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Nietzsche Was a Cubs Fan

By Rus Bradburd

In August of 1969, the Chicago Cubs had a seemingly insurmountable lead over the New York Mets in the National League pennant race. I was ten years old and living on the North Side of Chicago – nobody had to explain to me that the Cubs were the center of the universe. I knew it instinctively, just as I knew that Baskins & Robbins were the greatest inventors of the modern era.

WGN televised all the games, and if I hurried home from school that September, I could catch the last inning or two. It was supposed to be a joyous time for me and my pals. Baseball was practically the only game we played – or, more precisely, a game we called “Fast Pitch,” using a square painted strike zone on the side of a grade school wall and a 35 cent rubber ball.

Instead of watching the Cubs win, we watched in horror as we were overtaken by the Miracle Mets. The Cubs’ World Series dreams unraveled before my innocent eyes, in between Hamms Beer commercials.

This clear and profound lesson was soon forgotten, and my friend Duck and I skipped school to take the CTA bus to Wrigley Field for the season opener. During the second inning, somebody in the bleachers unfurled a banner: Wait Till Next Year!

This oddly cynical optimism was the perfect metaphor for a sports-crazed kid.

Two years later, the best basketball player I’d ever faced was a shaggy-haired kid named Mike Santini. He was certain to be an all-city player, but when his career slowly faded into the dull daze of a heroin addiction, I should have figured that the Wide World of Sports was not all it was cracked up to be.

That same year I read David Meggyesy’s bare-knuckles book, Out of Their League. His odyssey through pro-football and into the anti-war movement still reads like a sacred text to thinking athletes.

Still, the most satisfying times in my life have been sports-related: playing, sitting on the bench, coaching. In fact, my sense of history is marked through the years with sports accomplishments or failures. Some are triumphant, but some are chronological tombstones: the year we won the small college championship at North Park; the year I got cut from North Park’s team; the year our UTEP team won the WAC tournament; the year our point guard Jeep Jackson died at UTEP; the year I was named Coach of the Year in Ireland’s laughable Super League.

I took this emotional roller coaster at face value, the way I did my lack of jumping ability or height. It made no sense, and so I never thought about it.

Nietzsche_later_years.jpgThen one year I went to Switzerland to work at a basketball camp. I met an American expatriate named Jon Ferguson, who gave me several books. One was by the German philosopher, Fredrich Nietzsche.

Ferguson played and coached in Switzerland for most of his adult life. He’s in his mid-fifties now, and has the knees and back of an eighty-year-old. Since cable TV only recently came to Lausanne, he’s had plenty of time to think about life and sports.

Ferguson says that one of Nietzsche’s fundamental principles is this: given the disaster of human history, there can be no real moral truth. With all the suffering, corruption, violence, and starvation, you simply can’t separate good and evil, or name something as “moral” or “virtuous.” Or, to take it a step further and quote the great Franco-American philosopher Leo Durocher, “Nice guys finish last.”

This Nietzsche lecture was delivered over the course of several beers, and made perfect sense at the time. Still, he may have been right. Just consider the wildly erratic world of sports: Mike Tyson’s rise and fall. Magic Johnson’s grace under pressure. The Bulls’ ups and downs. Jon Ferguson was right about a lot of things. Being a super-athlete doesn’t guarantee flawless character. And the guy with unwavering dedication often loses. The lack of a fundamental moral truth shouldn’t ruin your view of sports, although it might lower your expectations.

So the next time you’re at Wrigley Field, order up an Old Style, or Hamms, or whatever they’re serving these days. And if the guy next to you has a German accent, bushy mustache, and seems amused whether the Cubs win or lose, don’t take it personally. He probably just understands the game.

Chicago native Rus Bradburd is the author of Paddy on the Hardwood: a Journey in Irish Hoops. He coached college basketball for fourteen seasons and now teaches in the English Department at New Mexico State University.
Posted on Friday, March 21, 2008 at 04:43PM by Registered CommenterLovable Losers Literary Revue in , | Comments14 Comments | References9 References

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