I’m not a baseball guy.
Regular readers of this column have probably gathered by now that my interests lean more toward contact sports, like football and monkey knife-fighting. The only time I’ve written about America’s former pastime here, with the exception of a few disparaging throwaway comments sprinkled in here and there, I suggested ridiculous solutions to the game’s watchability problem.
But I’m going to make a confession that might come as a surprise to the six of you who’ll actually read this: Deep down, I freakin’ love baseball. Mostly I love its romantic history, and the cast of characters who inhabit it. I’ve watched the 18 ½ -hour Ken Burns documentary in its entirety…twice, but you’d have to pay me to sit through 10 minutes of a current MLB game. I could tell you a lot about King Kelly and Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner, but I don’t know if I could name a single active big-leaguer right now. I just don’t take any joy in watching baseball on television.
But this wasn’t always the case. When I was a young boy there was little I loved more than watching Cubs games with my grandfather on summer afternoons. I don’t think the dial on his hulking wood-paneled Zenith ever moved from WGN during baseball season. This was in the days before high-definition televisions, and the summer sun shining through the windows cast a terrible glare on the screen, but Wrigley Field always looked beautiful from my grandfather’s living room. The ivy, the manual scoreboard, the bright blue caps on the players; these images are indelible in my memory. And I’ll never forget the sound of Harry Caray’s voice has he slurred through names like Sandburg and Sutcliffe and Dawson and Grace. You could almost smell the 67 beers on Harry’s breath coming through the set as he sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch.
My grandfather was born in 1920, and he was a Cubs fan all his life. From the Bambino’s called shot in the ’32 World Series, to Rick Monday’s flag-snag, to Sosa, to the Bartman game; my grandfather saw a lot in his 84 years on Earth. But one thing he never got to see was a Cubs World Series win. Hell, the last time he even saw them win the pennant was the same year he killed Hitler and nuked Japan.
Grandpa wasn’t a fanatic by any means – I don’t think I ever saw him so much as frown at a Cubs loss – but he always smiled when they won, and that made me smile. When the season ended, he’d recite the well-worn autumn mantra of disappointed Cubs fans: “Maybe next year.” With each “next year” that passed, I wanted more and more desperately for the Cubs to win it all. I didn’t care about the team, but I thought my grandfather deserved, for once in his life, to see his favorite team on top.
I lost my grandfather in 2004, just about a year after the Bartman incident and the Cubs’ subsequent NLCS collapse. Following his death, the Chicago Cubs became one of my most despised franchises in all of sports. I can feel nothing but contempt for an organization that spent more than eight decades disappointing the greatest man I ever knew.
I’m told now that the Cubs are back in the playoffs this year, and some folks think the North Siders have a legitimate shot at making a deep October run.
I hope they choke, and choke hard. I spit in the eye of the entire ball club and all its postseason hopes. If my grandfather – who dedicated his long, hard-working life to his God, country, and family – never got to enjoy a Cubs World Series victory, then I don’t think anyone deserves to. Crash and burn, Scrubs.
I’ll leave you now with a few lines from a song by Steve Goodman that always reminds me of my grandfather (and breaks my heart along the way), called “The Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request”:
He said, “I’ve got season’s tickets to watch the Angels now, so that’s just what I’m going to do.”
He said, “but you the living, you’re stuck here with the Cubs, so it’s me that feels sorry for you!”