I know it’s considered bad form to wish bad things on anyone…but I suppose everyone has their exceptions. For me it’s Republicans and the New York Mets.
Why the Mets? As we all know, our team affiliations are formed when we are young, and my formative years were spent in Chicago. These things become ingrained in ways that are unexplainable. Why are our emotions so wrapped up in what team we root for? In my case, being a Cubs fan became entangled in something far larger.
In 1969, I was just beginning to make friends at a new high school when my parents announced that we were moving to New Jersey. I was devastated. That summer, I followed the Cubs from afar. I subscribed to a Chicago newspaper, and read the sports section from cover to cover, even though they arrived as much as a week late. At night, I could pick up WGN radio on my transistor radio, and tune in to the games. But the Cubs played all their home games during the day, so the number of games I could listen to was limited. The Cubs were in first place from the first day of the season, and entering August, it seemed like this was going to be their year. But something terrible happened. The “Miracle Mets” came from behind and snatched the pennant away from the reeling Cubs.
That summer was a bummer for all Cubs fans, but for me it was particularly awful. All of my frustrations with having moved away from my friends in the middle of high school, all of my anger at being displaced, all of my longing for my home…it was all invested in my fanaticism for the Cubs. And all that emotion came to a crash and burn ending when the Cubs blew it. And to make matters worse, I was living in a place where I was surrounded by Mets fans.
My Dad and I made our way to Shea Stadium in September to see a game between the Cubs and the Mets. That game became famous as the “black cat game,” the one where a black cat literally walked in front of the Cubs dugout during the game. I still have nightmares about the Mets fans waving white towels in the air and chanting “goodbye Leo” for Leo Durocher, the Cubs manager. I rooted as hard as I could for the Cubs that day and got pelted by a beer.
Back at school in the fall, I listened to the kids in the locker room fiercely arguing about which team was better, the Yankees or the Mets. These were kids whose families had moved to New Jersey from the Bronx or from Queens, and brought with them the original loyalties of their families depending on which borough they were from. The arguments were bitter and had no logic behind them whatsoever. I didn’t have the nerve to say who I was for.
Over the years, the Cubs had many bad years. Every once in awhile they looked like a contender. My friends who were Mets fans would always dismiss me with “don’t think about it…they always collapse.” It wasn’t really true. They had only collapsed that once, in 1969. But they stuck it to me as often as possible.
Are you starting to get it?
In the movie “This Old Cub,” Cubs radio broadcaster Ron Santo was asked on the air by listener to explain to his wife, a Mets fan, why Cubs fans hate the Mets so much. His answer? “Dump her.”
At the end of last season, the Mets collapse was described as the “worst collapse in major league history.” Now spring training has begun, and the New York papers are filled with articles about how Mets fans are feeling so much angst because they’ve collapsed TWO YEARS IN A ROW!
So which is the team that always collapses? Huh? How are you feeling, Mets fans? Can I spend a few minutes and savor this? I know I should be more sportsmanlike, but I can’t help it.
With apologies to Eric, Johnnie, Shirley and Jeff. Whew! I got that one off my chest.