Category Archives: cubs

The Cubs, the curse and daytime baseball


Could it be that the final curse the star-crossed Cubs had to reverse was Major League Baseball’s building revolt against the last guardians of daytime baseball?

Let’s, for the moment, put aside the Billy Goat thing in 1945, Steve Bartman’s (quite reasonable) reach for a foul ball in 2003, the black cat moment in 1969, Babe Ruth’s called shot in 1932, Leon Durham’s fielding flub in 1984. When the Cubs, after 112 years of only afternoon home games, attempted their first night contest at Wrigley Field on Aug. 8, 1988, a fourth-inning downpour wiped out the proceedings.

“Someone up there seems to take day baseball seriously,” the Chicago Tribune editorialized the next day, throwing in the quote from a fan convinced that the heavens’ negative retort to artificial illumination “proves the Cubs are cursed.”

Another 28 years on, the Cubs at last have broken that evil spell on the sport’s biggest stage.

To review: In 1982, then-Cubs general manager Dallas Green first proposed lights for the Friendly Confines. Television, he said, was dictating that the team play at night, and he said that if the Cubs were to make the playoffs, they would be forced to move post-season home games to the rival White Sox’ crosstown Comiskey Park. Or possibly St. Louis.

He hinted—darkly—that, without the installation of permanent lights at Wrigley, the club would have no choice but to move, mentioning a tract of undeveloped land in the Schaumburg suburb, Northwest of the city. About that time, Major League Baseball decreed that, should the Cubs ever return to the World Series for the first time since 1945, their home games would be shifted to an alternate, lighted site.

Sure enough, in 1984, in the midst of Green’s campaign to light up Wrigley, the last outdoor World Series day game was played. San Diego (which had benefited mightily from the Leon Durham error in the league championship series) at Detroit.

(Wrigley before lights)

(Wrigley before lights)

Now, think of Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub. Not, specifically, the “Let’s play two” Banks, always eager to go extra innings; more generally, the perpetually sunny-disposition Banks.

Think of C.U.B.S.—Citizens United for Baseball in Sunshine—a 1980s neighborhood group on Chicago’s North Side that fought against the establishment of night baseball for the Cubs.

Think of a widely held notion at the time that putting lights at Wrigley was akin to drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa. Think of Bill Veeck, the brilliant baseball executive who had been a Wrigley Field popcorn vendor as a boy and later was responsible for creating the distinctive touch of covering Wrigley’s outfield walls with ivy. To Veeck, Wrigley’s special charm was its commitment to day games, to “make people discover how lovely it is to come and sit in the sun and enjoy a game.”

When C.U.B.S. mobilized protests, its members said they would accept temporary lighting as long as the vast majority of games remained in the afternoon. But Dallas Green called them “inflexible.” In 1985, Green declared that the Cubs would be gone from Wrigley “in five years” unless permanent lights were installed. “We’re dead to this neighborhood,” he said then.

(Cincinnati's Crosley Field, May 24, 1935)

(Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, May 24, 1935)

The first Major League regular-season game played at night was on May 24, 1935, in Cincinnati. By 1939, every team except the Cubs had installed permanent lighting, though it wasn’t until 1971 that a World Series game started after sundown—Baltimore at Pittsburgh.

So maybe MLB won out with the entire 2016 Cubs-Cleveland Indians World Series played under the lights. Did you notice, though, that when the Cubs finally threw off the hex of championship disappointment after 108 years, it was morning? 12:57 a.m.


The Cubs fan litmus test. And Hillary Clinton.


Are you with the Cubs in this partisan fight? If so, should you be required to show your papers? Does it matter whether you were born a Cubs fan—as opposed to being a previously undecided outsider just become drawn to trickle-down excitement?

It’s just baseball. And yet it is abundantly clear that some people out there believe there should be a litmus test. That being a member of the Cubs party now should be restricted to those who can provide indisputable proof. (Photo IDs, maybe?) That they be required to have experienced the Cubs’ overwrought mythology, to know how it feels to be Tantalus or Sisyphus, to have gone through at least a significant part of the team’s 108 years of solitude.

Here’s an example: Hillary Clinton. According to, she is “Bandwagon Hillary.” She is “jumping on Chicago’s bandwagon [and] like with every other matter….switches allegiance with sports teams like positions on issues.” reminded that, when she was running for the Senate in New York in 2000, she claimed she had “always been a Yankees fan.”


We probably shouldn’t be allowing World Series loyalties to be leaching into the contentious White House campaign. But it is a given that sports-team passions can get a bit manic around championship time. (If you don’t believe it, listen to sports talk radio.) And just as true is the time-honored tradition of politicians using sports identity to demonstrate their regular-folks bona fides.

Still, I’m going to defend Clinton’s right to declare herself a Cubs fan. First of all, isn’t everybody drawn to the long-suffering Cubs now? Outside of Cleveland Indians territory, anyway? Check out this map, a World Series sendup of the ubiquitous red state/blue state presidential election forecasts, that is circulating on the Internet.


Beyond the fairly universal appeal of the Cubs’ Halley’s Comet-like star turn, there is data to support Clinton’s logical and lengthy connection to the team. She was born in Chicago (two years into the Cubs’ 71-year absence from the World Series) and raised in the city’s Park Ridge suburb, less than 10 miles from the Cubs’ historic Wrigley Field home. Her father was a Cubs fan. Her brothers, with whom she watched plenty of Cubs’ games on television, were Cubs fans.

In 1993, when she was First Lady, Clinton was offered membership in the Emil Verban Memorial Society, an exclusive club of Washington-based Cubs fans named for a Cubs infielder from the late 1940s and early 50s who was said to epitomize the team by being “competent but obscure and typifying the team’s work ethic.”


