Baseball Religion

This blog is about religion. No, not Rick Santorum. Nothing about Judaism or Islam. I’m talking about the Cub religion, which I’ve practiced since I was three. Chicago is a town where you are either born Cubs or Sox. You really can’t be both, though some mixed marriages have survived – I’ve been told.

My lineage is Cub, primarily through my Mother, who grew up near Wrigley Field and used to walk to the games during high school. Her father, Sam Kassel, was a Cub fan from a young age. His parents owned a small grocery store on Chicago’s West side around the turn of the century and Cub players like Johnny Evers (“Tinker to Evers to Chance” fame) used to come by to purchase booze because the old stadium was nearby. He met the wonderfully named Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown (who had lost two digits in a farm accident) and Ty Cobb “The Georgia Peach,” who he said was as nasty as his reputation.

My grandfather and I talked baseball often. It was the primary way we connected. My Cub zealotry grew during grade school as I was ridiculed by the White Sox fans who outnumbered Cub fans 10 to 1 on the South side where I lived. In high school it only got worse. The Cubs were absolutely awful in those days. Even with the magnificent Ernie Banks, who broke the color barrier for the Cubs in 1954. I identified with the constant underdog Cubbies through the great announcer and story teller Jack Brickhouse whose signature home run call (Back, Back, Back – Hey, Hey!) still reverberates in my head.

As a lonely South side Cub fan, White Sox rooters were like an occupying force in my life. When the Sox won the pennant in 1959 behind “Little Louie” Aparicio and Nellie Fox it was a nightmare. The Fire Commissioner turned on the air raid sirens throughout the city. I knew the Russkys weren’t attacking, but celebrating the White Sox triumph was nearly as bad. The ridicule of the Sox mob made me a man. It toughened me for dealing with anti-Semitism later in my life.

The Sox Inquisition of ’59 turned my juvenile Cub love into a smoldering fanaticism. And it has continued. I raised my children “Cub” even though we resided among the Sox heathens in the South suburbs of Chicago. They learned the lessons I had learned in the 1950s. They endured the sarcasm, the mockery, the belittling banter of omnipresent Sox fans, but they held fast to their religion. When my daughter gave her first sermon as a Rabbi, 10 years ago, she referred to long time Cub Shawon Dunston, who was ending his career with the San Francisco Giants where she had moved. She has used a Cub reference in her High Holiday sermons ever since. It is her trademark. And she married a Cub fan who was living in the Bay Area, of course.

When Harry Caray, the great Cub broadcaster, died my son Noah and I mourned him. We brought Cub hats to the makeshift memorial at Wrigley Field and stood in silence for several moments. Holy Cow.

In 2003 when the Cubs were in the Playoffs I had just had major retina surgery and had to keep my head faced down for two weeks. I watched the games though a special mirrored periscope. And in 2008 when I was about to go into the operating room for quadruple coronary bypass surgery my whole family sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” as they were rolling me away.

So it is no joke to say my Cub allegiance is a big part of my life. When you have been through illness you realize you have a finite number of seasons to root for teams. I would hope you have things that you love like I love the Cubbies.

Question: Is there a certain team or player in any sport you love to hate?

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13 thoughts on “Baseball Religion

  1. sean cyphert

    player I love to hate – Ray Lewis Baltimore Ravens – he has brought alot of hatred on himself

    Team I love like you love the cubs – the Seattle Seahawks – alot like the cubs – loveable losers. Everytime they come to Pittsburgh I wear my Seahawk shirt and hat proudly into Heinz Field (and Three Rivers before that). Never had any problems with Steeler fans, just alot of ribbing

  2. Lucy Glib

    Very enjoyable blog (resonates even with a – gasp – Cardinals fan). I was deeply saddened in 2002 when Jack Buck passed. It was like part of my childhood was ripped away. Buck was to Redbirds fans what Harry Carey was to Cubs nation, and his ubiquitous son doesn’t hold a candle. “Go crazy, folks, go crazy!”

    As for loving to hate, Michael Vick makes it pretty darn easy to hate him, but there is certainly no enjoyment there (same with Ray Lewis). So barring those guys, maybe the University of Tennessee Volunteers? I’ve just known too many obnoxious fans in my day …


    Professional football as it is now. There are squads of millionaire thugs being paid bounties to injure opponents. This is the Roman Circus reincarnated. On top of this is an insidious form of racism observable in the type of protection certain quarter backs get. It is beyond my understanding how we can make this a profitable business when it ought to be boycotted until some standard level is a part of the player culture.

