Lesson #1: The Chicago Cubs

Baseball is stupid.

I know, you’re confused. “What do you mean? You said this is a blog about sports and I know you’re a baseball fan! How can you say baseball is stupid?” Just bear with me.

I repeat: baseball is stupid. One guy throws a ball, another guy tries to hit it, and eight other guys run around throwing the ball to each other. Some of the position names make sense (pitcher, catcher, baseman) but some definitely do not (what’s a shortstop?). The managers and coaches never play in the games but they wear the same uniforms as the players.[1] Some teams don’t even put their players’ names on the backs of the uniforms so unless you follow the team closely or you’re watching on television, you don’t know who you’re watching.[2] And the game is so freaking slow.

And yet, it’s our national pastime. It’s the oldest of the four major sports, and it has the most documented statistics from as far back as 1860. Baseball movies are more beloved than any other sports movies.[3] People who don’t know anything about baseball know who Babe Ruth was and about the rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox. Baseball was the first organized team sport to break the boundary of racial segregation. Entire cities define their identities based on their baseball teams.

Baseball is also the sport that’s most often talked about as being passed down from father to son.[4]  Fathers teach their sons about the terminology, the players and the history, as well as the intricacies of base-running, pitch location, positioning in the field and countless other minutiae that will take up valuable space in their brains for years to come.  Fathers tell stories about players they’ve watched and the passions they’ve developed for the teams and the game.  Yes, fathers may teach their kids to shoot free throws or to throw a spiral, but neither of those compare to playing a simple game of catch.[5]

As I said in a previous post, I’m teaching my son lessons about Chicago sports.  Lesson number one is the Chicago Cubs, the baseball team of which I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember.  I’m not going to go into the whole heart-breaking history of the team here; that’s what the internet is for.  Plus, everyone already knows about their century-plus streak of futility, from the curse of the Billy goat to one of the worst collapses in baseball history[6] to Leon Durham to Moises Alou.  Some people even acknowledge the good players that have been on the team, including Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance, Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins, Ron Santo, Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace, Kerry Wood and a bunch of others.  Rest assured, Eitan will hear and learn about all of it, plus the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field, the rooftops, Santo’s black cat, the Hawk’s home runs, Wood’s bathtub incident, Dusty’s mission to overwork every pitcher he ever works with and Prior’s intimate relationship with the disabled list.  He’ll know the difference between a curveball and a slider, running on contact, the infield fly rule, the steroids era, fantasy sports and the league’s apparent refusal to use replay technology to ensure that the right calls are made.[7] He’ll know that it’s important to stick with your team, even when they’re horrible, because it makes it that much sweeter when they finally win.

It may be a stupid game, but it’s the first one I ever learned about and it will be the first one I teach Eitan.

Go Cubs Go.

[1] Can you imagine if they did this in the NBA? Picture Stan Van Gundy or Tom Thibodeau wearing a jersey and shorts.  Just make sure you don’t mind not being able to unsee things.

[2] Reason number 2,840,751 to hate the Yankees.

[3] Try to argue with me about this. All I have to do is say Major League and Field of Dreams and I win.

[4] And daughters, too, obviously, but I have a son, so we’re sticking with that.  On a different note, I wouldn’t be surprised if a big reason for the transmission of baseball traditions to younger generations is the speed of the game.  Basketball, hockey and football all move too quickly.  Watch a hockey game; the only times you can actually go to the bathroom without fear of missing something is during the intermissions between periods.  Basketball has stoppages for free throws, time-outs and quarter intermissions, but it’s otherwise continuous action.  Even football is pretty fast-paced, as there are only 40 seconds between plays.  Baseball allows for discussion between innings, between batters and even between pitches.  There’s nothing to do but watch and talk about what the teams are going to do next.

[5] There’s a reason this book was written: http://www.amazon.com/Hey-Dad-Lets-Have-Catch/dp/097865840X

[6] You’re welcome, 1969 Mets.

[7] I told you – baseball is stupid.

10 responses to “Lesson #1: The Chicago Cubs

  1. I hope the cubs never win. It’s for your own good. I got bored after the Sox won. It’s just…there’s no way it could possibly have gotten any better.

    So I stopped watching.

    I hope your favorite team never wins a world series. Losing is part of the ritual.


    • I’ll admit, I got pretty angry the first time I read that comment. “Losing isn’t part of any ritual, it just sucks! How can you hope the Cubs never win???” I should also say, I think part of the reason I overreacted at first was because I didn’t really internalize anything past the first sentence.

