Pain tolerance

Being a Chicago fan has been no breeze, either

On the Cubs and Orioles

June 24, 2008|By PETER SCHMUCK

It's time for your annual visit from Dr. Perspective, which - not coincidentally - comes as the Orioles prepare to play their first-ever game tonight at historic Wrigley Field.

Dr. P has been lying low the past year, because even he knows it's hard to make a case for counting your baseball blessings after 10 straight losing seasons, but the Orioles' first interleague series in Chicago provides the perfect backdrop for a discussion - lecture seems like such a harsh word - of true loyalty and fan forbearance.

Let me put it another way: You think YOU'VE been waiting a long time to get back to the mountaintop?

The Cubs, you might have read, are celebrating the 100th anniversary of their last team that won the World Series, so you don't have to be much of a mathematician to figure out it happened back in 1908. To put that in a Baltimore context, an incorrigible kid named Babe Ruth was still in short pants, and it would be 10 more years before his dominating pitching performance helped the Boston Red Sox defeat the Cubs in the 1918 Series and 14 more years before his "called shot" helped the New York Yankees vanquish the Cubs in 1932.

That 1908 Cubs team had Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers and Frank Chance, who would have a poem written about them. The last Orioles team to win a World Series had Cal Ripken and Mike Flanagan and Eddie Murray, any of whom you could still run into at a club function.

This isn't one of those "stop your whining" lectures. The Orioles have been a tremendous civic disappointment for the past decade and are only now starting to show signs of reviving the old Oriole Way. Fans have a right to be frustrated with the way the club has declined in such embarrassing juxtaposition to the rival Red Sox and Yankees.

It's just that baseball lovers everywhere should be humbled by the patience and affection that Cubs fans continue to show their team in the absence of even a losing World Series appearance since 1945.

They have been seduced and abandoned so many times they've come to take a certain perverse pride in each new and different way their beloved Cubbies find to come up short. How else, do you suppose, they could watch a trip to the 2003 World Series glance off the hands of infamous fan Steve Bartman and keep coming back for more?

Maybe this year they will finally be rewarded. The Cubs will enter the three-game series against the Orioles with the best record in baseball (48-28) and little time left to lapse into one of their famous June swoons. There's still the small matter of holding on for three more months and winning three postseason series, but you have to admit they're due.

In the historic jinx department, the Cubs are in a league of their own. The Red Sox finally overcame the 86-year "Curse of the Bambino" in 2004. The White Sox ended an 88-year championship drought in 2005. After the Cubs, the next team on the all-time futility list is the Cleveland Indians, who last won a World Series in 1948.

Of course, you'd never know it by the attendance totals. Cubs fans show up rain or shine, thick or thin. The year after the 2003 playoff collapse, they set an all-time attendance record at Wrigley Field (3.17 million). They broke that record last year on the way to the NL Central title but lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Division Series.

Though attendance fluctuates with the performance of the team, the Cubs have somehow avoided the kind of fan malaise that has led Orioles attendance to decline steadily since the club's high-water mark at Camden Yards - 3.7 million - in 1997.

There are a lot of reasons to explain such a contrast. Chicago is a huge metropolis that easily supports two major league teams, and the Cubs franchise has been part of the fabric of the Windy City since the 19th century. The Cubs have also been much more competitive than the Orioles during the past decade. And the Cubs' corporate ownership (Tribune Co., which also owns The Sun) has not evoked the same kind of personal enmity that Orioles fans have directed at owner Peter Angelos.

It might be explainable, but that doesn't change the fact that Cubs fans are a special breed.

So are the great fans in Baltimore - who just might be witnessing a sea change in the fortunes of the Orioles this year - but a little dose of perspective isn't such a bad thing once in a while.

If you want any more than that, you'll have to make an appointment.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.

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