Dispelling the myth that Cubs fans embrace futility

Let me dispel, right here and now, the popular myth that Cubs fans enjoy losing.

We might be a bit crazy for continuing to believe in a team that hasn’t won a World Series in 106 years, the longest title drought of any team in major professional sports. But that doesn’t mean that we revel in losing, rolling in it like pigs in slop.

Yet, time and time again, the national media churns out drivel that propels the notion that Cubs fans don’t want to win – that we actually embrace the futility.

And so, we get the likes of Richard Babcock, former editor of Chicago Magazine, pontificating in the stodgy Wall Street Journal this week that the downturn in attendance at Wrigley Field these last few years can be attributed to the new owner, the Ricketts family, trying to win. Writes Babcock:

“The Cubs’ former owner, Tribune Company, recognized the game it was in—entertainment—and relentlessly promoted the pleasures of visiting Wrigley. The new owner, the Ricketts family, has returned focus to the quaint notion that you play baseball to win. That has created a counterintuitive dynamic for the Cubs, who last won the World Series 106 years ago, the longest futility streak in major American sports: Now that the franchise is getting serious about winning, the stadium is emptier.”

What an incredible pile of manure. The media loves to crank out all this gibberish about lovable losers, but the reality is that no one likes to lose – including Cubs fans.

The reason the stadium is oftentimes half-empty these days isn’t because the Ricketts family is trying to build a winner. It is quite the opposite. It is because they haven’t fielded a competitive team since they took over the organization.

Simply put, the Cubs are losing fans because they aren’t winning. Babcock’s contention that the popularity of the Cubs was driven by a fanbase that embraced losing doesn’t hold up when you actually look at the team’s records over the years.

Go back to 1984, when the Cubs made their first appearance in the postseason since 1945. That was the first time ever the organization reached 2 million in attendance. The number of fans walking through the turnstiles jumped by more than 600,000, from 1,479,717 in 1983 to 2,107,655 in 1984.

And when was it that the North Siders first hit the 3 million mark? Well, that was in 2004, following the 2003 season, when the team came within five outs of making it to the World Series. They fell just short of 3 million during that 2003 season.

Cubs fans continued to flow into The Friendly Confines at a rate of more than 3 million for eight consecutive seasons.  Until when? Well, until the bottom fell out and the team lost a combined 197 games over the 2012 and 2013 seasons – setting a new standard in futility for a team that has been built on a foundation of dreck.

Contrary to Babcock’s premise, the Ricketts family hasn’t been trying to sell winning. Indeed, after seeing attendance drop below 3 million each of the last two seasons, the new owners tried a new tack, doing exactly what Mr. Babcock contends its fans want: selling losing. They set out to celebrate Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday throughout the entire 2014 season – calling it “The Party of the Century.”  Yes, they would be reveling in 100 years of losing – even including a giveaway that featured a bobble head doll of Babe Ruth’s called shot, which helped the New York Yankees defeat the Cubs in the 1932 World Series.

If one were to buy into the theory that Cubs fans actually embrace a loser – as Babcock posits – this year should have been their year. Attendance should have been through the roof, if there was one atop the ballpark at Clark and Addison. And yet, as Babcock acknowledges, attendance has continued to sag.  Why? Because the only competitive baseball being played in the Cubs’ organization has been at the minor league level.

Babcock concludes that even if the Ricketts build a winning team, fans still might not come back.  He writes: “The Cubs’ new owners are placing their big bet on the team itself. On winning. It’s a brave, honorable strategy. But they are betting on the Cubs.”

Sorry, Babcock, but you’ve got it all wrong. If history is any lesson, it’s not just a good bet – it’s pretty much a sure thing. And if the Cubs ever do the unthinkable – and win that elusive World Series – I’d bank on those fans to come back in numbers like the team has never seen before.

Randy Richardson is the author of CHEESELAND. An all-new edition of his Wrigleyville murder mystery, LOST IN THE IVY, was released by Eckhartz Press on Opening Day.

Photo: Chicago / Floyd Wilde / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Alteration: Cropped