The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Go Cubs go!

September 3, 2008 |  1:00 pm

Every summer we spend part of our family vacation making a pilgrimage to Wrigley Field to see our beloved but woeful Chicago Cubs. Except this year the Cubbies aren't so woeful. In fact, they have the best record in the National League and are leading the league's toughest division, the NL Central, by 4 1/2 games. (To give you an idea of how tough the division is, if the Dodgers were in the NL Central, they'd be 15 games out of first place.) I hate to view all my experiences through the prism of show business, since we really just went to Chicago to see baseball played in the best ballpark in the land. But baseball is entertainment and the Cubs--who are in the process of being sold by Sam Zell, who also owns my newspaper--are a one-of-a-kind entertainment commodity, which is why a host of suitors, including Dallas Mavericks and Landmark Theatres owner Mark Cuban, are salivating at the prospect of shelling out more than $1 billion for the franchise.

Etwrigley And why not? Studio chiefs and network execs spend zillions trying to establish brand loyalty for their product. Imagine their envy when they study the zealous loyalty of Cubs fans: Even when the team was abysmal, which was almost always (we haven't been to a World Series in 63 years, haven't won one in 100), Wrigley Field has been packed with rabid fans. In recent years, even with the Cubs fielding some truly hapless teams, every game is a sellout. In TV or film, a lousy product almost invariably spells disaster. At Wrigley, it hardly matters. The experience of being at Wrigley with the faithful is what matters.

We had especially great seats at one of the games last month, right behind home plate. I found myself seated next to an elderly man who went to his first Cubs games as a boy in 1933. He saw Hack Wilson play left field before there was any ivy on the brick outfield wall, in fact before there was even a left-field wall (in the '30s, there were field-level bleachers). He'd seen it all, from a skinny rookie shortstop named Ernie Banks to slow-walking relief ace Lee Smith to irrepressible outfielder Jose Cardenal (who used to keep his Afro comb tucked in the ivy in left field). He even remembered the gloomy early-'60s era when the Cubs decided the team should be run by a college of coaches instead of a regular manager, an especially bad idea that inspired even more ignominious defeats. When I asked him what kept him coming back, he shrugged and finally said, "Hope springs eternal."

As anyone who's ever seen the Cubs play at Dodger Stadium can attest, there are untold thousands of transplanted Cubs fans in L.A., including a healthy contingent of showbiz loyalists. I've been nagging various actors and comics and filmmakers, trying to get someone to talk about the roots of their Cubs mania. I finally got a true loyalist to sit down and reminisce about his childhood days at Wrigley Field and even answer a few trivia questions. Tune in later today and I'll have our first Hollywood Cubs Fan Quiz up on the blog.

Photo by Brian Kersey / Associated Press

   

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