Monday, February 11, 2013

HOW I BECAME A BASEBALL FAN: A 1990s Cubbie Story


It's almost that time again!
(photo courtesy of Ed Mancia)

Felipe M


Something that was brought to my attention back in January when I was listening to The Score where they mentioned that 40% of the Chicago Cubs’ home attendance at Wrigley Field comes from out-of-town tourists.  After doing a quick search on the subject, the number is more like 37% although that figure is from 2011.  Regardless of the year, it’s highly doubtful that the figure dramatically changed in 2012.  So let’s just say that 35% of the Cubs’ home attendance is composed of tourists.  As far back as I can remember, Cubs’ fans have been citing larger home attendance figures to prove their fandom’s superiority in the city of Chicago (more on the “other” team later).  But this figure proves, once again, that the Cubs are more of a tourist attraction than a real, legit, professional team (although, I’m fully aware that things are changing rapidly). 

However, I’m not here to jump on the Cubs and beat them over the head.  That’s too easy.  No, this piece is a bit more personal than petty squabbles regarding the stupid cold war that Chicago baseball fans are enamored with (and the escalated violence that might occur from such squabbles). 

I have been a Cubs’ fan since 1992 and I was part of a generation of children who ran home after school to catch the last few innings of a typical, Cubs’ day game on WGN.


Having immigrant parents, baseball was a very exotic sport—at least in my household.  Not only that, it was quasi-prohibited, but as soon as I took an interest in being a spectator, it was tolerated, but not fully embraced.  So growing up, I learned the game from Harry Caray and Steve Stone. Obviously, Caray was one of my favorite baseball broadcasters of all time and hold very high reverence towards Stone.  I think the man is a baseball genius.  “Stoney” is still the best at predicting the outcomes of at bats and does so on a regular basis that one almost takes it for granted.

As big as a homer Caray was, he spoke his mind and often after drinking a few beers.  Heated baseball discussions and arguments were common between Caray and Stone, the biggest one involved Caray playing the role of “mythbuster” whenever Stone brought up the importance of pitching.  Stone, like 85%+ of baseball fans, experts, and personnel, believed in the old adage that “good pitching always beats good hitting.”  Caray, on the other hand, only believed in that notion when it was actually working and whenever he felt like it, Caray would bait Stone into arguing with him, on air, about why “good pitching” was highly overrated and why it was just as important to have a great offense as well.  “Look at the Atlanta Braves,” Caray once pointed out during a Cubs’ telecast in the mid 1990s, “despite all of the pitching talent, they have zero championships to show for it!” 

Caray would be the same guy who would “root, root for the Cubbies,” during the 7th inning stretch and would rally the team to “get some runs!”  Nevertheless, when the team was going bad, he'd let the TV audience know about it.  When a player was not performing up to par, Caray was usually the loudest critic.  He didn’t care if it was Greg Maddux or Bob Scanlan, if the pitcher was not recording outs, Caray would be critical of the player (which would explain why I really didn't like Maddux the first few times I watched him on TV). 

Fergie Jenkins was also the pitching coach
during this era of Cubs' baseball.
(photo courtesy of Ed Mancia)

Or when Cubs’ fans acted like idiots (which happened a lot), Caray was the first one to call them out.  He loved the camera shots of bikini-clad, female Cubs’ fans in the stands, but when Cubs fans were wrong, he made sure everybody knew about it, TV ratings and home attendance be damned!  

One instance of this occurred, circa 1993, at a Cubs’ home game.  Defensive stalwart, Rey Sanchez, the Cubs’ starting shortstop at the time, came up to bat.  After the PA announced his name to the crowd for his first at bat of the game, he received a smattering of boos from the home crowd.  

Caray was livid.  “Boo?” Caray asked to no one in particular, “How are you going to ‘boo’ a guy who’s hitting well above .300?  That’s not a player that the fans should be booing.  If anything, they should be cheering for Rey.  He’s a slick, defensive shortstop who is hitting the ball well.  He should not be booed.  Shame on these fans for doing so.”  I’m mostly paraphrasing (he might have mentioned how much of a handsome, young man Sanchez was as well), but one thing Caray did not like was ignorant baseball fans. 

It is because of Caray and Stone that I was able to pick up the game of baseball rather quickly and instantly fell in love with the game.  I will always appreciate the duo for helping me gravitate towards the game and a lot of the pathos that I have for the game currently, comes from them.  They are part of my “baseball foundation,” so to speak.

Unfortunately, being a Cubs’ fan can be one of the most heartbreaking, frustrating, discouraging, and insane thing one can be in this country.  I grew up reading a lot about the New York Yankees in grade school and could've easily been a Yankee fan for life.  Technically, I was offered a clean slate as no one else in my family liked baseball.  I wouldn't have to face the grief from disappointing family members or friends. 

Alas, due to arbitrary loyalty to the city that I live in, I naturally became a Cubs’ fan.  For those that don’t understand what it’s like to root for a team that since the day I was born, up until I became a fan in 1992, had 3 combined playoff wins, it’s like this: it’s like Married…with Children and how Al Bundy really doesn't care about Peggy Bundy, and it’s doubtful if he even really loves his wife, but due to a common bond, history, and loyalty to Peggy, Al risks his neck and constantly swallows his pride for his wife.  He does it because he feels it’s his duty in doing so, but more often than not, he does it out of pure instinct as well.  Like he involuntarily protects and defends the honor of his less than spectacular wife and kids for no other reason than the simple fact that there’s a mechanism inside his head that tells him to unhesitantly do so.  That’s basically what it’s like to be a Cubs’ fan: I’m Al Bundy and the Cubs are my Peggy and my kids.

Let’s Rock!
The Hawk!
(photo courtesy of Ed Mancia)

I grew up watching players like:
  • Mark Grace
  • Ryne Sandberg
  • Andre Dawson
  • Greg Maddux
  • Paul Assenmacher
  • Bob Scanlan
  • Kal Daniels
  • Sammy Sosa (he was my favorite player almost instantly when he was acquired in 1993 despite being a bonehead on the field and on the bases...and off the field...)
  • Derrick May
  • Mike Morgan
  • Randy Myers
  • Bob Patterson
  • Kevin Foster
  • Mike Harkey
  • Steve Buechele
  • Rick Wilkins
  • Doug Dascenzo
  • Luis Gonzalez
  • Jose Guzman

The list can go on forever!

Unfortunately, the losing was damn near unbearable.  As mentioned before, I grew up reading a lot about the Yankees and there was one common theme in that franchise's history: they're always winning!  So when my mom bought me a Cubs' Almanac at a dollar store, it was interesting to see how successful the team was in the first half of the 20th century, but how sour and terrible the team got after 1945.  I remember how sick to my stomach I was after reading blunder, after blunder, after blunder....

Eventually, however, the losing finally go to me...  The false sense of hope finally got to me… The digging through a tunnel and finally see a light at the end of it…only to find out that it was a train coming my way to crush me finally go to me…the history of losing… the bad trades…not being real players in the free agent market…refusing to re-sign good players…the bad draft picks…the terrible farm system…all of this finally got to me. 

1997, after 5 seasons of being a Cubs’ fan, I finally had enough! So what happened?


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