I am a White Sox fan through and through. The respective Sox Parks have been my homes away from home. I bleed silver and black, and red white and blue, and dark blue and white, and light blue and red, and red and white (we’re not exactly the Yankees when it comes to uniform tradition). The point is, I’m a diehard Sox fan…and I don’t hate the Cubs.
Sure I want the Sox to have a better record than the Cubs every year, and sure I am somewhat amused when a Sox fan’s t-shirt declares, “I’d Rather Have A Sister in a Whorehouse than a Brother Who’s A Cubs Fan,” and embarrassed only by the homophobia, and not the sentiment, of most other anti-Cubs shirts (Wrigley Field borders Boys Town, an officially designated gay neighborhood). But my identity as a Sox-lover is not constructed through Cubs-hate, and I imagine many Sox fans feel the same way. I’d also wager that most Cubs fans either feel the same way, or consider the Sox so culturally inferior, the second team in the second city, they can’t be bothered to hate us.
In fact, I’ll even list a few positive things I feel about the Cubs. I like to look of Wrigley from the outside. I like seeing the lake from their left field upper deck. I love their eccentric, unofficial mascot, Ronny “Woo Woo” Vickers (pictured on right). One of my proudest moments was arranging for Vickers to get in free to a Michael Jackson convention afterparty, where he danced the night away with cross-dressing house frau Jackson obsessives. And there were a lot of interesting players that played on both sides of town: Bobby Bonds, Kenny Lofton, Lance Johnson, Scotty Fletcher, Jay Johnstone, Dave Martinez, Ron Santo, Steve Trout, Steve Stone, and Sammy Sosa.
Ah yes, Sammy Sosa. And there’s the rub. I’ve always figured Cubs fans don’t suck, as some of my vocal fellow Sox fans contend. Sure, on the rare occasions I go to Cubs games the majority of fans seem to be office workers on group outings, yuppies taking business calls, and frat-types treating it like a singles bar. But there are plenty of old folks with Cubs pin-covered caps keeping score, fathers teaching sons the strategy of the double switch, tenth generation enthusiasts, and generally high quality baseball fans. But the Cubs Nation’s exile of Sammy Sosa is a mess that makes me reassess.
As a young Sox player Sosa was mediocre, but thrilling to watch (often thrilling like a car wreck). Then he became not only a superstar for the Cubs, but a superstar who saved baseball! After the strike when it was hard to fully care, it was Mac and Sammy hitting homers, by any means necessary, which won America back. But it was more than that. At the beginning of every game he would savagely sprint out to right field, putting on a histrionic show for the fans that roared in approval. He developed a funny, broken English, all-punchline persona for the press. His post-homer body language was a show for the seats and the cameras, not a cocky slow strut to show up the pitcher. After the September 11 attacks he ran to the outfield waving an American flag, symbolizing America’s resilient spirit, then rounded the bases waving it after his first homer.
OK, obviously there’s a lot to hate about Sammy if he weren’t your guy. It is presumed that he took performance enhancing drugs. He got caught corking his bat. He was a dick in the clubhouse, insisting that his Salsa music play at full blast all the time. And after baseball it’s been no better. Between the bizarre bleach skin photo and pretending to not know English during his appearance before Congress, for most observers it would be hard to hold him to heart.
But if you’re a Cubs fan, so what if he’s a fuck up? You are supposed to have loyalty to family, period. That’s not just being a good fan, that’s being a good human being. In San Francisco, Barry Bonds, who not only is considered by many the most heinous PED abuser ever, but is also a grimacing grump who cultivated a surly persona for most of his career, could run for Mayor. Bill Buckner returned to Red Sox in 1990! And they gave him a standing ovation! And rather than cheating to help the team win, rather than breaking rules to thrill the fans with Herculean feats (Sosa claimed he corked his bat to lengthen batting practice homers to entertain fans…almost certainly a lie, but also halfway credible for the applause-loving slugger), the Chicago White Sox CHEATED TO LOSE THE WORLD SERIES! They lost the biggest games you can lose, on purpose, for money. And in response, a jury of White Sox fans found them innocent despite knowing they were guilty, cheered them outside the courthouse, and baseball had to establish a special office to punish them, because Chicago never was going to do it. And THAT is how fans are supposed to act.
But Cubs fans seem to despise Sammy Sosa. The team refuses to recognize him in any way, and he certainly is not about to be offered a position with the organization like Big Mac was in St. Louis. He has no value in Chicago, never doing media appearances, fan festivals, card shows, or endorsements. And you hear nothing but vitriol from Cubbies fans if you hear his name at all. Granted, I am basing the Cubs fans universal hatred of Sammy on unscientific factors…sports radio guys supposedly gauging the temperature of fans could be way off, and meathead radio callers and newspaper letter writers may represent a vocal minority. But I have not heard one brave Cubs fan stand up and say, “He saved baseball!” “He was my favorite player when I was ten, and I still idolize him!” “We love you Sammy!” None of that.
I’m not going to say it’s because Cubs fans are racist, though I’ve heard that posited (their embrace of the unbelievably affable Ernie Banks, I’ve heard it argued, confirms rather than contradicts this, because Banks fit the acceptable Negro model). I’m not going to say it’s because the stereotype of Bud-swilling, good time at the park Cubs fans who don’t know the score, and don’t care about a century of futility is what makes them forget the good times so easily. And I’m not going to say that their unwelcome tradition of losing makes them want to distance themselves from anyone who might make them seem more loser-ish.
I’m just going to say that if they can’t be loyal to one of the greatest, goofiest, most entertaining players they ever had, then perhaps, just perhaps, Cubs fans do, in fact, suck.
Jake Austen is author of Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy from Slavery to Hip Hop, editor of Roctober magazine, puppeteer on Chic-A-Go-Go, and a left handed catcher.