Chicago Cubs Baseball Fans
Take Me Out to the Ballgame
"The Star Spangled Banner" is the song played more than any other in America today, followed by "Happy Birthday to You." In third place is "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
Harry Carey, the beloved Chicago Cubs baseball broadcaster from 1982 through 1997, began the tradition, in his first year with the team, of singing this song during the Seventh Inning Stretch of Cubs' games. After Harry suffered a stroke, a new tradition of bringing in "guest conductors" to perform the song was born.
Of the manifold famous guests who have performed the song at Wrigley Field, they include: Muhammad Ali, Donald Trump, Mel Gibson, Russell Crowe, Jay Leno, Jerry Lewis, Dick Clark, David Copperfield, Chuck Berry, Shania Twain, Journey, Mike Ditka, Dick Butkus, Walter Payton, Tommy Lasorda, Joe Morgan, Stan Musial, Ozzie Smith, Barney the Dinosaur, Bozo the Clown, and of course, Bill Murray.
Tradition and Folklore
Tradition and folklore lend a unique aura to the Cubs, and to the special atmosphere at Wrigley Field—nicknamed "The Friendly Confines" by Ernie Banks.
For instance, "The Bleacher Bums" is an appellation given in the 1960s to fans who regularly sat in the bleachers (the cheap seats). Since all Cubs' home games were played in the daytime, the connotation was that they must not have gainful employment.
But the aura and atmosphere alone does not explain why the Cubs are among the most popular sports franchises ever; nor why they draw the most fans on the road of any sports team.
Chicago Cubs Baseball on WGN TV
Chicago Cubs baseball is the longest running television program in history. WGN has broadcast the Cubs since 1948, including every home game to countless boys in the afternoon for the first thirty years, who became lifelong fans. The iconic Jack Brickhouse was the broadcaster from 1948 through 1981.
The clincher came in 1978, when WGN Superstation became available nationwide on cable and satellite television networks, then a nascent enterprise. Now, though people moved around the country as our society became vastly more transient, those who grew up watching the Cubs could still see their games on television, virtually every day or night, no matter where they were located.
I went on the road with my band in 1979 but luckily, I could still watch my Cubs in action. I believe that this move by WGN and the Cubs is what ensured a nationwide following.
Baseball in the Age of Statistics
One of the major changes in Major League Baseball in the 21st Century, has been that the "hunch managers" have been replaced by the "data managers." The old time managers—Sparky Anderson comes to mind—played their hunches (as did many American businessmen back then, too). They would get a gut feeling that, "Old Joe can get a hit off this guy," or that they should bring in a certain relief pitcher in a particular situation, and go with it.
This style has been completely supplanted by the modern manager who has reams of data at his disposal—and uses it to deadly effectiveness. The modern manager can tell you how well a specific batter hits a particular pitcher on a Tuesday night in a certain park if it is above 72 degrees Fahrenheit with two outs and two runners on base—If he didn't have a fight with his wife that day.
Statistical analysis has also greatly affected pitching patterns, and the positioning of the defense, against individual batters.
The Cubs in the 2000s
As the new millennium dawned, Cub fans were treated to stunning late season collapses in 1999 and 2001. Mark Grace left the Cubs after the 2000 season, having led all National League batters in Hits and Doubles for the decade of the 1990s.
There was another infamous, disastrous failure in 2004, when the Cubs had a seemingly safe lead in the push for the playoffs—only to lose six of eight to close the season.
But 2003 was the year of the worst heartbreak of all. The good news was that the Cubs won their division championship; and won a postseason series for the first time since 1908. I attended several playoff games that year—all of which they won—and a multitude of my friends and family saw me on television repeatedly during a playoff game at the Florida Marlins (I had seats directly behind first base).
The Cubs were only five outs from their first World Series appearance since 1945, and ahead 3-0 in the game, when the Curse reared its ugly head again. A fan, Steve Bartman, reached out and prevented the Cubs' Left fielder from catching a foul ball; the Cubs' solid shortstop muffed a routine grounder; the Cubs lost the game; the Cubs lost the series the next day.
Sammy Sosa left the team following the 2004 season. Of all the players who ever wore a Cubs uniform (1870-2009), Sosa hit the most Home Runs; produced the 3rd most Runs Batted In; and scored the 6th most Runs. He also recorded at least four of the top ten single season performances ever by a Cub hitter, with respect to his statistics in Home Runs; Runs Batted In; Total Bases; and Slugging Average.
In three statistical categories he turned In the all time best mark for the team: 66 Home Runs (1998); 425 Total Bases (2001); Slugging Average of .737 (2001). Compared to all baseball players in the history of Major League Baseball, Sammy holds the record for the 3rd, 5th, and 6th most Home Runs in a season.
His performance in 2001 produced the 10th most RBIs and 15th highest Slugging Percentage in history. For his career he is 6th in homers, 24th in RBI; 39th in slugging; and 69th in runs scored, of all the men who ever played this game.
Derrek Lee and Kerry Wood
Derrek Lee, Cubs' First baseman, deserves special mention for the extraordinary year he had in 2005. Derrek led the National League in Batting Average; Slugging Percentage; Hits; Doubles; and Total Bases. He finished 2nd in Home Runs and Runs Scored. And won the Gold Glove Award as the best fielder at his position. Lee's statistics for the 2005 season are in the top ten of all-time performances by a Cubs' Batter in a multitude of categories.
Kerry Wood left the team after the 2008 season holding the all-time record for Cubs' pitchers in regard to Strikeouts Per Nine Innings in a career; and in a single season (1998); and posted three of the four best seasons all-time for that statistic. He finished his Cubs career with the 3rd most career strikeouts; and second least hits surrendered per nine innings of all-time. Even more extraordinary—he struck out the 2nd most hitters per nine innings of any pitcher for any team for all-time in a career.
To be a Cubs' Fan was to Suffer
Prior to the 2007 season, the Cubs hired a new manager, Lou Piniella, and signed Outfielder Alfonso Soriano to the largest contract in team history. Soriano is a rare baseball player, one of only four men in the history of the game in the 40-40 Club. Meaning, he once hit 40 Home Runs and stole 40 bases in the same season—an extremely rare combination of speed and power.
In 2007 and 2008 the Cubs won back to back (division) championships, for the first time since 1908. Both years they entered the playoffs heavily favored but not only lost—they didn't win a single postseason game either year. It did not even look like the same team on the field that had been outstanding during the regular season.
The Cubs had not been in the World Series since 1945; and had not won the Championship of Major League Baseball in 108 years—the longest drought of any team in any sport--until they broke the Curse in 2016.
To be a Cubs' fan is to suffer. Not only because they lose—because of how they lose. They have repeatedly built fan expectations to a fever pitch and then: lost crucial games, in which they were way ahead; collapsed down the stretch of seasons, in which they had comfortable leads in the standings; and lost playoff series in which they were strongly favored. No wonder their fans wondered if there was a Curse on the Cubs.