I’m desperate to go to Chicago and see a Cubs game this summer, even after their predictable horrible April start. I enjoy seeing the Cubs play at Wrigley Field, regardless of where they are in the standings, but this year there is more urgency in my desire to see Cubs baseball in person. I have to see Wrigley at least one more time before there is a jumbotron in left field dwarfing the old score board and much of the humble atmosphere that makes Wrigley so unique and special to me.
I wonder if there is something seriously wrong with me, the fact that the announcement of jumbotron construction stirs up so many depressive emotions. I honestly lay awake in bed some nights, unable to sleep because I can’t stop thinking about how this will forever change the ballpark experience for my favorite team. I’m certainly not the only one to object to this, but I’m also sure there are just as many who think this reaction old fashioned and naive. Today, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts held a press conference outlining reasons for the renovations, most of which I think are sorely needed. They do need better clubhouses and training facilities. More bathrooms and better concessions sound great. But why is a jumbotron necessary to save Wrigley Field and win the Cubs a World Series?
Why do I care so much? That’s a good question too. I don’t completely understand it myself. If I remember correctly, I chose the Cubs at about age 6. That would have been 1984. For my young years, I was a casual Cubs fan. It all changed for me the first time I went to Chicago and Wrigley Field. I had picked the Cubs because I liked blue and they were winning that particular year, but I realized that many of my other sensibilities made the Cubs a perfect match for me. This wasn’t passed down to me from a long line of Cubs fans. I wasn’t born into it. I love history. I love old buildings. I love Chicago. I love the underdog. I am an optimist. The Cubs more and more become a perfect fit, the more I learn about them, making my choice seem like destiny.
I am also a historian. I know the difference between Stan Hack and Hack Wilson. I believe Gabby Hartnett and Phil Cavaretta deserve retired numbers at Wrigley far more than Greg Maddux. I can tell you every year the Cubs have been in the postseason and every opponent. So, it gives me joy to walk into the park and know I’m seeing something similar to what fans saw in the ’35 season when the Cubs went on their amazing September winning streak or in ’38 for the “Homer in the Gloamin.'” You see people change the scores by hand. You hear the organ and hum of the crowd. It makes you breath in a little deeper and begs you to look at it a little longer. People all over the world say this is the greatest place to see a ballgame. Think about that. It’s certainly not in reference to the quality of the baseball being played. So what’s the difference? For me, it is the pureness of the whole place. There aren’t cheesy video montages every other inning. There aren’t the same 3 commercials played over and over. There aren’t a bunch of gimmicky promos that lose their cuteness on subsequent views. There is baseball. Take it or leave it, but if you are a baseball lover, it is there in all it’s glory distraction free. I wonder what New Yorkers who remember would do to see another game in the Polo Grounds. How much would old timers from Brooklyn give to walk into Ebbets Field again? So many of these original Major League Teams have legendary stadiums from the golden era that have been lost to time. The Cubs and Redsox still have theirs. I often say it’s like stepping back in time when you walk under that famous Wrigley Field marquee, but you don’t really have the delusion you’re in the 40s or anything. So, maybe it’s just that you’re stepping into a different time–a parallel universe that’s just a little purer.
But, in a year or so, there will be a screen much larger than the old scoreboard, which, right now, seems so large to me. I will, out of stubbornness, probably still look at the old, hand operated board, but it will just be sort of mournful jesture. There will be a bigger one with a bigger line, with pictures of the batters, their averages, splits against the current pitcher, and in between batters the clap-o-meter telling us when we should cheer and get louder. The old scoreboard is a registered historic landmark, and would take a serious act to be razed, but really, what’s it’s purpose? It certainly won’t be form following function when there is a bigger, faster, crisper scoreboard just to it’s left. The score changers will be the most useless people in whole building.
I realize this is getting lengthy, so I’ll move on to the reasons for the screen. The Cubs need this to be competitive. The revenue from this project will put them over the top. Ricketts said that if they did this the Cubs would win the World Series. I wonder how any true Cubs fan can confidently say that any one thing will win them the World Series. Doesn’t he know better? Arguments like this come up every season that the Cubs are losing. They need to just tear down Wrigley Field. Then they’ll win a World Series. It’s all the day games. It’s because they can’t make any money in Wrigley Field. I get puzzled by this, because I’m pretty sure the Cubs were near the top in payroll for most of the 2000s. And, I think about those teams that were so close, and wonder what kept it out of reach. In 2003, the Cubs were a long bathroom break from being in the World Series. In 2008, the Cubs were the best team in the National League the entire season.
