By Dave Wischnowsky–
CHICAGO (CBS) During the summertime, there are two things that I love.
One is the greatest city on Earth. And the other is the worst baseball team on the planet.
Yes, when it comes to Chicago and the Cubs, from June through September (let’s not talk about October), I usually have plenty of passion for both. However, of late, I’ve found myself overly frustrated with the town (enough with the rain) while experiencing increasing disenchantment with the team (enough with the losing).
Last week, though, Chicago’s spell of 90-degree days finally started to warm me up. But it wasn’t until Thursday afternoon when I read an Internet column horribly misrepresenting the current mindset of Cubs fans at Grantland.com – the much-ballyhooed national sportswriting website just launched by ESPN impresario Bill Simmons – that I really got hot.
And I’m still steaming today.
Here’s why: In a rambling piece boasting the trite headline, “Wrigley Is Wrigley, and Nothing Else Is,” atop the truly insulting subhead, “Who needs winning baseball at the ultimate neighborhood park?,” Grantland.com columnist Dave Eggers spends 1,800 oblivious words spinning stale stereotypes about Cubs fans and telling America that the vast majority of them really don’t care a lick about the sport.
And they care even less about winning.
In fact, the only thing that matters to the whole soft-headed bunch, Eggers explains, is that 97-year-old baseball cathedral at the corner of Clark and Addison.
It disappoints me to say that the column penned by Eggers – a talented Pulitzer Prize-nominated author and fellow University of Illinois alum – is the most out-of-touch piece of writing that I’ve ever read about Cubs fans. And I read a lot.
In fact, the column is so woefully tone deaf that on Friday my buddy Phil, a frustrated Cubs fan like myself, flashed me a stern look while we were discussing Eggers’ piece and said, “Someone needs to respond.” He then urged me to do so.
Now, I don’t often take fellow writers to task (and really don’t enjoy doing so), but I agreed with Phil that Eggers’ column – broadcast via Grantland to a vast national audience – was just so far off base.
That someone needed to pick it off.
In the baffling piece, it’s almost as if Eggers somehow tumbled into a time warp when he visited Wrigleyville last month for a ballgame (really, for a rooftop wedding bash) and stumbled out into 1997.
You know, back during a time when it was commonplace to criticize Cubs fans by claiming they all could come to Wrigley and leave happy even after a loss, just so long as Sammy hit a homer, the Budweiser was cold and the girls were hot.
Certainly there were – and are – a sizable number of fans who fit that disinterested bill (just like there are at any ballpark). But, welcome to 2011, Dave.
Things here on Chicago’s North Side have changed since you apparently last checked in, so allow me to get you up to speed. Because, what you clearly didn’t see from atop that Wrigleyville rooftop – which, again, isn’t a ballgame – is that the vast majority of Cubs fans nowadays are caught up in a complex fit of angst, anger and apathy so severe that no mere ballpark can cure it.
Not even Wrigley Field, a place I, too, love.
And as a result, the Friendly Confines, despite its charm, beer and beauty, is now attracting almost as many seagulls as it is fans. To wit, through 31 home dates so far in 2011, the Cubs’ average attendance is 34,818. That’s down from 37,814 last year and a far cry from the 39,610 the team drew per game just two seasons ago.
Beyond Eggers’ slew of sorry stereotypes, the thing that really chaps me about his column is that he’s supposed to be a so-called “Chicago” guy (the 41-year-old San Franciscan originally hails from Lake Forest) and even claims to have a pinstriped pedigree.
“I grew up with the Cubs,” Eggers writes, before frustratingly adding, “I don’t remember the possibility of winning ever being high among the reasons we went to Wrigley.”
Eggers then goes on to explain, “We went because the park was ragged and crumbling and lived-in, beautiful in an almost accidental way. The low brick wall behind home plate implied a game being played at the local elementary school. The ivy in the outfield hinted that the building was so old that nature was reclaiming it.”
And then, quite inexplicably, he adds: “We went for these reasons, and we went because the weather at Wrigley was always better there than anywhere else in Chicago.”
I had to laugh at that. Because, anyone who has ever actually been to Wrigley Field more than, say, once knows that thanks to the hawk winds so cold, as Steve Goodman would sing, it’s the only place in Chicago where it can feel like it’s threatening to snow on the Fourth of July.
Embarrassing himself — and insulting Cubs fans — even further, Eggers proceeds to write, “Winning, which the Cubs did do occasionally, was a superfluous kind of treat. It didn’t feel too much different than losing — just like when you’re at the beach, getting one flavor of ice cream doesn’t feel so different than any other. They all taste fine when you’re at the beach, right? Winning was great if it happened. Just like having good players was a nice but unexpected bonus. Ryne Sandberg? Greg Maddux? Mark Grace? Shawon Dunston? Thanks! In general, though, we were used to the good things coming amid a general mood of “so what.” ”
That picture which Eggers paints was never really true. Not among real fans. But a decade ago, the mindset of Cubs Nation was indeed far different than it is today. Back before Bartman, the folks rooting on Chicago’s Boys in Blue certainly were happy-go-lucky when compared to their far more fatalistic brethren in Boston.
Cubs fans hoped to win, whereas Red Sox fans expected to lose. For ages, that was a big – and very noticeable – difference.
But after the 2003 NLCS — a series which I attended six of the seven games — all of that changed in Chicago. Thanks to the Cubs’ unimaginable collapse against the Marlins, the mood in Wrigleyville was permanently altered. Fed up with black cats and billy goats, Cubs fans became increasingly more frustrated and less satisfied to settle for mediocre (or far worse) baseball.
They began to demand success – even if they still didn’t really expect to see it.
Apparently, while living out on the West Coast, Eggers missed all of this transpiring here amidst the Plains. And, somehow, he managed to still miss it despite actually being in Wrigleyville on May 28 to (sort of) see the Cubs get pounded by the Pirates.
“At some point the game ended,” Eggers writes in his column. “It was 10-0, it had started to pour, and no one cared. The streets of Wrigleyville filled with people dodging the rain. Vendors tried to sell Kerry Wood memorabilia, and scalpers were selling seats to the next home game. Shirtless men stomped in puddles as if celebrating something. Actually, they were celebrating something. It all felt good.
A bunch of people from Chicago had gathered in one place, and that was 98 percent of the point of it all.”
All of that reads as utter nonsense, but none of it as bad as what Eggers says next.
“I’m sure among the thousands who flowed through the tributaries around the stadium were some who were upset the Cubs hadn’t won,” Eggers writes. “I’m sure there are Cubs fans who are interested in the standings, and have been for decades.”
Yes, Dave, there are. A whole lot of them. And if you’d like to make a return trip to Chicago this summer and join me for an actual ballgame, I’d love to introduce you to some of them, including myself.
We can go to Wrigley Field. And we can have a couple beers. But let’s watch and talk about baseball.
You know, like real Cubs fans.
Tickets are on me.
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.