The Acceptance of Losing: What it Means to be a Cub

I’m a White Sox fan, no doubt about it. However the good guys didn’t always wear black for me.  Growing up in Chicago, most of my family members were actually Cubs fans, so admittedly I rooted for both teams.  I remember in 1998 being captivated by Sammy Sosa and the home run chase between him and Mark McGwire.  I remember rookie Kerry Wood’s 20 K performance against the Astros.  I remember the Cubs celebrating after clinching a Wild Card spot.  Yet I also remember Sosa eventually falling short to McGwire, Wood injuring himself and missing the last month of the season, and the Cubs losing to Atlanta in a sweep of the NLDS.

There was a lot of hope that summer.  And there was a lot of hurt by the end of the season.  However most of my family accepted it all, enjoying the ride and declaring “maybe next year.”  After all, Sosa blowing kisses to the dugout camera had been fun, right?

A few years later, the arrival of manager Dusty Baker and rookie Mark Prior spurred hope among my family and many other Cubs fans as the Cubs would eventually edge out the Astros for the NL division championship.  Yet we all know the story of the 2003 playoffs and Steve Bartman.  The Cubs, up 3-1 in the series, would falter in the NLCS against the Marlins, unraveling after the infamous fan interference.  Prior and Wood were never the same, blowing out their arms, making several trips to the disabled list over the next few seasons, and quietly disappearing from public scrutiny.  However, most fans accepted it all, enjoying the ride and declaring “maybe next year.”  After all, Baker’s little son hanging out in the dugout had been fun, right?

A few years later Lou Piniella was hired on as manager, offering new hope among my family and other Cubs fans.  Under Piniella, the Cubs would win two division crowns in a row.  2008, the 100th anniversary since the Cubs last won a World Series, was supposed to be the year the losing streak ended.  It didn’t.  In both division winning seasons, the team would be swept out of the playoffs.  Before you knew it, Piniella was gone, and the bad contracts of aging players where left on the books, leading to a complete organizational restructuring as the Ricketts family would purchase a majority interest in the team in 2009.

By the time of Piniella’s departure, I had already learned to be skeptical of the Cubs and to solely enjoy the White Sox.  I gave up on the Cubs brand in 2000, drawn to “the kids can play” slogan of the Sox that year and its winning culture.  My choice paid off, culminating in a World Series win in 2005.  For me, the Cubs culture was too much about disappointment.  I could empathize with my family, but I couldn’t root for a losing organization.  The cycle of hope, disappointment and acceptance was simply not fun.

And the cycle continues.

Media darling Theo Epstien, of Boston Red Sox fame, was brought in by the Ricketts to revamp and replenish the farm system and overhaul the Major League roster.  Manager Joe Maddon, free agent Jon Lester and a slew of prospects, including Rookie of the Year candidates Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler, have created quite a stir for Cubs fans, giving them hope for this season.

I’m not fooled, and no one should be, as the story has been played out so many times before.  The Cubs likely decision to keep Bryant down in the minors to start the year reveals that the organization is even thinking “maybe next year.”  As Maddon stated recently, if the Cubs were in the thick of a race in the summer or towards the end of the season, Bryant would be starting.  For now, it’s more important to have longer financial control over Bryant than it is to put its best player on the field with a losing team.

The fact of the matter is, the Ricketts are running a business concerned with its financial solvency instead of winning.  As a brand, the Cubs are known as the “lovable losers” and it would behoove the organization to maintain that mantra.  Imagine if the Cubs actually won a World Series.  Fans wouldn’t know what to do with themselves.  Their whole cycle of hope and misery would suddenly vanish, destroying the brand in one fell swoop.  I would submit that the best business decision the Cubs could make would be to continue the cycle of hope, disappointment and acceptance by never winning a World Series.

After visiting Sloan Park, the Cubs Spring Training home in Mesa, Arizona, I could see first hand how Cubs fans have accepted this culture of losing.  Everything about Sloan Park seemed as if the organization imported all its losing ways to Arizona.  The stadium is a smaller replica of Wrigley Field, sans the brick and ivy in the outfield.  Fans can get weighed down by Giordano’s pizza at the park (or wait for Portillo’s hot dogs down the street after the game).  The parking is terrible, yet fans can have a jolly ride in a rickshaw pulled by a cyclist who brings the fans from the parking lot to the stadium.  I feel Cubs fans get a sick enjoyment out of the constant disappointment.  The fans keep eating the hot peppers and getting their mouths burned.  They love the misery that this losing organization puts them through.  One fan at the game I attended even had a shirt that read “100 years at Wrigley: 3 or 4 of them Good Ones.”  Many Cubs fans laughed and continued to watch their losers.  I’ve given up on the organization, but now, even though some are family, I feel I’ve given up on the fans too.  Featured Image: Via SBNation

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