I was a Lovable Loser.
I hadn’t thought about this in a long while. Not since November 2, 2016, the night that changed everything for Cubs fans, when the team ended its 108-year run of futility and struck down the Lovable Loser mythology – the Curse of the Billy Goat, the black cat, Bartman – forever.
What made me think about my former identity is the upcoming 10-year anniversary of the Lovable Losers Literary Revue, which the Chicago Tribune described in an April 27, 2008 feature as “A literary salon, with beer.”
The Revue, spearheaded by author and literary impresario Don Evans, ran monthly through the 2008 baseball season in the back room of El Jardin Restaurant at 3335 N. Clark St. The series, as the Tribune described it back then, was “a coming together of fans to cheer – or commiserate over – their team, which last won a World Series when Roosevelt was president. Teddy, not Franklin.”
Yes, the Cubs – and their fans – were easy targets back in those days.
If, in baseball lingo, Don Evans was the manager of the Revue, I guess I was its bench coach. I was a regular contributor and did a lot of the behind-the-scenes work to keep it running, including administering its website, which still exists at lovablelosersliteraryrevue.com.
You can find me on the website roster batting second. The bobblehead image of me says that I “came out on the losing end in a brawl with a milk-thirsty billy goat at the age of one, taking a swift kick to the forehead from the bearded ruminant.” It goes on to say that 45 years later I was “still trying to get the better of that damn goat” and “still trying to unload all those Brooks Kieschnick rookie cards” I had invested in.
On the home page, the Revue is described as a “hootenanny of Chicago writers, musicians, film makers, actors and bums” who celebrated and mourned the Cubs. Each evening began with a toast and ended with a prayer, and in between there were literary readings, historical reenactments, trivia contests, singing, sacrifices and general rooting. Acts included The Cleaning Lady’s singing “When the Cubs Win the World Series” and performance artist Sid Yiddish throat singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
The inaugural Revue was held on April 9, 2008, 34 years to the day of the Cubs’ season opener when outfielder Jose Cardenal asked for the day off because he slept with his eyelid stuck open.
At that first Revue, I read from an original essay about the team’s history of “can’t miss prospects” who always seemed to miss. I turned the essay – titled “Of Fairy Tales and Felix Pie” – into a drinking game. As chronicled in the Tribune, I told the crowd, “Every time I say the name ‘Don Young,’ everybody has to take a drink.”
Don Young had been one of those can’t miss prospects. Only a month after he had been called up from the minors to play centerfield for the Cubs in 1969, Young failed to catch two fly balls in a critical game at Shea Stadium on July 8. As I read that evening, “That’s all the opening the New York Mets needed to come back with three runs in the 9th inning to beat the Cubs 4-3, cutting Chicago’s lead in the National League East to four games and causing a little rip to form on the C of my cap.”
The night of that first Revue the Cubs played a wild marathon game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Felix Pie, the title subject of my reading, cracked the game-winning two-run single in the 15th inning to put the Cubs over the Pirates by a score of 6-4.
Throughout that 2008 season we kept toasting and praying, and the Cubs kept winning, going 97-64 on their way to capturing the National League Central Division title.
The last Revue was held on September 8, the 29th anniversary of the day that a black cat ran onto the field at Shea Stadium in the first game of a crucial double-header against the New York Mets of that ill-fated 1969 season. In the top of the fourth inning, the cat walked behind Cubs’ third baseman Ron Santo as he stood in the on-deck circle and then went over to the dugout and stared manager Leo Durocher right in the face. The Cubs lost both games, and the Mets pulled to within a half game of first.
That evening I read from a short original essay, “Scapegoats,” which is told in the voice of, well, a goat. It is about Murphy, the goat that the Cubs booted from Game 4 of the 1945 World Series. The goat’s owner, tavern owner William Sianis, supposedly placed a curse on the team after that game.
“Goats, like Cubs fans, have endured enough pain and suffering,” I said in my best goat voice that evening. “It is time to put an end to this undue billy goat’s grief, and clear Murphy’s good name, and, in turn, that of all goats. We are goats, not scapegoats.”
The curse, of course, did not end that year. The Cubs fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers in three straight games in the first round of the playoffs.
The Lovable Losers Literary Revue closed for good after that 2008 season. Of course, it would take another eight years before the Cubs would finally brush aside the Lovable Losers tag.
So, here’s where I fess up. A part of me didn’t mind being a Lovable Loser.
There, it’s out there. It is said that the first step in the road to recovery is to admit that you have a problem. Well, accepting losing as a way of life is a problem. For a big chunk of my life losing had become a big part of my identity. I didn’t know anything else.
Losing made me – and all Cubs fans – unique. We were unlike any other professional sports fans. Let’s face it, the Lovable Losers Literary Revue couldn’t have been held anywhere else.
And, you know what? It was fun. All of us who came together that season in El Jardin’s back room had endured a lot of pain and agony over a lot of years. These monthly gatherings served as the Cubs equivalent of a support group. We were like family. Together, we had experienced the trauma of the ball rolling through Leon Durham’s legs in 1984 and the bespectacled fan reaching out for a ball over the left field foul line in 2003 – and yet we survived and kept on rooting. Losing made for a strong bond.
Looking back from the vantage point of post-World Series euphoria, the Lovable Losers Literary Revue feels like a nostalgic trip down memory lane. My son, a freshman high school baseball player, won’t ever know what it’s like to be a Lovable Loser. That’s probably a good thing. The team he roots for has the same name as the one I cheered for at his age but that’s about as far as the similarity goes.
I’d been a Lovable Loser for 47 years. After that much time, change doesn’t come easily. But those emotional scars that I had from all those years of losing, you know what…they’re starting to fade away. The Lovable Winner is a new identity for me at this advanced age of my life. But it’s one that I think I can get used to.
Randy Richardson is the co-author, along with fellow Wrigleyville Nation contributor Becky Sarwate, of Cubsessions: Famous Fans of Chicago’s North Side Baseball Team and Their Stories of Pain, Loyalty, Hope and (Finally) Joy, due from Eckhartz Press this spring.