Category Archives: cubs loyalty

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.

A song of long-suffering, and the Cubs



Enough about the Mets for a moment. What Chicago needs now, with the Cubs having added to their historic run of baseball failure, is someone whose allegiance to the team—and whose sense of humor—is not diminished by grinding, recurrent baseball disappointment.

Steve Goodman died in 1984 of leukemia, only 36 years old. But, before he went, among the splendid songs he wrote was “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request.” It is a roguishly heartfelt ditty, not so much crying-in-his-beer hopelessness as an expression of lasting affection.


Do they still play the blues in Chicago when baseball season rolls around? Goodman sang. When the snow melts away, do the Cubbies still play, in their Ivy-covered burial ground?

It was Chicago native Nelson Algren, a prominent literary figure of the 1940s and 50s, who said, “Before you earn the right to rap any sort of joint, you have to love it a little bit.” Of his beloved Cubs, Goodman had license to sing, from a rooftop overlooking Wrigley Field, of “the home of the brave, the land of the free, and the doormat of the National League.”

For outsiders, celebrating Mets fans among them, it is entirely too easy to mock the Cubs who, for five score and seven years, have gone without a championship—squirming in public in what could be spelled “wriggley” field. Carl Sandburg’s description of his hometown, “the city of the big shoulders,” calls to mind a symbolic Cub-at-the-bat, appropriately proportioned with a broad, ample resting place for his Louisville Slugger while watching another imminently hittable pitch go by.

One is tempted to think of Cubs hitters as somehow lacking courage. Chicken in the car and the car won’t go, that’s how you spell….

Their last National League pennant was in 1945–and only then while most of Major League Baseball’s best players were off fighting in World War II. Their past is freighted with curses and omens, and such meatheaded experiments as the College of Coaches, an eight-man committee mandated by owner P.K. Wrigley that functioned (sort of) in place of a manager from 1961 into the 1965 season, a span when the Cubs never finished higher than seventh in the league.

The only lesson there, a form of double-play combination for Old Man Wrigley: He who Tinkers with a franchise for Ever hasn’t a Chance.

So here was singer/songwriter Goodman, a man with whom Mets fans—who have endured their own lengthy diamond travails—should be able to identify. Author of “City of New Orleans,” a 1970s hit covered by Arlo Guthrie, Goodman grew up a Cub devotee in suburban Park Ridge, Ill., where he was a Maine East High School classmate of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Clinton, it happens, is among the members of the Emil Verban Memorial Society, which is nothing more than a collection of roughly 200 loyal Cubs fans, their organization named for a plodding Cubs player who hit (if “hit” is the right word) .095 in 1950.

President Ronald Reagan, an Illinois native who briefly did radio play-by-play for Cubs games in his salad days, was part of the Verban Society, along with TV personalities Bryant Gumbel and Bruce Morton, golfer Ray Floyd, actor Tom Bosley and conservative columnist George Will.

Plus, of course, the club included Goodman, who also wrote a strangely optimistic anthem, “Go, Cubs, Go,” with the refrain, “The Cubs are gonna win today.” It has been reported that Goodman only created that song out of spite, after the team’s general manager in the early 1980s, Dallas Green, proclaimed “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request” too depressing.

It is only depressing to know that Goodman died so young, sad to know he won’t be giving us more sly lyrics like these, in which he lamented how the Cubs…

made me a criminal, that’s what they did; they stole my youth from me. I’d forsake my teachers to sit in the bleachers in flagrant truancy. One thing led to another, and soon I discovered alcohol, gambling, dope. Football. Hockey. And lacrosse.

But what do you expect when you raise a young boy’s hopes and just crush ‘em like so many paper beer cups? Year after year after year. After year after year after year after year after year…..

Before we are surrounded by the noisy passion of Mets fans during the upcoming World Series, then, listen to this: