Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's Not About the Goat

The family of Joe Ricketts, an Omaha billionaire, recently finalized the purchase of the Chicago Cubs from the Tribune Company for $845 million, which gives them a 95% ownership in the team, Wrigley Field, and its broadcast assets. That amount is roughly 3 ½ times the Cub's 2008 revenue of $241 million.

When the Tribune Company purchased the team from the Wrigley family in 1981 for $21.1 million, the team’s financial performance, as well as its performance on the field, was a lot less rosy.

Although the Steve Bartman incident is a more recent example of the Cub’s star-crossed history, no story captures the history of the team better than a song that was written in 1983.

With apologies to Lance Armstrong, whose first book was titled, "It's Not About the Bike", there's a whole lot more to the Chicago Cubs than the story about Sam Siannis being unable to bring his goat to the game in 1945, forever condemning the Cubs to DECADES of continuing futility.

The late Steve Goodman is best known for the song that he wrote titled "City of New Orleans", which was popularized by Arlo Guthrie, and has also been performed by Willie Nelson, John Denver, Johnny Cash and The Highwaymen.

Willie’s video has the best pictorial presentation of the song:

However, Steve's most lasting legacy will always be the tribute song that he wrote for his favorite baseball team in late 1983, less than a year before his death at the age of 36.

I've attached a copy of the song below. Not only does it explain a lot about the reason that most people root for the underdog, it also helps to explain the emotional attachment that folks develop for a town named after an onion.

Steve died on September 20, 1984, almost exactly 25 years ago. Just four days after his death, his beloved Chicago Cubs clinched the Eastern Division title in the National League for the first time ever, earning them their first post-season appearance since 1945, three years before Goodman's birth. Eight days later, on October 2, the Cubs played their first post-season game since the 1945 World Series.

His ashes were scattered at Wrigley Field in April of 1988.

The song debuted on Roy Leonard's WGN radio show on March 16, 1983, when Steve Goodman and Jethro Burns walked into the WGN studios around 11:00 a.m. They had just finished a weekend at Park West and Steve said he had introduced a song the night before that he would like to sing on the radio for the first time. With Jethro on mandolin and Steve's guitar for accompaniment, A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request was heard on the radio the first time.

A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request

By the shores of old Lake Michigan
Where the "hawk wind" blows so cold
An old Cub fan lay dying
In his midnight hour that tolled
All around his bed, his friends had all gathered
They knew his time was short
Up on his head they put this bright blue cap
From his all-time favorite sport
He told them, "Its late and its getting dark in here"
And I know its time to go
But before I leave the line-up
Boys, there's just one thing I'd like to know

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy-covered burial ground?
When I was a boy they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave
The land of the free
And the doormat of the National League

He told his friends "You know the law of averages says:
Anything will happen that can"
That's what it says
"But the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant
Was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan"
The Cubs made me a criminal
Sent me down a wayward path
They stole my youth from me
(that's the truth)
I'd forsake my teachers
To go sit in the bleachers
In flagrant truancy

And then one thing led to another
and soon I'd discovered alcohol, gambling, dope
football, hockey, lacrosse, tennis
But what do you expect,
When you raise up a young boy's hopes
And then just crush 'em like so many paper beer cups.

Year after year after year
after year, after year, after year, after year, after year
Until those hopes are just so much popcorn
for the pigeons beneath the 'L' tracks to eat
He said, "You know I'll never see Wrigley Field, anymore before my eternal rest
So if you have your pencils and your score cards ready,
and I'll read you my last request
He said, "Give me a double header funeral in Wrigley Field
On some sunny weekend day (no lights)
Have the organ play the "National Anthem"
and then a little 'na, na, na, na, hey hey, hey, Goodbye'
Make six bullpen pitchers, carry my coffin
and six ground keepers clear my path
Have the umpires bark me out at every base
In all their holy wrath
Its a beautiful day for a funeral, Hey Ernie lets play two!
Somebody go get Jack Brickhouse to come back,
and conduct just one more interview
Have the Cubbies run right out into the middle of the field,
Have Keith Moreland drop a routine fly
Give everybody two bags of peanuts and a frosty malt
And I'll be ready to die

Build a big fire on home plate out of your Louisville Sluggers baseball bats,
And toss my coffin in
Let my ashes blow in a beautiful snow
From the prevailing 30 mile an hour southwest wind
When my last remains go flying over the left-field wall
Will bid the bleacher bums adieu
And I will come to my final resting place, out on Waveland Avenue

The dying man's friends told him to cut it out
They said stop it that's an awful shame
He whispered, "Don't Cry, we'll meet by and by near the Heavenly Hall of Fame
He said, "I've got season's tickets to watch the Angels now,
So its just what I'm going to do
He said, "but you the living, you're stuck here with the Cubs,
So its me that feels sorry for you!"

And he said, "Ahh Play, play that lonesome losers tune,
That's the one I like the best"
And he closed his eyes, and slipped away
What we got is the Dying Cub Fan's Last Request
And here it is

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy-covered burial ground?
When I was a boy they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave
The land of the free
And the doormat of the National League

As of this morning, the Cubs were in second place in the National League Central Division, with 38 games left in the regular season. To quote the late Mr. Goodman, “anything will happen that can”.

Although there may still be time to get your 2009 World Series tickets featuring the Cubs and an undetermined opponent, it’s best to save your money for a rainy day.

Just stop blaming the goat.

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