A Disappointing 45-Year Odyssey: Confessions Of A Life-Long Chicago Cubs Fan
I am a Chicago Cubs fan.
It is a curse that my father, a Chicago native, afflicted upon me at a tender age as he raised me in suburban Washington, D.C. We would watch games on WGN-TV and periodically travel to Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia to see the Cubs play and the Philly faithful would teach me the art of urinating in a public trashcans.
Cubs star power during those days was limited. Sure there were names like Billy Buckner, Dave Kingman, Rick Reuschel and a few others. But most Cubs players of the 1970s and early 80s squads featured easily forgettable would-be farm hands like Pete LaCock, Dennis Lamp, Steve Ontiveros, and the list of mildly acceptable Major League talent goes on.
In the early 1980s, my father and I joined the Emil Verban Memorial Society, a DC-area fan club named for an insanely average Cubs second basemen started by a Motorola lobbyist for the purpose of gaining access to Capitol Hill offices. It was a who’s who of political elite and rabid metro-DC Cubs fans that included Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, former MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Dick Cheney, Supreme Court justices, dozens of senators and congressmen and more.
In 1984, as puberty was upon me, I experienced a winning Cubs team for the first time. That squad won 96 games with the likes of Ryan Sandberg, Rick Sutcliffe, Leon Durham and Gary Matthews – actual Major League quality players. It was miraculous, joyful, perplexing to a degree, and through the Verban Society, we had the option of securing tickets to either the NL Championship vs. the Padres or the World Series.
My father – a man who only succeeding in gambling when ordering out – went with the World Series. And after going up 2 – 0 in a best of five series, that SOB Steve Garvey of the Padres crushed our dream, leading San Diego to victory in five. This was my first Cubs disappointment as prior I had known nothing but defeat. It was the beginning of an odyssey of hurt.
Five years later the 1989 Cubs were strong, led by Andre Dawson, Sandberg, Sutcliffe, Mark Grace, Greg Maddux and two immensely promising rookies. Things looked bright indeed – 93 wins – and the team made the NL Championship series. But alas, Will Clark and the San Francisco Giants, along with Cubby bullpen meltdowns and some questionable managerial decisions, sent Chicago home. Disappointed again.
In 1998, the Cubs fielded another unusually talented squad featuring a juiced-up Sammy Sosa. On the heels of fan bitterness with baseball as a whole, he would capture baseball’s imagination during steroid-induced home run bashing contests with the illegally inflated Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals. Sure, they were flowing with syringe-induced rage, but at least fans came back to the sport. Alas, that solid 90-win campaign would end in playoff disappointment at the hands of the Atlanta Braves, who to this day have the worst fans in baseball.
The 2003 season would take disappointment to a new level – like Seinfeld series ending episode disappointment. After an 88-win campaign and with promising pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood leading the way, Cubs fans and America were introduced to Steve Bartman. In game six, Bartman reached for a fly ball and deflected it away from the glove of Cubs outfielder Moisés Alou. The gaffe snowballed into a Cubs loss, the end of a promising campaign and was arguably the first domino in the turning point of the era as the Cubs would not win a playoff game for the next eleven seasons. Good times.
Since then there has been more lows than highs – Prior flaming out, revelations about steroid use by Sosa and Rafael Palmiero, and the deaths of Cubs legends Ron Santo and Ernie Banks among others.
But where there is dark, a flicker of light remains.
The Cubs began the 2015 season with new on-field leadership as Joe Maddon was hired to manage the club. The team signed a true top-level pitcher in Jon Lester, drafted the likes of Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, Jake Arrieta became a bearded beast and more. Sure, that campaign ended with a loss to the New York Mets in the NLCS – unable to crack the World Series for the first time since 1945. But all was not lost. I viewed it as a foundational year. And now, in 2016, we perhaps sit on the precipice of perhaps the finest Chicago Cubs team since it’s last World Series winning club in 1908 – before the Titanic was even built, pre-World War II, prior to women and blacks having the right to vote in America, before my dad knocked my mom up with me, prior to disco music and before this nation ever had to endure to two most ridiculous humans not named Donald Trump on the planet – Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.
I don’t know what will happen this season. It may end in disappointment yet again, or perhaps finally end the Curse of the Billy Goat. I don’t have many answers, but what I do know is that I have hope. I know I will always be a Cubs fan unless Jerry Jones somehow purchases the team. I know I shall remain among the Wrigley Faithful. I will sing “Go Cubs Go” whenever I see them play home baseball. And yes – I will continue to believe that one day, one year, my Cubs won’t disappoint me.