Oy, beloved Cubs
by Jonathan Rosenblum
October 23, 2003
Is there anything more pathetic than a middle-aged man reacting to his local sports team’s victories and defeats as if they were his own, or taking vicarious pride in the achievements of gladiators who will wear his team’s uniform for a few years before moving on to seek megabucks elsewhere?
After Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to six championships, were his most ardent suburban fans any less earthbound with chronic White Man’s Disease – i.e., an inability to jump?
I confess to being a lifelong member of the fraternity of long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans. The Florida Marlins, whom the Cubs faced for the National League pennant this year, won the World Series in their sixth season. Their owner then proceeded to sell virtually every player on that championship team, and six years later the Marlins are back in the World Series. The Cubs, by contrast, last won a pennant in 1945 and a World Series in 1908.
I refused to apply to one college after the interviewer confessed that he knew not Ernie Banks, the only star in the Cubs’ firmament for my first decade of life. For years I suffered pangs of guilt for having traveled to England in the midst of the 1969 pennant race. Seven games up on the Mets when I left, the Cubs promptly collapsed – a collapse I somehow attributed to my disloyalty. In penance, I trooped from the South Side of Chicago to Wrigley Field late that fall to watch the Cubs lose a meaningless game in front of about 600 fans.
Nearly thirty years after I last lifted a bat seriously, I still begin the summer workday by checking the Cubs’ score. (I wisely retired in law school after a three-homerun doubleheader – a feat almost entirely explained by the fact that I was the only player not drinking beer during Pesach.)
Cubs fans, like Jews, are pessimists in the short run and optimists in the long-run. Some day Mashiach will come; some day the Cubs will win the World Series. When the Cubs got hot in the final two weeks of the season to win their division title, Cub fans permitted themselves a glimmer of hope that this would be the year.
With the two most dominating pitchers in baseball over the last month, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, the Cubs seemed ideally poised for short series. That impression was bolstered when they took 3 out of 5 from the mighty Atlanta Braves, with Wood and Prior handcuffing the hard-hitting Braves in the three games they started.
After taking first three out of the first four from the Marlins, even Cubs fans allowed themselves to believe. With Prior and Wood scheduled for games six and seven (if needed) in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, the World Series beckoned.
But like Billy Conn, who went for the knockout, despite being well ahead of Joe Louis on points, because he wanted to give one final present to his dying mother listening by the radio at home, the Cubs were too eager to please their desperate fans. One of those fans may have even cost them the pennant.
With Prior, winner of 12 of his previous 13 decisions, holding a three-run lead in the eighth inning of game six, left fielder Moises Alou thought he had a foul ball in his glove when an overeager fan knocked it away. Instead of the second out, the sky caved in, including an error by the Cubs’ slick fielding shortstop on what should have been an inning-ending double-play ball.
After that disheartening loss, the seventh game was a foregone conclusion. Cubs fans remembered too well 1984, when Rick Sutcliffe, who had gone 18-1 for the Cubs in the regular season, could not hold a three-run lead in the deciding fifth game against the San Diego Padres. And sure enough, Wood, the major league strikeout leader, could not hold a lead in game seven. For Cubs fans it was again, "Wait till next year."
Why would some Chicago friends and I have contemplated staying up all night to watch game 7? Perhaps because pretending to care greatly about the fate of the Cubs lets us feel we are still the same teenagers we were when the Cubs first broke our hearts in 1969.
Perhaps because we owe it to the Cubs for having ennobled our lives through suffering, and teaching us, in the words of our Sages, that only a love that is not dependent on some external reward endures. That is the love of a Cubs fan. (Certainly the writers among us, from George Will to lesser pundits, owe the Cubs for serving as a fecund source of metaphors.)
Yet when it came, news of the Cubs’ loss hurt much less than I expected. (Albeit I would have preferred that my father had waited until after morning prayers to inform me.) The disappointment paled quickly beside the real concerns of everyday life in Israel.
And I’m glad that it did, for it means I have grown up. The achievements and failures of adulthood are ultimately more satisfying than the boundless potential of our teenage years. One cannot remain a golden youth forever. Nor should one want to be.
Related Topics: Biographical - Jonathan Rosenblum
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