A decade ago I found myself in a town on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, being given a tour of the local soccer stadium by the town’s mayor. During the tour he evinced great pride in their community’s support for the team despite the fact that it had not won a championship since the 1950s—the longest title drought endured by any professional sports team in the world, I was told.
I politely begged to differ, and told them of the futility of my favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs. After a minute of disbelief—resolved only after we consulted the Internet—the mayor asked a simple question: “Who would root for such a team?” Good question.
I grew up in central Illinois, so I became a Cubs fan almost by default, with a nudge from my family history: Despite being dead for 65 years, my great-grandfather and namesake had seen every World Series game in Wrigley Field, courtesy of a productive partnership with the mob in his bar-cum-gambling establishment. When prodded, my father would share some of his grandfather’s World Series stories, including the game against the Yankees when the Babe called his home run shot. Which he most definitely did, I have been informed repeatedly.
When cable TV arrived in Mossville in the early 1980s, giving us the Cubs and Harry Caray for 155 games a year on WGN, the die was cast: I was a Cubs fan forever, despite leaving the state soon afterwards for locales where denizens do not bleed Cubby blue.
Today I live in Washington, D.C., and continue to follow the Cubs intently, albeit from afar. Rooting for someone besides the local team makes me feel a little exotic—at least as much as a straight white Republican male from the Midwest can ever be—but being a Cub fan these days comes with a bit of a stigma: The “loveable losers” mystique, the ubiquity of their games on WGN, and the cachet of Wrigley Field has proved irresistible for many a casual fan. While having to share my loyalties (and fight for tickets to Wrigley Field) with these Johnny-come-latelies who didn’t have their mettle tested by decades of frustration may feel unsettling at times, resenting people who are on your side but may not share the depth of your convictions is the epitome of shallowness—not unlike politicians who change their positions so as to always stand in opposition to their foes.
The legion of Cubs fans consist of far more than yuppy baseball illiterate; while I enjoy going to Wrigley Field, it’s a lot more fun to see the Cubs play on the road. The dedicated fans who show up in droves in Philadelphia and D.C. and New York wearing their Ron Santo jerseys and beat-up Cubs hats make me realize that rooting for the team makes me a part of a real community. While those of us who comprise Cubs nation may have exactly one thing in common, that’s enough: Sitting down next to a fellow Cub fan at a baseball game is usually enough to prompt a conversation that doesn’t end until the last out. Sitting next to someone with whom I shared the same religion, political party, or even hometown rarely engenders the same intimacy. I’m not put off if my seatmate doesn’t believe in using OPS to measure offensive ability or doesn’t share my deeply held belief that Dusty Baker was criminally incompetent as long as he’s rooting for the Cubs to win.
There are myriad reasons to follow baseball—nostalgia, a sense of community, a way to connect with America, or simply to take in and appreciate its beauty and endless complexity. Any fan who’s honest with himself would admit that there’s a little bit of each involved in their fandom, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Ike Brannon is director of economic studies at the American Action Forum.