My dad grew up not far from Wrigley Field. He has a collection of stories from his childhood that are typical and yet somehow still magical. How he snuck into games to watch Ernie Banks and Ron Santo. How he had one of those fabled baseball card collections that, if we ever found it again, would be nearly priceless.
I imagine those memories improved with age, their edges smoothed by the passage of time. Regardless, as a kid, those stories were part of the reason I loved the Cubs.
I have my own sepia-toned memories of baseball. My dad throwing me 100 pop flies a day in the backyard once I started Little League. Racing home after school to catch the last few innings of day games on WGN. Scouring the box scores in the morning paper to re-live what each Cub did the previous day.
The Cubs continued to be a core part of my entire identity even as I grew out of childhood. I remember the excitement of the team actually winning a playoff series in 2003. And then the heartbreak of that same year, all of it lived-and-died in the lounge of my dorm at Valpo. I remember the 2008 Cubs going through all of the trouble to rack up the most wins in baseball only to sleepwalk through a playoff series, getting swept by the Dodgers.
The World Series in 2016 felt like a pinnacle. I watched with both of my parents as Kris Bryant charged a dribbler off the bat of Michael Martinez, gathered the ball, and made that briefly-heart-stopping throw to Anthony Rizzo to seal it. I remember my dad bear-hugging me and then my wife running in from the next room, where she had been hiding because she was too nervous to watch. We all shouted and jumped around and then remembered there was a toddler sleeping in the next room so we tried to quiet down a bit. It didn’t work.
So, if you had told me at that moment that three years later I would watch precisely 3 innings out of an entire Cubs season, I would have assumed I would be dead.
(I’m not, it’s OK.)
Checking out of baseball
Last winter was a long winter. It was especially frigid. It felt like my household traded the same common cold back and forth for 5 months. I looked forward to spring but the usual anticipation for baseball wasn’t quite there.
After the Cubs won in 2016, there was a feeling of culmination. Almost like an ending point, though I realize this mostly in hindsight. We did it. The suffering is finally over. Yet even that relief came with a bit of a caveat. I had a sour taste in my mouth knowing the Cubs had relied on Aroldis Chapman and his history of domestic violence to help them get that title. Sure, I wanted them to win the World Series. At times, it felt like that was all I wanted. But not like this.
We even read articles about how Theo weighed the social responsibility of acquiring a closer who had fired a gun near his girlfriend’s head against his front office’s calculations that trading for Chapman would bump their odds of winning the World Series from 20% to 25%.
That’s a cold calculation. But then those questionable moves kept coming. The team traded for Daniel Murphy in 2018, which was hurtful to the LGBTQ community. Joe Ricketts’s racist emails were released. Todd Ricketts was announced as the head of fundraising for Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. The team partnered with, of all available options, Trump propaganda outlet Sinclair for their upcoming broadcast network.
Finally, they spent well over a year bumbling through Addison Russell’s domestic abuse case, saying they wanted to be “part of the solution” which meant they didn’t want to just let go of an asset without getting something back for him. All of this meant was Russell was given a year-long platform to publicly show he never even understood what he did wrong.
As the list grew, I began to feel embarrassed to willingly align myself with the Cubs and their decisions.
There is, as the meme says, no ethical consumption under capitalism. Every organization in sports is aligned with bad people somewhere in its supply chain. I get that.
And in response to complaints about sports organizations behaving badly, you’ll often hear a defense of, “It’s business.”
But usually, as consumers, we will make a choice to stop supporting bad businesses when we know they’re bad. That happens less in sports. Sports fandom is immutable. It’s in our blood. You don’t just turn your back on the team you grow up with; you stick with an ever-changing pile of laundry until the day you die.
But why? This year, I didn’t stick with laundry. All of the off-field disappointment combined with a completely underwhelming offseason during which the Ricketts pretended they had run out of money meant I wasn’t able to support the team.
So when spring training came, I never tuned in. Opening Day arrived and I think I went for a run and read a book instead of watching. April came and went. So did May. I’d check the standings every few weeks or pop into Twitter to ask that Addison Russell be fired into the sun, but that was the extent of my involvement.
I kept waiting to find myself missing the Cubs. June passed. July passed. It never happened.
I had a friend ask me, “How can you just stop watching?”
My answer, “I just don’t turn the TV on. It’s pretty easy.”
His response, “Weird.”
What do we really need?
All of this isn’t meant to sound sanctimonious or put out some dril-like energy of “i don’t even care if they cancel sports.” I still like sports and I don’t want them to be canceled (well, except maybe the NFL).
For most of my life, I’ve watched the Cubs play more often than not. Sure, there were plenty of dark years, but I still tuned in because it’s just what I did. But as I’ve — groan alert — gotten older, I find myself examining my habits and think about why I do what I do. Sometimes stripping something out of your life for a while gives you a good idea of how important it really is to you.
And after roughly 500 fewer hours of baseball-watching this year than previous years, I can’t say I missed this particular habit. There was no in-game #CubsTwitter fighting to wade through. A loss by a sports team hasn’t negatively affected my mood even once in 2019. I can’t begin to describe how refreshing that feels.
That choice was mine and I certainly don’t expect everyone else to feel the same way, though I’ve heard from plenty of other people who watched less Cubs baseball this year for similar reasons as mine. Again, I don’t think the Cubs care beyond putting forth the most basic of public relations best practices.
After looking at the landscape of the Cubs organization over the last few years, I decided they didn’t warrant my support. Maybe they will in the future but I’m not going to count on it.
Besides, sounds like I didn’t miss much.