Saturday, August 22, 2009
The Problem Isn't With You, It Is You.
I tend not to be as fatalistic as your average, run-in-the-mill Cubs fan. Don't get me wrong. Cubs fans, more than any other group of fans save those of the Cincinnati Bengals and Toronto Argonauts, are given ample opportunity to blow an aeortic valve every season. We pay a lot for the luxury of seeing our seemingly jinxed team drag us along on the inevitable journey toward underachievement tempered by already sullen expectations. Everytime we lower our expectations for the team as fans (in self-defense, similar to a fight-or-flight response), the more the Cubs prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Cubs management has not lacked effort and ambition in their offseason moves and in season tweaks. Jim Hendry and Crane Kenney have sought to strengthen Lou Pinella's daily fair by adding more left-handed depth in the line-up and power arms in the bullpen.
Maybe, just maybe, they were trying too hard this time.
With the impending and now complete sell of the team to the Ricketts family, I suspect the Cubs executives were trying to make a big splash on the field to bolster the price tag hanging on the franchise. With the Ricketts getting 95% of the team and a 25% stake in Comcast Sports Net for $55 million less than Sam Zell and the Tribune Company originally asked for, I'd say the Ricketts got a good deal and also that the Cubs front office didn't get nearly enough for what they paid.
The blame, in a perfect sports world, should always lie first and primarily with the players on the field. They are at the precipice of history on every pitch, at-bat, pop fly, and ground ball. Secondly, the neck of the manager should lay on the chopping block. It's his duty to put players into situations that best accentuate their talents; increasing their individual odds at success and ideally the team's odds as well. Next would be the front office staff, who are responsible for stocking the major and minor league system with players and all the necessary support staff.
However, if you haven't noticed already, this isn't a perfect sports world. This is in fact reality; A reality where, more times than not, blame is avoided or deflected. In those rare moments when a collosus of moral magnamity emerges to take the blows of fate for himself and his team, a dictionary of cliched responses usually accompanies the condemned to the press conference like a martyr on the way to the gallows with a bible in tote.
Are the blows of fate being tempered by some sort of divine benediction?
More infrequent than players and player personnel owning up to their deficiencies are fans that are willing to admit that they are some how complicit in this catholic overreaction; That they have possibly erected expectations too lofty for their team or any team composed of mortals to conceivably meet.
This, my friends, is what I believe ultimately ails our loveable losers on the northside of town. The less than stellar free agent signings over the past several seasons are but symptoms of a larger disease that has its origins amongst the throngs of fans that file through those green turnstyles daily at the National Leagues oldest ballpark. Desperation amongst the faithful has reached epidemic levels and the Cubs front office and players are not immune to this contagion.
Players are traded (Mark DeRosa?)that, under normal circumstances, wouldn't be traded to make financial and physical space for free agents that normally would be less than desirable options(Milton Bradley?). Spring training games in mid-February take on the tenor and tone of playoff action in early October. Baseball, a game conducive to a marathon mentality (because of the number and frequency of games)takes on the frantic urgency of a 100-meter dash or the Super Bowl inside the (Un)Friendly Confines.
This is in no way an excuse for ineptitude. Baseball players are paid vast sums of money to perform in pressure packed situations. Managers and front office personnel are generously compensated for their capacity to evaluate and manage talent. However, like any business that sells a product, demand for that product by the consumer will ultimately impact what shows up on the shelves.
The Cubs franchise has not lacked effort in their attempts to give their faithful fans what they want.
But if you try sometimes...
You might find...
What we may need, though, is to take one step away from the ledge and enjoy the privileged position we're in, having enough discretionary income and vacation/sick days available to spend summer days and early autumn nights getting hammered while we watch our boys march towards the post season at the world's most beautiful ballpark.
Maybe when we loosen our collars a little in the stands, our team will follow suit on the sod.
It's a hell of a lot easier to accomplish any goal when you're relaxed. That goes for winning the World Series as well.