Book release: Cubbie Blues: 100 Years of Waiting Till Next Year
noted writers share their memories, joys and sorrows of waiting for the Cubs to win the world series
Waiting for Next Year is a way of life for diehard Cubs fans. The Cubs’ last World Series championship was in 1908 – 100 years ago. For many fans, including Chicago legends like Mike Royko, Jack Brickhouse, Steve Goodman and John Belushi, there weren’t enough Next Years before they ran out of chances.
They left us their stories, though, and many of them are part of Cubbie Blues: 100 Years of Waiting Till Next Year. This new, must-have anthology for Cub’s fans began as an idea tossed around by several Chicago writers who also are Cubs fans. The idea grew into a monthly reading series during the 2008 Cubs season. At the Lovable Losers Literary Revue, in the backroom at El Jardin, a Wrigleyville Mexican restaurant, writers expressed their joys and sorrows as Cubs fans through readings, poetry, music and comedy.
Cubbie Blues collects those memories and much more to tell the story of what it means to be a diehard Cubs fan. For example, Rick Kogan, who has written eight books and was named Chicago’s Greatest Living Journalist in 2002, wrote a toast, “Here’s to the Children,” about those defining moments when baseball enters a Chicago child’s bloodstream.
A tribute to Mike Royko documents Cubs’ history through the eyes of Chicago’s quintessential chronicler of the Cubs. Royko wrote a daily newspaper column for 30 years, and won a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1972. He described seeing his first Cubs game in 1939, at age six, and made a career of spreading the word about the Cubs, providing a nuanced portrait of a fan’s relationship to his team, through the so-so, the bad and the ugly. As he wrote, “An optimist looks at a glass of water and sees it as half full. A pessimist looks at it and sees it as half empty. A Cub fan looks at it and says, ‘When’s it gonna spill?’”
Author Sara Paretsky has written 12 mysteries featuring the stubborn, proud, street-smart private investigator, V.I. Warshawski. Throughout her tension-filled days, V.I. tracks her beloved Cubs, where the news is usually as disheartening as a blackjack to the noggin. V.I. always gets results, while her Cubs don’t. In Indemnity Only, Paretsky has V.I. driving on Lake Shore Drive, listening to the game: “The game was in the bottom of the third, and Kingman struck out: 2-0, St. Louis. The Cubs had bad days, too — in fact, more than I did, probably.” What makes V.I. lovable and what makes her a Cubs fan are one and the same. She’s ferociously loyal. How V.I. feels about her team won’t change one bit.
The book contains short stories, essays, poetry and songs, as well as Cubs trivia, memories and interesting factoids. “For every fan who’s waited a hundred years, here’s elegant and passionate proof that you aren’t alone,” says Marcus Sakey, award-winning author of The Blade Itself, At the City's Edge and Good People.
Acclaimed authors such as Scott Simon, James Finn Garner, and Don De Grazia take their places beside acclaimed fans like Lin Brehmer, Mike Murphy, and Pat Brickhouse. The unique blend of voices, ranging from best-selling authors to long-time beer vendors, explores the relationship these fans have to their dubious team.
Judy Royko, Mike Royko's widow, recommends keeping the book near while waiting for next year. "This anthology is full of great stories and wonderful anecdotes about the trades, plays and bad luck that make up the fiber of a true Cub fans' being."
And Royko's friend and legendary owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, Sam Sianis, says, "My advice to the great fans of Chicago? Tell them to read this baseball book with their double cheeseburger from the Billy Goat...It's good for the digestion."
The limited hardcover first edition of Cubbie Blues: 100 Years of Waiting Till Next Year is available exclusively through the Web site for Can't Miss Press, an imprint of State Street Publishing, Elgin, Illinois, and direct sales at events planned during the holiday shopping season. Visit www.cantmisspress.com for online ordering details and for a complete schedule of upcoming events.
A percentage of the proceeds from the sales of Cubbie Blues will benefit Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities' One Step At A Time Camp.
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Cubbie Blues: 100 Years of Waiting Till Next Year, edited by Donald G. Evans; Hardcover 169 pages; ISBN 09760216-6-8; $24.95; publication date: December 7, 2008
By David Southwell
They are the perfect present for a Cubs fan, two front-row seats on the wall of the Cubs bullpen. But they are more than that. When you have to “know someone” in order to procure a product or a service, the gift takes on larger proportions. And like a family heirloom, I treasured the tickets to the front-row seats each and every year since I first met a work colleague 20-some-odd years ago and who shared them with friends and family over the course of a glorious 82-game season at Addison and Clark.
Watching a big-league baseball game from Club Box 21, aisle 8, row 1, is like a midsummer daydream. You can read the labels on Kerry Wood’s uniform. You can see the scratches in the bullpen’s catcher’s blue shin guards. You can tell how hot it is by how far the sweat has permeated the bill of Carlos Marmol’s cap. You can tell that Bobby Howry has shaved, and baby-faced rookie Jeff Samardzija doesn’t seem to need to.
The pitchers warming up in the bullpen look impressive enough in their neatly pressed uniforms, but their fastballs give them an air of awe. They make an incredible sound, ripping through the wind with a mighty phhht, then splatting against the thick leather glove of the catcher with a thud of a mallet.
When the bullpen phone rings in its dulcet tone, you feel induced to pick it up just to be polite. The brown bricks are crisp and well maintained. They will snag loose garments. And the gray top of the cement wall stays cool even on the hottest days, begging you to set your cool beer down, drawing a warning from the usher every time.
I’d been taking in one game a year from these seats since the late 1980s after I met Toni Ginnetti, a fellow writer at the Chicago Sun-Times. Her family owned the tickets for decades, and she would let the staffers buy them at face value - a real treat, even for the most jaded sportswriter, which I would later become.
We made lots of memories in seats 105 and 106. During my childhood, my mom was the kind of Cubs fan who loaded the old station wagon with kids from the neighborhood and watched us like a hen with her chicks as we huddled for warmth in the chilly shade of the grandstands early in April. For my 10th birthday I was adamant that I the only thing I wanted was to sit in the box seats. My family couldn’t afford to take me and my four brothers, so mom took just me and man, did I feel special. The Cubs were playing the Giants. There was Willie Mays, Jim Ray Hart and Tito Fuentes. Fergie Jenkins, Bill Hands, Ron Santo. I never knew a game could be so special. You could see the intensity in the players’ faces. And my favorite player, Cubs catcher Randy Hundley, gave me a knowing smile and nod from the on-deck circle when I chanted his name.
Many years later it was special to return that favor and take my mom, who was slowed by Multiple Sclerosis, to the first-row seats. One day after the Cubs had just acquired Goose Gossage from San Diego, he plopped down right in front of us. I noticed the scoreboard in centerfield flashed that the Padres had given up six runs in the fifth inning. I nudged mom and whispered. Goose turned to us with his fearsome Fu Man Chu moustache and smiled “ I saw that”.
When Luke was barely 3 years old, Antonio Alfonseca, the six-fingered “octopus” handed him a bullpen ball. When he was four, his gift ball was from the bullpen coach. Every year he brings home an old, tattered ball and puts it in a hallowed place on his dresser along with the scorecards I keep of the games we share in our special seats.
Each year I would remind Luke to pay attention during the game because this was such a great place to catch a foul ball, especially when left-handed hitters were at bat. And each year my mind flashed a thought reminding myself that maybe I’d finally catch my first foul ball.
Last year Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies hit a hard liner down the left-field line that bounded off the tarp, then the top of the wall, and just beyond my reach into the hands of Cubs relief pitcher Carlos Marmol. The crowd urged him to “give it to the kid” He did. It sits on the dresser with the blue “bruise” from the tarp.
In the past couple years the seats had become quite a luxury. I realized they were worth way more than the face value, which had gone from the $30 range to upward of $60, and if I could only get them once, I’d give them to my dad. They had become his annual birthday gift. His most treasured gift at that.
He loved those seats. After mom died in 2000, I went to a few games with my dad, but then I started my own family and I’d just give them to him in a card with some thoughtful phrase inside, so he could take whomever he chose. And I’d always try getting a game around his August 5th birthday.
This year when I phoned him early in the season to select a date; he sounded sluggish. He survived colon cancer two years ago, but now his lymph nodes were under attack and he looked and sounded older and more fragile. He said he might not be able to use the tickets this year. My heart sank, but I cheerily said that he’d be feeling better in no time.
He didn’t. We shared as much as we could in phone bites of the Cubs great start to the top of the National al League in 2008, but it would be the first year in eight decades that Dad wouldn’t get to Wrigley. He died June 12. He was almost 78.
When I called Toni with the news, she said I could continue our tradition with Luke. It didn’t matter what day of the week or time of day the game was, we just would be delighted to go to any game, against any foe. She said she’d get back to me with an available date.
Two days later she called and had a Tuesday afternoon game against the Astros available…on August 5. I gulped. “That would be perfect,” I said, “ it’s dad’s birthday.”
We readied ourselves early that morning. Luke and I donned our blue Cubbie blue tank tops and made sure we arrived early to soak in the sun and sounds of the front row.
I sat in seat 105 and put Luke in 106 to protect him in case a hard liner was hit our way. The trainer for the Chicago Black Hawks, Pavel, was sitting next to me with his 8-year-old boy, who had brought his glove just in case. I didn’t urge Luke to bring his mitt; I figured I could stop anything hit our way if I was to be so lucky. But I never was in 47 years, so what was to break that spell?
Luke was in the midst of his first year of coach-pitch little league and I could tell he was really understanding the game. He was asking questions like “why is the coach not in his white box” and I was teaching him the positions on the scorecard. He even declined an ice cream to stay and watch the game.
And in the 5th inning of that game on August 5, he asked if we were going to get a ball. I leaned in and asked Sean Marshall, the Cubs lanky lefthander, if he could give Luke a ball, but he said he couldn’t do that during a game.
From out of nowhere I blurted, “that’s OK Sean, I’m going to catch one myself.”
What fueled such false bravado, I don’t know. Maybe dad was channeling. Maybe he knew something. Maybe he was there in spirit.
Just then Pavel and his son get up and leave for the restroom and we’re afforded a wider berth. The Cubs are down to the bottom of the lineup and there are two outs with the pitcher Rich Harden up at the plate. You can feel the restlessness in the crowd. Then the left-handed hitting Harden swipes a fastball high into the air and it’s coming right at us. I maneuver slightly right into the space where Pavel should be and instincts seize the moment. I’ve caught a million fly balls since my dad first started playing “catch” with me as a child, and this one is heading right my way. The wind seems to be blowing it right to our seats. It’s tailing toward us like someone up the sky is gently steering it toward us.
Adrenaline is coursing through my very being as I lean back slightly to snatch the ball. At the last moment I feel another pair of hands trying to grasp my treasure of a lifetime. The hard horsehide smacks my left palm and I use my right hand to tear it away from the intruder.
A clean catch! I let out a magnificent yell and present the ball to the screaming crowd. Then I turn to Luke. He’s looking at me like I’m the latest Marvel superhero. His eyes are shining. His smile, missing one tooth on the bottom, beams. I see something special in him that moment. I see my dad in those bright, brown eyes as I hand him that sphere of leather. And I look up into that glorious, sun-kissed blue sky and realize that something surreal was going on here. Someone had to have a hand in this. And a tear rolled down my cheek as I softly said, “Thanks Dad.”
Musically challenged, David Southwell’s fondest childhood memories of the Cubs involve Carmen Fanzone playing the National Anthem on his trumpet and Manny Trillo humming Take Me Out To the Ballgame in Spanish. His masochistic tendencies started early, walking five miles home down Addison Street after games because he spent his bus fare on Ron Santo pizzas. During one of his first visits to Wrigley Field he saw his favorite Cub, Randy Hundley, hit a warning track fly out with the tying and winning runs in scoring position to end the game. His most important lesson learned as a Cubs fan came in 6th grade when a freckle-faced girl he met at the roller rink picked him up on Opening Day with eight of her girlfriends. His friends wouldn’t join them in the bleachers, so they froze in the chilly grandstands while Southwell learned that losing is OK, as long as you get a suntan.
We’re all glum, I know. Believe me, I know. It’s sad, frustrating, depressing, irritating. It’s unfair. Four days ago, we were planning parade routes; now we’re recruiting pallbearers.
Cheer up. This is just what we in the business call a “plot twist.” We’re making a Hollywood film here on the shores of Lake Michigan, and now that it’s nearing the end we need heightened tension. Drama. There must be tears of pain before there are tears of joy. I hope you understand.
We started filming in spring training. Wait: scratch that. We took some establishing shots last winter, outside Wrigley Field, during the season’s worst snowstorm. There were icicles hanging off the scoreboard—it was terrific! You see, that served as a metaphor for the long, cold, barren years here on the North Side, and introduced (or will introduce; we obviously aren’t done yet) viewers to the theme: 100 years of losing!
That’s right. Just one week from today, Oct. 14, marks the 100th anniversary of the Chicago Cubs last championship. Only the film is not about losing; it’s about winning. Well, it’s about both, actually, but ultimately what I’m saying here is that 2008 is about winning. That’s what you need to remember. I mean, what could be more perfect? Here we are, 100 years almost to the day since the last championship, and we’ve got this team that will release all the suffering with a big, bright, glorious championship.
So in spring training we took footage of new Chicago icon Kosuke Fukudome. Everybody loves him! You could film him just chewing bubble gum and it’s dramatic, you know what I mean? We also got footage of new guys like Reed Johnson and Jeff Samardzija, and the mood in these scenes is uncomfortable, sort of like, “Wooh, we don’t know you, you don’t know us, let’s take this slow,” but guess what? Everybody loves them, too! You’re going to adore the shot of Reed getting up off the warning track with his hat flipped and the ball in his mitt.
We also got footage of young players, like Geovany Soto getting ready for his first full big league season. He’s putting on his shin guards and he looks up into the Arizona sun, like, “Yes, I’ve finally made it!” Everybody loves Geo! We got footage of benchwarmers like Mike Fontenot and Daryle Ward and Henry Blanco swinging weighted bats and laughing in the dugout and other things that aren’t necessarily playing. Everybody loves Little Fontenot!
Oh, oh, oh, we also got Mark DeRosa on the stretcher after he had that heart problem thing. Everybody loves D. Ro! And we actually got Ryan Dempster saying the words, “I think we are going to win the World Series. I really do.” We got that! Everybody loves Demp!
Then, of course, we got good footage of the returning heroes, like Carlos Zambrano, Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez. We got a great close-up of D. Lee’s face, and maybe it’s the light or maybe it’s that he just fouled a pitch off his right instep, but you can see the pain of the 100 years there. Everybody loves D. Lee! We also got a close-up on Alfonso Soriano’s face, and there you see determination, like, “THIS IS THE YEAR!” More stuff like that.
We tracked the whole regular season, too. We recorded everything! We got Kerry Wood recording out after out as the new closer. We got Jim Edmonds making a diving catch. We got Rich Harden throwing heat. Everybody loves ALL these guys!
We got the totally amazing comeback against the Rockies. We got the big sweep at home against the White Sox, including A-Ram’s walkoff homer. We got Big Z’s no-hitter. We got Soto’s two-out, three-run home run.
We got players jumping up and down for a hundred different reasons!!!
We got the clinching celebration all throughout Wrigleville. We got the big rally at the Daley Plaza. We got all kinds of celebrities, as well as Tom Dreesen, predicting a Cubs championship.
So what I’m saying is, we’ve got a lot of the happy stuff. Too much, maybe. The whole season, give or take a few weeks, has been happy footage.
Enter the playoffs. Enter the plot twist.
Strikeouts on bad pitches; ground balls off mitts; walks to pitchers. Grand slams sailing over our heads. We got this great shot of Dempster wiping his forehead, and he has a look on his face like, “Oh, my God! This championship drought thing is no fluke!!” And then we’ve got this one of D. Ro looking at his mitt like maybe there is such a thing as curses.
All great footage. Remember, the elation you’ll feel at the end, it has to be earned. All those things you’re feeling now—sadness, frustration, depression, irritation, outrage—you’re supposed to be feeling that. It’s been a hundred years, and 2008 can’t be that easy. It’s got to be a struggle.
Do you think at the end of my movie I’m going to post To Be Continued? I’d get groaned out of the theatre. No, it’s going to say, The End!
Don’t cry. Don’t despair. Hollwood stories have happy endings. Feel good stories feel good.
Think Cinderella, Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music. Think It’s A Wonderful Life. The slipper has to fit; Dorothy has to find a way home; the Captain and Maria have to admit their love for each other. George Bailey has got to be rescued from his Building and Loan scandal.
This thing doesn’t work if Cinderella misses curfew; if Dorothy veers off the Yellow Brick Road; if the Captain marries Elsa. If George offs himself.
So, come on! Do you think we’re going to let the Cubs get clubbed a third straight game? What kind of ending would that be? You can kill Bambi’s mother or have Old Yeller die and still make a sweet movie, but we don’t want to deal with all those tears.
The whole, “Wait Till Next Year” thing’s been done.
Donald G. Evans, author of Wrigleyville sports gambling novel Good Money After Bad, is the Lovable Losers emcee. His stories have appeared in StoryQuarterly, Pinyon Review, The Journal and Narrative Magazine, among others, and he will soon have a story appearing in the Xavier Review.
You keep hearing it on sports gab radio, or at the water cooler, that this Cubs team playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series isn’t the same one that cruised to the league’s best record.
They’re right. It isn’t the same team. The 2008 Cubs have been replaced by the same team that took the field in the eighth inning of game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins. I was there at Wrigley Field on that day, October 14, 2003, when the Cubs were just five outs away from making their first trip to the World Series since 1945, the year the organization gave the boot to a billy goat.
Like the team that took the field for the Cubs in the first two games of the 2008 NLDS, the team that took the field for the Cubs in the eighth inning of game 6 of the 2003 NLCS bared no resemblance to the team that had played in all the games that year before it. I’ve tried to forget that game, but I can’t. The scars it left are permanent. After the seventh inning, when it looked all but certain that the Cubs were finally going to get past that black cat and that goat, me and my three buddies took a picture on my digital camera. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a picture where I look so happy, at least not in my adult form. I can’t look at that picture any more. It hurts too much. It only serves as a cruel reminder of what happened afterwards.
That 2003 team led the series 3-2 and through 7-1/3 innings pitcher Mark Prior appeared in complete control. But then that other team showed up after that fan, Steve Bartman, reached for a foul ball hit by Luis Castillo off Prior, preventing Cub outfielder Moises Alou from catching it. Castillo proceeded to walk and Prior and the Cubs never recovered from the incident. Aided by Castillo’s walk and later an error by Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzales on a potential double-play grounder, the Marlins went on to score eight runs in the inning and won the game 8-3.
Even though the Cubs had another ace, Kerry Wood, pitching the seventh game, I knew even before he took the mound that the Cubs were not going to win. They were no longer the same team. They couldn’t field, the couldn’t hit, they couldn’t pitch. They lost that game 7 by a score of 6-3.
The Cubs that took the field in the eighth inning of game 6 and then again in game 7 of that 2003 NLCS were not the same team that had gotten them to those postseason games. They were instead the ghosts of all the worst of Cubs teams past, the 1966 team that lost 103 games, the 1980-81 teams that for a period went 52-110, the 1969 team that collapsed in September.
Since that 2003 series, the Cubs have played 5 more postseason games, three in 2007 and 2 so far in 2008. They haven’t won any of them.
The reason is simple. The Cubs are not putting the same team on the field that got them to the postseason. How else do you explain Ryan Dempster, a pitcher who had been almost unbeatable at Wrigley Field, suddenly unable to find the strike zone? Or an offense that had led the league in runs scored per game going impotent? Or an infield defense that had been as good as any in baseball making 4 errors in a game – one for each position?
Nobody recognizes this team as the one that got it to the postseason because it is not the same one. They’ve been replaced by the Ghosts of 2003, a team that only comes out in the postseason and carries with it the chains of all the worst Cubs teams in history – a team that can’t hit, or pitch, or field. Outwardly, they might look the same as the team that brought them to the postseason. But don’t be fooled. That team is not the same one that put a record eight players on the All-Star team.
That Ryan Dempster who took the mound in game 1? Sure, he looked pretty much like the same Ryan Dempster who posted a 17-6 record during the regular season, except for that new-growth beard on his face. But that wasn’t him. His body had been invaded by the spirit of Wayne Schurr, a right-handed relief pitcher who threw in 26 games for the Cubs, all losses, in 1964.
These are not the Cubs of 2008. They're the Ghosts of 2003, coming back to haunt the Cubs once again.
Randy Richardson , author of Wrigleyville murder-mystery Lost In The Ivy, is a Regular Loser. He is a frequent contributor to Chicago Parent magazine and his work has recently been anthologized in Chicken Soup for the Father and Son Soul and Humor for the Boomer's Heart. He serves as president of the Chicago Writers Association.
What does a century of futility musically sound like?
There's always been a little bit of Rob Gordon in me. For those who don't know, Rob Gordon is the character John Cusack played in the wonderful movie adaptation to Nick Honrby's jewel of a novel High Fidelity. Rob, a record store owner, has a single-minded passion for music and that passion pours out into the mix tapes he compiles.
Mix tapes are, in some respects, a lost art form. The music industry's shift away from vinyl records and cassette tapes to compact discs spelled the end of the mix tape era.
But in its wake a new version of the mix tape has arisen. The ability to instantly download songs from digital music services such as iTunes or Rhapsody and to copy them on to CDs has brought new life to the mix tape. You can mix and match songs any way you like, although now they call them playlists rather than mix tapes.
And that's what I've done for you, the long-suffering Cubs fan. I've put together a Soundtrack for a Century, or How to Get Your Cubs Groove On. The songs I've selected are a mix of old and new and follow, to some extent, the Cubs and their 100-year history since their last World Series championship. Most of the songs can be downloaded through any of the major digital music services and for those that are not available digitally I've provided links to where you can find the song on CD.
- Go, Cubs, Go by Steve Goodman
- All the Way by Eddie Vedder
- Finally Next Year by Ides of March
- When the Cubs Win the World Series by Cleaning Ladys
- Here's To You, Men in Blue by J Ritz & A. Petrowksi (with 1984 Cubs team members)
- Hey, Hey, Holy Mackerel by the John Crawford Jazz Band
- It's a Beautiful Day for a Ball Game by Harry Simeone Chorale
- A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request by Steve Goodman
- Curse of the Billy Goat by Chuck Brodsky
- Just One Bad Century by Ted Norstrom
- Baseball's Sad Lexicon by Steve Vozzolo
- When the Cubs Go Marching In by Steve Goodman
- Take Me Out to the Ballgame, 9-21-97 - Harry Caray, WGN TV (Harry's last time singing at Wrigley)
Randy Richardson, author of Wrigleyville murder-mystery Lost In The Ivy, is a Regular Loser. He is a frequent contributor to Chicago Parent magazine and his work has recently been anthologized in Chicken Soup for the Father and Son Soul and Humor for the Boomer's Heart. He serves as president of the Chicago Writers Association.