  4. Joel Wineberg

    I am, like you, a long-suffering Cub fan. My claim to fame is that I saw the last World Series game played in Wrigley Field in 1945. I was at the Bartman Game in 2003with my brother, who is as big a fan as I am. I guess we should all dislike Dusty Baker because he let the Bartman play get out of hand and the game (and series)went downhill from there.

  5. Noah Graff

    In the past, the bad boy pistons of the late 80s early 90s. Dirty SOBs!

    Basically all New York teams. I could never root for any of them in a million years.

    Cardinals–Yuk! Have to hate them as a Cub fan. Never liked Jim Edmonds much. Cocky Jerk! Then of course I became a big fan when he came to the Cubs. Isn’t that funny how that happens. 🙂 No offense Lucy. Just because I don’t like the Cardinals, it doesn’t mean I can’t like a few of their fans.

    Oh. Milton Bradley. What a punk! Paid him lots of money, clubhouse cancer, and he stunk.

  6. Jeff Kopp

    I have been a true blue Cub fan since 1969; How can you not root for a team that produced greats like Santo, Banks, etc etc? Just the feel and the smell of walking into Wrigley brings back all the memories of all the games I have ever attended; One of my brothers (a Hoosier) has gone so far as to threaten me with calling the Department of Family Services because he thinks raising my son as a Cub fan is a form of child abuse! Nothing will ever deter my love of the Cubs, whether they win or lose, they will always be “my” team! And as for those sox fans, Lloyd, just tell em, I go to Wrigley to see good looking baseball and good looking females, both something the Sox fans dont have! Several years back when my son was 4 years old we had third base seats three rows up by the bullpen, before the game started Antonio Alfonseca walked over and reach over the wall and handed my son a ball, we still have it sealed in a zip lock with the ticket stubs, the look on my sons face is the only reason I would ever need to go back to Wrigley! As for the athletes I dont like, Lebron jumps first to mind, really only because of his betrayal of Cleveland and for his cockiness, its one thing to be cocky and perform, some of us need the extra pressure to rise above the average, but to be cocky and have never gone the extra mile and actually won anything says it all in my opinion; GO CUBS!

  7. Lloyd Graff

    Hey Jeff,

    Did you and your son count Alfonseca’s fingers. I heard he had six on each hand, like in the Princess Bride. Never got a good look on TV.

  8. Noah Graff

    Just to clarify Dad (Lloyd), while Alfonseca had 12 fingers and 12 toes, a condition known as polydactyly, the “Six Fingered Man” (Christopher Guest) had 6 fingers on just one hand.

    Just imagine if 3 Finger Brown was in the same rotation as Alfonseca. Added together it’s the same amount of fingers!

    Gotta love the Cubs. To bad they never had the one handed Jim Abbot.

  9. Kevin Meehan

    Damm, Lloyd, it’s a hell of a lot easier being a Cardinal fan. You’ve been through hell with those small bears!

  10. Tim Daro

    I’m a lifelong Sox lover and Cub hater, plus the product of one such mixed marriage as you mention. My father played semi-pro ball in Wrigley and was a BIG fan from Humboldt Park, where I played in Mayor Daley Little League, while my mother grew up at 39 & Ellis, a stone’s throw from Comiskey. In the spirit of “amor vincit omnia,” on their anniversary (Memorial Day) each year, our family went to a Sox double header, usually against the Yankees…the team I hate even more than the Cub (too lame to pluralize).
    And yes, my buddy Stevie Goodman (we went to Old Town School of Folk Music together) had it right…they still play the BLUES in Chicago…as in Cubbie BLUE, when baseball season rolls around! May he rest in peace, one of the great folk singers of all time.
    For you, Mr. Graff, I prescribe one trip to the Cell, where you can watch real baseball with real fans! Go SOX!!

  11. Tom Sexton

    Having grown up in Los Angeles listening to Vin Scully under the blankets at night doing the Dodger broadcasts I am a lifelong baseball fan. I also ascribe a larger than life meaning to the game. Your blog hit home with me during this Spring Training season. I just wanted to let you know that I truly appreciate and love your perspective on the game.

  12. Tim Daro


    I went to the Old Town School of Folk Music with Steve Goodman and John Prine, when we were all kids. Thanks for the memory. Miss Steve still.

    Of course, as a lifelong Sox fan and Catholic, I’d suggest you check out St. Jude, the patron of lost causes, Cub Boy! ;0)

    Keep up the great work at TMW.


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