Decent average, some speed, a little power. Started slow, finished hot. Two years. He was run, not walked, out of town.
Kosuke Fukudome. “Fook”. The loudest mouths had heard there was a good Japan League outfielder whose contract was ending – go get ‘im. The Cubs did. The loudest mouths went bananas in glee. The Samurai Savior. Homered in his first game to send it into extras, where the Cubs lost. But Fook didn’t have the power he was expected to have, and while he was a good fielder, he wasn’t Sosa and he had a goofy swing besides, so the loudest mouths said “Get someone else”.
So with Fukudome still under contract, the Cubs got perennial flake Milton Bradley. Bradley was run out of many games – his reputation preceding him – and was stampeded out of town.
Back to Fook, who was still a good fielder, good hitter, some power ... but he still had a goofy swing. The loudest mouths complained he was paid too much, and he was traded in his final contract year to a contender.
The Cubs currently have no right fielder to speak of, which means the loudest mouths are doing what they do best: speaking. Loudly.
Jim Riggleman managed the Cubs through lousy teams, including the ’97 fiasco with the lost April, and ran a ’98 team to the playoffs as the wildcard. He was fired in ’99 for being ineffective. The loudest mouths demanded a proven manager, not a nice guy who could sit placidly through an 0-fer-April.
Don Baylor had taken the Colorado Rockettes to the playoffs, so the Cubs hired him to replace Riggleman. Baylor did nothing except pull Can’t-Miss Patterson out of a game for dogging. When the loudest mouths saw Dusty Baker losing favor in San Francisco, Baylor was sent off on an ice floe and Baker was hired to the huzzahs of the loudest mouths.
And just like every Hollywood movie script ever written about the Cubs, the first season was magical until ... let’s not go into it. But suffice it to say the main people who hold grudges are the loudest mouths, and the only people who really bring it up are those who are not Cubs fans. The season after that was the Cubs to lose – and they did, in the last week. Missed the playoffs by that much. But they still had a better year than the season before. Stupid Cardinals.
By the next year the bloom was off the rose, Sosa played hooky, and the Cubs went, eh, more or less .500. The year after they stunk and it became Dusty’s fault. He was too unconcerned, he played too much with his toothpick, he refused to play kids and relied on rusty veterans. He phoned it in.
The loudest mouths looked around and demanded, hmmmm, Piniella. It was a toss-up between Piniella – a world series winning manager and fiery temperament who would not suck on a toothpick – or Joe Girardi, who had only run the Miami Marlins by being a father-figure to their newest Loria sell-off squad. The loudest mouths went for Piniella. Therefore so did the Cubs.
Hollywood script writers went for it in a big way, as could have been predicted. Lou’s first season the Cubs made the playoffs. Got bounced in the first round. Lou was second-guessed – loudly. His next season – the Milton Bradley season – was a great season. But bounced in the first round of the playoffs, again. His third season, a decent team, around .500. His fourth season, his mother got ill, he got tired, the loudest mouths were hollering that he hadn’t punted enough bases or gotten thrown out of enough games to make his point ... he retired with over a month left to play.
The loudest mouths not only went wild for Fook in ’08, but demanded – by name – Alfonso Soriano, the biggest name in the post-‘06 free agent class. The Cubs made it happen.
The loudest mouths demanded that the best arm in the Cubs organization, Carlos Zambrano, be kept a Cub. He was.
The loudest mouths demanded that Aramis Ramirez, the only third basemen since Santo to hold the spot, effectively, powerfully, All-starly, for more than a few weeks at a time be kept a Cub. It was made so.
Soriano is a power-hitting ... well, he doesn’t really have a position. The Yankees used him at second. And he made a great designated hitter. The Rangers did the same. The Nationals put him in left and he pouted about it for a while, then took the field. The Cubs signed him to play left. And as a left fielder in the National League, he makes a decent designated hitter. But since the National League thankfully doesn’t have the monstrosity of a DH, he plays left. And he’s a decent hitter. Not great, but decent. And the loudest mouths who were insanely gleeful at the January of ’07 Cubs Convention at the prospect of having Soriano locked up for 8 years have been calling for him to follow Milton Bradley on the greased track out of town.
Carlos Zambrano is a fiery individual; a throwback player. He’s – to keep the analogies in the current National League Central – what Bob Gibson was if he were mixed with Mario Soto. But the modern baseball fan fancies himself kinder and gentler. That is a euphemism for weenier and wimpier. The fans today play rotisserie baseball, and therefore the players are nothing but their numbers. And numbers don’t get grumpy.
Zambrano gets grumpy. Frequently.
Zambrano would be a great pitcher, according to the loudest mouths and the rest of the sissified baseball fans today, if he’d only be someone other than himself. And ... well ... that’s just not going to happen. Ever. In the battle between desire and reality, just like between theory and reality, when the two disagree, reality wins every time.
