Tagged: Chicago Cubs

Mike Gold: The Real Fan


While watching the baseball game Saturday night, it occurred to me that the difference between pop culture and geek culture is sports. Sports are part of our pop culture but not generally thought of as a component of geek culture.

Our cohort Martha Thomases might say (I haven’t asked, but this seems to follow her logic) this is because when we were in high school the cool kids were into sports and the uncool kids were into comic books and science-fiction stuff, and we, the latter, were the ones who were called geeks. In recent years that line has been blurred significantly.

For example, take the ComicMix crew. Adriane Nash and I are hockey fans. Adriane and Robert Greenberger are New York Mets fans. Mindy Newell is a fan of the New York Giants football team and she is tired of my proselytizing that since they play in the Meadowlands they really should be called the New Jersey Giants. Marc Alan Fishman is a WWE fan, as is Mike Raub. Arthur Tebbel is a Yankees fan, or at least he used to be the last time the subject came up – which was about 15 years ago. Bob Ingersoll is a Cleveland Indians fan. John Ostrander and I are Chicago Cubs fans.

albert-spalding-premiumOh, oh. Well, it looks like Mr. Ingersoll, Mr. Ostrander and I will minimize our conversation for the next week or so… election notwithstanding. Then again, John and I were raised in an environment where politics and sports were indistinguishable.

John Ostrander and I are both Chicagoans, as is Marc Alan Fishman. John and I were raised on the north side, which means that being a Cubs fan is a matter of birthright as well as choice. And we both had a hell of a Saturday night, watching the Cubs win the National League pennant for the first time since, as Steve Goodman sang, “You know the law of averages says anything will happen that can… but the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan.”

Not only did our beleaguered Cubbies win, but they won on a double-play and shut out the Los Angeles Dodgers with five runs. That’s the way to do it.

I’ve waited 71 years for this moment, which is five years longer than I’ve been alive. The only people who can readily appreciate that logic are comic book and Doctor Who fans (and John and I are both), scientists with degrees in theoretical physics, and Cubs fans.

As the game started the ninth inning, the cameras caught quite a number of people in the stands who were crying. Adriane later told me she was as well, and she’d only been to Wrigley Field two or three times – and one of them was to see a New Year’s Day hockey game (for which I shall remain forever grateful, but that’s an entirely different story). My own thoughts drifted over to my late aunt, Francis Goldberg.

Fran GoldbergAAunt Fran was born about a year after the Cubs had last won the world series; she lived 94 years. We were close, as everybody who knew her was close. She was smart, funny, and affable; the most worthy of role models. She was also the greatest Cubs fan I had ever met, and that says a lot. The last time I saw her was at a family function perhaps a year or so before her death. By this time she had succumbed to Alzheimer’s and she didn’t really recognize anybody in the room. However, she was no less intelligent, funny or affable

So I tried something. I asked her if she still followed the Cubbies. Aunt Fran took mock umbrage, as if I had asked her if she were still a woman. She began to rattle off how the Cubs did that season, proud that they had won the won the National League Central Division championship. And she went back through Cubs history, comparing contemporary events to earlier happenstance. I distinctly remember that if I had more time, she would probably take me back to the days of Albert Spalding, Cubs pitcher / manager / co-owner and sporting goods macher, circa 1876.

That, my friends, is a fan.

The story of the Chicago Cubs is the story of hope and promise. That’s always a vital story, that’s always a saga for our time, no matter when that time might be. I infuse that story with the spirit of my Aunt Francis Goldberg, who missed seeing the Cubs clench the pennant by a dozen years but never, ever had any doubt they would do just that.


John Ostrander: Damn you, Stephen Colbert!


On The Late Show on Thursday night, Stephen Colbert celebrated the Cubs winning the wild card spot in the MLB playoffs (they beat Pittsburgh) by declaring that the Curse of the Goat was now broken and that the Cubs would go on to win the whole enchilada.

Mr. Colbert, how could you? You lived in Chicago for eleven years. I know that, at that time, you studied improv with Charna Halpern and my old writing partner, Del Close. You know the dashed hopes and numbing despair experienced by Cub fans. And just when the Cubbies had won their first playoff game in Twelve Years, you had to flout the Curse of the Goat and even eject from your show a goat that had been in the front row of the audience. The goat clearly did not want to go but you had to repeat the incident that first brought the Curse of the Goat down on the Cubs.

For those of you who don’t know, back in 1945, when the Cubs made one of their few appearances in a World Series, saloon keeper Bill Sianis (owner of The Billy Goat Tavern, a famed watering hole in the lower level of Michigan Avenue), was ejected from Wrigley Field along with his pet goat. Some say the Cubs owner, Phillip K. Wrigley, objected to the smell. Of the goat or of Sianis, I’m not sure. Sianis swore that the Cubs would never win a World Series again (accounts differ slightly but that’s the gist of it). And they haven’t. Of course, they hadn’t won a World Series in the 40 odd years leading up to that but perhaps the curse was retroactive. Who knows with curses?

Sianis himself tried to reverse the curse in later years; all sorts of rituals and exorcisms have been done to no effect.

