We swore we just wanted one before we died. We didn’t set preconditions or enter into negotiations. That’s not really how deals with the devil work. We just wanted a World Series title for our beloved North Siders before we passed on — and honestly, if it came a year or two after we croaked that was fine too. For that single trophy, no cost was too high.
And then we got it. Ohhhh boy did we get it. 10 innings of it. Five million people in the streets for it. The miracles and rain delays and David Ross of it. It was all we’d ever dreamed of.
But from the very get-go, we knew what we’d given up. I remember saying the night of Game 7 that in hindsight, I was actually glad that Aroldis Chapman had given up the lead in the eighth inning because it meant that he – fresh off a suspension for domestic violence and seemingly unrepentant – wasn’t on the mound the moment we clinched. He wasn’t in the photos and wouldn’t be remembered as our savior. He could be relegated to the role of a rent-an-arm who had sort of panned out and could now be shipped back to the Bronx.
Fast forward four seasons and things are… blurrier. When the Ricketts family delivered a World Series championship, the love they felt from the city was as overpowering as it was genuine. Perhaps no owners in American sports built up such a vast amount of goodwill in such a short amount of time. And they immediately started spending it.
- 2017: The Cubs retain Addison Russell through his domestic abuse suspension.
- 2018: The Cubs acquire anti-gay second baseman Daniel Murphy, bringing him in to play just two blocks from Boystown and forcing Cubs fans to find creative ways to sleep at night or to walk away.
- 2018: Ricketts brother Todd takes over the role of RNC Finance Chair from disgraced casino magnate Steve Wynn (not to be confused with disgraced former RNC Deputy Finance Chair Michael Cohen, who is in prison).
- 2019: Ricketts family patriarch Joe’s years of delusional, racist, Islamophobic, brain mush emails are leaked.
- 2019: Ricketts brother Pete is exposed as having employed a white nationalist activist while governor of Nebraska.
- 2019: The Ricketts family hosts Trump for a fundraiser at Wrigley.
- 2019: The Cubs sign away the rights to nearly every Cubs game to far-right Sinclair Broadcasting.
Now, as the 2020 season approaches, the relationship between ownership and fans has deteriorated even further. Tom Ricketts was booed heartily at the Cubs Convention when he mentioned the yet-to-be-launched Marquee Sports Network, and he seemed genuinely confused by the reaction. Never mind that with less than a month until pitchers and catchers report, 60% of Cubs fans still have no way to watch games. Or that the lucky few who are permitted to watch games will be forced to tune in to a channel owned by the people who did this. What’s not to love? Why are all you booing the nice billionaire?? Where has all the goodwill gone???
The honest answer is that it was spent much faster than anyone could have anticipated. And while the on-field results have been disappointing (at least by the newly high standards of the fans), the reality is that it had little to do with baseball.
The Ricketts have, intentionally or not, carried out a real-time sociological experiment on the importance of local sports teams relative to other issues. Could a trophy paper over the racism and bigotry of those who delivered it? What was more likely to drive action: a desire to see the team in person, or a fear of indirectly funding the president’s reelection campaign? And just how far can you push a group of people, once you’ve given them everything they wanted?
The loser in all of this is, as it always is, the fan. Just three years removed from the highest of highs, Cubs fans are now grappling with questions as basic as whether their team’s professional baseball games will be televised to ones as profound as when to walk away from something you love.
It is, of course, not fair of ownership to do this to the fans. But then, there has rarely been anything fair about being a Cubs fan. So as we enter the twilight of this team’s championship window, Cubs fans are left to grapple with a question that seemed inconceivable just a few years ago: was it worth it?