Welcome to the refreshed Bleed Cubbie Blue! To celebrate the new look and feel of our sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to do the same, head over to the FanPosts to begin. Each FanPost will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Fanatics gift card [contest rules]. We’re collecting all of the stories here and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come Fan With Us!
Every single one of us has a unique story of how he or she came to love the Chicago Cubs.
Mine isn’t much different from anyone of my generation, the kids who grew up rooting for Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and all those men who are beloved to this day though they never did what was, at last, achieved last November when the Cubs won the World Series.
Like so many Chicago-area kids, I was taken to my first game by my dad when I was not quite seven years old, in the summer of 1963. It happened Saturday, July 6, 1963, a 6-0 loss at the hands of the Phillies. It was a two-hit shutout by a 37-year-old pitcher who had pitched briefly for the Cubs more than a decade earlier, Cal McLish. (That seemed to happen a lot in those days: the Cubs gave up on someone who went on to have a fine career elsewhere.)
Here is a measure of how much Cubs baseball has changed from then to now: On that 1963 afternoon, with pleasant temperatures in the upper 70s, the paid attendance was just 16,348 — and that with the Cubs with their best midsummer record in years, 45-35, in second place just three games out of first.
But what really hooked me was discovering, not long after attending that game, that I could watch every Cubs home game on WGN-TV. With the team playing all afternoon games in that era, any Chicago kid could come home from school and see the last few innings of games on TV. Jack Brickhouse became the voice of my childhood, as he did for many in the 1950s and 1960s.
P.K. Wrigley might not have been the best team owner in terms of investing in his team and finding good players. But one thing he did right was putting his team on TV, when many baseball owners feared televising home games would hurt attendance. Wrigley correctly figured that TV was an excellent promotional tool, that seeing games on TV would make people want to come to the ballpark. And day baseball every summer afternoon meant kids could watch on a regular basis.
And it was just a few years later, at the time when many kids really get into the details, statistics and strategy of baseball, that the Cubs suddenly woke up from a 20-year slumber and became contenders, in 1967.
We all know what happened to that star-crossed team two years later and the purpose of this post isn’t to rehash that. Instead, it’s to say how watching the 1969 team’s exciting games (well, exciting for a time, anyway) hooked me as a Cubs fan for life.
The Cubs became a national cable sensation almost by accident. WGN-TV began to be uplinked to cable systems nationwide in 1978, and in the early 1980s people across the country began watching the team just as it broke out of a 39-year postseason drought in 1984. By then Harry Caray became the consummate salesman for Cubs baseball during his 16 seasons as play-by-play announcer, helping to create a couple of generations’ worth of Cubs fans, many of whom have never lived in Chicago, but who came to love the team through WGN’s telecasts.
Later, when I began attending games on a regular basis in the bleachers, that became my home away from home. Most of my friends now are folks I’ve met at the ballpark, first because we shared a love for the Cubs and baseball, but later discovering other things we had in common. It’s become like family. It’s a love story written on the green grass, brick-and-ivy walls of the century-old baseball cathedral at the corner of Clark & Addison, and the names written in chalk on the Wrigley Field walls after the World Series win bound those of us who lived to see the victory with those who didn’t make it, forever.
For more than half a century as a fan, along with all of you, I wondered if the Cubs would ever win the World Series. The ultimate victory last November validated all the years of fandom, not that it wasn’t worth being a fan of this team anyway, but every fan of every team wants to see that team win a championship. For years I wondered how it would feel. Now I know, and while I certainly hope there are more titles in the future, the feeling after that first one won’t ever be duplicated, but it will always be remembered. Though I yearned to see a World Series win for all those decades, in the end, given how it happened, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Not only did the Cubs become World Series champions for the first time in 108 years, but they did it by winning a game that arguably was the greatest game in major-league history, both for what happened throughout the game and the magnitude of what was at stake: the ending of a long title drought no matter who won.
The 2016 Cubs didn’t just win for themselves, or for the Cubs fans who witnessed it in Cleveland, or even all the Cubs fans watching that November night on TV.
They won it for every single player who’s ever worn the Cubs uniform, for every fan who lived and died without being able to celebrate last fall. All of them were remembered, eloquently, by Anthony Rizzo when he spoke to the millions assembled in Grant Park at the victory rally last November.
For younger fans, Rizzo and Kris Bryant will be this generation’s Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, beloved forever. Years from now, perhaps one or both of those men will be Hall of Famers and they’ll be building statues to them to join those for Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo that already stand outside Wrigley Field. And the stories will continue, passed down through the generations from grandparent to parent to child, all of whom have shared love for the Chicago Cubs and our beautiful ballpark.
You certainly have your own story of how you became a Cubs fan. Please take this day, when we are refreshing the look and feel of SB Nation, to share it with us.
Here are the official rules for the reader sweepstakes.
NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. SB Nation Why Are You a Fan Reader Sweepstakes starts at 8:00 a.m. ET on May 25, 2017 and ends at 11:59 p.m. ET on June 8, 2017. Open only to eligible legal residents of the United States, 18 years or older. Click here for Official Rules and complete details, including entry instructions, odds of winning, alternative method of entry, prize details and restrictions, etc. Void where prohibited or restricted by law. Sponsor: Vox Media, Inc.