I’m a life-long Cubs fan, Stephen. I had no choice in the matter. I was born on the Northside of Chicago; that locks me into the Cubs. The Southside is for the White Sox and the West Side – well, who knows or cares. They’re free agents; they may support St. Louis as far as I know.

The Cubs have not won a World Series in 107 years. My aunt, who lived to be 101, was alive the last time the Cubs did that. She was barely one-year old. That’s how long we’ve been suffering and waiting.

Every so often, it looks as if our luck is going to change, that the Curse will finally be broken. In 2008, they had the best record in baseball. There wasn’t anyone the Cubs couldn’t beat. In the first round, they were swept by the Dodgers. Didn’t win even one game. The Goat laughed. Baaaa-ha-ha!

In 2003, they were in the playoffs against the Florida Marlins. They were leading three games to two, they were at Wrigley Field, they were leading 3-0 in the 8th inning with two out, and a fan named Steve Bartman, sitting in the front row on the left field foul line, saw a ball headed his way. Trouble is, it was a playable ball and the outfielder, Moises Alou, had a chance to catch it. Bartman made a play for it, too, and tipped the ball. Alou didn’t catch it and a collective groan went up from the Cubs’ fans in the stadium and watching it on TV. We knew the Curse has struck again. The Cubs went on to lose the game and the series. Bartman had to be escorted out of Wrigley Field by security for his own protection.

And somewhere the Goat laughed. Baaaa-ha-ha!

And you, on your show, proclaimed that the Curse of the Goat was now broken and guaranteed, Guaranteed that the Cubs would win it all this year. You should know better. You should respect the Curse, respect the Goat, and don’t start celebrating before the season is over.

If/when the Cubs fail again, Cub fans are going to remember you taunting fate, Stephen Colbert. You are going to be the new Bartman. Your ratings will plummet in Chicago. You won’t be able to come back to the city to visit old friends, not that it will matter; they will shun you and your hubris.

Of course, there is the possibility that you’re right. That slim, ephemeral hope that comes back to life every time that the Cubs enter the play-offs, that glimmer of possible victory that enters every true Cubs fan’s heart, may finally be realized. And you will have called it. You will be able to lead the Victory Parade down LaSalle amidst the cheering throngs.  It will be a great moment of victory and you can claim it because you called it.

And then what will happen?

The team’s owners, emboldened, will move the Cubs out of the friendly confines of Wrigley Field to a new stadium, possibly in the suburbs, possibly in another city all together. They will maximize their financial potential.

And, shorn of their identity as baseball’s most lovable losers, the symbol of futility and the unending patience of the true fan, the Cubs will become just another baseball team.

Damn you, Stephen Colbert!


Mike Gold: We Can Be Heroes

Whenever some sports superstar gets caught doing something untoward, the media wrings its hands and repeatedly shouts “What type of role model is this? Think of the children! Think of the children!” Invariably, the sports superstar in question points out he’s not a role model, he’s a ball player, or whatever. Usually he’s not very far north of childhood himself.

Yet, almost by definition sports superstars are super-heroes. They are imbued “with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.” Michael Jordan, Bobby Hull, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Willie Shoemaker, Chris Evert… these folks aren’t simply super-heroes, they’re magicians.

When I was at the optimum time to adopt a personal hero, I chose Ernie Banks. Shortstop and later first-baseman for my Chicago Cubs, he joined the team after a stint in the armed forces and the Negro Leagues. He spent 19 seasons with the Cubs, which constituted his entire professional baseball career.

When the Cubs were at the bottom of the standings, which also was just about his entire career, Ernie not only stood out as among the very best, he virtually gleamed. Nobody seemed to enjoy playing baseball more than Ernie Banks. His trademark saying, “Let’s play two,” combined with his beatific look made you want to play as well.

Of course, had you been given the opportunity you would have been outclassed. Banks played in 14 All-Star Games. He was the National League most valuable player – twice. His lifetime stats: batting average .274, hits – 2,583, home runs – 512, runs batted in – 1,636. He made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame on his very first year of eligibility, with 84% of the vote. In 1999, Ernie Banks was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

Compared with the Cubs’ efficacy at the time, Ernie Banks was beyond belief. There wasn’t much of a team to help him.

When he hung up his mitt in 1971, Ernie started up a charity, became America’s first black Ford dealer, and worked at Chicago’s Bank of Ravenswood in public relations and new business development. It was in that capacity that I met my hero.

I was a co-founder of a youth social service program called The National Runaway Switchboard, and like all non-profits we applied for grants wherever we could. The Bank of Ravenswood was one of our many donors, and it was Ernie who handed us one of those huge photo-op checks. For all I cared, he could have handed me a bag of stale donuts. Meeting Ernie Banks was one of those genuine “hamina-hamina-hamina” moments.

Ernie was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, and, yes, that’s President Obama putting the medal around his neck in the picture at the top of this column.


Sometimes, nice guys finish first.

Ernie Banks died last Friday, at the age of 83. Thank you, Mr. Banks. Thank you for teaching this comic book editor what true heroes are all about.