I hold it true, in all baseball;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have won and lost
Than never to have fucking won at all.
–Leo Durocher (possibly misquoting Tennyson)
The Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox each find themselves trapped this summer in peculiar corners of baseball hell.
The Cubs, under new management, are on pace to lose about 100 games. They’ve got a roster full of guys I’ve never heard of and hope not to hear from much in the future. They’re not bad enough to be entertaining; they’re just bad.
Making matters worse, the Cubs have Theo Epstein, the team president and genius who delivered championships to Boston. Why does he make matters worse? Because he’s raising expectations, and unfulfilled expectations can be dangerous. Ask Louis XVI.
Meanwhile, as Prince Theo sprinkles pixie dust at Wrigley and hopes for more of his old magic, his former mates in Boston have demolished the team he built. Last year, the BoSox were a game or two removed from making the playoffs. They collapsed, though, and we soon learned that beer and fried chicken were largely to blame. The team’s manager was fired, and Theo accepted a generous job offer in Chicago.
So who’s sorrowing more this season, Cubs fans or Red Sox fans? I went to Fenway one night in late August to find out.
On the night I visited, the crowd buzzed as rumors spread that Josh Beckett, one of the alleged beer-and-chicken men, had been traded, along with Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and some other guy no one seated with me in left field seemed to care about. Boston fans were not about to toss their championship rings into the harbor; this was more like tattoo removal, with Theo’s initials painfully scraped away. They loved him once and then they didn’t and now it hurts and it will go on hurting that way for as long as it takes until it doesn’t anymore.
But, to my surprise, there was no great agony about Fenway this night. The atmosphere was breezy and fun. The Kansas City Royals were in town and the game meant nothing to anyone, yet the place was packed. My ticket was priced at about $100, an excellent parking space cost $50, beer set me back $8.50, and the food was not much better than the humdrum fare offered inside Wrigley. Other than that, I had no complaints.
I’ve warned in these pages that it would be a mistake for Wrigley to install a big screen TV in center field, and yet I enjoyed not one but three enormous screens at Fenway. I liked watching the instant replays, and I found the televised interruption less loud and less obnoxious than the so-called entertainment offered at most other ballparks. There were not so many commercials, not so many idiotic donut-race style games, and not so much blaring music.
Even the billboards, which cover almost every available surface within the park, didn’t bother me. There were billboards in the days of Babe Ruth, too, after all.
I’ve been to six Wrigley games this year and only one Fenway game, which is pretty thin stuff for purposes of comparison, but I’ll go out on a limb and make some conclusions. Wrigley is the more beautiful park. Its surrounding neighborhood beats Fenway’s, hands down.
But Fenway had a better vibe, even on this night, as Hub fans bade adieu to some of the last remnants of the Epstein era.
Maybe it was the kids. I saw more families at Fenway than one usually sees for a night game at Wrigley. Maybe it was the goofiness of singing “Sweet Caroline,” as opposed to the stale marketing gimmick that “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” has become at Wrigley. Or maybe it was something else, something to do with what Leo Durocher said about winning.
Here in Chicago, Theo Epstein is almost a full season into his rebuilding process. He calls it “The Cubs Way,” which, as Rick Telander pointed out, “is basically the old Red Sox Way, except with lots of losing.”
That’s hitting it on the nose. Fenway’s a happy place because it’s a beautiful ballpark with fans who know and love the game, but also because there remains the glow of championship memories and a realistic expectation that the Red Sox might win again before another century has passed.
They’ve won and lost and, though miserable now, hope to win again. Cubs fans should be so lucky.
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JONATHAN EIG is a best-selling author and editor-in-chief of ChicagoSideSports.com. He would like to thank his father-in-law, Donald Tescher, for paying for the $50 parking space.
STORY ART: Main image made in-house, photo courtesy of Navin Rajagopalan; other photos courtesy of Jonathan Eig.