By Omar Gobby:
The Duke Blue Devils. The New England Patriots. The Green Bay Packers. The St. Louis Cardinals. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The New York Yankees. All winners. All very much hated outside their own fan bases.
But why the hatred? They are all programs with long-standing traditions of success. Duke has been to 11 NCAA finals (won 5 of them). The Packers have more titles (13) than anyone else in NFL history. The Cardinals have been to 19 World Series (winning 11 of them). The Irish have laid claim to at least 13 NCAA championships and 7 Heisman Trophy winners. The Patriots have become a January fixture, making the playoffs in 14 of the last 16 seasons. To add insult to injury, they have won 5 Super Bowl titles in that span. And then there are the New York Yankees. Is there a more hated team in American professional sports? And why not hate a team that boasts more Hall of Famers (62, if one includes broadcasters), retired numbers (19), pennants (40), and World Series titles (27!) than anyone else in MLB history? Why all this vitriol directed at these teams? I will tell you why: they win. Period.
Which brings us to the Chicago Cubs.
I am a lifelong Cubs fan. I went to my first game in 1975, watching the Cubs and Manny Trillo go down to the Atlanta Braves on a gloomy Tuesday afternoon. I ran home from school to watch the greatest regular season game from my youth. I got excited when Bump Wills (Maury’s kid) was acquired. I got pissed when they traded Ivan DeJesus for Larry Bowa and some kid shortstop named Sandberg. I got excited every March and disappointed every August. Same old Cubs.
And the Cubs were everyone’s lovable losers. They had not tasted October since 1945, nor had they actually won the whole thing since 1908. So when 1984 rolled around, I sat on the edge of my seat along with baseball fans everywhere. It was hip to be a Cubs fan. It was cool to pull for the underdogs. Alas, it was not to be.
“Same Old Cubs!” was the cry going up all over. Same old losers. 1908….1945….1969. Those numbers haunted Cubs fans and energized people nationally. THIS year just HAS to be the one, people muttered. Poor Cubs cannot catch a break.
And they couldn’t. The 1985 season opened with such promise, and then it seemed that each and every pitcher on the staff went down, in succession, with injuries. Oh well. “Wait’ll Next Year!” yet again.
1989. 1998. More of the national support for Cubs teams which seemed to come from nowhere. “Everyone” was pulling for them to win! And that magical 1998 Home Run Race…”it brought back baseball”, as this video says. Say what you will about the ethical issues surrounding that race, it surely did re-energize a game which was declining in popularity. And it sure did not hurt that the Cubs were smack dab in the middle of it. People everywhere wanted on to the Cubs bandwagon. It was great.
2003…we all know what happened. Next.
2007, another Cubs team “out of nowhere”. 2008, led the NL in wins (97). And people everywhere wanted to be there for “it”…it was still cool to be a Cubs fan. To support this sad sack cursed Cubs team.
2015. An improved team, built from the ground up by architects Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and, to a lesser extent, Jim Hendry. A team meant to contend a few years down the line. But they didn’t want to wait. That hungry and young team went out and won 97 games and made it to the NLCS, bowing out against the New York Mets. This seemed to be just the Same Old Cubs, yet again.
We all know what happened in 2016. And something changed. All those people who wanted to see the end of the longest drought in American Professional Sports stopped for a moment. This was not an out of nowhere team. This was not a fluke win. This is a young team, with all its top stars under control for a few years. The tables have turned. The Cubs are universally recognized as the top team in the game, and there are already rumblings and grumblings about that. Cardinals and White Sox fans have their ire directed at all things Cub these days, and that trend will only grow.
I have told anyone who will listen that my biggest goal, as a Cubs fan, is to have my team be hated the way the Yankees are hated. Because people are disgusted by a winner. They want the underdog. After 108 years of being everyone’s underdog, I am ecstatic that the Cubs are the favorites, and look to remain there for the foreseeable future.