There is something to be said for futility. There is something entirely different to be said about inevitability.
What we, as Cubs fans, have come to accept is that things are different next year and yet the results are always the same. This is the classic definition of insanity. Insane is the kindest of names assigned to Cubs fans over the years. We have all heard much worse. When you work with Sox fans, you may hear it more often than others. But, what has become of the Cubs in the last decade has turned them into something wholly different. The Cubs, as we know them today, are a Rube Goldberg device rather than a baseball team.
A Rube Goldberg device is a machine that is elaborately constructed to achieve a very basic result. Think of the beginning of the movie The Goonies or the Wallace and Gromit cartoons. Search YouTube to find the ridiculous spare time creations that span the globe. Those are all constructed by people with way too much time on their hands and not enough to do. Add two hundred million dollars to that equation and you have the Chicago Cubs.
Jim Hendry has been the General Manager for almost ten years now and his results look like the Dow Jones on a bad day. We have flirted with success (five outs away) and we have had the worst record in the National League. We have let prospects go on to prosper in other organizations (Dontrelle Willis) and taken on some of the most ridiculous contracts in baseball, both monetarily (Alfonso Soriano) and psychiatrically (Milton Bradley). We have tried to catch lightning in a bottle (Kosuke Fukudome) and resurrect the dead (Kerry Wood). We have flirted with greatness, with immortality, with sadness, and with perfection. We saw Carlos Zambrano pitch a no-hitter and we watched him melt down again and again and again (and again). In the end, what do we have to show for it? Nothing.
Both the Red Sox and White Sox have won championships in the past decade and spent less money in doing so. We have seen small market teams hold aloft the World Series trophy and each time it has been the Cubs fans, players, and organization as a whole adding one more year of failure to an already extensive catalog of underachievement.
We go to our workplace as each Spring Training starts and we rehash our hopes for the upcoming campaign. Sports radio shows run rampant with both sides of town berating the other. Bets are made as to which team will come out looking better. But, every year, even if it was a good year, we have failed. There is no gray area here. If you are not first, you are last.
In Jim Hendry’s tenure, we have had Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella, and now Mike Quade. All three managers have had extensive payrolls at their disposal with a mixture of veterans and prospects. If you look at 2011 on its own, we have the most lackluster lineup that this team has had in quite a long time. The only saving grace that we have had so far is the spark that Starlin Castro may be the superstar in training that this team needs to ignite something new. But should we really get our hopes up? We are ten games into the season and we are barely hovering at the .500 mark. Who knows how long that will last. After losing opening day to the Pirates, fans were already writing the obituary for the season and looking to the chance of getting Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder in the off-season. There is little chance of either happening.
But even if we were successful in signing Pujols, it would be at a crippling cost to the franchise. We would patchwork together the rest of the team into an elaborate and overblown attempt to win a championship. We would be, yet again, building the team into a Rube Goldberg device to simply end up disappointed yet again.
The solution was to be the new ownership. The Ricketts family was going to change the faceless machine of the Tribune Company into a family affair. Fans were expecting this to be our equivalent of the Steinbrenner legacy. But, the Ricketts backed themselves into a financial corner at the exact same time the country fell into an economic recession. So here we are with countless empty seats at Wrigley Field, something none of us were expecting. Even Ron Santo couldn’t hold on long enough to watch his beloved Cubbies make it to the World Series.
This all comes across as dour and sad and without a tinge of hope or expectation. But that is exactly the problem. We are expecting a miracle when we should be expecting more of the same. The only way things will change is if we hit the reset button on the Chicago Cubs. We need to start over, completely and totally. Goodbye Hendry, goodbye Soriano, goodbye every expiring contract. We get ourselves to a starting point where we have a clean slate and the chance to do things right. This is not going to be a next year fix. It will be a long road. Only the true Cubs fans will endure. Tear down the machine, do not keep adding to it. Baseball is a business, but it is also a game. We can only play if we have all of the right pieces. Right now, we do not.
I will never give up on this organization. I may turn off my television or my radio, but I will always come back. I may not watch, but I will always be listening and waiting and hoping. There will always be a next year, even if it isn’t for us. All I can do is hope that tear down this overly elaborate structure we have become accustomed to and get back to the basics. Only then will we win.