With the Cubs having traded away all of their star players their prospects for the remainder of the season look bleak. Not bleak, like "we might not make the playoffs," but bleak like "we might not win another game this year."
So during these difficult days for Cubs fans, I think it is important to maintain a historical perspective. I wrote this story back in 2008 when the Cubs were still eight years away from ending their 100 years of futility.
And Somewhere Men are Laughing…
August 1, 1984
Bob marches into my office, hands me his dog-eared copy of the Sun-Times, and plops down in the chair beside my desk. “Cubs are half game out. Mister Future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton is pitching for the Phillies. We’re going to this game.”
I look up at him and shake my head. “Can’t do it. Have to finish these expense reports.” I slide his paper back to him. “Why don’t you buy a real newspaper? Keep reading that paper and you’ll start believing Mondale actually has a chance.”
He makes a dismissive pffft sound. “The only thing the Tribune’s been right about is buying the Cubs.” He pushes the stack of expense statements in front of me and hands me a pen.
“Just sign the damn reports. Your auditors don’t have enough imagination to cheat on their expense statements. Come on we need to buy tickets. Did I mention Steve Carlton’s pitching?” As he stands up he holds out my suit jacket, which he’s been sitting on. “Nice. Such high quality polyester,” he says as he runs his thumb and forefinger along the lapel. “Can’t wrinkle this sucker. And those short-sleeve shirts?” He scrunches up his face. “You look like a goddamn engineer. Where’s your pocket protector?”
Bob’s a short, stubby Irishman, but he dresses like a Wall Street lawyer. “You’re going to sweat your ass off in that wool suit,” I tell him.
He smiles and opens his briefcase to show me his Cubs golf shirt and hat. “I’m always prepared. Remember that.”
We take the Red line to Addison . Monty the ticket-scalper wants thirty bucks for upper-deck reserved.
“We want field boxes,” Bob tells him. “I want to see the zits on Carlton ’s chin.”
Monty shuffles through his wad of tickets, “Here you go. Hundred, worth every penny,” he says.
“A hunny. Oh man, Pat’s going to kill me,” Bob says.
“No, I’m going to kill you. Come on, a hundred dollars?”
“Don’t be a pussy. Steve Carlton. I’ll buy the beer.”
“Yeah?” I hand Monty my money.
“The first round,” he says and then he laughs like Bela Lugosi.
We’re in the fifth row behind the Phillies dugout on the first base side. Carlton has no zits, just an overpowering fastball. I’m on the aisle, Bob’s sitting next to a tall, dark Egyptian guy named Adam. His girlfriend Jessica, a blonde with really nice breasts squeezed into a hot pink tube top, has brought Adam to his first baseball game. Bob will talk to anyone, anyplace, anytime, but the fact that Jessica’s a babe definitely makes Adam even more conversation-worthy.
“Okay,” he tells them, “you gotta have a beer. Can’t watch the ballgame without a beer.
Where’s the Old Style man?” Bob scans the crowd for his favorite vendor.
“There’s beer man,” Adam says pointing to the old man watching Carlton warm up.
“No, no, no, no. He’s selling Budweiser. That’s Cardinal beer. We need Old Style.” He looks around but there’s no Old Style vendor in sight. “Fuck it. Hey Bud man, four brewskis.” Bob has principles, but he’s flexible.
He spends the first two innings giving Adam and Jessica a short history of the Cubs eighty years of futility. Then the Cubs pitcher, Ruthven, gives up a single to Steve Carlton, scoring DeJesus from second. Bob’s arms shoot up in the air. “Two away and he can’t get the goddamn pitcher out.”
It gets worse in the third. Ruthven gives up back to back homeruns to Hayes and Matusek. Cubs are down three to nothing. Bob looks around, like he’s going to send someone into the game for Ruthven. “Hey Old Style. Four cold ones.” He waves a twenty dollar bill at a beer vendor who’s working the terrace boxes twenty rows up.
“We’ve still got half our beer left,” Jessica tells him.
“Sorry, but this is a beer emergency. We need to change our luck. Old Style. Now.” He pays for the round even though Adam tries to give him money. Me, I’m happy to let him pay.
Ruthven gets out of the inning. Cubs come to bat and Ryno hits the first pitch on to Waveland.
“Alright. That’s more like it.” Bob sits back in his seat and raises his beer cup like he’s responsible for this change of fortune. Same thing happens the next inning. Cey leads off with a homerun to center. Jessica and Adam high-five him. I think they actually believe Bob has special powers.
I suggest that the beer magic might need renewing. Bob gives me a look like I’m a beer-mooching weenie, but he doesn’t want to upset the beer karma so he springs for another round before the Cubs come to bat in the sixth.
It works. Moreland hits the first pitch into the right field bleachers and then Cey doubles and Ruthven knocks him in with a single. Cubs lead 4-3 and future Hall-of-Famer Steve Carlton is gone.
Cubs make it to the seventh inning stretch still clinging to the one run lead. We sing, “Take Me out to the Ballgame,” and somehow Bob manages to get on the other side of Jessica so the three of them can sway arm-in-arm to the song. I watch to make sure that Jessica’s boobs don’t pop out of her top when they all punch the sky for the refrain, “One, two, three strikes you’re out at the old ball game.” They don’t.
Bob takes his hat off and rubs his hands through his dark hair. He puts his hat on backwards, like a catcher. It’s his good luck position. “Come on Cubs. Just six more outs. First place. Christ, we haven’t been in first place since ’69.”
“You’re starting to believe again,” I warn him.
“You know what happens when you let your guard down.”
“We’re going to win this game. Just watch.”
Phillies score a run in the top of the ninth to tie the game. Bob rips off his hat and crumbles it in his fists. He puts the twisted hat back on and holds his head in his hands with his eyes closed.
It’s the bottom of the ninth. I nudge Bob. “You’re not going to like this.” Jim Frey, the Cubs manager sends up weak-hitting Henry Cotto to pinch hit for Ruthven.
Bob goes into a rant. “Oh my God. Henry Cotto? Come on Frey. Can’t you do better than that? This guy can’t hit his weight…” Before he can finish his analysis of Henry’s shortcomings, Cotto smashes the first pitch into the gap for a double.
“Henry you are the man. Let’s go Cubs.” Bob pumps his fist in the air and high-fives Adam and Jessica.
Sandberg walks and then Gary Matthews hits an infield single to load the bases with nobody out. Everyone is on their feet screaming. The crowd starts chanting, “Jo-Deee, Jo-Deee, Jo-Deee.” Jody Davis, the Cubs’ clutch-hitting catcher is coming to the plate.
Davis is pumped up. The pitcher goes into his windup and Jody starts his swing. He’s a little ahead of the pitch, maybe three or four seconds. And he swings so hard it seems to temporarily knock all the air out of the park. The crowds goes, “Ohhhhh…” and then falls silent. But just for a moment. Jody steps out and takes a few practice swings and by the time he’s settled back in the batter’s box the crowd is in full-voice again. This time the Phillies pitcher grooves one for him, fastball right down main street. But Jody doesn’t swing.
Bob shakes his head and turns to me. “What the fuck is he doing? You could have hit that pitch.”
Murmurs of discontent percolate through the crowd. Jody steps out again, and during the brief silence as the crowd regroups, Bob cups his hands to his mouth and screams, “Jody. The ball. Hit the ball.” His voice sounds like he’s been gargling with gravel.
“Good solid baseball advice,” I tell him. He nods and folds his arms across his chest. On the next pitch Jody hits a towering flyball to deep center field and Henry Cotto races home with the winning run.
Bob screams, “Cubs win! Cubs win! He pounds me on the back. “We beat Steve Carlton. First place!” He high-fives Jessica and Adam one more time.
Nobody leaves the park. We’re all chanting, “First place,” and the guys in the centerfield bleachers are pointing at the flagpole where the team pennants are displayed according to the standings. The blue Cubs pennant is in second position beneath the orange flag of the hated Mets. A guy in a Cubs windbreaker crawls out the walkway to the flagpole. The crowd gets even louder as he reels in the pennants.
“Here it comes. Here it comes,” Bob yells in my ear. Slowly the string of pennants is sliding back up the pole. The Cubs pennant is on top. I can’t hear my own cheers. My throat hurts.
We sit back down and drink our beer -- it’s warm and flat. Tastes great. The sun toasts our backs. We say goodbye to Adam and Jessica, and even the diehard fans start heading for the exit ramp, but we stay. We have things to do, places to go, but not today. The Cubs are in first place and we have all the time in the world.
During our thirty year friendship Bob and I went to over two hundred Cubs games. I can’t begin to explain why sitting in the hot sun on hard wooden seats for four hours watching the Cubs lose to the Padres or the Pirates or the Mets would be so much fun. And I don’t know why I looked forward to spending all those hours with a guy who was wrong about every issue from capital punishment to capital gains. I just know that I did.
Bob died two summers ago, on a hot Sunday morning as he was helping to pitch a tent for the weekend art fair in his Chicago suburb. We were supposed to go to the Cubs-Pirates game the next day.
I still go to the Cubs games and I’m really looking forward to this season. We’ve got a good team. I think this is going to be our year.
March 23, 2008