Monday, April 12, 2004

The Chicago Cubs haven't been in the World Series since 1945 and haven't won it since 1908. But after nearly getting there last year, they are widely expected to make it this year--as this Sports Illustrated cover indicates. And today is Opening Day at Wrigley Field--always a festive event, but never more than in this season of high expectations. It's kind of bittersweet for me, though. At another time and place in my life, I would have been over the moon about all this. Now, however, the possibility of the Cubs winning the World Series sparks no more excitement in me than the possibility that the Seattle Mariners or Cincinnati Reds might win it. It's just another out-of-town score.

This isn't a new or hasty decision. After over 20 years of serious Cub fandom--watching the game every Sunday afternoon and two or three nights a week during the summer without fail, listening to the West Coast games on the radio while falling asleep, and going to Wrigley a time or two every year--I began drifting away in the early 1990s. Roster turnover was one problem--guys you rooted against one year were suddenly guys you had to root for the next year. And it was hard to root for players who were being paid millions but seemed to consistently dog it on the field. In 1991, the Cubs acquired a middling-good pitcher named Danny Jackson, with the expectation that he would be one of the keys to the team's success. However, the guy was a stiff--yet after every game, he would tell the press that he felt like he'd done a good job, but things just hadn't worked out. The guy refused to stand up and take responsibility for the fact that he was flat awful a lot of the time, and took grave offense when anyone suggested he was. Jackson became the poster boy for the spoiled-rotten athlete, and for the Cubs' ineptitude at judging talent and heart. Then, after winning the Cy Young Award as the National League's best pitcher in 1992, Greg Maddux took less money from the Atlanta Braves to get away from the Cubs' martinet general manager, Larry Himes, who left the Cubs himself not long after Maddux did. Maddux won three more Cy Youngs for the Braves and became a sure Hall-of-Famer. Meanwhile, the Cubs struggled through mediocrity on the field while being wildly profitable off of it. Cubs ownership, which could afford to spend money like the Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox, and other wealthy franchises, didn't have to. The team was sure to draw more than two million fans every year no matter how awful the product on the field was.

Then came the 1994 players' strike that canceled the World Series, and I've never gone back to following the game. I watched a few games on TV during the Sosa/McGwire home-run duel in 1998 and went to a few Brewers games in the new Miller Park in 2001 and 2002, but that's it. I'd rather read off-season NFL news than follow baseball in the summer. So for all of my friends who are still Cubs fans, I hope the team does well this year. But I won't get on the bandwagon until the World Series begins, if the Cubs are in it--if even then.

Recommended reading: It's been my view for quite a while that we'd do a positive service to our country if we gave the state of Georgia back to the Cherokees, or built a damn big fence around it to keep the inmates inside. Two more bits of evidence for the wisdom of this have surfaced over the last couple of weeks. First there was the decision by the state legislature to ban genital piercing--but only for women, ostensibly to prevent the practice of female genital mutilation. (This is a problem in Georgia?) The bill's sponsor was flabbergasted to learn that some people get piercings voluntarily. He said he had never heard of such a thing, and doesn't think it's appropriate. Then there was the story about the high school in Lyons, Georgia, that has historically had two proms--one for white students and one for black. But this year, because some white kid wanted to bring a date of Mexican descent to the prom and a member of the white prom committee wouldn't sell him a ticket, the school is instituting a third prom for Latinos. Principal Ralph Hardy steadfastly insists that racism isn't a serious problem at his school. The reporter didn't say how Hardy was able to comment without removing the stopper from his ears and the blindfold from his eyes.

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