Sport plays a significant role in my life: I will play it, watch it and talk about it until long after the cows have come home. But how did someone from England fall hook, line and sinker for the Chicago Cubs? I can trace it all back to a single letter that was published in The International Herald Tribune in 1990 (I think). I kept the letter and read it from time to time to remind me of the power and beauty of words. So, with all rights reserved to Stuart Silverstein of Los Angeles I reprint it here
Ballplayers who lose with panache
It was gratifying to see your coverage (July 11) of the baseball All Star Game. However, the assertion that former President Ronald Reagan, a guest commentator for the broadcast, once “did radio commentaries for the Chicago Cubs before going onto greater things in Hollywood and Washington” is, if cute and facile, also inaccurate.
The Chicago Cubs hold a peculiar yet warm place in the American psyche. They lose with regularity and panache. The last time they went to the World Series was in 1945, when most of the better players listened from bases in the South Pacific during the war against Japan.
Play is in a 75-year-old “bandbox” ballpark, with one of the smallest seating capacities in the Major Leagues. But Wrigley Field- note it is a field– has brick walls covered with ivy. It has real grass. It did not have lights until last year and still hosts most games in the afternoon.
It is also in the centre of the city, and there is not enough parking. An order of nuns pays most of its expenses by parking cars on its grounds, with habited sisters directing fans to slots with the assurance of the most experienced traffic cops. The cost? “Whatever you want to give, dear. Enjoy the game.”
Wrigley Field’s crowd noise is distinctly higher pitched than other; there is less drunkenness and rowdyism, and more families enjoy going to games. Foreign fans encounter culture shock. There is no electronic message to tell spectators when to cheer; balls sometimes get trapped in the ivy. In the Sixties a ball went into the ivy, and when the pursuing outfielder shook it two fell out.
The wall also has pointless little nooks and crannies which cause balls to bounce crazily away from fielders. The dimensions are cosy; when the wind is blowing out, so do the baseballs.
The club represents not only Chicago, but also the Midwest, where a fierce historical rivalry between the Cubs and St Louis Cardinals has split families and divided friends. Roand Reagan covered Cubs games for a small Iowa radio station by reading the action from the wire.
It may seem silly or, at least misguided, to append such lofty sentiments to a business engaged in the baseball trade, but then sentiment has little to do with reason. The Cubs are 113 years old. Wrigley Field was two months old when Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated at Sarajevo. Two world wars and innumerable social and political upheavals have occurred since. But the game goes on. Are Hollywood and Washington “greater things”? I doubt it
I read this whilst shooting a seismic survey in what I guess to be July 1990. The following year I flew to Chicago to see the Cubs play. I didn’t have any tickets or anywhere to stay or even any ideas of the rules of baseball. I landed on a Friday and asked the cab driver when the Cubs were playing his reply that “they’re on the road for a week” was a perfect example of the complete and utter lack of planning to my trip.
But a week later I saw the Cubs play, in Wrigely Field. And I became more than ever before lost in the support of a team that will almost certainly bring me more disappointment than joy. My support of the Cubs has outlasted 2 careers and 1 marriage. It has survived living on 2 continents, evolved from scrabbling around in the small print of a newspaper to find the box score to following detailed ball by ball coverage on the internet. But through all of that, the Cubs have still not gone to the World Series, despite coming incredibly close on at least 1 occasion. So why do I still follow them? I guess we just all live in hope- either that or I am the ultimate incurable romantic