A friend sent me an article from the Wall Street Journal by a very good sportswriter, Rich Cohen, who grew up in Chicago. And who is a a big die-hard Cubs fan.
The premise of the piece is that after 106 years of not winning a World Series, the Chicago Cubs have assembled a very talented group of young players, and even if they win this year (which I don't expect, since they're too young), they are poised to seriously compete soon and for a while. The question That Mr. Cohen ruminates about is how winning a World Series (should it happen...) would impact the aura of the Cubs as "Lovable Losers."
You can read the article here, "Please, Cubs, Don't Win!" It's subtitled -- "As the Chicago Cubs climb up in the MLB standings, a fan ponders the price of winning." My friend asked me my reaction to it.
I thought the article was well-written and generally thoughtful. But I’d have liked it more if the title was different, which colored the whole theme for me, that Cub fans are hoping the team will lose. They aren’t. I completely understand that the outside world will look at the Cubs differently, and that infectious appreciation will be a shame to lose, but Cubs fans – as Cubs fans, not the outside world looking in – are dying for the team to win. Go back and look at videos of the crowds in 1984 and 1988 and 1998 and this year whenever the team makes a run at the pennant. The fanbase and almost the entire city of Chicago goes maniacally crazy.
And as for how fans will react in subsequent years if the team wins – the author raises the vision of the Boston Red Sox finally winning a World Series after around 90 years. Well, I have friends who are Red Sox fans and they’re just as crazy pulling for their team to win and angst-filled when they lose, especially to the Yankees. The outside world (like the author, as he writes) might see Boston as any-old whiners now, but they themselves don’t see it that way. They LOVE their Red Sox, they suffered for 90 years, and they’re going to keep earning what’s long due them. There's no reason to think Cubs fans would react any differently
In part, I think Rich Cohen's reaction is because he’s not as long-time die-hard as his article suggests pm the surface. Doing the math from hints he drops in the article, he was probably born in 1972, so he’s 45. Hardly a kid, and long enough to give weight to his theses, and it's clear that he most certainly is a long-suffering fan -- but in Chicago terms, that’s still almost a green horn. I mean, hey, my dad grew up blocks from Wrigley Field and used to walk to games when a little kid, and he’s now 94. And still waiting on a Cubs World Series win. Seriously, does the author think my dad and people like him hope the Cubs don’t win?? I’d be happy to invite Rich Cohen to watch a game with him one day. I myself almost have a hard time watching games with my dad because he gets SO pissed off when the Cubs screw up. Again. And again.
The article, though, as I said, is very well-written and is filled with things that ring spot-on true. For one thing, I actually had the t-shirt he mentions that reads -- “Chicago Cubs. World Champions. 1908.” And I have a story very similar to the one he tells about watching a game with his father. In my case, I remember watching a game at a friend’s house when we were little kids. His mother walked by, stopped for a few moments watching us, and then said in a totally serious voice – “The Cubs ruined my brother’s life, and now they’re ruining my son’s” – and then walked off. It was hilarious, and I’ve always remembered it.
While I agree, too, with him that the philosphical lesson the Cubs teach their fans is vastly different from the morose one that the author’s father says, I would suggest that the lesson is nonetheless different from the what the author says, which is itself much too bleak, basically to expect to lose which supports pre-destination. In fact, one of my favorite columns by the great Mike Royko in the Chicago Daily News was about the lessons that the Cubs then-owner ("the Guru P.K. Wrigley" Royko calls him) teaches – to enjoy the small things in life, the simplicity of a bloop hit, the beauty of a mere bunt, the joy of actually catching a pop-up, and that it is from these small things that we get bliss. It's not that we expect to always lose. Sure, some fans do always expect to lose, but that isn’t the lesson, because Cubs fan hope more than anything. Otherwise, they wouldn’t draw 3 million fans a year – after year after year, for decades -- going to the ballpark expecting to lose.
At the end of his article, Mr. Cohen writes that if the Cubs lose, “Gone will be the chance to prove the purity of our love for the game.” Again, that’s the outlook of someone who hasn’t been following them quite long enough, but far more to the point, it’s the outside outlook, the view of how other fans will perceive the Cubs and Cubs fans. And ultimately, it’s sort of a stupid comment. After 106 years, Cubs fans have LONG=since earned recognition of the purity of their pure love of the game and don’t have to keep proving it, whether or not the team wins. But if the Cubs do win, that doesn’t wipe out the previous 106 years of support, and the fans – who have followed the team aching in their soul for 40 years, 60 years, 80 years will not suddenly stop loving the team.
Yes, there will be some fans who do stop. But honestly, we all know that those people are no different than people who move from Starbucks to the next fad because it’s not cool any more. They’re the vast minority – Boston attendance for the Red Sox hasn’t plummeted – and hardly what one actually considers Cubs fans and the "Please, Cubs, Don't Win!" point of the article.
As I said, it was a thoughtful, well-written article – and had a link to Steve Goodman! – but if Rich Cohen had simply addressed the conflict of losing the “Lovable Loser” support of the rest of baseball and made that almost a sidebar aspect of fandom, rather than the core thesis, I think it would have been much better. Because in the end, to think that actual, lifelong die-hard Cubs fans ("Please, Cubs, Don't Win!") don’t want the team to win is idiotic.
Without question, if the Chicago Cubs do win a World Series one day, the team will indeed lose some of their aura if they win. But I that’s to the outside world. Why on earth should a Cubs fan – or a fan of anything – care what non-fans think about their own love and appreciation. As a Cubs fan, I love how the outside world looks at the Cubs with endearment. But that has absolutely zero to do with why I – or I’m sure most Cubs fans – love the Cubs.
And in the end, the outside world is not what his article is about. The title – written by a Cubs fan – is “Please, Cubs, Don’t Win!” This is a Cubs fan saying he doesn’t want his team to win. I don’t know any other Cubs fans who think that. Maybe there are “some.” (Clearly Rich Cohen does.) And few things in life are 100%. But 99.99% of Cubs fans want the Cubs to win. Not Please, Cubs, Don’t Win!
I would also suggest that, while some of that aura will indeed be lost if the Cubs win, it all won’t be lost. When 106 years of losing is part of your history, you don’t lose your history. That will always be part of their eternal mystique. If the Cubs won 10 World Series in a row, it would still be a part of their story, how a team overcame 106 years of failure to finally succeed.
I think Rich Cohen -- an excellent writer -- was trying to make an interesting point, and even one that has some validity. But I don’t think he made it in the best way he could, and so – good as much of the article is – in trying to be cute, he got too cute. Others on the outside might want the Cubs to lose, because it will keep them the Lovable Losers. But Cubs fans don’t want the Cubs to lose. And no matter how good a writer Rich Cohen is, I simply don’t agree with him about thinking otherwise. He took a valid issue and phrased it wrong, I believe.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
Feedspot Badge of Honor