By Randy Richardson
It is probably only the die-hard Cubs fan that can truly appreciate the love affair that Scott Simon writes of in his new memoir. Because the affection is not for a person but a team. That team being Chicago’s North Side baseball team. One that until last year was known – sometimes fondly and other times derogatorily – as the “lovable losers.”
In My Cubs: A Love Story, we learn that Simon, the host of NPR’s Weekend Edition, has a deep and unusual connection to the team that last year ended its 108-year World Series drought. Charlie Grimm, who played first base for the Cubs and managed them the last time they were in the World Series in 1945, was his uncle. Jack Brickhouse, the former Cubs broadcaster whose signature “Hey! Hey!” call marks the outfield foul poles at Wrigley Field, was his godfather.
“The Cubs have been a love I have shared with my father and my grandfather, my wife and my daughters, and sometimes a language to connect us when words might only drive us apart,” Simon writes touchingly.
The lesson that loving the Cubs teaches, he professes, is that “life is more about trying than winning; and trying again; and then again.”
To be a true Cubs fan, Simon argues, one must understand the team’s history. In My Cubs, Simon gives a primer that is blended with his personal thoughts and impressions on topics familiar to any long-time fan. He blames the team’s historic losing streak not on curses – like the so-called billy goat curse that originated from that 1945 Series his uncle managed – but on inept management that was slow in breaking the color barrier and a focus more on a ballpark than on the team that played in it.
“As decades of day-only baseball went on, a lot of Cubs fans (myself included) may have become a little too proud of Wrigley Field’s antique appeal,” Simon writes. “We confused charm with character. We acted like we wanted to keep Wrigley preserved inside some baseball diorama, in which games are played in sunlight, bleacher seats are just a buck, and Babe Ruth might duck-walk to the plate to call his shot into center.”
Cubs fans themselves, Simon contends, share some of the historical blame. He writes that the “Cubs didn’t deserve to get into the World Series in 2003 because too many fans ridiculed a good man, Steve Bartman, just for behaving like a fan.” That year, Simon writes, “Cubs fans put a curse on our own team.”
Judging by how things unfolded last year, Cubs fans have apparently served their penance. They waited longer than any other professional sports team – and that, to Simon, builds character.
At a breezy 145 pages, Simon’s heartfelt Cubs memoir will bring joy to any true fan because, as he writes, he is one of us. Of being a Cubs fan, Simon writes that it is “in my nature, my heritage, and probably somewhere in my chromosomes. If you prick me, I’m quite sure I’ll bleed Cubby blue.”
Cubs fans are indeed a unique breed, and Simon perfectly captures the essence of just what that means.
Randy Richardson is the author of the Wrigleyville murder mystery, Lost in the Ivy, and a regular contributor to Wrigleyville Nation
WN: What does being a Cubs fan mean to you? Has that changed at all since the Cubs won the World Series?
Scott: You are not a Cubs fan until you know what it’s like to have your heart torn out of your body and eaten by a goat. That’s being a Cubs fan. Being a Cubs fan, to me, is recognizing the history of not winning for one hundred and eight years. Not only not winning, but losing in improbable and comic ways – ways that probably should make professionals chagrined and embarrassed about what happened. It means accepting that history and the character-building that goes along with it – and, to a degree, embracing it. It made the Cubs distinctive. I think it was long past the time to give it up but I think it also made the Cubs distinctive. I’m glad that our daughters now know a winning vintage of Cubs. But at the same time, I want them to know the history. Because I think that’s an important part of what it is to be a Cubs fan.
WN: What do you think when you see the foul poles with your godfather’s signature “Hey! Hey!” call on them?
Scott: Some nights or days that I’m there I feel you barely notice it. I wish that they did something a little more substantial than that. But I was very proud when at one of the games we were at last season I overhead my daughter point that out to one of her friends. That just made me choke up. I just wish there were a little more recognition of him. But I understand. He was in show business, too, so he understands.
WN: You write that “All fans look at playing fields and see the shadows of favorite players past. I think Cubs fans can look out at Wrigley and no longer just see demons, plotting debacles, but think that they see the spirits of their loved ones, dancing over the grass and dirt.” Who do you see?
Scott: When I look out over Wrigley I see Uncle Charley patrolling first base. I see Ernie Banks either at shortstop or in the batter’s box. I see Billy Williams in the batter’s box on the left-hand side – the most beautiful swing that was ever invented. I see Fergie Jenkins on the mound. For me, the field includes the broadcast booth and I hear Uncle Jack’s voice over all of that.