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On Witnessing The Wave At Wrigley Field

Back when the Wave was a new phenomenon, in the 1980s, Bleacher Bums at Wrigley would shame anyone trying to start one. These Wavers were usually tourists, not ill intentioned, but still….

“Siddown!” some shirtless silverback would shout, “This ain’t Jack Murphy Stadium!”

The Cubs lost the 1984 NLCS at Jack Murphy, home of the Gwynn & Garvey’s Padres, thanks in part to MLB and ABC screwing us out of what should have been three home games, but we hadn’t lost our pride. Wrigley was the home of tradition, not of passing fads like the Wave.

The Wave initiators, having had more Old Style than might be wise, occasionally argued, but mostly just surrendered. People came to Wrigley to watch the ballgame, not spontaneous performance art.

Just this last week, ChicagoSide’s own Dan McGrath wrote a column for the Sun-Times about how, now matter how bad things get for the Cubs, at least you don’t see the Wave at Wrigley. Cub fans, McGrath suggested, might be real baseball fans after all.

Me, I’ve never liked this Real Fans of the Pure Game v. Fans Having Fun argument. Baseball isn’t Easter Mass at the Vatican. It’s entertainment. The fact that a certain breed of White Sox fan claims that people only go to Wrigley Field to have fun, drink beer, and hook up always seemed odd. Who doesn’t want to have fun, drink beer, and get lucky? Meanwhile, back in the day at Comiskey, and now at the Cell, you have exploding scoreboards, center-field showers, and Jumbotron distractions all game long. That’s the Pure Game? Exploding scoreboards? Really?

But if you bought into the grounds of this argument, then the Cubs fan’s trump card was the Wave, or lack thereof at Wrigley. It was a line not to be crossed. A critical mass at Wrigley were indeed there just to watch the game, not to rise up and scream like a bunch of trained seals. Actively suppressing attempts to start Waves was a source of pride, proving Cubs fans’ bona fides as stalwart devotees of baseball.

But then I saw it: last Tuesday night at the Cubs-Astros game, in the top of the 8th inning of a 10-1 Cubs loss. The Wave. Starting in the left field Corner across from the firehouse, and going all the way around. Six, maybe seven, times.

As I cringed at what was an unprecedented moment for me, one of my season-ticket partners pointed at the diamond. Michael Bowden was busy walking the Houston pitcher, Lucas Herrell, on eight pitches after getting ahead 0-2. “If that,” my friend said, pointing to the action on the field, “was more compelling, then no one would be doing this,” he said, gesturing toward the Wave crashing over us.

We remained seated, not that it mattered.

The void this year at Wrigley is palpable. It’s in the empty seats, the dugout depopulated by trades, and fans’ attitudes, too. But why, after all these years, would the Wave appear now at Wrigley?

Here’s my theory: it has to do with owners and fans, and their respective assumptions about what matters.

When owners play heavy metal music at make-your-ears-bleed volume, or have constant Jumbotron bullshit going on during every half-inning, it shows that management assumes that the fans need more than the game to be entertained. And that’s U.S. Cellular in a nutshell. The product on the field isn’t enough, even with the White Sox in first place. The pauses that baseball allows, to ponder the next inning’s first three hitters, to consider the last inning’s action, will not do.

The Wave expresses that same impulse, but in the opposite direction.

The Wave is the fans telling owners that the game on the field—and even the Jumbotron–is not enough, that they are not sufficiently entertained and so they must entertain themselves.

That’s what should worry the Cubs management about last week’s Wave, which may not have been the first and almost certainly won’t be the last.

Bowden’s walk to Harrell didn’t lead to another run, so the Cubs only lost 10-1. The fans doing the Wave didn’t miss anything in terms of baseball action or entertainment.

In this case, the Wave itself was the important action, because it suggests a powerful change taking place on the North Side. And not a good one.

*     *     *     *     *

Cubs season-ticket-holder and SABR member BILL SAVAGE appreciates the scene in “Bull Durham” where Crash Davis’s teammates do the Wave on the bench in an ironic way, but otherwise despises it. He also remains seated, or goes to the Men’s Room, during the 7th inning stretch.

STORY ART: Main image made in-house with wave photo courtesy Martin Cathrae/cc; and Wrigley photo courtesy Vonderau Visuals/cc.

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