By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) On Saturdays as a kid I was required to mow the lawn as part of the sweatshop lifestyle most of us middle-class children of the 1990s were subject to. I quickly figured out how to make it less a job than an escape from my Dickensian parents with one little piece of equipment — my Walkman radio.
Lawn mowing now was done in sync with Cubs games, unless the team was playing a night game on the West Coast (I learned after one try not to mow in the dark). Being in the sun and grass with baseball soundtracking me just felt right, and I developed a relationship with radio baseball ever since.
I heard Ron Santo’s infamous moans over Brant Brown’s dropped fly ball while organizing my baseball cards on the basement floor. Mark Grace catching the final out of the Cubs tie-breaker win over the San Francisco Giants in 1998 came to my ears in a restaurant kitchen I was busing. Baseball on the radio would become a staple of afternoons humping asphalt for Chicago’s Department of Transportation and evenings slinging pizza pies around the South Side.
And so with the news that Cubs radio broadcasts will be moving from WGN to CBS-owned WBBM following this season, all the nostalgia and joy and heartbreak and sweat and tears of past listening experiences rushed at me like a huge blue wave, causing me to explode hysterically with “Oh… OK.”
The reaction to the change in stations has and will for the immediate future have a lot of fans crying about how they’ll never listen to Cubs if not on WGN (that’s a lie), that this is just another example of the Ricketts regime ruining the team (it’s not) and that now a great tradition has been destroyed (explain the greatness of the tradition, please). As a listener, I don’t care what the call letters are for a baseball game. As much as hitting the “780” preset on my car radio next to the “720” is going to drastically alter my life, I think I’ll manage.
Understand what this shift in stations is about. Mostly it’s money, obviously. But this isn’t about Goliath CBS showing up, making it rain and bellowing that this is all ours now. It’s not the Cubs pulling an, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
The deal made by former Tribune Co. chairman Sam Zell when he sold the Cubs to Tom Ricketts in 2009 has been a financial disaster for WGN, which has lost $6 million a year, according to some estimates. ‘The economics of the deal that we inherited did not make business sense,” (WGN president and general manager Jimmy) deCastro told me.
The antiquated WGN no longer wants the Cubs with what the dollars for that relationship mean. And really it no longer seems to want any sports period, as it recently announced it’s removing Cubs, White Sox, and Bulls games from its TV superstation. (And the Cubs will get their own TV network eventually.)
CBS sees otherwise for itself. With WBBM as the top-billing station in the Chicago market and home to Bears games, its sister station 670 The Score that carries White Sox games for now through 2015 and its bevy of other Chicago stations and those elsewhere around the country that provide advertising opportunities for games and now concerts/events that make the Cubs money, this new partnership makes a lot of sense.
Tradition be damned. Sure, the Cubs are synonymous with WGN for the moment. They are also synonymous with zero championships in your lifetime. Stop and think about being emotionally invested in station letters. What is intelligent about that?
Do not make this another example of holding on to bad traditions of losing and whining about disrespect to what has always been when what has always been on the field has stunk. Do make this an example of the organization continuing to move forward in multiple ways and really trying to distance itself from much of the stuck-in-the-mud Cubdom that has involved a “Lovable Losers” stigma and a sort of acceptance of mediocrity for the sake of ivy and Ernie Banks waving to everybody. Tradition is an illogical argument for continuation.
Your love of tradition means squat to a team focused on generating revenue to put a winning product of the field. Having CBS as an outlet very much will contribute to that revenue, and if you prefer losing baseball on one station over potentially winning baseball on another, then you’ve forfeited your right to be respected as a fan. Staying with WGN “just because” means taking less than the team’s broadcast value is worth, and that’s just stupid.
And Pat Hughes will be making the move, too, don’t worry. Announcers are employed by the team, and Hughes has a deal through 2015. But if a change in the radio booth is made after then, so what? Yes, I get attached to broadcasters, but I’ve learned to embrace that change as well. I was ready to hate Len Kasper and Bob Brenly, and they quickly grew on me and became the city’s best duo. Jim Deshaies has replaced Brenly seamlessly. Keith Moreland was actually worse than what Ron Santo had become, but so far Ron Coomer shows a lot of promise next to Hughes. Should there be a different voice on the mic in the near future, you’ll either get over it or be outside the demographic that matters anyway (in other words, you’re old and don’t matter, sorry.)
And in a completely selfish regard, hopefully the awful and inaccurate “Go Cubs Go” song is now dead. Its lyrics contain “WGN,” which hopefully is now the song’s fatal flaw.
The move to CBS is a forward one. It’s a microcosm of the Cubs improving every facet of themselves. You can now choose to be progressive with them or pout and stay stuck in a fruitless past.
You can follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe.