“Anybody Can Have A Bad Century” — The Success Secrets of the Chicago Cubs

How the World’s All-Time Losingest Sports Franchise (up until now!) Keeps Winning at the Box Office

In 1908 Napoleon Hill went to meet Andrew Carnegie to pick his brain for a magazine article.  An interview that was supposed to last one hour turned into three days.  Carnegie gave Hill the challenge of creating a book on philosophy of success and instructed Hill to interview over five hundred of his successful friends — people like Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and John D. Rockefeller — to uncover the secrets of this philosophy.  The result of Hill’s effort? The all-time classic book Think and Grow Rich.  Many people believe this book is responsible for more entrepreneurial success stories than all the business schools in America combined.

1908 also saw the first Ford Model T automobile and the founding of the Boy Scouts of America.  New York City began dropping a ball in Times Square on New Year’s Day and Mother’s Day was observed for the first time.  But 1908 is a most important year for die-hard Cub fans like me:  It was the last year the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, exactly 100 years ago.

I went to a Chicago public school, so I’m not real good at math, but that’s a long time folks.  I try to explain away my team’s lack of rings by saying, “Hey, lighten up —  anybody can have a bad century …”  I’m all for keeping the faith and being persistent, but I admit I’m tiring of the Cub fan battle cry, “Wait until next year!”  By contrast, the New York Yankees have won the World Series twenty-six times, and they didn’t get their first until 1921.  Even more confounding:  The Arizona Diamondbacks won it all in 2001, and they’ve only been around since 1998.  And the Florida Marlins, whose fans barely show up to see them, have won two since their inception in 1993.  Every other major league baseball franchise (except for a few expansion teams who don’t count) has won it at least once.  Boston got theirs in 2004 after an 86 year drought, and even the arch rival Chicago White Sox, non-winners since 1917, grabbed one in 2005.  (Us Cub fans are still reeling over that …)

The NHL started up in 1917, the NFL in 1922, the NBA in 1946.  Although I don’t follow all the other leagues and teams around the globe, I’m going to go out on a limb and declare the Chicago Cubs “The World’s All-Time Losingest Sports Franchise.”  (I guess they’re Number One in something, right?)  So how do I explain that this team draws millions of fans like me year after year to their ballpark, The Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field?

Is it nostalgia?  Wrigley Field’s located smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood — you’re walking down the street and all of a sudden, “Hey — there’s a ballpark!”  That’s “park,” not stadium.  It’s ivy covered walls, the hand-operated scoreboard, the quaint open air architecture with views of Waveland and Sheffield Avenues and the lake beyond, the close proximity of the fans to the players do recall a time long past.

Intergenerational bonding?   I remember my mom taking me to the games on Ladies’ Day back in the late 50’s.  I can see my dad blowing a gasket when the Cub closer blew yet another save on the tube.  And who didn’t want to play shortstop for the Cubs after your parents took you to see Ernie Banks play?

Shrewd marketing?  Sure, “Brand Cub” gets a lot of exposure on their superstation WGN-TV.  You can probably see a Cubs’ T-shirt on a sherpa in Nepal.  And I’ll bet superfan Ronnie “Woo-Woo” Wickers is on the payroll.

Chicago’s largest open air beer garden?  Going to a Cubs game is like going to a Grateful Dead concert:  Sometimes they play well, sometimes they suck, but you always have a good time.  Isn’t it nice that you can get away from the pressure of our society’s “winner take all” mentality once in a while?  The ongoing party in the stands regardless of the score makes it seem all worth showing up for — when the Cubs get bombed, we do too.  And it’s a good thing the Wrigleyville bars and restaurants are conveniently located to provide recuperation from yet another agonizing defeat.

While all of the above are in the mix, here’s what I believe is the REAL secret:  The Chicago Cubs allow me and the rest of the mighty Cub Nation to rant, rave and rage like loons over their legendary ineptitude.  No matter how bad things are going for me, no matter what daunting challenges I face, no matter what my coaching clients throw at me, for three hours on a summer day SOMEBODY is worse than me — and it’s Da Cubbies!  The therapeutic effect cannot be overestimated — would you rather give your money to a shrink or to a team with a shrinking winning percentage?  No contest!

So I guess you could call me an addict in need of a recovery group that doesn’t exist:  “Hi!  My name is Jim, and I’m a Cub fan.”  Alas, there is no cure.  Even my dear departed parents were born after their last championship.  But let me tell ya:  The Grand Canyon?  Not bad as sinkholes go. Eiffel Tower?  C’est bien.  The Taj Mahal?  A nice crib.  But gimme a packed Wrigley Field on a warm summer Friday afternoon, the Cubs playing the White Sox or Cardinals, sitting there with some fellow fanatics, a cold Bud in hand, a prayer on my lips and the opportunity just one more time to keep the seemingly impossible “World Champions” dream alive — the dream that always seems crippled in the bottom of the ninth and then dies by the end of September — man, it’s the most beautiful place on the planet!

In closing, let me share a bit of A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request by the late, great Steve Goodman, a Chicago born and bred folksinger who, like me, never saw the Cubs in a World Series.  He captured the essence of our breed in this song — I hope I’m not singing it to my loved ones gathered by my deathbed:

“I’ll never see The Friendly Confines
When I take my eternal rest
So get out your pencils and scorecards
And I’ll lay out my last request:

Give me a double header funeral at Wrigley
On some sunny day in July
Play ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’
And then ‘Na-na, Hey-hey, Goodbye’

It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame …
C’mon Ernie — let’s play two!
Somebody get Harry Caray back
To shout ‘Holy Cow!’ for you

Have the Cubs blow a lead in the ninth
Strand the tying run on third base
Then burn my body on the mound
And dump my ashes in the lake.

My friends will say ‘Jimmy – that’s awful!’
They’ll go, ‘Stop — it’s a cryin’ shame!’
I’ll  whisper, ‘Don’t cry — we’ll meet by and by
At the Heavenly Hall of Fame

I’ve got season’s tix for the Angels
So that’s just what I’m gonna do
But you’ll go on living — you’re stuck with the Cubs —
So it’s ME that feels sorry for YOU!’”


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