The world changed for Cubs fans on November 2, 2016 (or November 3 in Cleveland and Toronto), the night the Cubs won the World Series after a 108-year championship drought. It finally happened! But we were not truly prepared for what came next – villain status.
The World Series title transformed the Cubs from “lovable losers” into large-market defending champs. Cubs fans were used to big brother/little brother dynamics in the rivalry with the crosstown White Sox as well as the intradivisional matchups against their Central Division foes, but I don’t believe they were ready for these to play out on a league-wide scale.
The Cubs are one of the premier franchises in MLB and enjoy a global following. Joe Maddon’s tenure as manager has coincided with the Cubs’ most successful era to date, and their 2016 title has made them one of the teams to beat. Certain decisions by the Cubs’ ownership, such as retaining a wifebeating player and fundraising for a sitting president who has been accused of sexual assault and rape, haven’t helped improve the team’s image. However, Cubs fans aren’t used to being in a similar position as Yankees fans, who are the most hated in MLB due to the Yankees’ status as MLB’s all-time most successful franchise. Being hated and envied simply hasn’t been part of the Cubs fandom tradition, so the vitriol directed at players like Anthony Rizzo and Javier Báez can be confusing to us.
Cubs fans need to realize times have changed and they need to embrace their new standing as league villains. We should be happy about this development – it means the Cubs have arrived. The Yankees have been villains seemingly forever, so we should emulate their devotees and bask in the glow of hatred from fans from around the league.
Thankfully, some members of the Cubs are already doing the heavy lifting for us by simply being themselves. In order to embrace the Cubs’ villain status, all we need to do is embrace certain Cubs (not the ones who beat their wives, of course) and enjoy their performance on the field.
El Mago established himself as one of MLB’s young stars thanks to his heroics in the 2016 National League Championship Series which earned him co-MVP honors along with SP and active Cubs legend Jon Lester. His flashy play and unapologetic attitude have also earned him his fair share of haters. In a recent story published by the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cubs’ All-Star shortstop explained that when his younger sister passed away in 2015, he lost his motivation to play baseball, since she had been his inspiration to keep going. Báez ultimately decided to continue playing but to enjoy himself while working to improve rather than treat baseball strictly as a business.
“My sister would want me to keep playing, obviously,” he said. “I decided to get better at it, and to have fun.”
Javy is still getting better and still having fun. This attitude has endeared him to Cubs fans, but enrages baseball purists who expect players to “keep their heads down and act like they’ve been there before”, never mind that Báez has been there already as a World Series champion, NLCS co-MVP and two-time All-Star.
He is also unbothered by the haters, as can be seen in his reaction to booing from Cleveland fans at this year’s All-Star Game.
“I was hoping that mine wasn’t worse than KB, but it was. It’s fun to know that the competition gets to them. Obviously there’s great memories here for our team.”
This is the kind of energy Cubs fans should embrace. Fuck the haters and enjoy the golden age of Cubs baseball!
The 2016 MVP has a very affable, clean-cut persona, so it came as somewhat of a surprise when he ended up the subject of Cardinals catcher Yadi Molina’s social media rage following a one-off joke made at the Cubs fan convention this winter when doing an appearance with former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster when he was trash-talking the city of St. Louis.
“Who would want to play in St. Louis? It’s so boring. I always get asked, ‘Where do you like to play, where do you not like to play?’ And St. Louis is a place I don’t like to play.”
The comments drew the ire of St. Louis fans and residents, who are extremely sensitive about the city’s reputation. For his part, Bryant seemed somewhat puzzled by the reaction, since he felt he had no ill intent.
“I felt like I wasn’t attacking anyone,” Bryant replied. “I wasn’t attacking anyone’s family or organization or fans. I wasn’t attacking anybody. It was totally taken out of context.”
While KB says he will try to make more of an effort to explore the city during future trips, he is not backing down from his comments.
“I don’t think I said anything wrong. I’m not taking anything back. I think things were taken out of context a little bit.”
Good sports villains don’t cave to the rabble!
Hamels hasn’t been a member of the team for long, but the veteran southpaw knows how to get under the skin of the Cubs’ rivals. Following a game against the Milwaukee Brewers in which he pitched well but the team took a loss, he weighed in on the Cubs-Brewers “rivalry.”
Cole Hamels, not feeling the rivalry after a walk-off loss to the #Brewers: "When you have majority #Cubs fans in the stands, I don’t know if that’s a rivalry yet. I’ve been in rivalries. They’re not going to like me for the comment, but you can look at the ticket sales."
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) September 3, 2018
As expected, the comment got under the skin of Brewers fans, which was surely his intent. The rage was so pure that I hope Hamels pitches a no-hitter at Miller Park and gets inducted into the Hall of Fame as a Cub for maximum ownage.
Strop is another member of the Cubs who, like Báez, performs with swag turned up to 11. He always takes the mound festooned with jewelry and his baseball cap tilted to the left, which is reviled by the “respect the game” crowd. But fans of the game should respect Pedro’s ability to get big punchouts to end scoring threats or nail down a Cubs save.
Strop usually doesn’t make himself the story outside of his efforts to help the team win, but he made an exception for Cincinnati Reds OF Yasiel Puig, who he does not respect for anything other than his ability to hit the ball over the river to Kentucky. During the eighth inning of the Cubs’ June 29 victory over the Reds, Strop took exception to Puig’s behavior in the batting box and drilled him with the 3-0 pitch. Puig then walked toward the mound yelling at Strop, which caused the benches to clear.
After the game, Strop had more to say about the incident, calling Puig “stupid.”
Strop on Puig, Part 1 pic.twitter.com/Fe3Dzf11Wy
— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) June 29, 2019
While calling another player “stupid” is not the most sportsmanlike behavior, it was hilarious. After Strop retires as a Cub, I look forward to him spilling the tea about everyone in MLB.
The Cubs’ days as “lovable losers” are over, and now other fans are rooting for them to go down. Certain Cubs players, like Javier Báez, have become especially hated, while others are taking the opportunity to spice up rivalries and interactions with opposing fans. The Cubs’ best villains are unbothered and unapologetic. Fans should follow their example and enjoy this time, since the Cubs’ recent success won’t last forever.
Featured Image: Pamela Brick / Shutterstock.com