Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Self-Pity of Cubs Fans

One day I'll write a post on the depravity of Cubs fans. For now, here's a column from the Post-Dispatch that makes some good points at LaRussa's expense, but also goes where all pro-Cubs columns have gone before, into a narcissistic self-pity...

Suffering succotash: A Cub fan looks at LaGenius
By Bill McClellan

Hello! Hello! Can you hear me down there? This is a Cub fan calling to Cardinal fans! Can you hear me down there?

I completely understand if you haven't had the inclination to look at the standings much this year, but if you want to find the Cubs, just go to the standings, locate the Cardinals and scroll up. But hey, what do standings mean? Sometimes I think baseball ought to be scored like figure skating. Instead of runs, it ought to be based on style points.

A couple of years ago, the Cubs were tied in the ninth inning. The opposing team had the potential winning run on third, and another runner on first. The Cub pitcher threw to first to try to pick the runner off, but the ball hit the runner on the helmet and ricocheted into the stands. The runner on third was awarded home. The Cubs lost. But isn't a play like that worth something? Aren't some losses more imaginative than others?

Of course, with the Cubs there has always been a metaphysical element, a religious element. Cub fans understand the virtue of suffering. When we talk among ourselves, we hardly ever mention wins. It's always about disaster. Were you there the day Lou Brock stole second with the bases loaded? Were you there the day the Cubs made three errors on the same play?

I'm getting the same sense with the current Cardinals. This season is all about suffering. Mostly, though, the suffering belongs to one man, the tortured Tony LaGenius. It's as if he's been bounced from the sports page into the Old Testament. He's Job.

To a casual observer, it might have seemed that the suffering began with that driving under the influence charge in Florida. And sure, that had to be humiliating. But the suffering really began in January, when the baseball writers delivered a huge snub to Mark McGwire. Despite 583 homers, he received only 23.5 percent of the writers' votes for the Hall of Fame.

Asked to comment on that snub, LaGenius said, "It was real obvious that the voters were going to make a statement about that, whether it was Mark or the whole era of baseball."

The "that" the writers were going to make a statement about was steroids.

If baseball anthropologists were checking the DNA of the steroid scandal to seek its source, they would almost certainly find their way to the Oakland A's of the late '80s and early '90s where "clubhouse chemistry" seemed to take on a special meaning. McGwire and Jose Canseco got big in Oakland. Later, of course, Canseco wrote a tell-all book about those days. Among other things, he claimed he and McGwire used to inject each other.

LaGenius, of course, was the manager. When Canseco's book was published, LaGenius attacked Canseco's credibility. He did not want to see the team's accomplishments diminished. But he seemed pretty much alone in his attack. Former pitcher Dave Stewart said, "I could never say Jose is a liar. I don't like his work ethic, and I don't like him as a teammate. But one thing I can't say about him is he's a liar."


LaGenius was also McGwire's biggest supporter, and that support always seemed a little stretched. He used to work out so much, LaGenius would say, as if it that should clear McGwire of suspicion. Actually, working out does not clear a guy. It is the man who works out who would most benefit from steroids. It was as if LaGenius was the smartest man in baseball about everything else and the dumbest about steroids.

That is how LaGenius came into the season, a World Series champion and Hall of Fame credentials for sure, but a man with a cloud over his head. If the writers are going to make a statement about players suspected of using steroids, what will they do about a man suspected of being the Great Enabler?

So LaGenius seemed out of sorts from the beginning. He pouted when sportswriters complained about his decision to leave Chris Duncan out of the opening day lineup. He griped when this newspaper published a story about the long-suffering Cubs, as if such a story would actually motivate the mercenaries who happen to be Cubs at the moment. And now, he'll probably have to make the decision to include Barry Bonds on the All-Star team.

Ouch again. The Great Enabler selects Bonds. Or doesn't. Either way, it will look bad.

If this does turn out to be his last season with the Cardinals, maybe he ought to try to get on with the Cubs. We're all about suffering. He'd fit right in.