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?