The Chicago Cubs celebrate their iconic ballpark’s 100th birthday Wednesday.
It’s an important landmark for a sports franchise that recognizes all too well that its greatest asset (and biggest draw) is the place where the Cubs play their home games.
Stadiums have come and gone through the decades. They’ve torn down hallowed buildings like Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, Yankee Stadium, and Comiskey Park on Chicago’s South Side. Wrigley still stands, offering a dose of baseball nostalgia at modern era prices.
If you’ve been to Wrigley Field, you have a story about Wrigley Field. The first time I went, I sat in the bleachers with my dad; Dwight Gooden pitched a 4-0 shutout for the Mets; the Cubs’ then-manager, Jim Frey, was ejected; and I was within shouting distance of Gary “The Sarge” Matthews. I was hooked.
Later, I was fortunate enough to be sent as a reporter to Wrigley Field on occasion when I worked for the Chicago Sun-Times
. Walking into the Cubs clubhouse for the first time is still among the greatest moments of my life.
My days attending games as a member of the press are long over. I’ve sat my butt in the stands twice this young season, and forked over $8.50 for beers just like the other schmoes. I’m embarrassed to admit that I can’t tell you whether the Cubs won or lost those games, including the home opener.
I wasn’t there to witness baseball brilliance. I was there for the atmosphere—the sheer joy of walking the four blocks south of my home to sit inside a baseball relic and witness a true phenomenon—a terrible team that everyone wants to see.
It doesn’t matter how crummy the Cubs are playing in a given season. The stands will be (at least relatively) filled. They haven’t sold out every single game the way they do when they’re in contention, but on the weekends, especially if the weather isn’t unbearably Chicagoan, the place is packed.
The most fervent Cubs fans are as passionate as any fans in the league when it comes to living and dying by the club’s performance. They, like other diehard baseball fans, don’t need marketing efforts to remind them to catch a game.
The team’s campaign behind the 100th birthday is for the rest of us, because many more Cubs fans share my ambivalence. There’s a microsite, a promoted Twitter campaign, and billboards all around the stadium to remind us that we don’t love the Cubs for the dudes wearing the uniforms. There’s even a cupcake for each of the first 10,000 fans at Wednesday’s game:
Selling fans on the experience is about the best they can do these days. Sure, it’s a Wednesday in April, but as of this posting, decent seats were still available.
Boston suffered a similar plight. They were supposedly cursed, as the Cubs are supposedly cursed by a man who tried to bring his goat to a game in 1945. (The team has never won a World Series while Wrigley has been open; the Cubs’ last Series victory was in 1908.)
The Red Sox overcame their World Series drought in 2004, repeated the magic in 2007, and won it again last October. That drove the Cubs’ front office so crazy that it went out and hired Theo Epstein, the former Red Sox general manager who guided the team’s first two championships.
(Cubs fans are loath to note that the Chicago White Sox quenched an 88-year-drought with a World Series win in 2005.)
So far, it hasn’t made much of a difference to the casual observer. You hear rumblings about how the Cubs will be contenders in three to seven years, depending on whom you ask.
We all know it doesn’t matter a lick.
There’s a common debate among casual fans: Are the Cubs losers because they don’t have to be winners? I remember looking around the stadium last September, when the Cubs were miles away from first place, and there were only a handful of empty seats in the house. What incentive, I thought, does this team have to ever win?
No one in the team’s front office will ever embrace the “lovable losers” moniker, but perhaps it’s simply become ingrained in the Cubs’ DNA.
Offer a Cubs fan the following bet: $100 says the Cubs will not win the World Series in the next 105 years, the length of their current futility. As ESPN’s Steve Wulf recently reported
, the mathematical probability of a single team not winning a World Series in 105 seasons is roughly 250-1. Most fans would take that bet. Logic says a team in a major sports market would eventually win a championship. Right?
See, there will always be that doubt that the Cubs will actually do it. And that’s why the team can never leave Wrigley Field. The Ricketts family, current owners of the Cubs, have laughably threatened to leave the park if they can’t get approval to make some much-needed improvements.
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It’ll never happen.
When the Cubs eventually win the World Series, it’ll be completely unexpected. It will captivate the city, the nation. It’ll be one of, if not the greatest, sports stories of that era. And the franchise will finally have a more valuable asset than a 100-year-old home.