That a player such as Verban, who hit .095 in 1950, should be fervently embraced in that forgiving way is yet another indication of Cub allegiance, especially since society members were among the nation’s most successful folks—Ronald Reagan, retired Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens, TV personalities Bryant Gumbel and Bruce Morton, golfer Ray Floyd, actor Tom Bosley and conservative columnist George Will among them.

What some commentators and Republican Party operatives object to, regarding Clinton’s fandom, is that she indeed admitted to rooting for the Yankees in general—and Mickey Mantle in particular—as a child, in part because she admitted that a Cubs fan so often needs the fallback of having a team that wins once in a while.

Among those who have questioned Clinton on the matter is Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief Lynn Sweet in a recent column, and political commentator Chris Matthews, who had asked when she donned a Yankee cap during her Senate campaign, “Doesn’t she know she looks like a fraud?”

This protestation of multi-team fandom, unreasonable to my mind, recalls the late Bill Searby, one of my first bosses at Newsday in the early 1970s. The way his colleagues told it, Searby had taken advantage of the G.I. Bill to complete his education after his service days, and wound up attending several colleges. As the scores came over the wire on football Saturdays, more than one winner would prompt Searby to exult: “That’s my team!”

“Which one?” his co-workers would snicker. I think they were jealous.

Going ‘way back in (black) baseball history from Cubs’ Fowler

(Dexter Fowler)

(Dexter Fowler)

Baseball coincidence is a fascinating thing. Consider just one in the many notable tidbits related to the end of the woebegone Chicago Cubs’ 71-year World Series drought—a fellow named Fowler becoming the team’s first black man to play in the Fall Classic.

That’s Dexter Fowler, a 30-year-old outfielder who, rather symbolically, was the lead-off batter in Game 1 against the Cleveland Indians. The significance of Fowler’s presence, though, isn’t related to some new civil rights breakthrough. Rather, it is another reminder of how long ago the Cubbies last appeared on the sport’s biggest stage. So long ago, in 1945, that the Big Leagues still were two years from getting around to the initial step of desegregation, in the person of Jackie Robinson.

(Jackie Robinson)

(Jackie Robinson)

But here is the really curious statistic that does connect Fowler to racial inclusion in our national pastime. According to Baseball Hall of Fame records, the first black man on a white professional baseball team—roughly 70 years before Robinson and twice that long before Dexter Fowler—was a gent known as Bud Fowler.

(Bud Fowler)

(Bud Fowler)

Bud Fowler lived from 1854 to 1913 and, beginning in 1878, claimed to have played for predominantly white teams in 22 states and Canada. He was primarily a second baseman. Yellowed newspaper clippings in the Hall of Fame archives describe him as a “versatile, fast, slick fielder.” A Cincinnati Inquirer article published in the early 1900s reported that “Bud has played games for trappers’ furs. He has been rung in to help out a team for the championship of a mining camp and bags of gold dust. He has played with cowboys and Indians. He has cross-roaded it from one town to another all over the Far West, playing for what he could get and taking a hand to help out a team.”

It turns out that Bud Fowler was born John W. Jackson, son of a barber in Cooperstown, N.Y., home to the baseball Hall. There is no information on why or how he changed his name from Jackson, though he was said to be called “Bud” because of his inclination to address most people by that name. He never married, died broke and is buried in a pauper’s field just outside Cooperstown’s city limits, where a tombstone was placed on his grave in 1987 to note his place in baseball history.

He was 5-7, 155 pounds (compared to Dexter Fowler’s 21st-Century dimensions of 6-5, 195.) Bud batted and threw righthanded. (Dexter is a switch-hitter who throws righthanded.) Like Bud, Dexter has had a number of baseball homes, playing for 10 teams at various minor-league levels—the Modesto Nuts, Waikiki Beach Boys and Tulsa Drillers among them—on his way to a nine-year Major League career with Colorado, Houston and now Chicago. And, while Dexter already has earned more than $32 million playing the game, he has a long way to go to equal Bud’s longevity.

According to that century-old Inquirer story, Bud Fowler “has been playing baseball for the past 26 years and he is yet as spry and as fast in his actions as any man on his team. He has no Charley horses or stiff joints, but can bend over and get up a grounder like a young blood….he is 48 years old, but to look at him, you would set him down to be not more than 25.” The Inquirer piece ended with the invitation to “go out and see him play second base this afternoon.”

In 1997, on the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s entry into the Majors, an Eastern Michigan University history professor, Sidney Gendin, published a paper calling Fowler “first of at least 40 blacks who played on teams in organized white baseball leagues before the turn of the century. But in the mid-1880s, with deteriorating social mores pushing blacks out of the minors, Fowler spent more time barnstorming, during which he would help support himself by working as a barber. He started his own all-black team based in Adrian, Mich., sponsored by a wire fence company, the Page Fence Giants, who toured the Midwest in the team’s own railroad car.”

Also in ’97, the Hall of Fame opened an exhibit, “Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience,” which prominently featured Bud Fowler’s role as grand marshal in the parade of long-ago baseball integration. That was before segregationists established the infamous “color line” that lasted until Robinson.

Larry Doby, first black in the American League, poses proudly in his Cleveland Indians uniform in the dugout in Comiskey Park in Chicago, Ill., on July 5, 1947. (AP Photo)

(Larry Doby)

At the opening of that exhibit, by the way, among the invited participants was Larry Doby—the first black player in the American League, who debuted months after Robinson had done so with the National League Brooklyn Dodgers. Doby’s team was the Cleveland Indians, Dexter Fowler’s current World Series opponents. And Doby, along with teammate Satchel Paige, became the first black men to win a World Series title, in 1948—the Indians’ last championship season.