Cubs and chairman Tom Ricketts are bringing back that old, painful, very familiar feeling
The franchise is tearing itself down again for reasons that have to do with money and line items, not pride, loyalty or even victories. It is crying poor. Nobody is buying it.
There are people who find pleasure in their sports misery. We used to call them Cubs fans, but then the team won the 2016 World Series and a new, almost unrecognizable species emerged — one that was joyful, cocky and expectant of success.
The older generations, the ones that had been through decades of baseball hell with the franchise, wore that newfound success like a fur coat, glad for its warmth but still not quite sure who they were looking at when they caught sight of themselves in the mirror.
It’s why the pain the Cubs are doling out now to its fan base feels so familiar and, dare I say it, comfortable. Chicago still wears its Cubs angst well.
The team is tearing itself down again for reasons that have to do with money and line items, not pride, loyalty or even victories. It is crying poor. Nobody is buying it.
It’s hard to believe, but somehow the Cubs have gone from Lovable Losers to winners to unlikeable moneygrubbers, all in a 10-year period. The greed makes them no different than the Tribune Company and Sam Zell, the previous owners, but a distinction needs to be made. Neither the media company nor the real estate mogul gushed about meeting their wives in the bleachers, the way chairman Tom Ricketts did after his father bought the franchise for him and his siblings. Ricketts sold himself as a fan like one of you.
A Cubs fan wouldn’t have let pitcher Jon Lester, the cornerstone of the team’s run to glory, go to another team for what can only be called a pittance in the baseball world, the way the North Siders did recently. Or trade ace Yu Darvish.
You would have thought that all the goodwill the family had built up by doing the unthinkable and unbelievable — winning a World Series after a 108-year dry “spell’’ — would have lasted forever. But you didn’t count on ownership treating its product like a product or you like a rube. You didn’t count on the franchise caring more about Wrigleyville construction projects than Wrigley Field victories. Perhaps you didn’t imagine that the family’s political leanings would nauseate a good portion of the fan base.
You didn’t count on the team keeping its wallet clamped shut last offseason, right before it launched a new TV network that was supposed to pump money into the on-field talent. You didn’t count on the everything-must-go player sale that’s happening now.
Maybe all of this is on you for believing that the overextended Rickettses were anything other than people wanting to make a ton of money.
Former Cubs president Theo Epstein didn’t promise sustained success when he arrived in 2011. He promised that the Cubs would strive for sustained success. That’s what so disheartening for so many fans these days — the team has stopped striving to be great. The Cubs have let the bottom line dictate their every move. They’re blaming everything on the pandemic because it’s an easy excuse, but the truth is that, since the World Series, ownership has concentrated much more on revenue streams than on success, sustained or otherwise.
Brace yourself for the Cubs’ explanation that a rebuild is the only way to create a championship team. It’s not, but that’s what franchises have been selling their fans on for more than a decade. It’s what the Cubs did when Epstein arrived. No one expected it to be cyclical.
Four years ago, it would have been impossible to think of Kris Bryant as anything other than happy and bright-eyed and engaging. But he recently told a Barstool podcast that he had lost some of the joy of the game, thanks to trade rumors that started in 2018.
“It really got to me sometimes,’’ he said. “The stuff I was hearing. The first trade rumors that started to pop up really got to me. I find myself [thinking], ‘Man, is this even fun anymore? Why did I start playing this game?’ Because it was fun.’’
Maybe we’re all naïve. Me, you, Bryant. But I never thought this thing could go sideways so quickly.
However, as someone who has lived the Cubs experience or observed it for most of my life, I recognize all of this. I speak here to Cubs fans of a certain vintage: Did you not think there was going to be a comeuppance for all that joy you experienced in 2016?
And somewhere deep down, doesn’t it almost feel right?