Everything Has a Beginning
Everything has a beginning (the universe, serial TV shows, pie eating contests, etc..) which is good because it gives us a starting point with which to discuss and understand things. (aside: things that don’t have beginnings: circles, spheres, loops, life (for people who believe in reincarnation))
The Chicago Cubs began in 1876 as the Chicago White Stockings and went on to win 2 World Series (and counting?) and sixteen pennants. But the Cubs baseball team isn’t defined by its (mostly turn of the century) success, it’s the failures that matter. The long string of mostly uninterrupted failure that stretches from 1909 to the present not only haunts, but also distinguishes the franchise and its mighty yet tortured fan base. For the first 9 ½ years of my life none of this was important, and over the course of one long afternoon that began to change.
It could have been a Saturday, but most likely it was Sunday. It had the feel of an Autumn Sunday, when school had just started and Sundays had that looming dread; crisp air, shorter days and homework that still needed to be completed. My dad was getting drunk in the other room and I was bored out of my mind. My dad loved dragging my brothers and me to bars and parties where he could drink for hours and then drive us home in an enormous pale green Impala. (The rules of Parenting have changed considerably since then.) The only respite we had from adults mussing up our hair and asking us about school at this particular party was a 13 inch rabbit ear television showing the Cubs game. And I wasn’t a fan.
My parents are immigrants. While they fed, clothed and educated me in a satisfactory manner I’ll always feel as though my childhood was deprived and deficient. Apparently the 8 ways of reaching base without hitting the ball wasn’t on the immigration entrance exam because the only thing my parents knew about the Cubs was to avoid Wrigleyville on game days. I never played catch with my dad, my parents never skipped work to take me to a game, never got caught up in the excitement of the summer of ‘84 and the signing of Andre Dawson wasn’t even close to being discussed at the dinner table. To tell you the truth, I not only wasn’t a Cubs fan that epochal fall day, I had a mild distaste for the Cubs.
Grade school was hard. You’re really just not born with the ability to sit still and pay attention to old people drone on about nouns and adjectives. Looking back on the entire concept of education, it seems absurd to seat a bunch of paste eating, spit ball throwing kids in a room and expect them to care about long division. The only thing that got me through the day was the comfort in knowing I had a little something called the Disney Afternoon waiting for me when I got home from school. The Disney Afternoon was a block of cartoons that ran on WGN from 3-5pm every weekday until the Maury Povich era began and talk shows shoved everyone else out of the afternoon TV rotation. Before then, in that golden era of my most innocent youth, the Gummi Bears kicked things off at 3, then Duck Tales, followed by the Rescue Rangers with Tale Spin batting clean up. It was a solid lineup that always brought home the goods. Tragically (at the time) WGN also carried all the Cubs telecasts so whenever the Cubs were playing during the day (every home game), I came storming home expecting some Gummi Bears only to find Frank Dipino valiantly blowing another lead for the Cubs.
In retrospect the decision to intersperse cartoons with Cubs games was marketing genius. The Disney Afternoon was to Cubs Baseball what Joe Camel was to Cigarette smoking. (If the Cubs caused Cancer we’d all be Millionaires. Unfortunately, the Cubs only cause wildly baseless optimism and heart ache.)
The WGN media conglomerate indoctrinated a whole generation of impressionable Nickelodeon lacking youths into a lifetime of cubs servitude by literally baiting us with colorful and exciting, but ultimately flawed animated drawings then switching in a collection of colorful and exceptionally flawed baseball players. Darkwing Duck definitely would have bunted into a double play.
As a preadolescent none of this was apparent to you, you’d watch that Cubs game praying it would end early so you could catch some Tale Spin at the very least. Slowly you start to learn some of the players names, then you start to pay attention to the standings (if we sweep the four game series with the Braves we’ll only be 5 games under .500 and maybe make a season of this), you know the pitching rotation, then you learn who hits better at night, who hits better against left handers, who can’t hit the curve and slowly it all starts to matter.
Then one day your Dad drags you to an adult party, you’re miserable, scratching at the walls with boredom, and Harry offers a little much needed enthusiasm to an overcast day. Its always Harry who gets you first. The Cubs-Expos game in early October of 1987 had absolutely no playoff implications. This game was unimportant for a multitude of reasons, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to Harry. This was baseball and it didn’t matter who was playing or what they were playing for, we had a game and that’s worth getting excited about! The game was close, and I cared, and it got me through an excruciating Sunday. We won and there was no going back.