EDITOR’S NOTE: This Cubs column also appears today in Crain’s Chicago Business, at chicagobusiness.com.
Hot Kansas days, looking for a baseball in a field of corn. In May, the shiny green stalks are already higher than the heads of everyone but the centerfielder. Once again, Sara Paretsky, on the corner, has hurled the ball past the first baseman’s head and into the field beyond. Two runs score, and Wakarusa handily beats Kaw Valley. Everyone in the Kansas River Valley in 1960 knows it will be a long season.
When Rafael Dolis loaded the bases on May 26 this year and then hit a batter to bring in the run that gave the Cubs their eleventh loss in a row, I had a little empathy. Not a lot, but some.
When I was twelve and thirteen, I played third base for our two-room country school. I had a strong arm for a kid; my cousin David didn’t want me “throwing like a girl,” and he taught me a good overhand throw.
I could get the ball from third to first but David hadn’t been able to teach me to aim. When I fielded, the ball often went in a random direction. We had one ball, and there was a lot of corn around our school. Kaw Valley had the losingest record in our rural league. I wasn’t the only person to blame, but I didn’t help.
Dolis is making $480,500 this year (about $6,100 in 1960 dollars) and I was making nothing, so he gets paid a lot more for bonking batters than I did. He also gets paid more than I do for writing stories today, but maybe he provides better entertainment.
I am inured to losing. Kansas City brought its first white major league team to town when the A’s arrived in 1955. We became fans, my brothers, my father, and I. Who else was there to root for? St. Louis?
The A’s were beyond abominable. In 1956, they finished 52-104, but worse than that, they acted as the Yankees farm club. They gave the Yankees Roger Maris and Bobby Schantz, among others. We knew from birth that the Yankees were evil—my dad had grown up walking distance from Ebbets Field—but watching the Yankees decimate the A’s gave us our own burning hatred. Of course, it should have been directed at the A’s owners, but I was eight, what did I know?
When I moved to Chicago in 1966, you could say I was primed to become a Cubs fan. I was used to losing. I was working at 70th and Damen; I should have been a Sox fan. They had been to the World Series in recent memory, but that would have been simple, rooting for winners*.
I hunkered down. I let my hopes soar in ’69, only to die. I lived, I died, I lived, I died. I had the chance to watch Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams and Ron Santo. I loved the Penguin with his funny pigeon-toed run around the bases. VI Warshawski’s reporter friend, Murray Ryerson, is described in his first appearance as looking like Rick Sutcliffe.
I still have a signed photo of Bill Buckner on my desk. I don’t care about the ’86 World Series; he played in a lot of pain, took an hour to prep his legs before games, had some great stats, and (true story) carried out the garbage and shoveled walks for his elderly next door neighbor who only learned from me that he was a sports star.
1984 was my nadir. I actually let them break my heart. I was working for CNA Insurance in downtown Chicago. In those pre-internet days, we smuggled in transistor radios for the NLCS. One person actually had a minute TV. All up and down the building’s 44 floors, and probably all over the Loop, we sat with our desk drawers open, heads cocked, while pretending to develop marketing plans. Leon Durham’s Kool-Aid filled glove, now that I don’t forgive.
I spent the whole of October and November in mourning. After 1984 I dialed back a little; I didn’t let them get quite so close to my heart again, but losing season after losing season, I stayed with the team. I would joke with people that it was better to be a Cubs fan than a Yankee fan because great art is built on suffering.
In 2003, I almost became a believer again. I was on a book tour and went into my event with the Cubs poised to clinch the NLCS in Game Six against the Marlins. I came out just in time for the Bartman incident. I knew then that the Cubs would lose heart and lose the series, but I came back to them in 2004.
Now, it’s over.
Joe Ricketts, you’ve done for me what 45 years of losing never could. You’ve broken my addiction.
I know Major League Owners are all in the one percent. Maybe most or all of them agree with you, that we 99 percenters don’t deserve to use our tax dollars to weave a safety net in Social Security and health care for ourselves. But it gives chutzpah a new definition to back a campaign against the President because you hate even the small safety net we have, and then to ask us for $300 million to rebuild Wrigley.
I’m gone, I’m done, I’m throwing away my Cubs caps and warm-up jacket, I’m staying away from Wrigley. You don’t get one more thin dime from me, Joe Ricketts. I’m supporting my own adult children who’ve been out of work for two years in this economy; you take care of yours.
* The truth is a little more complicated, as it always is. I was working in a summer youth program. The Sox never returned our phone calls; the Cubs gave our kids free tickets every Thursday. In Chicago, an honest politician is defined as one who stays bought, and the Cubs bought my loyalty all those years ago. Also, my American League loyalties still lay in Kansas City.
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SARA PARETSKY is the creator of Private Eye and basketball player V I Warshawski; her most recent novel is “Breakdown.”
STORY ART: Main image made in-house with anchor photo courtesy Rusty Clark/cc.