The Cubs Are Still In It!

Tim is right: 2011 is not the Cubs’ year. (see also: 1909-2010). But not everybody needs to think that way.

There are two approaches to being a fan (probably more, but I’m concerning this argument about these two alone . . . unless I get so inspired to consider others; I doubt it): thinking like a player and thinking like an owner. One approach tends to be more relentlessly optimistic, while the other stirs up storm clouds of doom and gloom not unlike those delaying today’s Cubs vs. Pirates titanic clash.

I’ll take a look at the latter, more pragmatic (and, at this point, pessimistic) approach first. When you think like an owner, you ask the basic question: “What should the Cubs do?” Another way of phrasing it: If I were the owner, GM, manager of the team, what would I do? Well, I think most of us agree that ownership and management can’t afford to be blind optimists. If it’s your money or your job on the line, you don’t make decisions based on what you hope will happen but instead on what you think will happen based on hard facts and well thought-out philosophies.

If you think like an owner, you look at this Cubs team and realize the writing on the wall is all too easy to read. It’s “Cubs Suck” in bright blue graffiti. You start thinking about how to make the team better. You start thinking about 2012 and beyond. You realize that fighting desperately to compete in 2011 probably runs counter to the team’s best long-term interests. 

You realize that cheering for success in 2011 is pointless. If you think like an owner. Nothing wrong with that.

But that same owner (and you probably) expects the players to adopt a completely different attitude. If I’m paying guys many millions of dollars to try to compete on a lost cause of a team, I expect them to try their best each and every time to the plate, each and every pitch, each and every defensive play, and every single game. I expect them to expect to win. Always. Even though I know they’ll more likely to lose, I expect the players I’m paying to embrace some rather unrealistic expectations.

That’s one reason we weigh all performance essentially the same. We don’t value stats accumulated in a pennant race any higher or lower than those put up when the team is out of contention. Players on winning teams are expected to compete as fiercely as they can. Players on crappy teams are expected to compete just as tenaciously. Playing for a championship or playing for pride, athletes aren’t extended any grace based on their circumstances. They’re expected to try to win, no matter how ridiculous that might seem.

Players shouldn’t get discouraged. Players shouldn’t concede. Players should never give up hope, even after mathematics declares hope dead.

Some fans, a lot of fans, take that approach. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Is it stupid? Let me say this as plainly as I can: there is nothing intelligent about being a Cubs fan. There’s nothing intelligent about being a sports fan of any kind. We do this for fun. Sometimes being a Cubs fan is fun. It’s rarely, if ever, smart.

So I don’t begrudge anyone who takes the die-hard approach of a player on the team. Go ahead and describe yourself as a member of the team. Invoke the collective we. We need to keep trying. We need to rally. We need to do whatever we can to win and win now. Fine. I like people who think that way. It’s an admirable quality in a fan, a teammate, or a friend.

If you’re a fan who thinks like a player and approaches every game as a new opportunity to try to win, who believes that every year has a chance to be the year, and who cheers as loud as your vocal chords will allow at the slightest sign of positive progress, I applaud you. (I might not want to hear you pontificate on why your approach is superior, but I applaud you nonetheless.)

So go ahead and keep hope alive. Tell all the haters and naysayers to embrace love and say, “Yeah,” and enjoy every minute of it if you can. There’s nothing wrong with thinking like a player when you’re a fan.

Unless, of course, you’re a fan who actually happens to be the owner.