In George Will’s wonderful new book A Nice Little Place On The North Side: Wrigley Field At One Hundred, a “sometimes terrible truth” appears on page 156: “[Being] a sports fan is a physical condition as well as a psychological condition.”
Draw your own conclusions, but the obvious one is that Aristotle’s “happiest life” is more difficult to achieve depending upon the sports teams you chose to follow. The estimable Fred Barnes follows Auburn football and Virginia football and basketball, and he is — has been since early January in fact — in mourning. Barnes is also a Washington Wizards seasons ticket holder, yet still appears hale. Go figure.
Will appears to be a Cubs fan and only a Cubs fan. If he is attached to the Bears, the Bulls, hockey’s Capitals, Georgetown’s Hoyas or any other club, I have not seen evidence of it. Just a Cubs fan. Will did not spread his bets.
I did. If not evenly, then on three professional franchises: the Cleveland Browns, Indians and Cavaliers. The most recent championship among the trio is 1964, a half century ago this fall. Cubs’ futility is more than a century old, but collectively my three perennial disappointments have racked up more catastrophes than Will’s solo entry. The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, Jose Mesa in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the 1997 World Series.
We have no Bartman in Cleveland, but the shame of Nickel Beer Night endures. Indians’ front offices have traded Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss, Dennis Eckersly and a score of others. Browns’ management have drafted Tim Couch and William Green and Mike Junkin in the first round. LeBron James left. Millions live in fear that Kyrie Irving will. Google “Factory of Sadness.” It is true.
But Will makes a good case that a single franchise’s run of suffering of a century’s duration is actually harder on a fan than a half-century of despair in three categories. I do not know who can calculate this complex quantification of misery. Certainly Cleveland fans are closer to the five-tool complete failure fan than the one-dimensional Chicago Cubs fan, but, again, Will is a pure baseball man, immune to the other maladies. It is a close call. Count all the losses and let God sort out the size and views of the rooms of the mansion reserved for long-suffering franchise devotees.
Do buy the book, though, and get a full dose of one side of the argument. There is so much here that I didn’t know about the peculiar awfulness of Cubbery. Will refers early and off-handedly to Ohio’s “mistake on the lake,” Cleveland Municipal Stadium, a horrible place for baseball and not much better for football. Gone now, and missed by no one save the legions and legions of rats. Wrigley, though, sounds so beautiful, so wonderful, which might be like having the cleanest, shiniest operating room for the desperate, almost invariably fatal operation.
We are opening a new year of baseball. The Tribe could contend. Young Danny Salazar could dazzle. Cleveland certainly ought to sign Justin Masterson, who actually wants to play many more years on our club. Really. Terry Francona is at the helm. All is good in my world. Even the Browns have two first-round draft choices and the Cavs may hit lottery magic a third time.
But Will, he pines and suffers in a gloomy place, but a beautiful one. Sisyphus on a mountain of spring flowers, rainbows and beer, but Sisyphus nonetheless. A hundred years more? Two hundred? Who knows. Will had made me believe it is possible.