Cubs fans are hopeful beyond reason
Cubs fans have no grounds to keep believing, but they can't help it
May 16, 2010BY RICK MORRISSEY Sun-Times Columnist
Sports Illustrated recently ran a story about new Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, which is to say it ran a story about hope.
But any story about hope and the Cubs is a story about a historical record that recommends proceeding in an orderly fashion to the lifeboats.
Manager Lou Piniella says he can hear the worry in the fans: "They're supportive, but with a little anxiety in their voice."
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The piece was featured inside the magazine, so we don't know which jinx is stronger: SI's infamous cover jinx or the Cubs' tendency to jinx everything they touch.
Talk about a battle of titans. Would Ricketts have suffered a torn rotator cuff if he had appeared on the cover, or would Sports Illustrated have declared bankruptcy immediately after running his photo?
As stories about the Cubs often do, this one ended with someone in the organization saying he was tired of being on the losing end of baseball games. That someone was Ricketts, and there was almost bewilderment in his quote, as though he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing, which is impossible, seeing as how he was a bruised Cubs fan well before his family bought the team.Law of averages doesn't apply
The Cubs are 15-22 heading into their game today against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The season is not over, but it does have a familiar patina of futility to it. It's only May, but there's already something ominous about this season. Perhaps it's Tom Skilling and those storm clouds over there.
I'm not asking Cubs fans to believe in jinxes, curses or fairy-tale ogres, but I do wonder if you believe in the possibility that your team's century-plus dry spell might stretch to a Buzz Lightyear-like infinity and beyond.
Do you think the Cubs will win a World Series in your lifetime or anybody else's?
If you answered yes, the natural companion question is: Why in the world would you think that?
The law of averages? No, sorry. The law of averages has declared definitively that it doesn't like the Cubs. One hundred and two years since the last World Series title would appear to be impossible. But you Cubs fans know better, don't you?
New ownership? The Ricketts family is saying and doing all the right things. It is spending money, just as Tribune Co. did in the latter years of its ownership of the team. But it's much too early to know what this group is all about.
Please, give me something conclusive to go on, something besides your vague feelings of hope and possibility.
An improving farm system? The thought that a natural disaster will wipe out half of all major-league teams in 2045? The presence of Starlin Castro?
It's a little early to put that on the kid shortstop's shoulders, no?
You don't have anything but hope, which makes you like fans of most other teams. But many of those fans at least can point to a championship team somewhere in their past and say: ''There. That's why I believe. I know what it takes for my team to win. I've witnessed it or my parents witnessed it. It can be done again.''
A Cubs fan only can tell you how it feels to pick at scabs.
Even by Cubs standards, what has happened so far has been bizarre. Alfonso Soriano is hitting; Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez aren't. Carlos Zambrano is pitching out of the bullpen -- and not particularly well.
After starting 4-4, in their last 29 games heading into today, the Cubs had, in order, lost five of six, won five of six, lost three, won three and lost nine of 11.
Manager Lou Piniella, the periodic stubble on his chin suggesting sleepless nights, has appeared to be at his wits' end more than a few times. Before the game Friday, though, he was positively chipper. He saw hope -- that word again -- in the Cubs' periodic offensive struggles.
''I still remain confident that we're going to do it,'' he said. ''I really do. It gets a little frustrating at times, but truthfully, in my heart of hearts, I believe that we're going to hit and we're going to score runs and get this thing moving in the right direction more consistently.'''I love the big lugs'
There is no numbness to you Cubs fans. All the losing hasn't left you with a high pain threshold. You still bleed at the first hint of an extended losing streak.
In the first inning Friday, the crowd at Wrigley Field booed Cubs pitcher Tom Gorzelanny when he walked a batter after giving up three consecutive hits and a run. And the fans booed Zambrano after he gave up a three-run home run in the eighth.
Piniella said he heard from Cubs fans as he walked in the city on his day off Thursday.
''They're supportive, but with a little anxiety in their voice,'' he said, chuckling.
Asking a Cubs fan why he continues to support the team is like asking a table leg why it supports the table. It just does.
What if you saw the future unfolding before you and learned the Cubs never would win a World Series? Would you give up on them or offer an ''I wish I knew how to quit you'' worthy of ''Brokeback Mountain''?
I'm guessing you'd say, ''What are you gonna do? I love the big lugs.''
The SI story did say the Cubs are eating healthier food in their clubhouse this season. See? There is hope.
Everyone who has ever met me knows I love the Cubs. I've bled Cubbie Blue for half a century, like my father and grandfather before me. I've sat at playoff games only to see my heroes implode, but yet I still believe.
This season may be different. The Cubs are playing worse than I can remember, and all the promises of new ownership and new traditions (even actual urinals in the Wrigley Field men's rooms) can't make the Cubs a contender, or anything less than a laughingstock.
I think its time for a reality check and some serious re-evaluation. After getting let down by the players and kicked in the teeth by the front office (a story for another blog post) perhaps its time to take a hiatus from baseball fandom.