One of those years...
Eleven days ago, I gave up on the Cubs.
Logically, I should have done it way before then, but being a fan means something – especially being a fan of a team like the Cubs, whose greatest claim to fame is a certain long-term difficulty with winning. For me, the sheer length of their championship drought (103 years and counting) is sort of besides the point – 50 or 100, it makes no difference when you’re 25. To be a Cubs fan means a certain degree of irrational hope, that every year will be THE year, and if that doesn’t work out, well, then it’ll be next year.
To be fair, the 2011 baseball season didn’t start out with a whole lot of hope. Even as a fan, I wasn’t expecting the Cubs to make the playoffs. Sure, if the Cubs played better than their dismal performance last year, they could be respectable, but this Cubs team was full of players who were – when playing to their potential – just a bit above average. Some of them have flashes of greatness, but there are no superstars on the 2011 Cubs. A .500 team was my goal – and it seemed plausible.
But on June 1, the Cubs lost 3-1 to the Houston Astros, their third loss in a row, completing their sweep at the hand of the Astros – a team ostensibly even more terrible than the Cubs this year. Even more galling was the way the sweep happened – in game one, the Cubs jumped out to a 6-3 lead, and I gloated to an Astros fan friend before the Cubs blew it. (Fortunately for my sanity, I don’t believe in magical thinking.) In game two, the Cubs stormed back from a late deficit – only for the team’s lockdown closer, Carlos Marmol, to implode in the 9th.
Game three wasn’t quite so dramatic – the Cubs scored a run in the first and then their offense shut down, and the Astros squeaked their way to a quiet 3-1 victory. But I had had enough. My team had gone quietly after two excruciating losses, swept by one of the worst teams in baseball. The team had hit the bottom (their losing streak would actually extend another five games, though against better teams) and I was jumping off the sparsely populated bandwagon.
It’s not that I don’t think this year’s Cubs are better than what they’ve shown in this losing streak. No baseball team is ever as bad as it seems when it’s losing, and it’s never as good as it seems when it’s winning. And some of the Cubs’ difficulties are due to injuries, injuries to key players that have knocked out more than half the team’s starting rotation and a number of key offensive players. But even with everyone on the field, this is not a good Cubs team. I’d known that from the start. Even before their recent streak of pathos, the 2011 Cubs had never won more than two games in a row. I’d been HOPING for mere mediocrity from them. They may even wind up as a mediocre team instead of an awful one, at the end of the year. But seeing them play like the worst team in the game squelched whatever optimism I had.
What does that mean for me as a fan? I’ll still watch or listen to them, if only to try to get my money’s worth out of my $25/month MLB.TV package. (Spoiler: I won’t.) But I’ll be increasingly tuned out of the team. I won’t read the game recaps, I won’t follow the storylines closely. As August approaches I’ll be rooting for the team to conduct a fire sale, trading away its fading stars for prospects. Next year’s team will probably suck, too. But maybe 2013 is the year? That’s where I’m pinning my hopes. As a Cubs fan, I have to pin them somewhere.