Zambrano is a good pitcher; he’ll give 200 innings [if he’s allowed to pitch them], he’ll win more games than he loses when he has a decent offense behind him, he’ll even provide significant amounts of his own offense, he’ll have a respectable ERA,... and he’ll also have a handful of games where he blows up, melts down, and fits his hissy to another tirade. The only meaningful question is: do you want a good pitcher? Or do you want a pleasant pitcher? Because with Zambrano, you can’t have both, and that’s just the way it is.
But the loudest mouths don’t understand this because they never played baseball and are too involved with their stack of silent baseball cards. All they know is that when Zambrano gets pulled or tossed out of games where he gets grumpy, they lose points in their rotisserie league, and then they get grumpy and demand that Zambrano get “anger management” and suspended from the team until he does, or – this season – just suspended from the team altogether.
And the Cubs have made it happen, always.
Aramis Ramirez is a very good hitter, power and average, doesn’t strike out as often as his power suggests he would, he has become a very good fielder after a rough start, but he is not exactly what anyone could call fast. When Ramirez hits into a double play when him having speed to beat the relay could have allowed the tying or go-ahead run to score, the loudest voices demand that the Cubs get rid of him and get someone who feels like running as fast as someone being paid so much should run. Ramirez has seen the writing on the wall and assumes he shall not be back next season.
The loudest voices have played similar rotisserie games with Derek Lee, Felix Pie, Michael Barrett, and more pitchers than can be named, and the Cubs have almost always fallen in line and complied with the loudest voices.
John McDonough used to be the Cubs PR honcho. After the loudest-voice retirement of General Manager Andy MacPhail, McDonough was made the new GM. McDonough, being raised in PR and not baseball, relied very heavily on his assistants, particularly Jim Hendry. Hendry and Oneri Fleita were the two most responsible for rebuilding the Cubs farm system left in disrepair by the 90s GMs – who are best to not mention by name. McDonough quickly left the Cubs to become the GM for the Chicago Blackhawks, and that left Jim Hendry, as the chief deputy and main architect of the Cubs roster, the GM.
Under Hendry the Cubs had the best teams in franchise history going back nearly a full century. Three division championships, nearly a pennant until ... what we won’t discuss; in years the Cubs didn’t win the division, they had two very good seasons, two very bad seasons, and three seasons where they were in the middle of the pack. And that includes two seasons which were marred by a flux in team ownership.
TribCo went broke, as nearly all large newspapers are doing in the internet age, and TribCo got bought – cash – by a corporate reinventer. He didn’t want the Cubs, and wanted to sell the team. The Major League front office and the TribCo bankruptcy court couldn’t figure out who, what, when, where or why, let alone how, and the sale of the Cubs took a full year and a half and affected the team’s participation in player signings for two seasons – two of the bad seasons of Hendry’s tenure, by the way.
Of course, the loudest mouths hailed the removal of corporate TribCo as the Cubs owner, for they declared that a team owner who spent money like water, as TribCo did, and only got a few playoffs to show for it was clearly inferior to an individual owner.
Like the Wrigley family.
Which had no success whatsoever from 1945 until 1980 when they sold it to a corporation.
At any rate, TribCo eventually sold the Cubs to the Ricketts family, which owns one of the more famous discount stock brokerages – in a down market. And the loudest voices have been yammering since the transition of ownership to have the architect of the most successful Cubs era in a century be fired.
Here’s your hat, Jim; what’s your hurry?
I’ve spent a few years listening to the growing growls over Jim Hendry, and I still cannot fathom what runs through the minds of the loudest voices of Cubs fandom. Except possibly sewage. Their reasoning makes no sense. Hendry has been among those in the Cubs front office complicit with the loudest voices in accommodating the whim du jour, and even with such an arbitrary and disjointed program, he created ... pardon the repetition ... the most successful Cubs era in a century.
When the loudest voices wanted Soriano, Fukudome, the resigning of Zambrano and Ramirez, Hendry made it happen. When the loudest voices wanted an immediate replacement for Fook, he made that happen as well. When the loudest voices demanded that replacement be sent away, Hendry did so, and got far more out of it than anyone imagined. Yet the loudest voices were not happy.
The loudest voices spotted a successor to Hendry several weeks ago, and the Cubs, true to form, and owing much to an unprecedented collapse of a typically reliable Boston Red Sox team in the final month of the season, have today announced that Red Sox GM, Theo Epstein, Boston’s architect of two Series winning teams including the first in 86 years, has been hired. He’s under contract for 5 years.
So, welcome Theo. I’m glad to have you on board. And, what’s more, I’ll be glad long after the loudest voices drown me out, which they will by the end of Spring Training, if the past is any indication. Ricketts hadn’t owned the team for more than a week before the loudest voices – who had hailed him – started calling him the worst move since Milton Bradley.
You may want to invest in a good hearing aid, Theo. And then unplug it.