Tradition (Huh! Yeah!) What Is It Good For?
When your team is on the wrong side of 100 years of futility, you have to choose carefully which traditions to hold onto and which to let go. Protecting too much of your tradition means you run the risk of celebrating incompetence. Dump it all and you might as well load up the Mayflower trucks and move the whole operation to a new city.
Tradition means a lot to Cubs fans. For some–in place of championships and past glory–it means everything.
But sometimes that tradition can hold you back. For nearly half a century, the Cubs organization chose not to install lights at Wrigley Field and play only day games because that’s the way they’d always done it. Don’t get me wrong–day games aren’t necessarily a disadvantage. In fact, if anything, they ought to be an advantage. But instead of making the most of the scheduling peculiarity, the Cubs let it become an excuse for failure–and more than a few players used it as license to become fixtures of the Chicago nightlife, squandering considerable potential in the process. Did the abundance of day games automatically make the Cubs losers? No, but it paved the way for a variety of failures.
Most Cubs fans can’t agree on which traditions they’d like to preserve, even if they’re far less consequential than the decades of day games. Some fans love the bricks and ivy, the old manual scoreboard, and the schizophrenic ways that Wrigley Field plays depending on the weather. Others want to tear the whole thing down and build a domed stadium on the same land–still others want to move out to the northwest suburbs where parking is more plentiful and the commute shorter.
I can’t agree with that kind of thinking. I want Wrigley Field to stay the way it is, and with some thorough, careful renovations, I think it can.
But that doesn’t mean I’m a fan of all the Wrigley Field traditions. Along with the bricks, ivy, and the manual scoreboard, I’d keep:
- The “W” and “L” flags As a former frequent passenger on the Red Line, I know how fun it is to ride past Wrigley and see the result of the day’s game flapping in the wind. And the abundance of “W” flags unfurled after road wins has helped cement it as celebratory tradition. (I still can’t figure out why some division rival hasn’t started selling the blue “L” flags for their fans to display after Cubs losses.)
- Wayne Messmer singing the National Anthem His trademark glory note on the word “brave” is my Pavlovian indicator that a Cubs game is about to begin.
- No mascots or cheerleaders Ronnie Woo-Woo and the Dixieland band don’t count.
- The 7th inning stretch “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is simply more appropriate than “God Bless America.” (More on this below.)
- The rooftop bleachers You’ll remember that a few years back, the Cubs installed screens to block out the view from the rooftops until they came to a financial agreement with their Wrigleyville neighbors. In the years before and since then, the Cubs have had opportunities to buy those buildings. I hope they eventually do, because I like the idea of watching a game from a nearby rooftop, and I think the only way to keep them open long term would be for the Cubs to take full control.
Most other Wrigley traditions I could take or leave, although there are a few that need to die, preferably sooner than later. I would gleefully get rid of:
- The guest conductor for the 7th inning stretch C-list celebrities garbling the words to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” does not honor the memory of Harry Caray. It’s time to dump the guest conductor gig–and the usually nauseating interview that follows–and just use a recording of Harry or Ron Santo (I’d use Harry for day games, and Ron for night games). And if you want to have the occasional guest conductor with some true connection to the Cubs, I’ll give in. But the list needs to be short. Real short. Like “let’s limit it to Cubs Hall of Famers and Bill Murray” short.
- “Go Cubs Go” needs to go This one is relatively new, and I’ll admit I’m a little torn. On the one hand, I only hear it after Cubs wins, so I’m predisposed to want to hear it. But the song is so mind-numbingly, teeth-gratingly hokey. Really, if we want to honor Steve Goodman, wouldn’t it be better to play “A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request”–a far superior song–after every Cubs loss? I don’t know if a lyrical update or a rerecording of “Go Cubs Go” could improve the song, but something needs to be done. Soon.