Tuesday, March 06, 2007

One, Two Strikes and I'm Out

I made an important, life-changing decision today. And I made it for two reasons:

1.) This excerpt from the March 6th Chicago Tribune article, "Busy Day for Bears: Trade, Demands" by John Mullin: "'The Bears' quest for a return to the NFL title game might have become a bit harder Monday as they traded No. 1 running back Thomas Jones to the New York Jets amid the furor created by Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs declaring that he wants out of Chicago.'" (See the complete article at http://chicagosports.chicagotribune.com/sports/football/bears/cs-0703060059mar06,1,3987304.story?coll=cs-football-print)

2.) This excerpt from the March 4th Chicago Tribune article, "Sox Sock it to Pinella", by Paul Sullivan: "'Listen, I'm glad it was only spring training," [Chicago Cubs manager Lou] Piniella said. "That's the one good saving grace out of this thing. Our pitchers aren't pitching very well and our hitters aren't hitting very well. Outside of that, we're OK.'" [Piniella's comments followed a pre-season shellacking the Cubs suffered at the hands of their crosstown rivals, the Chicago White Sox.] (See the complete article at http://chicagosports.chicagotribune.com/sports/baseball/whitesox/cs-0703050055mar05,1,3090553.story?coll=cs-baseball-print)

I was never a general sports fanatic. Whatever was going on in America's Big 4 pro sports (baseball, football, basketball, ice hockey) in athletic powerhouse towns like New York, Boston, Detroit or Los Angeles never interested me. Sure, I could admire the talents of Eric Dickerson, Isaiah Thomas, Wayne Gretsky and Bill Laimbeer. Well, maybe not Laimbeer. But watching those guys play was never more than an intellectual exercise for me. There was no emotion involved. Sporting fandom, in its purest form, has to have some feeling involved. And for Brother John, that meant "hometown" teams. Chicago teams.

Okay, so I'm not technically "from" Chicago. But I'm close enough to the City of Big Shoulders to call it home, at least sports-wise. And lo, these many years, I've hoped, dreamed, believed, suffered and wept with Chicago sports fans as I've watched the Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks crash at the end of the runway, like one of Wile E. Coyote's rocket-powered Acme contraptions, over and over again. And over and over again, at the end of each season, I joined millions of Chicago sports fans in chanting that phrase so oft-repeated, it's drifted beyond cliche into the realm of High Camp: "Wait 'til next year!"

Well, not this year. Or any other one beyond that. I'm through with Chicago sports teams, once and for all. Yes, really. I mean it!

It's not because I demand every Chicago team be in the playoffs or in first place all season, every season. It's not because I require every Chicago player to be a Grade-A star. It's because of the truly, utterly boneheaded moves these teams' respective big-wigs make, year after year, which allow Chicago's "tradition" of sports mediocrity to continue unabated. Most of the time, such decisions hinge upon one thing and one thing only: money. And call me Captain Obvious, but what one thing have Chicago sports team owners done, consistently, since Tinker, Evers and Chance were making double plays in the infield at Wrigley? Try to squeeze a dollar out of two bits.

We've seen it with the Bears this past season. Head Coach Lovie Smith leads the team to the Super Bowl. Lovie Smith, as it turned out, was the absolute lowest-paid head coach in the whole NFL. When was the last time the Bears made it to the Super Bowl? When Ronald Reagan was president, Russia was an evil empire and Michael Jackson was topping the charts. Say, just for talking purposes, you are the honcho who cuts the checks for the Chicago Bears organization. You'd want the Bears to return to the Super Bowl, right? You might not want to wait for six presidential terms to pass before they do, right? You might even want the Bears to win next time, right? And you might even be afflicted with an acute case of conscious, in which you may believe that a quality coach like Smith should actually be paid what he's worth, right? So, when the time came, like it did in February, to renegotiate Lovie Smith's contract, you'd gladly up his salary, right? Right?

Wrong! At one point, according to an article posted on USA Today's web site (See the complete article at http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/bears/2007-03-01-lovie-smith_N.htm), Smith's agent announced that his client and the Bears had come to an impasse and claimed that 2007 would be Smith's last season coaching in Chicago. Somehow, the NFL's 2005 Coach of the Year and Bears team president Ted Phillips were able to hammer out a last-minute agreement which will pay Smith about $4.7 million annually until 2011. The fact that Smith had to do everything just short of grabbing Bears owner Virginia Halas McCaskey by the ankles and shaking the money out of her pockets is obscene.

Then, there's the Cubs. This is a team whose very name has come to imply mediocrity and incompetence. The short, shameful list: the '69 Meltdown, the '84 Unraveling, the '89 Breakdown, the '98 Burnout and last but not least, the '03 Phawkup. If you want to blame billy goat curses, black cats on the field and Steve Bartman, be my guest. But as far as I'm concerned, the only ones you can point a finger at are those calling the shots behind the scenes at 1060 West Addison Street. College of Coaches, anyone?

If freshman Cubs manager Lou Piniella's above-quoted remarks are any indication, this will be yet another banner year for baseball on Chicago's North Side. The Cubs' pitchers can't pitch and their hitters can't hit, but beyond those minor details, says Lou, the team's in good shape. That's like saying your Dodge Durango just blew a piston and has three flat tires, but overall, it's a pretty reliable ride. I predict that by July 4, 2007, the Cubs will be in last place in the National League Central, where they will stay for the remainder of the season. Cubs fans might as well start drinking now. The nondrinking Cubs fans? They can just hit themselves over the head repeatedly with a rubber mallet, as usual.

For the first time in my life, though, I won't be joining them. Like Johnny Cash and speed, I've sworn off Chicago sports for life. British rugby's my new fave. A hardcore Warrington Wolves fan, I am. I can't wait for that sold-out home stand against the St. Helens Saints this Friday. Go, Wolves!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Warrington Wolves I welcome the mention! Keep it up John! Hope the Saints game didn't put you off! Go Wolves!

Drew, Warrington

4:50 AM  
Blogger Happy Villain said...

I gave up on Chicago sports during the baseball strike, and just haven't been able to get into pro athletics of any kind since. Good to hear you found a replacement for your fandom, but life can be complete without sports. I swear. It wouldn't even require you to give up your manhood... right away. :)

11:43 PM  

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