Here's an instructive story, which compares what's happening now to something that happened to me more than a quarter-century ago, and I think you'll know a little bit more about why I feel the way I do about the current state of the Cubs.
In the winter of 1978-79, some disgruntled Cub fans, fed up with the Wrigley ownership, formed an organization known as "Chicagoans United (for a) Baseball Series". (Clever acronym, no?)
The avowed goal of this group was to get the Wrigleys to sell the Cubs. They placed an ad in the Reader, I spotted it and joined up, since I was about as fed up then as a lot of you are now. We had clever T-shirts made (the "C" was printed backward as a sign of distress, like an upside-down flag on a ship), carried a banner to many games (I took it to St. Louis, where a drunken Cardinal fan tried to start a fight with me over it), and tried to rabble-rouse.
It accomplished absolutely nothing. The Cubs were indeed sold two years later -- long after this little group, which lasted in its "agitprop" form for only the 1979 season, had disbanded, and the sale had absolutely nothing to do with anything we had done. It happened because P. K. Wrigley and his wife Helen passed away within a few months of each other in 1977, and by 1980 the family had a tremendous estate tax bill, which was settled in part by the sale of the Cubs. Note, incidentally, that linked article's point is that proper estate planning, which the Wrigleys apparently didn't have, could have avoided that sale, and kept $40 million in the Wrigley estate.
Now, some of you might argue that the Tribune Company's well-publicized recent debt-rating downgrade might force the sale of the Cubs, and you might well be right.
The point of this little exercise is twofold: first, to tell you that the Tribune Company is going to sell the Cubs, or change management, when they damn well please. Nothing any of us do is going to change that. We don't have to like what we see on the field -- and I don't like it any more than you do -- but it's their candy store. Again, you might argue that I don't have to buy candy there, and that brings me to the second point.
As a result of joining that little cadre in 1979, I met Dave, Mike and Phil. And we have been friends in the bleachers for those twenty-seven years, adding Howard, Jeff and others over the years. I've seen Dave's kids grow up from babies -- Mike & I used to joke that if Dave's son Kevin, who played professionally in the Pirates and Mets organizations for a while, and also for Dave's own team, the Rockford Riverhawks (whose cap I wore today, trying to get a winning club's karma to wash off on the Cubs -- fat lot of good that did), ever made the majors, he'd be the only major leaguer whose diapers were changed on our bench.
We've all been there through thick and thin, mostly thin, unfortunately, some really, really bad seasons -- four 95+ loss ones, and it appears we may be getting another one heading our way, have shared the excitement of four playoff years (I remember looking at Dave, sitting right next to me, with five outs to go -- you know when -- in 2003, and saying, "Is this really happening?" Turned out, of course, it wasn't.), and the facts are, as Jeff so appropriately said today:
The sun's out. It's warm. We are among friends, who share baseball together. We are not sheep; we'll sit there and analyze what's happening, cut down players who need to be cut down, praise when praise is warranted, and (especially Phil, who we had to stop today when he was trying to say that Dusty Baker ought to make this move or that move -- basically, NO move is going to work with this team) will try to do many of the things all of us do here, which is, when things start to go bad, talk about what the Cub future.
You'll say we could do that elsewhere, and maybe we could. But we have become a family of sorts, and I think those of you who have joined us out there will attest to that.
And the other point is, that we can bitch and moan -- and I'll do that too, after another maddening loss, 2-1 to the Braves today. I know how bad this team is. Yes, I'd love a miracle, but I don't see one in the near future. Right now I'd settle for a win. Three years ago, Jeff let his hair grow, saying he'd cut it when the Cubs won the World Series. Well, he cut it anyway, but now he's letting it grow till they win a series -- ANY series.
I'm hoping it'll be next week.
The game was lost today in the second inning. That may seem obvious, as it's when the Braves scored their two runs, but this is what happens when a team comes in to a game so flat, so uninspired, that they allow -- with two out and no one on base -- a walk to a rookie catcher, then a single by a pitcher who hasn't played in the majors in seven weeks.
That's bad enough, but then, Marcus Giles' double should NEVER have gotten in between Juan Pierre and Matt Murton. One of them should have cut it off. Then, a mediocre throw was made to the cutoff man, allowing the pitcher, Horacio Ramirez, to score from first.
There's absolutely no way more than one run should have scored in that inning.
And since the Cub offense consisted, before the ninth inning, of an infield single, a stolen base, a sacrifice, and an infield out, that was it. The Cubs made a run at things in the ninth, only to suffer the shame of allowing Mike Remlinger, who couldn't get anyone out last year when he was a Cub, to close things out -- this after his reverse split, that hurt him so much last year, came through briefly for the Cubs when LH hitter Jacque Jones singled and got the tying run in Murton, who had also singled, to scoring position. Ronny Cedeno had a decent at-bat -- fouling off a few pitches, although one of them, according to Dave, was ball four -- and then hit a comebacker for the ballgame.
Good things: Sean Marshall threw pretty well after that bad second inning, and Bob Howry and Scott Eyre kept it close. I said to Howard that from now on, I'm going to write a "0" in the "BB" column for the opposing pitchers BEFORE the game starts; it'll save me time later and I won't have to erase it.
Gallows humor. See, we all laugh at that. That's part of enjoying baseball. Yes, I want the Cubs to win. Every single day. Yes, I know this team is bad. I have to blame Jim Hendry -- Dave & I were discussing, in the seventh inning, when the pitcher's spot was on deck, who would be sent out to bat for Howry against Horacio Ramirez. And there was no doubt that the lefty Ramirez was going to be the guy -- no one was warming up.
At that moment, the only righthanded hitting options off the bench were Neifi Perez and Henry Blanco.
Is that the manager's fault? You might say yes, those are "Dusty's boys". But the GM has a say in this. Frankly, Carlos Zambrano would have been a better PH option there -- it became moot when Cedeno flied to right to end the inning.
And this is what we do. And yes, we like doing it at the ballpark. And I've articulated some of the reasons why, above.
Incidentally, this note about the 41,526 in attendance today:
And one day, most likely when we least expect it, as in 1984, 1989, 1998 or 2003, the ballclub will come out of nowhere and make the playoffs.
We'll be out there enjoying that. Till then, let us argue, debate, discuss, and do it honestly, forthrightly, and openly, the future of this team.