Friday, October 23, 2015

Jesus, Cubs fans...


On Wednesday night, as the Chicago Cubs baseball team struggled with a score of 6-0 with the New York Mets in the lead, I tuned into WGN radio. Matt Bubala was on the microphone at 8:15p, sitting in for the usual host of The Download, and he was halfheartedly covering the Cubs game. For a few minutes.

Matt spoke to someone named Sam who was reporting from Wrigley Field, where the disappointment was taking place (this was the game that determined that the Cubs wouldn't advance in the playoffs). Sam mentioned having the city of Chicago pray for the Cubs. While I wasn't surprised that Matt shot down that idea, I was surprised by the rest of of his response: "The Cubs don't need prayers. Prayers aren't going to help. They need positive energy. How's the energy there? Are the fans being positive?"

First, what does Matt think prayer is but positive energy? Second, if religious action can't help the Cubs, what makes him think "positive energy" will? Third, it sounded like more sports fan superstition to me. Serious sports fans believe their attitude and attention has a material effect on how a team does.

Since moving to Chicago, even this non-sports fan has learned a bit about sports fans. They're a superstitious lot, but perhaps none more so than Cubs fans. Maybe it's because the reasons the Cubs lose are completely beyond the power of the fans: bad management and owners that are unwilling to pay for outstanding players. Fans can't do anything about those things, but they can wear their lucky shirts, do whatever activity they were doing the last time the Cubs won, go through their rituals for good luck and, for god's sake, think positive.

When Matt Bubala asked Sam if the fans were staying positive, Sam hedged. Matt pressed, "Have any of them left yet? Have you seen people leaving?" Sam admitted that he had. Matt made a disappointed (maybe even disgusted) sound. I think he wanted to blame those early quitters, at least in part, for the Cubs bad performance. I ranted at my iPad (through which I was listening), "This guy thinks it's the fans' fault that the Cubs are losing? He doesn't think prayers do anything, but positive energy can? Is he really putting this on the fans?" After that, Matt turned to the topic of Chris Rock hosting the Oscars, and didn't return to the Cubs game.Talk about quitting early.

I think superstition is what's left for people who feel powerless over the real circumstances. It's all they believe they can do, so they grip it with both hands. Of course, there is another course of action for Cubs fans: stop going to the games. Stop sinking money into an enterprise that has become all about money and not winning games at all. Cubs fans are a strange cult. Stuck with a team whose management has prioritized profit over pennants, they continue to believe their team can magically become winners even though the team is never given the resources to do that.

How do other baseball teams in other cities function? When they suck, fans stop coming to the games. Management responds by improving team performance and then the fans come back. With those teams, there's a correlation between fan attention (and revenue) and team performance. With the Chicago Cubs there's a much weaker correlation. Cubs cult members -- I mean, fans -- come to games no matter how the Cubs play. It's a big party. When you go to Wrigley, you haven't really experienced the game if you haven't eaten a hot dog and drunk at least one beer. People who don't even care about baseball go to hang out with friends (I've been one of them). They fill the stands and the wallet of the team's owner. As long as the owner is raking in the money, what incentive does he have to buy better talent?

So the Cubs languish, decade after decade. The Chicago Cubs are a cult of personality and tradition, and the fans pour into their home stadium, Wrigley Field, whether they do well or not. Cubs fans could stop spending their money on the Cubs games until the Cubs truly improve, but they don't. They're caught up in a cycle of emotion and masochism.

If I had a friend who complained to me about someone disappointing her year after year, I'd get tired of it. I'd tell her to ditch that person or set some boundaries that will improve the friendship. I'd tell her to stop doing the same thing over and over again since it's obviously not getting her what she wants. When she failed to do anything about her situation, I would run out of sympathy and ask her to find someone else to complain to. I'd just stop listening to it and getting pulled into the emotion and that's what I'm going to do with the Cubs and their congregation -- I mean, fans. Your faith is tiresome and counterproductive. Wait til next year? For what?

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