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COMMENT: IT'S ONLY A GAME? WELL, YES, BUT...

 

 

By Philip Revzin

CHICAGO, 8 NOVEMBER 2016 — I am a 64-year-old man wearing a tee-shirt that says "Just One Before I Die," under a Chicago Cubs jersey bearing the name and number 10 of Ron Santo, a Hall of Fame third baseman who died in 2010. His successor, Kris Bryant, has just fielded a routine grounder and thrown the batter out at first, and I am sobbing uncontrollably.

The crowd on Clark Street, stretching for blocks outside Wrigley Field, has just seen the sign on the giant red Cubs marquee turn from an 8-7 scoreboard to the words "Cubs Win!" and later to "World Series Champions." After an audible gasp, tens of thousands of people shout at once and begin jumping up and down and hugging their neighbors, often strangers. The last time this public display of joy happened in Chicago was in 2008 when 250,000 people in Grant Park learned from Wolf Blitzer on a giant TV screen that Barack Obama had been elected president. The last time the Cubs won the Series was 1908, pre-Wrigley (it opened in 1913) so obviously pre-marquee. 

Outside Murphy’s Bleachers on Waveland, where I’m standing, thousands more are hugging and bouncing up and down. Mary and Linda from Carbondale give me hugs. José and Pete from down the block give me high fives. Chicago Police Officers Ramirez and Peterson give me huge smiles and high fives. Inside, a Joe Maddon impersonator in a Cubs uniform is leading the crowd in Go Cubs Go, the anthem that’s played after every win. The police blocking Waveland and Sheffield seem to sing the most heartily; they’ve been here all day. The crowd, though massive and massively inebriated for the most part, is mainly peaceful from what I can see.

I’m still sobbing with joy, like many of my generation, thinking of family members who yearned for a Cubs victory but never saw it, and for the players who were my childhood idols – such as Ernie Banks and Mr. Santo – who didn’t see it either. I shed a tear, too, for Steve Goodman, who wrote Go Cubs Go and died in 1984, just before the playoffs.

I know in my head it’s just a game, just entertainment, just a diversion, but seeing this crowd, living this season, and living and dying with each pitch in a roller-coaster of a World Series that comes down to the last half of the 10th inning of the seventh game, I feel in my heart that it’s actually about passion, humanity, sharing, and life. Many, including me, have written that being a Cubs fan prepares one well for the vicissitudes and occasional unfairness of life, steeling you for inevitable disappointment and despair, engendering a sort of "cautious pessimism" that pervades all human interaction. It’s a feeling that seems to engulf the whole city, which has intractable problems of crime, poverty, and neglect existing next to vast reserves of wealth and beauty. There are triumphs, but somehow they pale in front of failure.

For the past week or so, Chicago has seemed to bathe in a sea of white and blue "W" flags all over the city. (The Cubs raise one on a flagpole at Wrigley Field after each win, to alert the neighborhood.) There’s one flying from the entrance to the John Hancock building. There are W flags flying from both the Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower, on Michigan Avenue, the former and present homes of two former team owners. Further up the Magnificent Mile, an Under Armour store features a massive W flag in the window and a giant "This  Is Next Year" blue Cubbies tee-shirt on a giant mannequin. There’s a flag flying from a dangling pterodactyl fossil in the Field Museum of Natural History. There’s one above the entrance to the Art Institute and giant blue Cubs caps on the heads of the lions guarding the entrance stairs. By the end of the Series there are 11 huge W flags, one for each post-season win, on the Merchandise Mart, once the biggest office building in the world.

There’s an out of service CTA bus with the words "Go Cubbies" on the electric sign on the front where the destination usually goes. There are mechanical street-sweepers decked out in Cubs pinstripes with huge W flags on their sides. There’s an illuminated Cubs logo that morphs into a W flag right at the center of the huge new ferris wheel at Navy Pier, and the massive wheel itself at times is lit in the red, white, and blue logo. There are blue Cubs caps everywhere, including the one firmly planted on my head as I go to a business meeting and run some errands. I get a letter from my lawyer enclosing the deed to our condo: the cover note is a piece of white legal stationery with a big blue magic-marker W on it.

Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony, many of its member wearing Cubs tee-shirts, record and post a lyrical version of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, showing their musical support. Maestro Muti sported a Cubs jersey with MUTI 16 on the back, and jumped around endearingly during the "One, Two, Three Strikes You’re Out" part. Meanwhile, the Friday of the first series game at Wrigley, five male singers from the Lyric Opera turned up at Murphy’s to belt out an a capella version of Go Cubs Go

The Cubs have allowed anybody who wants to to post messages in blue chalk up on the brick walls along Sheffield and Waveland. I walk by near the end of the playoffs and see a lot of "Go Cubs!" and "Fly the W!" and "This is the Year!" and shout-outs to long-passed uncles and grandfathers, as well as greetings from New York, California, and Idaho, among others. The Cubs say they’ll leave them up for a week or so before power-washing them off as they continue renovations. It’s a nice thing, empowering hope. 

Hope seems to pervade the crowd in front of Murphy’s Wednesday night. As I hug strangers, weep uncontrollably wearing my Cubbie blue, and jump up and down, I am truly happy, and hopeful that somehow this spirit can infuse the rest of our lives.

Editor's note: Philip Revzin is the author of Just One Before I Die: A Cubs Fan’s Chronicle of a Championship Season, currently available in a Kindle edition on Amazon.com.

Philip Revzin is an award winning journalist and former editor-at-large for Bloomberg News. Previously, he was a long-time reporter, editor and publisher for The Wall Street Journal Europe in London, Paris and Brussels. Later, Mr. Revzin was named publisher and editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review and the publisher for The Wall Street Journal Asia in Hong Kong. He last wrote on the book Dark Money  for Culturekiosque.



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