Follow Up: Why do Cubs Fans Exist?

April 19, 2008

Apparently, I am not the only one to question the audacity of Cubs fans.

In the wake of comments made by legendary Cincinnati Reds broadcaster Marty Brennamen, this article appeared in the Sun Times:

Apparently what was once considered cute and signs of being the most passionate fans in baseball is finally being realized for what it is: the fact that while Wrigley Field might hold about 40,000 people, and sell out each home game, there are likely never more than 20,000 fans in the stands. The rest are non-fans: people there for the beer, the ambiance ….. people who are there to be seen.

The most recent action involved several fans throwing baseballs on the field during a game against the Reds. The Reds broadcast team called the Cubs fans out:

TRANSCRIPT: “This is what makes you want to see this Chicago Cubs team lose. Among all baseball fans — I can’t attest to the Yankees and Red Sox because we don’t see them with any degree of regularity unless it’s interleague play — but far and away the most obnoxious fans in baseball in this league are those who follow this team right here. Throwing 15 or 18 balls on the field, there’s absolutely no excuse for that and that is so typical of Chicago Cub fans. It’s unbelievable.”

“Throwing the ball back, that’s great, that’s a Chicago Cub tradition that other teams have picked up on, and that’s fine.”

“It’s ridiculous, it really is … You simply root against them. I’ve said all winter, people talk about this team winning the division, and my comment is they won’t win it because at the end of the day, they’re still the Chicago Cubs and they will figure out a way to screw this whole thing up.

Brantley: “And then they’ll have no one to boo but themselves.

Brennaman: “Well, they never blame themselves.”

Brantley: “They’ll blame that old billy goat.”

Brennaman: “Yep.”

He later appeared on Chicago Sportt sradio (ESPN AM-1000), and refused to back down:

“If they can’t understand what happened Wednesday night was completely over the top, then I’m sorry,” Brennaman said. “I said how tough it is to root for the Cubs. I think a lot of people feel the same way I do, but they won’t articulate it. I’m not afraid to say what I think.”

“[Compared to Cubs fans] Cardinals fans are hands down the best in baseball. They respect the game. They don’t go to the game to do stupid stuff.”

“The Cubs have some great baseball fans. But the ones who act like idiots (ruin) it for people like me.”

He is right: it is the idiots that screw it up for the real fans. The difference is: The Chicago Cubs have done everything to encourage this: they permit their fans to throw things on the field, but not other fans ….. they celebrate fans going to the bars before hand to get their buzz going in Wrigleyville before the game, so that they very easily get blasted during the game. I defy anyone to turn on a Cubs game and not see several people on their cell phones ….. do these people look like baseball fans? They look more like yuppie larvae who are making an appearance for the sake of putting in an apperance.

This may sound like the rantings of a rival sportscaster, but Brenneman is a legend. He is a Frick Award recipient which is the highest honor baseball affords to broadcasters. This is a guy who has been to every ball park in the nation in over thirty years of work. I say that makes him an expert, and I am finally glad that there are people who are seeing things for what they are.


Film review: The Mist

April 13, 2008

Warning! There are spoilers …. I won’t actually mention what happens in the end, but aside from that, everything is fair game.

I am not the biggest fan of Stephen King ….. I don’t dislike his work, and unlike many literati, I think there is a lot to his rich descriptions, and his intertwining of the darkness of early New England into his works in away much darker than say The Crucible. Aside from that, I have always thought his endings were very weak, with Salems Lot and Carrie being notable exceptions. Even though the ending to The Mist was altered from King’s original ending, it is by far the best ending to any of King’s works on film.

There are definitely parallels to other works of horror. The night after a storm, a strange mist descends on a Maine town (see John Carpenter’s The Fog. Several townspeople are in the grocery store (replenishing supplies after their food went bad when power went out the night before). They soon learn that running out into the mist is a bad idea ….. they can hear screams, one man who manages to make it into the store was a witness to an attack by a large creature unknown. One person is taken out of the loading dock by tentacles to a large, unseen creature. Some choose to believe, others think it is a delusion. One woman, a fire and brimstone believer in Revelation, starts to consolidate her power as she thinks judgement day has arrived.

Without going into too much detail, there are a few scenes which reminded me of James Cameron’s Aliens. I will leave that up to the reader to decide, but suffice to say, this has nothing to do with what any creatures look like.

In the end, a small group decide that they can no longer stay: they nearly burned the store down during an attack, and those looking to make a sacrifice to appease their concept of God are growing in number. The group ventures out into the unending mist. This is where the real horror begins. To not go into too much detail: sometimes the man in the white hat (the good, truly righteous hero) does not end up getting his just rewards in the end. Sometimes, evil wins, and the good pay a very dear price. In short: life is really sometimes not fair.

One of the stories I thought of while watching this; a seminal work of modern fiction, is Rod Serling’s The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street (href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Monsters_Are_Due_on_Maple_Street”) As the people in the grocery store are forced to endure, they soon learn that there are monsters outside, but that the monsters inside are nearly as bad, if not worse. This is a common theme in King’s work, that those who bend Christian thought to that of hatred, prejudice, or violence, are themselves monsters of a type ….. even if they are not necessarily incorrect (many of these types in King’s works turn out to be correct in their assessment of the danger, though seriously misguided in their actions). Understand, this film does not have a happy ending.

It’s a pretty good film, especially as they go for King’s horror-morality tales. I strongly advise against anyone who is a parent of young children to see this film. To say the least, children should definitely not see this film. There is a particular scene that will not sit well with parents, possibly for a long time. Horror fans who have not seen this should otherwise appreciate it …… definitely among the better film adaptations of a King work.


This is no jinx!

April 11, 2008

From the New York Post:
BOSTON — Might the Yankees have some dirty laundry in their new basement?
A construction worker on a concrete crew at the new Yankee Stadium secretly buried a Red Sox T-shirt under the future visiting clubhouse in an effort to jinx the Yankees.

If these Sauwx fans really want to jinx the Yankees, they would bury Cubs jerseys under the new Yankees home ……. 99+ years and counting!


Monument to a Great Bitch

April 11, 2008

As someone in the sciences, I have a healthy respect for the fact that there is a need to test a variety of advancements (usually medical) on animals before humans. I in no way advocate going out of our way to hurt animals. I am, at heart, an animal lover. However, I am more a lover of humans. True, we are all animals, and perhaps this shows a species specific prejudice, but I think do not apologize for it: if an animal or human has to die, I will do everything to save the human first.

Passing without fanfare this past November was a notable anniversary. Fifty years ago on November 2, 1957, was one of the most watched and followed animal experiments of that era. Laika, indeed a female mongrel, was launched into orbit, becoming the first mammal to be launched into orbit. She had been a stray on the streets of Moscow, and was obtained from a shelter there.

Laika was a passenger on Sputnik 2, a rather hastily assembled satellite in the wake of the success of the Soviet’s great achievement of launching the first Sputnik. The obvious topper was not just to launch a satellite, but to launch something alive. No one was ready for people, and Laika got her shot at history.

As was the case at the time, everything was rather secret. Not many knew that Laika sat in that capsule for three days on the frigid launch pad, with the engineers warming he outside to keep her from freezing to death prior to launch. Only a few more knew that this was a one way flight. The satellite was not prepared to return home, and that Laika would be sacrificed to learn if animals could survive in orbit. At the time, the Soviets announced that Laika had been euthanized with poisoned food, though today it is known that, in the rush to get the satellite operational, there had been no time to include a temperature control system. Laika died of overheating within hours or days, depending on the story. Sadly, there was not much telemetry. Laika’s experiment was a failure, and her death was seemingly in vane.

In 1964, there was a huge monument in Moscow built entitled The Conquerors of Space. There are depictions there of the great heroes who blazed the trail to humanity’s path to space. It depicts engineers, communications staff, a cosmonaut in a spacesuit …… and a little dog who beat them all there.

Just a few days ago, in honor of the half century of our taxonomic class entering space, Laika finally got a monument of her own. Just outside the facility where she lived and was trained (I assume potty training in addition to space training), there now stands a rocket with a dog standing atop it.

On the one hand, it caused me to pause a moment ….. there has been, for many decades, controversy surrounding the cosmonauts and astronauts who have represented humanity in the heavens. Certainly, prior to 1985, only two human women had been there. The first seven American astronauts were all White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and no others were really going to be considered. Cosmonauts were all good communists, full blooded Europeans. Laika on the other hand was a mongrel ……. a mutt …… a half-breed. In some ways, for a very long time, I can’t help but feel that Laika may have been the truest representatives of our planet that ever got launched into orbit. A poor survivor from the streets from heritage unknown. You’ve got to have a certain respect for the unintended symbolism of that.

I am not one to try and anthropomorphize animals. I had a great dog (Khoutek, a Norwegian Elkhound named for a comet) growing up, and have known several other great dogs. I have a bond for these animals which, for whatever reason, seem to be capable and loyal companions. I do not cheer when such an animal is killed for no reason, and I find the mistreatment of such animals despicable. Yet, I know, without their role in science often times, human lives would be lost in far greater numbers. Maybe it is sappy sentimentality that permits me those feelings for an animal.

But then again, the Russian government, or at least their space agency, must share that feeling, and I don’t think I have ever heard the Russian government called “sappy”.


China’s Olympic Gamble

April 8, 2008

I really like the Olympics …. as a concept, it is second to none: every four years, lets have the whole world chill, stop fighting, and spend two weeks vegging in front of a TV while we cheer on great athletes. Pierre de Coubertin, I commend you on bringing such a bold idea into the world.

As with many great ideas, implementing them into the real world is seldom without little snags, and often times very big ones ….. for every triumphant moment ….. like seeing a unified Korean team walk in to an opening ceremonies together …… for every Jesse Owens moment …… for every unbelievable performance like the 1980 Hockey miracle and someone like Rulon Gardner accomplishing the seeming impossible, there are boycotts (1976, 1980, 1984), there are out and out cheats (Marion Jones, the officials at the 1972 mens Olympic Basketball finals), and there are those who choose to take a stand (some of which are even principled). I won’t even go into the lowlife scum who decide to take hostages or plant bombs. Nonetheless, the Olympics have survived two world wars, being hosted by Adolph Hitler and Leonid Brezhnev, and a host of other international cataclisms. They will go on, because, at their heart when you sweep away the sponsorship and TV deals and politics, the Olympics are as good an idea today as they were in 1896.

This takes us to China.

In 1980, the United States and many western European nations boycotted the Olympics in Moscow in protest over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Brezhenev should have been first in line to thank President Carter. The Soviets got to have their cake and eat a whole lot more! They got the Olympics, and got to still control everything without the scary possibility have having their nation overrun by a bunch of outsiders and their crazy ideas about freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion ….. that would have been a PR nightmare in the Soviet Union, as they couldn’t have cracked down too hard, and would have had to stand there and take it. It might have even sped up the already apparent disintegration of the Soviet system.

China could have taken a lesson from that …… China certainly has always allowed tourists in to their country. But once you are there, you are under their law, and you pay the penalty if you step out of line. But with the Olympics, its hard to preach international tolerance and friendship while ushering a few hundred European and American protesters into a jail cell. It is a big step for the Chinese to let the door creak open for the world, while hoping their nation doesn’t change too much.

The protests over Tibet, and how demonstrators in that region have been treated are certainly justifiable. While no nation has a perfect human rights record (including my home country), the Chinese are pretty rotten on this front. That being said, will these protests end up backfiring?

I do enjoy my sports, but I know enough that sports do not even come close to equating with human rights. Even something as grand and hopeful as the Olympics takes a back seat to those issues. I have heard people say that the protesters should stop, and let the games be played. I would disagree, IF (big if here) I thought that protests would work to make the changes they hope to make. Sadly, I am not only sure that these protests ultimately won’t work to free Tibet or save Tibetan culture, but in fact may have the opposite effect.

If nothing happens in Tibet in 2008, and hordes of foreigners swarm in to China for the Games, does China get a push away from totalitarianism? I would like to think maybe. It may not be huge …. it may not be much. But it might be something. On the other hand, now that China is being villified (and again, justifiably so), is that an excuse for the Chinese to reject any changes or exposure to attitude that comes with the welcoming of so many foreigners? I think it could be the beginning of a massive victim-complex that could in the long run push China back the way it came.

I have, sadly, only scratched the surface in studying a little about China’s history and culture, and wish I had time to learn more ….. it is a nation and a people on par with any of the great civilizations on Earth. I hope for the day that China is a free nation, and would also like to see nothing more than the Tibetan people free to choose their path without influence from outside. I hope that the upcoming Olympics in Beijing will nudge China down that road. I also hope that protests, as well meaning, well intended, and justified as they may be, do not take away from that.


Why DO Cubs fans exist??

April 1, 2008

For those not familiar with baseball, and more than that with the Chicago baseball scene, I need to give you a very honest assessment of what it is about.

Chicago has had two Major League teams since 1901. The Cubs had been here since 1876 … an original member of the National League. The White Sox were the upstart punks …. moving in to the city from Minnesota as a part of the new American League.

For the first two decades of the twentieth century, the White Sox had the best winning percentage of any American League team ……. though the Cubs were better. They had each won two World Series, though the Sox had won one of theirs over the Cubs.

After that, all heck started breaking loose. First, the Sox dropped off the face of the Earth for thirty years. Didn’t see a resurgence until the 1950s. The Cubs stayed pretty darn good for the next 25 years or so, but despite a number of National League Championships, the Cubs did not win a World Series.

The Sox did great in the 1950s. Even made it back to the Series … losing to Los Angeles in ’59. They stayed good for a short time, but then settled into mediocrity until the early 1980s. The Cubs suffered immensely in the 60s and 70s. They too came back in the 80s. The Sox were awesome in the 1990s (fourth best winning percentage in the majors). The Cubs stumbled along. 2005 saw the Sox win the World Series, followed by the Cardinals in ’06. After the Cubs choked hard in ’04, it had to be the lowest time in Cubs history …. just when their long suffering seemed over, they not only blew it, but saw the worst two possible teams win the Series in consecutive years.

So it got me wondering: why do the Cubs command such media presence? You turn on ESPN, and the coverage for baseball is: Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, ….. ehhh …. Angels ….. some other teams …. It drives Sox fans crazy ….. what have the Cubs done to earn this respect to be treated side by side with the Yankees and Red Sox ….???

Let us examine:

The Cubs have a losing record since 1960. The White Sox have a winning record over that time. You could argue that the Cubs face tougher opposition, and maybe in the 60s and 70s that was true, but not over the last 25 years. The AL is clearly the stronger league (check the All-Star Game, World Series, head-to-head in interleague games). The White Sox still managed to win more than they lose, and the Cubs didn’t against seemingly weaker opposition. Yet, the Cubs are king.

The White Sox have had post-season success. True, not by much, but the 2005 World Series was amazing. The Sox tied the Yankees for the single biggest butt whomping in post season history since the post season went to three rounds. The biggest thing the Cubs did was defeating the Braves in a time after they stopped having post season success.

Both teams have had ownership do some weird things. The Sox ownership did get us to a World Series, but there have been some other oddities: I love Hawk Harrelson in the booth, but as a GM? ehhh…. Firing Tony LaRussa … ehhhhh. Bringing in David Wells ….. uh boy. However the Cubs have had their share of bad moves ….. like elevating Sammy Sosa to god-like status when everyone else saw there was a problem ……… like elevating Mark Prior to cult-like status when he barely had started his career. More poor manager hires than you can shake a stick at …… allowing Greg Maddux to get away was criminal …. and Dennis Eckersley ……. I’ll call this a draw.

Fan friendliness ….. The White Sox are second to none! Lots of on site parking (more secure and cheaper than parking near that other park), there are many promotions for fans, reduced ticket pricing, lots to do before a game, family friendly areas, a healthy respect for the past (the Cubs got tons of publicity for erecting a statue of Ernie Banks this week ….. the White Sox already have nearly half-a-dozen of their greats in bronze). The bathrooms are plentiful and clean ….. there’s even stalls! At the other park, the bathrooms are prime locations for knifings. Having dined at such places as Fenway Park, I can say with full honesty, the food at U.S. Cellular is the very best. Now I know that the other park has that old feel, but the jackanapes in the bleachers throw back home run balls. This is one of the greatest affronts to baseball tradition that there is. Fans throwing back balls at the Cell are booed, and then ejected; the way it should be! I can’t believe a manual scoreboard and half-browned ivy makes that park all that much better.

Under ownership woes, the Cubs are getting ready to once again block the view of local rooftops. I could understand if the unemployed, tourists, and yuppies who show up weren’t selling the park out that this would be an issue, but the Cubs are so desperate to keep a tight control on things, that they cannot stand when someone might be seeing things for free. That’s not very fan friendly!

Yet, despite jacking up prices through the roof, a lack of fan friendly facilities, and an on-field product that has not seen overall improvement in 40 + years, the Cubs have some weird cult-like following. Why?