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When the Cubs won the World Series last October, it was touching to see all those lifelong fans write the names of their departed loved ones on the wall at Wrigley. It was terrific seeing sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, and grandparents all celebrating together. The roots of the Cubs family are deep and that is something we as fans should be proud of.
I’ve got none of that. Like many of you, I’m a WGN Cubs fan and proud of it.
My father was completely disinterested in sports. My mother only followed them as a matter of civic pride. When I showed an interest in sports, my mother encouraged it. She gave me a bunch of memorabilia that she had as a child of the glory days of the Milwaukee Braves—the Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn World Series champions team. I really wish I still had that stuff. I found out later that my mother’s father, my grandfather, grew up in Michigan a huge Detroit Tigers fan. He took my mother’s family on a East Coast road trip to see the Tigers at Fenway Park. Had he lived past my second birthday, perhaps I’d have an old English D on my cap rather than a red C. But he didn’t and I never had a chance to watch a game with him.
I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, which was Brewers territory even back then. Still, there were some Cubs fans in the area, mostly older, both from transplanted Illinoisans and from those who cheered for the Cubs from the time when Wisconsin did not have a team of their own. Also, Madison is close enough to Chicago that getting WGN radio broadcasts after dark (and sometimes even during the day) wasn’t a problem.
But of course, there was cable TV. Cable TV in the 1970s wasn’t like it was today. All we got were a few public interest channels and remote broadcasts of two independent stations: WVTV out of Milwaukee (lots of great bowling shows!) and of course, WGN out of Chicago.
I don’t remember exactly what year we got cable. Probably 1975 or 1976. I had seen a few Cubs games on local television through a syndication package before then, usually on Sunday afternoons, but now I had the opportunity to watch baseball practically every day after school. That is, as long as I watched the Cubs. The Brewers were only available through a syndication package that carried some weekend away games. Many of those were on after my bedtime anyway. The Cubs were on every single day, it seemed. Plus, I liked being contrary. While other kids liked the Brewers, I proudly called myself a Cubs fan. It’s not like my parents cared either way. But Jack Brickhouse, Lou Boudreau and Vince Lloyd certainly cared. They told me that it was great to be a Cubs fan. For some reason, I believed these old men. They certainly had trustworthy voices.
Then came 1977 and I was hooked. For me, this was the year that I definitely became a Cubs fan over the Brewers, Twins (I had an aunt in St. Paul who took me to a Twins game for my first game ever) or the Tigers. Every day I would come home from school, usually just about the time Bruce Sutter was coming into the game to shut the other team down. My mother would often join me when she could, not out of any love for the Cubs but out of love of her son. So it’s not like I don’t have any parental bonding over the Cubs. We even lived close enough to make a trip to Chicago almost every summer.
The Cubs had put together a team out of spare parts and had seemingly turned them into the best team in baseball. They had an eight-game lead by the end of June.
Of course, 1977 was an illusion and when Bruce Sutter went down with an injury, the team crashed hard. There’s no need to rehash what happened, except to say that the Cubs didn’t even finish above .500 that year.
Truth be told, it would have been easy to jump the Cubs ship at that moment. The Cubs were about to enter one of their darker periods in what has been a dark history. The Cubs of the late-’70s and early-’80s were bad: The 1981 team was much, much worse than the 2012 team that lost 100 games. The strike that year was almost a relief. But on top of that problem, the Brewers were about to enter the greatest era of their history. Behind Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Gorman Thomas and others, “Bambi’s Bombers” became one of the most entertaining teams in baseball. Their games started to show up more on local television and by then I was old enough to stay up and watch. They even made the World Series in 1982.
I’ll admit it. I cheered for the Cardinals. Last time, I swear!
For me, the issue was never “Cubs or Cardinals?” or even “Cubs or White Sox?” It was “Cubs or Brewers?” I took hell from my friends for being a Cubs fan, and they were a lot nicer than the people who didn’t like me. I don’t think anyone bullied me because I was a Cubs fan, but they sure used it as an excuse. It would have been easy to just switch sides.
I never, never did.
I can’t tell you why I never did. Perhaps it was me just wanting to be contrary. But I think it was because WGN told me that it was great to be a Cubs fan. And when 1984 rolled around, I found that more and more people were getting cable and becoming Cubs fans. I went to prom that year on a double-date, and I’m embarrassed to say that I spent way too much time with the girl who wasn’t my date because she was a Cubs fan too and Bill Buckner had just been traded. Prom didn’t seem too important to either of us compared to Buckner’s departure.
That’s what really makes us, as Cubs fans, special. No matter where we are nor where we’re from, that team from the North Side of Chicago speaks to us. And that means, we can speak to each other. We’re a family. Like any large family, we may not all get along and we may not even like each other. But we have a bond that can never be broken.
On top of that, we’re everywhere. Some of that is because of the power of television programming, but there was something there beyond mere ubiquity. It was the beauty of Wrigley Field. The deep tradition that stretches back generations, even if it missed our family. And of course, the Sisyphean quest that finally came to an end last November.
Let the Red Sox have their nation. We’re the Cubs Family.
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