The Appeal of the Chicago Cubs: Screw-Ups Like You Wanna Be
They’re also not cheap. This year the Cubs paid about $88 million in player salaries, putting them solidly in the middle of the pack for payroll but almost dead last in winning records.
In 2011 they paid quite a bit more (about $125 million) and went 71-91, not quite a last-place finish in their division. The year before that it was over $146 million, the third-most expensive team in baseball that year, for a 75-87 showing.
The trend is statistically consistent: the Cubs are really good at wasting money.
And there’s something loveable about that. Remember, a few of those expensive years bought good seasons. 2007 and 2008 were exciting times for Cubs fans, miserable post-seasons notwithstanding. Always profligate, frequently disappointing, and occasionally and briefly brilliant, the franchise is sort of like an eccentric, wealthy relative that you’re not in line to inherit from anyway — the pure spectacle of waste is enjoyable in its own right.
It’s worth noting as I explore this theory that the New York Yankees consistently spend the most on their players and do very, very well in terms of winning record (2008 was literally the first time since I was in grade school that they didn’t go to the post-season); they’re also the most hated team in baseball outside their home territory. It’s like a Mitt Romney to the Cubs’ Robert Downey Jr.: everyone loves a profligate screw-up, but no one likes the rich, powerful guy who makes smart choices to get even richer and even more powerful.
So as easy as it is to wax nostalgic about the ivy-colored bricks or treasure the legend of the goat, I think it’s worth pausing to consider whether some of the appeal of the Cubs might not come from the conscious waste of it all. We can live, briefly and vicariously, through the thrill of spending so much and working so hard to be absolute crap at something.
It’s like a loving reminder of that time we were totally going to take up gardening (or homebrewing, or building computers, or restoring cars, or whatever) and then we bought all the expensive gear and then we realized we sucked, only with baseball on a national and professional level.
Or maybe it’s just the moral satisfaction of not being a Yankees fan. (Pure partisan hackery, there, but that’s sportswriting for you.)
I know for a fact I enjoyed my last trip to Wrigley Field, and it was about the worst game of professional baseball I’ve ever seen. Got to be some explanation.