By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) In vino veritas. “In wine truth.” Leave it to the whiners of my South Side to give me some truth.
Normally the pokes at the Chicago Cubs on the marquee at McNally’s have little effect on my hard Cub fan heart. The place is very much a “Sox bar,” maybe more so than the rest of the taverns that line Western Ave. down here in severe Sox Country. They hang an “L” flag in the bar after each Cubs loss and have been known to reward thirsty patrons after somebody homers off of Cubs pitching. But besides my overall disdain for irrational Chicago baseball tribalism, there has never seemed to be any malice in the joint’s cute little White Sox younger sibling syndrome.
The sign that hangs out front is generally reserved for three proclamations — info on a local charity event coming up, a tribute to a neighborhood person who recently passed away or expressing how much the Cubs suck. As I have passed the sign in my travels the past few nights, it has let me know that, as Cub fans and the baseball world celebrate the 100th birthday of Wrigley Field today, Wrigley is basically a century’s worth of losing.
And in that place of wine and whine, there ironically lies the truth.
We love round numbers for anniversaries. Nobody cares about “seven years ago” or the “33rd commemoration of …” something. It’s a zero at the end that has the most pop for a celebration. How fitting that on this centennial celebration of a building we are in fact recognizing — or failing to recognize — a place that represents a big fat zero.
Wrigley Field is cute for non-Chicagoans. I heard Gov. Pat Quinn say Wednesday morning on The Mully and Hanley Show that it is the third-most visited place in all of Illinois tourist-wise. The place makes for great camera shots and people watching and all the Ken Burnsian aesthetics of baseball in pictures and narrative.
For me, Wrigley is a sarcophagus. It is a home to suffering and suffocation. Yes, it looks pretty once winter decides to get the hell out of this city and until the seagulls start crapping all over the bleachers and pulling out knives to challenge you to the rest of your pretzel to pay off the mafia of rats. But the lush greens and bricks against a blue sky are a siren song to annually having millions of souls sucked out with occasionally a little bit of brain matter, too.
I have never seen a World Series won in Wrigley Field. Not even by a team playing against the Cubs. And likely neither have you, lest you recall the 1932 Yankees and 1945 Tigers.
It’s where the greatest microcosm of baseball mythology occurred in Babe Ruth calling his shot — in a game the Cubs lost. It’s where the most electrifying moment in my Cub life, Kerry Wood’s home run in Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS, happened — in a game the Cubs lost.
It’s a house that grew to hold The Lovable Losers. “Losers” is in the damn nickname that some fans and the organization are trying so hard to shake. It’s where lemmings sing a bad song about the Cubs “going to win today” after — repeat “after” — the Cubs just won and probably after some undeserving celebrity tripped over the lyrics to a bad seventh inning tradition there that jumped the shark a long time ago.
It’s where the place long had stale beer, bad food and awful sanitary conditions and where “diehards” bitch about the beer, food and bathrooms being improved. It was the quaint little place on a corner in a neighborhood that has now become the focal point of contention among the worst pencil pushers and leeches and politicians in the city.
Because after 100 years, Wrigley is business. It’s corporate. Ivy, bricks and an analog clock are now joined by electronic scoreboards and corporate sponsorship. It’s not far-fetched to think you’ll hear on Wrigley’s 105th birthday, “Chik-fil-A Park featuring Wrigley Field brought to you by Scott’s Lawn Seed to fix the grass that was ruined by the One Direction concert sponsored by Mountain Dew.”
The team needs money because the team actually wants to win. And the 100-years stuff? It’s a fantastic marketing opportunity to get butts in the seats to watch a really bad team and squeeze some bucks out of gullibles who will buy kitsch and people desperately gasping for any redeeming reason to call themselves Cubs fans.
Winning is what matters to the people in charge now. For a century at 1060 W. Addison, there hasn’t been any of that. And a lot of party people are throwing a birthday bash this week that feels to me like blowing out candles on a cake for a serial killer. Would you RSVP to a get-together for a crumbly, weird, sort of fascinating institution that shows up on T-shirts if it instead was named Charles Manson?
Celebrating a range of mediocrity to poverty doesn’t feel right to me. Wrigley Field at 100 is woulda, coulda, shouldas and might-have-beens and Corey Pattersons, Kevin Ories, and Felix Pies.
It is failure encompassed in an edifice. And I don’t blame you if you need a little vino to handle that veritas.
You can follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe