Tag Archives: cubs

We can thank Banks for Cubs hope

I can picture the man upstairs whispering to Ernie Banks in the night.

“Your work is done, Ernie,” He says. “Time to come home.”

“What? Now? But the Cubs haven’t won the World Series,” Ernie says. “I’ve lived for the Cubbies almost my whole life. How can my work be done?”

“The World Series wasn’t your job, Ernie,” He says. “Your job was giving everyone hope, carrying the flame in the dark times, smiling in the face of hopelessness. The Cubs will be OK now. I promise.”


“I am tired,” Ernie says. “But I don’t want to miss the good times.”

“Ha,” God chortles. “You won’t miss anything. There’s PLENTY of Cubs fan up here remember. I’ve heard about 1969 more times than I can count. We’ve reserved the Heavendome to watch the World Series when the Cubs make it — seats a couple million — and we’ve got a front row seat reserved for you. Right next to a guy you might know, Ron Santo.”

Ernie smiles as only Ernie could smile, even in the face of death. “That does sound very nice,” he says.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that there might not be a Chicago Cubs these days without Ernie Banks. They easily could be in Fort Lauderdale, or at least Schaumburg. The sports world is littered with teams whose fan bases’ lost interest during prolonged losing, stopped buying tickets, refused to upgrade facilities and eventually let their teams float out of town on a sea of apathy.

Not the Cubs. They not only survived through last place finish after last place finish, they flourished, becoming more entrenched at Clark and Addison even as Wrigley Field started to crumble around them. Why? Because like every good fairy tale, they had a hero. They had someone who charged forward in the face of overwhelming adversity, who smiled in the face of doom, who offered the rarest of gifts to the downtrodden: hope. That someone was Ernie Banks.

The Cubs were one of the last teams to employ an African American player. Banks didn’t just break the color barrier in Chicago, he obliterated it. When he arrived from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues in 1953, he appeared to be really glad to be in Chicago, and he never lost that wide-eyed joy of being paid to play baseball. Fans got that on a basic level that ran deeper than skin color, and they embraced Banks for it.

Nobody likes the person who makes it big and suddenly thinks he’s much better than the people he left behind. Even after the MVPs, Banks played with the enthusiasm of a rookie and spoke to fans like they were his next door neighbor.

Some have argued that Banks’ “Let’s play two” or “The Cubs will heavenly in sixty-seven-ly” phrases, the ever-present smile, the unwillingness to express frustration — even with civil rights issues — was a well-calculated act, even to the point of being Uncle Tom-ish.

I like to think that Banks looked around at the suffering in the world, acknowledged that the Cubs’ plight was a metaphor for people’s everyday frustration and DECIDED to be a beacon of hope. Like any good beacon he knew that there are no days off. The one day that the beacon goes dark is the one day that the ship crashes on the rocks.

So he didn’t use his platform to debate social injustice. So what? Do you really want to fault a man for showing us how to smile in the face of life’s challenges EVERY DAY, for DECADES. Try being Ernie Banks at your job this week. Stay upbeat, look for the good in things, keep smiling even when life is getting you down. I bet you — I bet I — can’t make it until lunch.

Banks kept it up every day in the face of repeated seventh-place finishes. Even 1969’s debacle didn’t wipe the smile from his face. Or retiring after 19 years in the big leagues and NEVER making the playoffs. And it rubbed off.

Fans stayed interested in the team. Cubs fans developed a stubborn resilience, a reputation for having a good time even when the ship was sinking … again. “Wait till next year” was said with real belief that things will get better.

We didn’t become apathetic, didn’t tune out. We did the opposite. We became more committed to seeing this thing through, 1969 or 2003 be damned. In large part we have Ernie Banks to thank for that hope. He kept the fire burning through the darkest time and shared that spark with all of us.

“Now’s the time Ernie,” God says.

“Let’s do it,” Ernie says. “If this is the way, I’m on board.”

“Just one more thing, Ernie,” God says. “I’ve been working on something. How about this? ‘In 1-5 the Cubs are alive, thanks to Banks.'”

“Hey that’s great,” Ernie beams. “That’s great.”

You can reach me at Patrick@CubsFanTherapy.com.

You Gotta Watch Baseball Punks

Another All-Star Game Weekend is in the books, with MLB trotting out all its fun and games like the Home Run Derby and Celebrity Softball that the league hopes will lure young viewers. And MLB needs young viewers.

Compared to the other major sports, the MLB audience looks like a country club that most people don’t belong to — it’s old, male and white. Half the MLB fans are over 50, and many look remarkably like commissioner Bud Selig.

The NBA crowd, on the other hand, looks like the blueprint that President Obama used to get elected: demographics split in quarters from young people to older people, multiracial, many more women.

MLB has been trying to address this with Fan Caves and social media, but they’ve got some work to do. They could start by really trying to get the length of games down, so a kid could actually see the ninth inning before bedtime, but I’m just dreaming.

In the meantime, we’ve got a marketing song that we think that commish Selig and his cronies could use to get the attention of the young folks. It seems like something he just might do. Click on the song “Watch Baseball Punk” in the player below. Enjoy and remember its FREE TO DOWNLOAD.

Watch Baseball Punk
Hey punk, don’t want to watch baseball?
It’s an old man’s game, you say?
Well, I’m here to tell you all
It’s the best way to spend a day

You won’t freeze your ass off like the NFL
Forget the cheerleaders, check out the clientele
Girls in next to nothing, do some people watching
Maybe the kiss cam is your thing

Not enough punk, still a game for old farts?
Well, have I got news for you
You ain’t so smart, where to start
Let me give you a clue

Watch the last two minutes of the NBA
The world can have soccer and hockey’s lame
But if you wanna waste a day, there’s really only one way
It’s baseball in the USA

© 2104 Patrick Hanrahan. All rights reserved.

You can reach us at Cubs Fan Therapy.

Can Cubs Be Next Blackhawks?

An iconic franchise with a passionate fan base falls on very hard times, has a change in ownership and front office leadership and tries to lure back fans, gets some luck in the draft and then build around a couple of stars. The result? A string of championships.

It’s the blueprint that every Cubs fan hopes the team is following. But it’s one that the Blackhawks have already accomplished.

Wasn’t that long ago that “Dollar Bill” Wirtz wouldn’t show Hawks home games on TV, wouldn’t pay for talent and traded away budding stars. An Original Six NHL team became a laughingstock, making the playoffs once in 10 years between 1997-98 and 2007-08 and getting further and further away from winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1961. In fact, ESPN named the Blackhawks the worst franchise in sports in 2004.

Then things started to change. General manager Dale Tallon drafted Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and was even allowed to dangle some big money to free agents. But it seemed that no real stars wanted to play for the Hawks, who had developed a well-founded reputation for not doing what it took to win.

But Bill Wirtz died. You hate to say that the team started to live again after the owner died, but there’s a lot of truth to it this time. Wirtz’s son Rocky took over and started to right the wrongs of his father. He put home games on TV, he brought back exiled stars Bobby Hull, Tony Esposito and Stan Mikita as ambassadors, and he oversaw some bold moves in the front office and behind the bench. In the span of a few years, the stigma of the Bill Wirtz era was long gone. Casualties of the housecleaning were Tallon and coach Denis Savard. There was an uproar at the time but also a burgeoning trust in the new administration. Instead of saying “Damn Hawks, screwing things up again,” fans said “I feel bad for those guys, but let’s give it some time. Rocky and Co. have been doing some good things.”

The rest of the NHL must have noticed. All-Stars Cristobal Huet and Brian Campbell accepted fat contracts from the Hawks, who were now featured on national TV playing in the NHL’s marquee Winter Classic at Wrigley Field. Playoff appearances followed, along with another big star in Marian Hossa. The Hawks rewarded their own homegrown stars with long-term contracts. Ask Tony Amonte if that happened back in the day.

And the rest, as they say is history – two Stanley Cups and a perennial NHL threat in the playoffs. Man oh man, it feels good to write that.

Oh yeah, but how does this Hawks history apply to the Cubs? The parallels up to a point are pretty clear.

The Ricketts family bought the team from the Tribune Company and promised a less corporate, more fan friendly approach and smart approach to finally doing something that hadn’t happened in over 100 years, winning the World Series. Man, it feels crappy to write that.

The Ricketts’ started boldly, luring young genius Theo Epstein from the Red Sox in 2011 after he ended the Red Sox’s World Series drought. The new Cubs prez of baseball laid out a five-year plan that featured building the base of the team through the draft, international signings and shrew trades for young talent, making improvements to Wrigley Field to make the team more appealing to free agents, maximize earnings and improve the fan experience, and then spending on proven stars once a strong nucleus of talent had been developed.

So how’s Theo doing? Right on target.

How can you not think of Toews and Kane when looking at Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo? They look like cornerstones, guys that might actually be able to lead the Cubs to pinnacle. But the Hawks aren’t a two-man show. They’re in the Cup finals because of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and others. Well, the Cubs are also trying to build a deep young nucleus. Couldn’t those secondary stars come from the likes of Addison Russell, Starlin Castro, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez?

And was Epstein true to his word on acquiring established veterans to complement the youngsters? I’d say Jon Lester more than answers that question. Theo didn’t just dip his toes into the free-agent waters, he dove in headfirst.

As the Blackhawks try to win their third Stanley Cup in six years, the Cubs’ plan is finally coming together. The team is extremely young, so this won’t be a meteoric rise. But a playoff appearance this season is not out of the question. And then what?

Could we be watching the first steps of a Cubs march to dynasty status, just like we saw with the Hawks in 2007-08? It sure feels that way.

You can reach me at Patrick@CubsFanTherapy.com.

Worth the wait: Cubs’ Bryant call smart

Cubs fans know waiting. That’s what we’ve been doing for over 100 years, some of us longer than others.

That is why any Cubs fan with half a brain doesn’t give a rat’s butt that Kris Bryant will spend 12 days in the minors before making his MLB debut. There’s just too much upside to the decision, despite all the bitching from Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, and the players union.

See, when Bryant is in his prime in 2020 and presumably the Cubs have built a consistent winner, one of Chicago’s best players will forgo free agency for a year.

This could save the team some number of dollars we can’t even imagine now. What would a Pujols in his prime type of guy earn as a free agent in 2020, $40 million per year? Who knows? It will be ridiculous, though. For those who argue that the Cubs are putting money over winning, that savings in 2020 will mean a hell of a lot more then than 12 days now.

Couldn’t $40 million buy some combination of a great No. 2 starter, a solid veteran bat or a whole bunch of bullpen help? That money could very well mean the difference between a marginal playoff team and a legit World Series contender. Having cheap super talents under team control is a cornerstone of building a winner.

Those 12 days are not going to mean the difference between the Cubs making the playoffs or not this year either. This team has so many question marks, one of which is whether Mike Olt can play. So give him a few weeks to show what he has. When Bryant is called up, Olt either becomes a valuable bench piece or shares time at third base with Bryant, who can also play a little left field.

Hey, Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton were pretty important to the 2003 Cubs, right? They weren’t on the team at the beginning of the season. Neither was Rick Sutcliffe in 1984, and he was the face of that team.

If Bryant comes up and lights it up, nobody is going to remember 12 days.

So step back Boras. The Cubs didn’t make up these service rules, but they are idiots if they don’t take advantage of them. Sure, your job is to make as much money for your clients and yourself as possible. We get that. But accusing a team of not wanting to win is ridiculous. Long-term winning requires cost control of young players. You know that. You’re just frustrated. Go buy yourself a Porsche. You’ll feel better.

What Cubs fans are concerned about is Javier Baez being sent to the minors. The alarming lack of contact that plagued him in his callup last season continued this spring. At what point does this stop being a case of adjusting slowly and become a permanent flaw? We’re not there yet by a long shot. But still …

We know Bryant’s star will rise. We just have to wait a couple of weeks. It’s not as clear if all of Baez’s talents will come together, though.

We just have to wait. As usual.

You can reach me at Patrick@CubsFanTherapy.com.

Goodbye paper All-Star ballots

So MLB is eliminating paper All-Star ballots at stadiums in favor of online voting. Now what? Is someone going to tell me I have to get rid of my cassette tapes and parachute pants? C’mon.

All right, I’m not really an old curmudgeon, so I understand that this makes sense. Bloomberg reported that 80 percent of ballots cast last season were online and that 16 million paper ballots went unused. Trees everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief.

But generations of fans are feeling pangs of nostalgia. Filling out your All-Star ballot(s) was a rite of summer. And we all had our different techniques.

I took a two-prong approach. I filled out homer ballots until my hand couldn’t hold a pencil. That meant Bill Buckner, Ivan DeJesus, Manny Trillo, Dave Kingman, even Steve Ontiveros. Yes, in 1978 I voted for Ontiveros over Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose and Ron Cey. On A LOT of ballots.

I can still picture clearly scanning the ballot for Cubs and wondering how a city the size of Chicago couldn’t get all our players into the game.

After a million homer ballots, though, I’d start to feel a little guilty. I knew some, many, most of the Cubs I was voting for didn’t really deserve to play in the Midsummer classic. So I’d sigh and I’d fill out one or maybe two ballots based on who I really felt deserved to be an All-Star that year. Hey, I didn’t want to make a mockery of the process. I must admit, however, that I skipped over some very deserving Cardinals over the years.

Worried about stuffing the ballot, I’d walk around the concourse spreading out my ballots in different collection boxes. But I was convinced that my votes would make the difference in DeJesus finally getting the recognition he deserved. He never did. But I tried. I was a real Cubs fan who exercised my right to vote. And when you’re a kid, you don’t get that many chances in life to have your voice heard.

And now it’s over. No more paper ballot, no more feel of that heavy card stock. No more stuffing an actual ballot box.

But it’s not a bad thing. Truth be told, I’ve already been voting online for years. I’ve even wondered out loud why they still printed all those ballots in an age when someone can sit in their seat with an iPhone and vote to their hearts content.

Yet I still mourn, and we all know why. It’s the same reason my dad talked wistfully of his 1956 Chevy that only started half the time. He ended up with more reliable cars, but the loss of that car meant another sliver of his youth had been carved away.

Yesterday, I overheard my wife trying to describe vinyl records, cassettes and even CDs to my 5-year-old son. You could tell the talk meant more to her, and to me eavesdropping, than it did to him. Yes, it’s way easier to download music, to get in the car and have your tunes magically crank up through Bluetooth. Sure, it’s a better process to vote for All-Stars digitally.

But vinyl albums, Pac-Man, Thriller, muscle cars and even paper All-Star ballots were the things that made us us back then. I want to make clear that I did not have parachute pants.

But hey, we had to grow up, and before we knew it, we defined our lives in different ways. Jobs, kids, houses …

But some things remain the same. We still get to vote for All-Stars. We can still stuff the digital ballot box with Cubs. It’s time to get clicking.

You can reach me at Patrick@CubsFanTherapy.com.