May 2012, Week 4


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Thu, 24 May 2012 20:57:51 -0400
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Enough Is Enough: The End of a Lifetime Love Affair with the Chicago Cubs

by Harry Targ
Heartland Radical
May 22, 2012


When I was about two years old my folks moved to a large
apartment on Roscoe and Broadway Streets, on the north side of
Chicago, about one mile from Wrigley Field. This was during
World War II and apartments were scarce. My grandmother lived
with us and at least one of my mom's brothers.

In those days the city was still known as "the Hog Butcher of
the World," as Carl Sandburg called it. Not only did the city
house the meatpacking industry but also the steel industry,
textiles, and electronics. But all of these industries, the
heart and soul of Chicago, were centered primarily on the
South, West, and near North sections of the city. The smells
(particularly the Stockyards), the sounds and the worldwide
image of the city came from these centers of production,
unionization, and commerce. But where I grew up, even during
the World War, the atmosphere was shaped by the baseball team,
the Chicago Cubs, at Wrigley Field a mile from where I lived.
The air was infused with a narcotic, the more you breathe the
more you forgot about victory, success, pride in workmanship,
and even athleticism. Yes I was born to be a Cubs fan.

When I was about 7 years old, a friend of the family took me
to my first Cubs game, a double-header. Only one image stands
out from that initial experience. Phil Cavarretta, the Cubs
first baseman, and batting champion in 1945 when most men were
still in Europe or Asia fighting World War II, hit a game
leading home run. However, as he rounded the bases he forgot
to touch second base, or at least that was what one of the
umpires ruled. Cavaretta's homer was ruled a double. That
decision led fans to shower pounds of paper products across
the beautiful grass along the outfield. It took an hour to
clean up the mess, to get the fans calmed down and for the
game to resume. My host had to leave so I don't know if we
ever found out who won that game. But in retrospect, what was
significant was not so much whether the game would go in the
Cubs win column or whether Cavarretta would have his hit count
as a homer. The significance, I suppose, was that I was left
with a feeling of passion for the Cubs at least until last
week, a blind loyalty to the team even after I lost interest
in the sport.

I still remember my first sports hero, outfielder/third
baseman Andy Pafko. He was a slow fielding power hitter who
was a Cubs star for about five years. When we moved further
North in the city (I was about 10 years old), my hero Andy
Pafko appeared at the Little Men's store on Devon Avenue to
sign autographs. I was pretty mad at my parents for not taking
me to see Andy but that anger passed as I heard, the very next
day , that Pafko was traded to the old Brooklyn Dodgers for
Gene Hermanski. Maybe that shocking trade was the first
planting of a seed of anger at big capital that would manifest
itself in subsequent years in my radical and activist

In the years since 1950, one event after another dashed my
hopes about a bright Cubs future, even as my commitment to
this sorry team deepened. Shortstop Roy Smalley, an athlete
with a terrific arm, regularly threw balls intended for the
first basemen into the stands miles beyond its target. The
Cubs at one time acquired Ralph Kiner, aging home run hitter
to traverse the outfield with home run star Hank Sauer. These
almost immobile home run hitters played beside poor Frankie
Baumholtz, the center fielder whose career was shortened by
years because he had to cover the entire outfield.

In the mid 1950s the Cubs reluctantly broke the Chicago "color
line." They recruited the great Negro League home run hitting
shortstop Ernie Banks and a good second baseman, Gene Baker,
to complete the double play combo. Later, they acquired a Hall
of Fame African American outfielder, Billy Williams.

Ernie Banks coined a slogan that to me was as meaningful
as"Workers of the World Unite" when he would say at the end of
each season, "Wait til Next Year." Unfortunately next year
never came and the great Ernie Banks became a Republican. (I
won't even remind the reader that a young Ronald Reagan would
broadcast Cubs games from a ticker tape, making up what was
going on in the field without even being there. In addition,
one of the Cubs major supporters until this day from the world
of punditry is George Will!)

I could go on. The Cubs did make post-season playoffs in 1984,
1989, 2003, 2007, and 2008 but nothing inspired a fan's
enthusiasm more than the Cubs fifth place finish in 1952
(before the National League was divided into divisions). Radio
commentator Jean Shepard was reminiscing about his youthful
indiscretion once; his support of the cross town losing rival
the White Sox. He said one time he and his friends watched the
White Sox lose a game 4 to 3 and they afterwards went out and
held a victory celebration. That has been what life is like if
one is a Chicagoan in residence and in spirit.

Well, my wife declared last year that "enough was
enough."Being a Cubs fan for 60 years without any positive
reinforcement she felt is more than any person should be
expected to endure. The loss of six playoff games in a row in
2007 and 2008 was more than she could take. I felt she was
betraying a sacred trust, an obligation that we Chicagoans
were ordained to honor. But she said no.

As I hinted at above, news stories last week have forced me to
join my wife in redirecting my life. I could take 100 years
without a World Series. I could adjust to the trade of the
greatest Cub, Andy Pafko. I could remember with fondness
Smalley's wild throws into the stands. But what I cannot
accept is the effort by Joe Ricketts the father of the current
Cubs ownership, to fund a $10 million anti-Obama campaign that
would highlight a racist attack linking the incumbent to his
former minister Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Reverend Wright, an
articulate and militant opponent of racism in the United
States was unfairly tarnished during the 2008 election
campaign and Obama, instead of defending his former minister,
separated himself from him.

By revisiting the Wright/Obama affair, this proposed campaign
was designed to stigmatize those who oppose racism, link the
president with so-called "Black militancy," and in the main
use another coded form of racism to build opposition to the
president. And to make matters even more bizarre, the senior
Ricketts funds Koch brothers-like campaigns while his children
seek massive tax breaks from Chicagoans to renovate my beloved
Wrigley Field.

There comes a time when loyalties borne in impetuous youth
must take a back seat to political principle. In this case,
the billionaires of this world, unleashed by the Supreme
Court, are working to reverse our political and economic life,
returning to the extremes of class exploitation, racism, and
sexism. The vision of "workers of the world unite" must take
precedence over "wait til next year."

See my blog at www.heartlandradical.blogspot.com



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