The other day, I came across this blog post by a former Cubs season ticket holder who had decided to relinquish his seats which discussed his motivation for his decision. He describes it as being similar to his actual divorce, even though he still plans to attend games in 2019. The author of the post links his decision to the ongoing erasure of the middle class in the United States (although it is not a US-only phenomenon) and the soulless billionaire owners of the Cubs who are bleeding fans dry and attempting to remake the Chicago Wrigleyville neighborhood in their interest.
In a recent essay on Lincoln Yards, the Tribune’s Blair Kamin asked, “What kind of city are we building? Who is it for? Does it have room for the small and the granular as well as the muscular and the monumental?” The Cubs need to ask those same questions about their fan base.
Although he had a community with his friends in the stands and years as a season ticket holder, the author no longer felt welcome. I do not particularly identify with the author about the pain of giving up season tickets because I have never been someone with the time or money to enjoy the luxury of holding season tickets. However, I am familiar with the idea of fans being made to feel unwelcome in their adopted community.
Other fans have discussed how Cubs’ executives’ decisions to trade for known homophobe Daniel Murphy and tender a contract to alleged domestic abuser Addison Russell have made them feel unwelcome. When a person whose behavior and statements conflict with your personal values (or denigrate your existence as a person, in the case of LGBT fans concerning Murphy) plays for your team, it becomes difficult to cheer on your team.
Fandoms are communities. When you do not feel welcome in your community, you do not want to be part of it anymore. For many people, sports fandom is a lifelong association, which is why people who choose to leave it speak of it on similar terms to getting divorced.
Aligning yourself with a community means identifying with certain values or sharing in memories. Prior to the 2016 World Series, Cubs fandom was defined by the championship drought. I became a true fan during the 1998 season and learned the pain of playoff defeat, which was even worse in 2003. However, I had been introduced beforehand to this concept by my mother, who had been through it during the Cubs’ historic 1969 season.
With the Cubs’ 2016 championship, stacked roster, new wealthy owners presumably dedicated to success and successful executive Theo Epstein at the helm, Cubs fans imagined the team as becoming the National League’s answer to the Yankees. After the defeat in the NLCS at the hands of the Dodgers in 2017, the disappointing end to the season in 2018 and the owners crying poor this winter while historically good free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are available, this does not appear to be the case any longer. If the Cubs aren’t the NL’s answer to the Yankees, who are they?
This leaves us fans with the question of what it means to be a Cubs fan. We were united this past year by David Bote’s walkoff grand slam against the Nationals and the heroics of Javy Báez and Pedro Strop, but little else. We became fans because of our relatives who taught us the joys of baseball and passed on the wisdom gained from suffering defeat, and then we finally got a taste of World Series victory. However, the current owners seem more interested in extracting profit from the championship than building and growing the fandom through dynastic success. While this is a foundation to sustain donations to Republican political candidates who promise not to tax billionaires, this is not a viable foundation to maintain a fanbase.
For me, Cubs fandom is a way to retain my connection to my former home and community in Illinois now that I live in another country, so I may not ever “divorce” the Cubs. This may not be the case for other fans, so I do not have the right to pass judgment on how they feel about the Cubs or their decision to leave the fandom.
In my opinion, the Cubs fanbase has been one of the strongest MLB fanbases with the largest presence throughout the United States and the world. If we want to keep it that way, now is the time for us to start thinking about what our fandom means to us and what we want to be as a community now that the drought is over. The owners are not going to do it for us.
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