Contrary to popular belief, I didn't abandon the Cubs when I moved to Wisconsin two years ago. My moment of clarity occurred in the middle of the 2000 season. Specifically July 4th, 2000, in a home game against the Pirates. The Cubs led 4-3 heading into the 9th. Pittsburgh put lefthanded hitter John Vander Wal in as a pinch hitter. The Cubs countered by putting lefty Felix Heredia on the mound. Heredia promptly walked Vander Wal and that year's excuse for a closer, Rick Aguilera, was brought into the game. Aguilera, who as a young man had been a crucial cog in the wheel that was the '86 Mets, was now old and busted. He shouldn't have been closing for anyone. He probably shouldn't have been pitching for anyone, and in fact he was in what would be his final season.
So with a one run lead and only three outs to get, this alleged closer entered the game and proceeded to beat the remaining Cub fandom out of my long-suffering soul. You can read all about it here. As I sat watching on the TV in my living room, Aguilera got Adrian Brown to line out to center. He was a double play ball away from nailing down the save. Up came Jason Kendall. Kendall (currently with the Milwaukee Brewers), a fine catcher and a quality hitter, has never been what you would call a power hitter. 2000 marked his career high for home runs in a season - he had 14 (I'm guessing most of them came against the Cubs). Naturally Aguilera gave up a two run shot to Kendall. Wil Cordero came up next and hit another home run.
I was tired of backing a loser. I was tired of being a loser, which is inevitably what being a Cubs fan feels like. This was beyond ridiculous. I'd been a Cubs fan since I'd known what baseball was. From the days of Don Kessinger, Manny Trillo and Rick Reuschel to Dave Kingman, Ivan DeJesus and Bruce Sutter, through Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace and Andre Dawson, up to the days of Kerry Wood and Joe Girardi, I'd bled Cubbie blue, and for what? For nothing more than a sort of lame sitcom of a ball club! Over and over! I was tired of being referred to as a "Lovable Loser." Lovable Losers were stuffing money into the pockets of people who really didn't give a damn what they put out on the field as long as they were wearing Cubbie blue. Tourists looking for a glimpse of the ivy alone was enough to keep them flush all year. Heck, actually winning a World Series might actually make the Cubs like every other team. Without their notoriously awful seasons - or, almost worse - solid years followed by cruelly inept post season play - what would they be known for? They were the Cubs. They were losers, and the rest of the world found it sort of charming, and cute. And meanwhile, Cub fans continued to suffer.
And what was the point, I asked myself, as Aguilera walked Brian Giles, then sent him to second on a wild pitch. The Tribune Corporation deemed Chicago and Wrigley Field the best place to market their product. If they ever decided they wanted the stadium renovated - or wanted a new ballpark - and the city decided not to spend the taxpayers' money for same, they'd be gone quicker than you could say Jack Robinson. They didn't give a damn about me - why should I give a damn about them?
As Kevin Young flied out to center, moving Giles to third, I reflected on what I'd gotten out of this relationship. Or tried to, rather; I couldn't think of a damn thing. By the time Warren Morris had singled home Giles and Aguilera had hit Aramis Ramirez with a pitch, the score was 7-4 Pirates and I was done.
I tried backing the White Sox, but it didn't take. I'd never cared about the White Sox as a kid - they might as well have been from Indiana as far as I was concerned. I'd met Joe Beimel, pitcher for the Pirates*, so I backed them for a while, which was only slightly more satisfying than pulling for the Cubs, and chiefly simply because they weren't the Cubs. Eventually I decided to back a winner - the Yankees. After all my then-girlfriend (and now wife) was a Yankee fan. More importantly, they were winners. Baseball fans outside of New York had few more cherished rituals than complaining about George Steinbrenner, but I liked him. The crazy SOB wanted to win, and he was willing to spend an ungodly sum of money to make that happen. And it worked!
At the same time I was deeply invested in a deliriously time-consuming roto league which involved, among other thing, a farm system. In studying the minor league rosters of all the major league teams I quickly realized that outside of Tampa Bay, the Milwaukee Brewers had one of the most promising group of young players in the league. I became a fan a full five years before I moved to Wisconsin.
People continue to ask me if I still have a soft spot for the Cubs - at least when they get to the playoffs. This year's sorry, pathetic performance by the Cubs ought to answer that question, but to spell it out for you, no. Not remotely. I have, however, come to appreciate Rick Aguilera. He saved me from what might've been a lifetime of foolish devotion to a loser team. And worse, an allegiance to a mentality that suggests that there's something sensible and reasonable about following any pro sports team simply because its owners put the name of your city on its jerseys. It's totally absurd. I don't back losers anymore. That's not to say I'll bail on, say, the Brewers, if they blow it in the playoffs like they did this year. But rather that I won't support poor ownership and a culture of failure - which has been the real curse of the Cubs for the past century. Life's too short.
*Beimel now pitches for the Dodgers, so I'm pulling for them the rest of the way.