The Cubs got off to a bad start in 1983 and lost a game in a particularly bad way. That sent a certain Cubs employee over the edge.
If you don't remember this game from its date, you most probably will when I tell you what happened after the game ended.
The Cubs had ended 1982 with a 33-24 run, and acquired Ron Cey from the Dodgers in the offseason. Hopes were high for at least some improvement in 1983, but the team started 0-6, then won a handful of games while losing more. They were 5-13 going into the April 29 game, the first of a three-game set against the Dodgers.
The details of the 4-3 loss to the Dodgers that day don't really matter, except for the way L.A. scored the winning run. The Cubs blew a 3-1 lead and, with the game tied 3-3 in the eighth, Lee Smith came in. He threw a wild pitch to the first batter he faced with a runner on third, allowing the lead, and eventually winning, run to score.
Just 9,391 people paid to see this game, and some of the few that hung around after the game started heckling Cubs players as they trudged across left field to the clubhouse, which was still located in the left-field corner (it wouldn't be moved to behind the dugout until the following year). That's when this happened:
[Keith] Moreland had to be restrained from climbing onto the dugout roof to get at three fans who were taunting the Cubs as they walked off the field. "I saw it," said [general manager Dallas] Green. "They were drunk. There were three guys with their hands full of beer, and Keith tried to get over the dugout."
Manager Lee Elia didn't even know about that when he unleashed his now-famous explosion in the clubhouse in front of reporters:
"All those so-called Cubs fans, ripping everything we do," Elia began. "I hope we get hot -- just to stuff it up those 3,OOO people who show up every day. If those are the real Chicago fans they can kiss my ass right downtown -- and print it! Liberally sprinkling his tirade with expletives that a roomful of Rosemary Woodses could not delete, Elia stormed: "They're really behind you around here. What am I supposed to do, go out there and let my players get destroyed every day and keep quiet? For the nickle-and-dime people who show up every day? They don't even work. That's why they're out at the ballgame. It's a playground for the suckers... Rip those country suckers like they rip the players. "About 85 percent of the world is working. The other 15 percent come out here."
30 years later, that's still a classic. The language of Elia's rant was much more, um, colorful than was printed in Robert Markus' Tribune recap of the game, quoted above. You can hear the entire tirade here (WARNING! NSFW!)
Elia almost lost his job as a result:
"When I heard that tape, [Elia's job] was in jeopardy, I'll guarantee you that," said general manager Dallas Green.
After that 85 percent -- 15 percent remark, someone made up buttons reading "I'm a working Cub Fan". That's what you see pictured at the top of this post. The button is mine -- I wore and displayed it proudly, until its meaning got obscured by the passage of time. Elia did wind up getting fired later that year, for a different reason -- after Braves rookie Gerald Perry had come into Wrigley and led Atlanta to a three-game sweep by going 4-for-9 with a home run and six RBI, Elia was quoted as saying he had "never heard" of Perry.
That was the last straw for Green, who replaced him with Charlie Fox for the rest of the season. The Cubs finished two games worse than they had in 1982. Little did we know what we had waiting for us, just one year later.