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The Joys of Futility
By Richard C. Crepeau

As another baseball season approaches its summer months, the strong start by the Cubs has led perennial optimists to predict great things for baseball's all-time beleaguered franchise. And with these rays of optimism shining through reality, this may not seem like the best time to suggest a celebration of futility. But if you are a Cub fan, anytime is the right time for realism, especially as the season winds down and reality eventually overtakes optimism.

Cub fans are a unique species, with attachment to losing taken to a level of religious fanaticism. Of course, the charm of the Cubs is not simply that they lose, but that they are loveable losers. This is what inspires undying devotion among their fans. Indeed, if the Cubs were to do the improbable, nay the impossible, and win a World Series, the Cub faithful would risk losing the essence of their "Cubness."

Cub fans are everywhere and you never know where you might encounter them. In late November, for example, I had dinner with a family of Cub fans in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Craig Clan of Rockford was in the U.K. to visit their daughter Jeanne, herself a devotee of the Cubs, a devotion passed genetically from her parents, Stewart and Sally Craig. After spending a delightful Cub-filled evening with these Cub fanatics over single malt whiskey and haggis, I am convinced that when Harry Caray said that a fan from Rockford caught that foul ball back behind third base, he must have been referring to one of the Craig clan.

I knew I was dealing with true Cub aficionados when I started talking about a fourth of July doubleheader with the Expos on a brutally hot day in the mid-1970s, and Sally interjected that yes, that was the day that outfielder Larry Biittner had come in to pitch for the Cubs in the final inning with his team trailing by some twenty runs. I had been trying to remember Biittner's name all week, and Sally pulled it out of her Cub memory bank just like that. Obviously this was a group with a very high level of Cub mania.

Who else but a Cub fan and Wrigley Field Regular could find both charm and nostalgia in those "troughs" that serve as urinals in the men's bathrooms at Wrigley? Stewart is absolutely eloquent when he describes in considerable and perceptive detail the wonders of this little discussed and yet strangely striking accouterment of beautiful Wrigley Field. On a hot Chicago summer day the commingling of the aromas of stale beer, sweat, and urine can induce a state of near euphoria. Indeed, the sophisticated student of democracy cannot fail but notice this "democratic and American" feature of baseball's finest ballpark.

The most interesting part of the evening came during a discussion of the Craigs' plan for a centennial celebration when the Cubs are eliminated from the pennant race in 2007. As most Cub watchers know, the team's last World Championship—in 1908—became possible when the now-legendary "Merkle boner" allowed the Cubs to replay and win a tie-game against the Giants, giving Chicago the National League pennant. There are those who believe that a curse has been on the team ever since. (Knowing that the "Century of Futility" won't officially be achieved until 2008, why are the Craigs planning their big party for 2007? Hey, they're Cubs fans, what else would they do?)

The plan is both simple and complicated. When the Cubs are eliminated from contention, be that in May or in October, the Craig family and those who share their centennial vision will be at the deciding game. Complications may arise because the "unclincher" could occur in any major league city in North America and within a broad window of time. Thus, the Cub faithful will need to be prepared for the possibility of a lengthy and rigorous road trip. They may also be required to study game results through the night, even on nights when the Cubs are not playing, to identify the magical moment when this epic landmark is achieved.

The Craigs envision themselves leading a Cub caravan snaking its way across the major league landscape, with vehicle after vehicle of excited fans eagerly anticipating this historic event. When it happens, hundreds if not thousands of the Cub faithful will descend upon the field of futility. "If they do it, they will come."

What sort of celebration does an event of this magnitude, this once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, require? Certainly the traditional champagne would be appropriate with corks popping as soon as the team of statisticians render their verdict that the magic moment had arrived. A party stretching through the night at a major hotel would follow. Press conferences would punctuate the night air, and on the following day the commissioner of baseball should arrive to present a trophy or plaque paying homage to failure on this grand and unprecedented scale. The only question: should a Cub game be stopped if the elimination comes while they are on the field? The answer is self-evident to any true Cub believer.

The very thought of this historic Cub moment sends chills down my spine. I am making sure to get my name in early so that I can be near the front of the line whenever the caravan forms during the penultimate season. I know you will want to be there too.

A caveat: Given Cub history, one must be most cautious when making such plans. It would, in fact, be just like the Cubs to go and win the World Series in 2007 and ruin everything. Or, as is suggested by W. P. Kinsella in his short story, "The Last Pennant Before Armageddon," the world could end before such a thing is allowed to happen. Just to be on the safe side, if you are on the futility caravan, bring your ascension robes along.



RICHARD C. CREPEAU is author of Baseball: America's Diamond Mind, reprinted by Bison Books (University of Nebraska Press) in 2001. He lives in Orlando, Florida.

© 2003 Richard C. Crepeau


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