I never was much of a baseball player, and I’m not a person who follows sports much, either.
But when I was younger, I played baseball on little league teams and quite enjoyed getting out there and participating, even though I was manifestly terrible at it. There’s nothing quite like playing ball into the twilight hours of a long summer day, when it’s just you and some friends, family and neighbors passing the time until it gets too dark to see what you’re doing.
The biggest event of my years of sports interest was unquestionably the baseball season of 1969, when the Chicago Cubs seemed destined to take it all and win the World Series. As an 8-year-old resident of Chicagoland, I was totally caught up in the fever, as were we all. We knew the names of all the players — Ron Santo at 3rd, Don Kessinger at shortstop, Glenn Becker at second, Ernie Banks at first, Fergie Jenkins on the mound, Randy Hundley behind the plate, etc. — and our excitement only grew as the season went on.
I remember distinctly going to a local store and picking up the 45-rpm record everyone there bought that year, a novelty song based on the commentary of the Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse (no offense to the shade of Harry Caray, but it’s Brickhouse who was the real voice of the Cubs):
Hey, hey, holy mackerel
No doubt about it
The Cubs are on their way
They’ve got the hustle
They’ve got the muscle
The Chicago Cubs are on their way!
I can still sing it for you if you want.
But we Cubs fans were to be brutally shocked by their collapse in the playoffs in the year that became known as that of the Miracle Mets. This was particularly disturbing because a New York team won, which to Chicagoans is the bitterest of all bitter fruit indeed.
As my brother Dave reminded me yesterday, the Cubs came close in 1984 and 2003, too, but managed to choke both times. And yesterday, they did it again. After compiling the best record in the National League, the Cubs apparently forgot to show up to play to the L.A. Dodgers (originally a New York team, Chicagoans will note), and folded quickly and sadly in just three games.
It has now been 100 years since the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, a record of failure unsurpassed in major league ball. In general, I think of this as sheer coincidence and bad luck. I don’t put any stock in billy goat curses or any other kind of supernatural nonsense. Most of that stuff gave sportswriters of an earlier era easy hooks for ledes and such, but that’s all it was worth.
But I do know something about working in the business world.
I spent the last 25 years toiling in the fields of Cubicle Nation for five different companies, like millions and millions of Americans,.and we all know what happens to a company when bad luck strikes and things start to go south. The entire working apparatus is affected; nobody can concentrate, no one can do anything right, and mistakes mount until at some point, things straighten out and the company gets back on track.
The pressure of being a Cub and knowing that you’re a member of the last team in the whole league to have failed to win a World Series in recent years has got to be enormous, and enormous to the point of crippling. I would wager that playing in the regular season and going to the postseason are two distinctly different things for a Cub, and that when the playoffs arrive, it’s time to get out the flub suits and wear them.
And I think this is because the pressure on the team is simply too great; it can’t be eradicated, it can’t be undone, it can’t be reasoned away. We all know what this is like when the places we work for go through a bad patch.
Now, here in South Florida, the Florida Marlins, a team that’s only 15 years old, has won the World Series twice, and they’ve done so with a very small local fan base. Because so many Floridians come from somewhere else and continue to root for their home teams, the Marlins field good team after good team and can’t get the kind of local devotion they richly deserve. So they always play as underdogs, working hard and hoping to get noticed.
That, in the business world, is a distinct advantage. Nobody’s looking for you to do well, but you hit it hard, you innovate, you excel, and good things happen.
I don’t see how the Cubs can ever get past the weight of 100 years of failure, no matter how well they do. It will only get worse, so I’d like to propose, purely as a piece of business strategy, that we bid farewell to the Chicago Cubs.
Get rid of the name, the uniforms, the logos, everything to do with the Cubs. Then, reconstitute the team and name it something else: the Chicago Stockyarders, the Chicago Brawlers — something else, at any rate. That way, there’d be a brand-new second Chicago team, it would have no history, and the boys could concentrate on baseball and not have to worry about the 100 years of history that has dogged the team and will continue to do so.
For those in the know, the team would be the Cubs in disguise, I suppose, but in order to really make this work, we have to say that the Cubs went out of existence in 2008 and we salute all the wonderful years they gave us, blah, blah, blah. But in order to win baseball’s top prize, the Cubs are going to have to get past the legacy of losing, and they can’t do it as the Cubs.
Businesses do this all the time. When Sunbeam became associated with the depredations of a rogue CEO, the company name got absorbed into another business entirely. But that didn’t stop them from making small appliances. They just erased the past and went on.
The Cubs should do the same. Say goodbye to the Cubs, say hello to the new team, and start over. The sweetness of finally winning after more than 100 years is a feeling that is likely to be postponed indefinitely, and at this point, it’s probably not worth waiting for.
Bring on the Brawlers.