Would management have put a different team together in 2008 if they had had a jumbotron? Would that have changed the 3 game sweep by the Dodgers? Would Alex Gonzalez have bobbled the double play ball if he had had one less day game? I realize that it’s easy to link Wrigley Field with the Cubs’ drought, but it also seems so dangerous to abandon one of the few things Cubs fans have to be proud of on the crap shot of a chance that it’s the problem. And, yes, I know that getting a jumbotron isn’t abandoning Wrigley Field, but it is losing something that is in the essence of the place. And, it plays into what I think the real problem is. Or, at least, one of the problems.
Poor timing and neglect have played major roles, but the thing that seems to me to cause the Cubs’ consistent demise is an overwhelming attitude of defeatism. Think about it. If you know anything about the Cubs you know that they are supposed to lose. This has been so ingrained that Cubs and Cubs’ fans expect it. Why should missing a foul ball be such a big deal? Players miss foul balls in nearly every game, but I bet you’ve never seen one change the momentum of a game until 2003. Would that have happened if everyone, including Alou, weren’t expecting to lose? “Aw damn. He missed it. I knew we couldn’t win.” And, then all hell breaks loose. The Cubs were cruising. One moment–one that shouldn’t have really mattered–reminded them that they were supposed to lose. The Cubs were also on cruise control in 2008. To me, it’s the best team I’ve ever seen them put on a field. Then this team lost the ability hit a fairly average Dodgers pitching staff. This team was built to win. But once the snowball starts rolling, it’s hard to stop.
I don’t know how to stop it any better than Dusty Baker, Leo Durocher, or Lee Elia did. But, the Cubs team that wins the World Series will be one who doesn’t care about what has happened or what should happen. They will know they can win, and they’ll probably be too stupid to realize what a big deal it is that they are winning. It won’t matter if they are at Wrigley Field or Sally Field. They’ll be good enough and hot enough that it won’t matter. But, even then, as we watch on our TVs not able to breathe until the last out, even then, not sure if it’s real, we’ll wonder if it’s possible. That’s because we expect to lose too. It’s a defense mechanism. We remember the pain during that first season we followed a good team, when we were full of hope and had no doubts. We don’t want that raw suffering again, so it’s easier to be “realistic,” and probably right than it is to stand behind those things we really love and to hope for something fantastic. I know. I do it too.
And, that’s what I feel like the Cubs are doing by putting up a jumbotron. It’s not exactly the same as giving in to a losing attitude, but it’s close. Here the Cubs are with something special. A ballpark that has defied time, where you can go and enjoy a ballgame without even having to see a video replay or inspirational music video. A place where baseball is all you need. A place that most agree is the best place you can see a ballgame. Cubs fans have cherished that for nearly one hundred years. Surely there is something very lucrative in that. For something so unique and special, I wish that the Cubs decision makers would match it with creative ideas, equally unique, something visionary that would continue to make the Chicago Cubs one of the special franchises in sports. When the Cubs do win the World Series, I want them to do it their way, on their terms, in their tradition. But, they have thrown up their hands and said, “We just can’t do this. We have to give in to what everyone else is doing. This way can’t work anymore.” And, yet again, Cubs and Cubs fans will have to admit defeat, and own up to how silly it was to hope that the place that so many people love would retain that more simplistic focus on the game being played on that beautiful field.
I know this isn’t the end of the world. I know I’m being a bit melodramatic. In the end, I’ll still love the Cubs and still watch on to the last game of the season no matter when they are in the standings. But, really and truly, the feeling I get in Wrigley is so much a part of why I love these Cubs that I’ve followed so faithfully. It is a feeling I don’t get in any other major league park I’ve ever been in. These are fine stadiums, but it’s almost like they are trying too hard. There’s nothing like that feeling you get at Wrigley, when you step through the concourse and see the players, a neighborhood skyline, and hear the quaint sounds of an organ. It’s an exciting feeling, but a peaceful feeling at the same time. And, after this season, I’m just not sure if that feeling will be the same.