By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) For fans of the Chicago Cubs, the hits just keep on coming.
Problem is, yet again, not a one of them is happening on the field.
On Monday afternoon, the Less-and-Less Lovable Losers dealt their latest sucker punch to the belly of their less-and-less loving fan base when the team unveiled its first official mascot in modern franchise history.
Within an hour, the sad-eyed, pants-less, backwards-hat clad cartoon bear had become such a target of derision via social media that I half expected to hear word that Elliot Ness’ grandson was out tacking up “Public Enemy No. 1” posters on the walls of North Side post offices.
And all of that was before we had even seen the live, oversized version of Clark, which was revealed Monday night during a visit to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center.
“He doesn’t look like a sad Cub in this pic,” a friend commented about a photo of Clark chumming it up at Advocate with Cubs prospects and little kids, or same difference. “But the season hasn’t started yet.”
Nope, but the Cubs’ now typical offseason is definitely in full swing now that it features plenty of misses. One Twitter follower pointed out that the team probably spent more money creating Clark this winter than they did on free agency.
Sadly, I’m not sure if that’s even a joke.
Either way, while Clark’s introduction on Monday may have been a surprise, it shouldn’t have been unexpected. After all, the Cubs showed their hand back in July when they issued a cease-and-desist order to Chicagoan Jon Paul Weier, demanding that he end his activities as “Billy Cub,” the unauthorized bear mascot who wanders Wrigleyville before ballgames with a tip bucket.
Prior to that, Cubs senior marketing director Alison Miller told the Chicago Tribune last March that the Cubs were investigating ways to make Wrigley more “kid-friendly” and had undertaken “a lot of focus groups in the last couple of months.”
“We’ve done a couple of things just with trying to get better research on our fans, and just being smarter about what our fans want,” explained Miller, who apparently then went ignored all of that.
End result: Clark the Cub, who looks an awful lot like a character plucked from a cereal box.
And that’s probably because he pretty much is. Prior to joining the Cubs in July 2012, Miller spent more than a decade in Minneapolis working in marketing for General Mills, creators of the likes of Count Chocula, Sonny the Cuckoo Bird and the Trix Rabbit.
Just wait until they show up for a cross-promotion event at Wrigley this summer.
But before you can say, “Clark is for kids, silly Cubs fans,” I’d argue that his introduction as the team’s most high-profile offseason acquisition – sadly, he honestly is – prior to this weekend’s Cubs Convention is indicative of a much larger issue with the Cubs.
And a terribly disappointing one, as Clark continues the franchise’s disconcerting trend under the Ricketts Era of focusing on anything but actual winning baseball games.
Last July, I wrote that, “while I have no problem with the Cubs doing some things to make Wrigley more ‘kid-friendly,’ I do have a problem with a mascot being one of them. My personal take is that the Wrigley experience is already going to be changing more than enough with the inclusion of a giant Jumbotron in left field. Do the Cubs really need to change it in every way?”
Yet it seems that way, as they continue to bog down the franchise with endless blather about hotels and scoreboards and renovations – all of which are still yet to even begin construction leading to an updated mantra along the lines. “Wait ’til the Year After Next Year! … Or maybe the year after that.”
Under Ricketts, it seems that the Cubs are all about finding new ways to get fans to hopefully spend their money while spending the minimal amount on the big league roster. Fans (and, I’d argue, even kids) want to see wins, not furballs.
Twitter follower David Spellman sagely observed on Monday that with their unnecessary new mascot, “The Cubs are offering Des Moines baseball and entertainment at Chicago prices. What seriously has me PO-ed with this Clark crap is that it feels like AAA baseball.”
I guess nobody pointed that out in one of the Cubs’ fan focus groups.
Or perhaps, it was that the team just didn’t care.
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. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.