Cultural Commentary

The impact of culture, tradition and society on psyche.

Cubs Suck: Relax and Enjoy It!

The Psychology of a Chicago Cubs Fan

Welcome to the city of Chicago on the 100thanniversary of the creation of Wrigley Field, the home of a famous baseball team called the Chicago Cubs. There is a North Side of the city and there is a South Side.   And despite the lyrics of the popular song “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” it is the North Side of Chicago that is “the baddest part of town."

Why?  Because of two four letter words, which when strung together sound like this: CUBS SUCK!   Every cub fan knows this but you can measure the mood or mental state of a cub fan by the way he or she intones those two words.

There is the mood of low expectations.  It is such a pleasurable throwback being in Wrigley Field (the Ivy, the pastoral atmosphere, the quaint ground rules, the day games when you cut class or skip work) it doesn’t really matter if you win.   CUBS SUCK, so what – they’re loveable losers.  Relax and enjoy it.  It is even enjoyable for the players - those loveable losers – for the pressure is off; they don’t have to worry about playing poorly.  After all, and in the beginning, was there competition in the Garden of Eden; or an electric scoreboard; or the demands of modern life?

Then there is the mood of frustrated utopian dreamers.  CUBS SUCK!   That utopian dream of course is one of blissful redemption in baseball heaven – a kind of End Time for the sport when we get to replay the 1918 World Series.  Remember 1918?  That was the year when Babe Ruth’s Boston Red Sox defeated the Cubs, who played their World Series home games in Comisky Park rather than Wrigley because the owners of the Cubs, with dollars signs in their eyes, decided to abandoned Eden for the larger and more financially lucrative stadium on the South Side.  Even then money made the world go round.  You can see why redemption is necessary.

And finally there is the mood of existential crisis, an anxiety every cub fan experiences from time to time – a momentary loss of faith – the fleeting perception of a utterly meaningless baseball season in which baseball outcomes seems unrelated to skill or strategy, and even the presence of Sammy Sosa, Mark Grace, Ryne Sandberg or Andre Dawson just doesn’t seem to matter. CUBS SUCK – baseball as nothing more than the roll of some dice where it is just statistically normal that someone will always be on the bottom tail of a random (and hence meaningless) distribution.

Like everyone else in the world Cub fans want to be edified by their miseries and string of losses.  So they search for explanations for their suffering.  Some fans blame themselves for not being loyal enough to their lovable losers - intense feelings of guilt get generated by the troubling fantasy that the losers may just be ridiculous or pathetic.

Some fans search for others to blame – like Steve Bartman, the clueless fan who reached into the field, disrupted a possible out and is blamed for keeping a talent packed Cubs team from advancing to the 2003 World Series. Or they invoke a curse or hex placed on the team in 1945 by the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern because his pet goat (who had purchased a ticket for a World Series home game) was supposedly barred from entrance into the stadium.  Forget the curse – it is nonsense - a piece of false consciousness or denial which has as little validity as the popular fiction that Chicago is “the windy city.”   Boston and New York are windier than Chicago and Chicago isn’t even in the top 100 cities when it comes to average wind velocity.   And the Cubs sucked long before 1945. 

Other fans view themselves as victims of owner neglect, yet there were decades within living memory when investing in top players – like Dawson or Sosa - didn’t produce a World Series victory or even a World Series appearance.

Still others blame fate, or destiny or hapless fortune.   There were glory days for the Cubs back in 1906, 1907 and 1908 – all before the North Side/South Side rivalry - at another location called West Side Park. Might the North Side and the baseball field ultimately named Wrigley have been cursed right from the start?  When it was build 100 years ago it was sited right on top of the grounds of the Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary.  One wonders how the Lutheran Divines felt about having a score board built on their sacred grounds.  And of course 1914 was not a particularly auspicious year for a world that went to war.  Nor was 1918 (the year the Cubs lost to the Red Sox) in a world depleted and scarred by that war.  Nor was 1929, the year of the great depression when the Cubs crashed once again in a World Series, nor was 1945 (Wars and disaster and Cub defeats in the World Series seem to go hand in hand).  

It is a spooky history.  In 1988, once again in the face of commercial pressures, they install lights in the stadium and play their first night game ever; and the skies open up and it rains so heavily the game has to be cancelled after three innings.  And the beat goes on.  Only a few days ago the Cubs were scheduled to play a night game with the Yankees in New York – the match up is a rarity.  My son, who now lives in New York but grew up in Chicago and despite his South Side heritage has been a life long Cub fan planned to go the game.  But the game was rained out – so a double header got scheduled for the next day and the Cubs managed to score no runs in 18 innings of play in a single day – the first time that has happened in 52 years – another low for Cubs fans to fret over or interpret.

Nevertheless hope does spring eternal on the North Side of Chicago.  Today’s silver lining fans will tell you is that the Cubs have the best minor league team in baseball, even if they can’t score a major league run in 18 innings.   Full of faith, hope and charity every April they still dream the dream:  Next October in Fenway Park – that really real World Series that all serious baseball fans desire (except perhaps New Yorkers) – the Wrigley/Fenway matchup with the Cubs defeating the Red Sox in the seventh game in the bottom half of the ninth inning.  And you know where.  Perhaps we can even channel Babe Ruth for baseball’s end time moment.            .

Richard Shweder is a cultural anthropologist and the Harold Higgins Swift Distinguished Service Professor of Human Development at the University of Chicago.

 

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