The Cubs and the Hazards of Public Fandom
If you were dropped into a moment facing the partially-obscured sun on the horizon, it wouldn’t always be easy to distinguish a sunrise from a sunset. In time, you would be able to tell which it was, of course. But you would need that time to know whether you were looking at the beginning or the ending of the day.
I try to remember that as an observer of any given baseball season, some massive chunk of which is always either a very slow sunrise or very slow sunset. The season is long and uncertain.
I’m probably saying most of this for my own benefit today. But I have the keyboard, and it’s what I need to say. Call it public therapy. I figure I put the pains of my fandom out there publicly for the world to see; I might as well also make public the process of getting back to center.
When the Cubs are going through a terrible stretch – or, more specifically, a really disappointing stretch relative to our hopes – I get pretty down about it. At heart, I’m a fan, and it’s an awful feeling to helplessly observe crappy games stacking up on each other. I want to see the Cubs do well, because that’s fun. When they are playing poorly, that is not fun. I have lived long enough to know that fun is better than not-fun, so, you know, I prefer the former.
So when a small handful of people are particularly unkind to me *ABOUT* my work on Cubs-related things *AS* the Cubs are disappointing me, it’s this compounding effect. I already feel bad, and it can be challenging enough to wade into the waters to write about the team in a useful way. But when you also feel like, by publishing that writing, you’re just creating another invitation to scorn? That is its own awful feeling.
And since it is not professionally plausible for me to not hear from folks about the work, these periods of time are doubly crummy. I get smacked by my own torment about the silly pajama sport, and then I get smacked for sharing my mixed feelings of positivity and negativity, optimism and fatalism.
The upside of public fandom is that I get to write about the Chicago Cubs for a living. The downside is that I have to, you know, publicly be a fan. I don’t always do it well, in terms of both the things I say and in terms of how I handle the things said to me.
There have been a lot of these periods the last five seasons. Sometimes I just want to be able to sit there and watch Cubs games, offering whatever thoughts I have – dealing with my own feelings, rather than having to wear everyone else’s. Giving myself a chance to be patient and see what there is to see about a given season, and watch as its trajectory unfolds.
Which is not to say people can’t react negatively to the Cubs being disappointing, or criticize their decisions or performances. Or disagree with my take on those things! I just don’t love being on the receiving end of some people’s unrestrained firehose of anger about the Cubs. Crapping on me at a personal level won’t make you feel better about the Cubs going through a bad stretch. It certainly won’t give you any kind of special clarity on whether this is a decent team going through a bad time, or a bad time getting a head start on its sunset.
For me, I’m not going to completely freak out about these last two Cubs losses, at least not in a way that it outsized relative to the rest of the season. It’s bad. These were really bad losses, coming at a time when the Cubs have lost far more more than they’ve won over the last three weeks. But this is why, even when things were good in April, nobody should’ve been predicting 95 wins. That wasn’t this year’s team.
This was a team that was built to show – and so far has shown, in my view – an ability to be competitive through the season. In a bad division, this is still a team that can be in the race come July, can be buying at the deadline, and can have a shot to surprise in September.
If you thought these Cubs could be a .500 team back in late-April, I haven’t seen any reason to think that’s not still on the table. And in this division, hovering around .500 by late-July is going to set your trajectory the rest of the way. From there, 85, 86, 87 wins is (1) wholly possible, and (2) could be competitive atop the NL Central.
So are we watching the start of a sunset on the 2023 Cubs season? A sunrise? Pfft. I don’t know. You don’t know. Heck, THEY don’t know! We won’t know for a while, and I am unlikely to make any declarations for a long time yet. Or maybe I will, and then I’ll take them back, and then I’ll change my mind, and then I’ll freak out and then get calm … it’s a mess. Being a fan is a mess.
I just want to watch the Cubs play, enjoy the parts that I can enjoy, talk about the good and the bad, and analyze thoughtfully the things that we’re seeing. I’ll keep on trying to do that in a useful, excruciatingly public, way.