Confessions of a Lapsed Cubs Fan
I’m a little ambivalent about this World Series.
I love a good underdog story, and there are no two franchises more under-doggy than the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs. Their heydays were early in the 20th century, the Cubs in the first decade or so, and the Indians as soon as they stole Tris Speaker from the Red Sox.
Since then, the franchises have had peaks and valleys, more of the latter, and have taken on appearances of the ‘lovable loser’ at times. So seeing these two franchises meet in the World Series does warm my heart a bit.
See, for most of my time on Earth, I was a Cubs fan. When WGN came to my small Indiana town in 1977, I was in elementary school. From then through college, I watched a lot of day games in the summer and night games when it didn’t interfere with my other activities.
I’ve seen several games at Wrigley, and loved the atmosphere of an old-time, small-ish ballpark without frills (or lights).
Life happens, though. WGN stopped being the sole outlet for the Cubs, and games weren’t available all of the time in Indiana. My work kept me busy, and games weren’t a priority with a career and a family.
Then when the 2003 NLCS took place, and the fans seemed to blame Bartman for the loss instead of where it belonged (that damn shortstop who couldn’t field an easy double play ball, and that damn manager that wasted two of the best young pitchers of the 2000’s), I kind of cooled on the whole ‘Cubs fan’ thing. I already was leery of being identified as a drunken yuppie wanna be who didn’t pay attention to the game and snagged the bleacher seats because that’s where you were supposed to sit.
When we moved from Indiana to Minnesota, then it was almost a clean break. Cubs games weren’t on the TV anymore, but the Twins definitely were. I couldn’t justify spending money on the MLB package on the dish when I was trying to establish my consulting career, and so the Twins became my team.
This was odd for me – I kept my other allegiances for the most part. I’ve always been a fan of Indiana University, Wabash College (my alma mater), and the Indiana Pacers. When the Colts moved to Indianapolis, they became my team (sorry Atlanta Falcons). I dabbled in many hockey teams but had a soft spot for Ottawa. (I later became a Wild fan and am still to this day.)
But unlike my Cubs fandom, I never became a die-hard for the Twins. I did buy a couple of jersey t-shirt (and regret not getting a Jim Thome jersey to this day), but never did fully embrace them as my #1 team.
When I moved to Florida, I became a baseball free agent. No way I could support that franchise, but I did write about them a lot. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t support them. The Cubs were a distant memory, and back to stinking for the most part.
Now in the Pacific Northwest, I’m invested in the Mariners to a point. I don’t hang on every game, but know enough to have a casual conversation about their strengths and weaknesses. I watched games on Root before we cut cable, and now follow them on Twitter and the radio.
I also became a Seahawks fan (it’s not hard to drink that Kool Aid up here, though the Colts are still my #1 team). I still follow the Wild, the Pacers, IU, and now Michigan State thanks to my new bride. But I’ve left the Cubs behind, back in Indiana, back where I grew up.
So seeing this team have success is bittersweet, a bit, since they broke my heart in 1977, 1984, 1989, and especially 2003, and between those years had some bad, awful, horrible seasons. I do feel good for all of the true Cubs fans (not the bandwagoners) who’ve spent years down in the dumps.
It’s remarkable about the Cubs. Their fandom is pervasive in the Chicago area, even with the White Sox in town. Even with so many colleges and university teams around, even with so many other major and minor league sports teams in the Chicago metro area – the Cubs seem to rule the town.
You may get arguments for the Bulls or Blackhawks, or even the Bears. But the Bulls don’t have MJ, the Bears can’t escape the shadow of the ’85 Bears, and the Blackhawks will never be as beloved as the Cubs even if they win 10 Stanley Cups in a row.
The fact that White Sox fans spit fire at the mention of the Cubs and Cubs fans proves that point.
Tonight the Cubs stave off elimination, while the Indians look for their first World Series title since 1948. While I’d love to see Chicago celebrate a Cubs championship, and lift the ‘curse’, I think the Indians are the team that needs to win this series.
Terry Francona has been a masterful manager, and GM Brad Chernoff hasn’t received enough credit either. They do have some great young players in Francisco Lindor, Tyler Naquin and Jose Ramirez. Jason Kipnis will be a stalwart on the All-Star team for years. They have a stud pitcher in Cory Kluber, and a lights out 1-2 bullpen punch of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, with a great supporting cast of pitchers.
But there are enough questions about this Indians team going forward to wonder if this is their shot. Michael Brantley has missed almost the entire season, and will be 30 next year. Starting pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar will be coming back from injuries next season, and that’s never a 100% guarantee. Some of the bullpen guys (Dan Otero, Jeff Manship) aren’t the model of consistency year over year. Mike Napoli will be a free agent, and Carlos Santana doesn’t hit like he did this year he doesn’t have much value since he’s so limited on defense.
I wouldn’t count them out next year, but there will be a lot of talented teams gunning for them.
Meanwhile, the Cubs cup overfloweth. Next year, Rizzo, Russell, Bryant, Soler, Baez, Contreras, Szczur and Schwarber will be 27 or younger. So will Jason Heyward, who has to have a better year than this one (right??). That’s nine starters or able backups. Throw in Ben Zobrist, who looks like he could play until he’s 45 or so, they’re set everywhere except catcher, where they need more production out of Miguel Montero and a replacement for David Ross.
Pitching? Lester, Hendricks, Lackey and Arrieta are all coming back for sure, and only injuries look to derail them. Jason Hammel has a team option but Mike Montgomery, a gift from the Mariners, could step in that spot. Ardolis Chapman will be a free agent, but they did just fine with Hector Rondon and the others in the bullpen.
This Cubs team, barring injury, will be good for a long, long time.
If the Cubs lose the World Series, there’s a good chance that they’ll get back in the next few years.
So while my teenage heart is rooting for the Cubs, my mind is secretly hoping for the Indians. At any rate, we’ve got one or two great nights of baseball ahead of us.