      Losing may be part of the ritual, especially for Cubs fans who have been “long-suffering” for a lot longer than me. That being said, I think it depends on the situation. The Red Sox definitely got boring after they won, and even more so after they won a second time. The Cubs are not the Sox, though. The Cubs are defined by who they are, not by the fact that they’re not their perennially better rivals. Even the rivalry with the Cardinals has more to do with proximity than anything pertaining to shared player histories or anything similar to the Curse of the Bambino. When the Cubs eventually win (When! Not if! When!), the feeling will be very similar to the one experienced by Boston when the Sox won, but with one key difference. Even though the Sox won the series, that whole playoff run was tied in so closely with the comeback against the Yankees. The World Series against St. Louis was more an afterthought than anything else, sort of like the 1980 US hockey team beating the Soviet Union in the silver medal game (they had to beat Sweden in the next game to win gold). Part of the reason the Red Sox became “Red Sox Nation” was because so many other people across the country also hated the Yankees, so the Sox became everyone’s heroes. A Cubs World Series win will stand on its own, specifically because of the lack of a rivalry so closely tied to the team’s identity. There wouldn’t be any reason to become “Cubs Nation” because it would be a win without any other stories besides the drought. There’s always something new with the Cubs. Plus, let’s be honest: there’s no way they’d be able to win twice.


  2. It is interesting. I was such a fervent fan growing up. Of course, it is fair–though completely besides the point–to observe how irrational that is; that somehow my identification with a number of multi-millionaire athletes who have no idea who I am can actually mean something. Even so, I am saddened that I no longer seem to care as much. I can watch just about any teams play football or, increasingly, hockey, but baseball these days just strikes me as so very, very slow–great if you’re washing dishes or marking papers, but difficult to arouse true concentration. Nevertheless, I still have my Phillies posters up in my office–both as the 2008 World Series winners and as the first team in any professional sport to lose 10,000 games. I remember the personalities with a familial fondness and, while admittedly less than classically romantic, sharing that fondness (Is it too nerdy to say “passion”?) was part of the connection I had with my wife.

    Maybe the family connection you describe is part of that sadness. Some of it may be because of physical characteristics. Children at a very young age can throw/toss/roll a ball and can learn reasonably well how to catch. That’s not the case with a basketball, which is so much bigger, or a football, which bears an eerie likeness to primitive intercontinental missiles. (I’ll leave aside speculations as to what can happen with bowling balls…) Maybe a parent’s ability to share in the child’s development of such a comparably easy skill is part of that feeling.

    And maybe it’s part of something more…some evolutionary remnant of the need to belong to a tribe as to be alone meant certain death via some poofy haired mastadon. No doubt there are elements of tribal warfare as well since “they” are not “us” and, hence, must be hated–especially if they are better than us (cf. the Yankees and Pete Rose, where animosity is just a veneer for jealousy–unless, as in Mr. Rose’s case, one of “them” joins “us,” in which case villain becomes hero and even messiah).

    There was a time I thought nostalgia was nonsense. We need to “live in the moment” and “build for the future.” Objectively that may very well be true and, who knows, maybe you will get an inkling of just that the first time you see a slowly rolling ball go between Eitan’s legs as if he was Leon Durham…


      • For all the grief that Cubs and former Cubs first basemen get, the Phillies had this guy back in the ’60’s, Dick Stuart, who was so bad he earned the name “Dr. Strangeglove.” And then there was “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry on the Mets before they became the “Amazins.” But, alas, neither one cost their respective teams a chance for the championship. There is something ironic–and, yes, tragic–to have had to have been so good just to even have the opportunity to blow it at the end… 😦


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  4. A few things here that I think exemplify the baseball neurosis that you’re describing.

    1 – It’s the one sport where if I miss a game I feel left out. Since the game is SO different depending on who’s pitching that day the team looks drastically different from day to day.

    2 – If you actually watch 3 hours a day 6.5 days a week, the storylines that develop over the course of the super-long season make you feel like you know the players on a very personal level. And with spring training games, it’s so much more so. When Darwin Barney came up there was no question in my mind that he was going to take over between the options of Jeff Baker and Blake DeWitt. And when he did, I was PROUD of him! How absurd is that!!! Not to mention how happy I was for him when he won the Gold Glove at 2B. Because he needs MY approval.

    3 – It’s also the one sport where the game is not really over until it’s over. With your team down 8 runs in the bottom of the 9th with two outs, it’s still theoretically possible for your team to magically remember how to play baseball and pull off a miraculous victory. A game that’s run based on events and not by time has the possibility for ANYTHING to happen, and it frequently does.

    That said… having a 3 run lead in the 9th inning and watching Carlos Marmol piss it away AGAIN is almost enough to make you break just about everything in your house.


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  6. Pingback: Liars, Killers and Brauns, Oh My! | Sleeping on the Edge

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