Siberian Baseball

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Year 102, but what's 101 between friends?

Spend some time in Chicago this week and you'll undoubtedly see a cab speed by with the new slogan for the Chicago Cubs. Apparently, truth in advertising doesn't penetrate baseball's antitrust exemption ("Give us all your cash, quickly and quietly." or "Wrigley Field; Two drink minimum.") as they've decided to launch with "Year One."


No. No. No.

I can't explain exactly how infuriating this slogan is to the fan base. It's not year one, it's year one hundred-plus. Just because the Ricketts family chooses to start the calendar anew, doesn't make it the case.

Know what would have been a better slogan to rally the fan base and get folks excited for the regime change at Clark and Addison? "It won't be another 100 years, we promise."

For years now, the Cubs have had laps run around them by their brothers on the South Side. With the exception of the "signs" campaign, the radio ads for the Sox have been far and above the most entertaining ad campaign in years. (Let's all try to ignore the Baby Bulls rebuilding plans and the puzzling "One Goal" commercials run by the suddenly resurrected Blackhawks.) If I had a phone capable of more than basic solitaire and text messaging, I'd have Ozzie Guillen cursing out a child over lima beans as my ringtone. It's just that good.

So, rather than jump into the pool with the Sox (or the A's, Twins or Mariners), the Cubs continue to play on their tradition and their ballpark and this new foray into "Year One." While I understand that the ad is supposed to indicate that the reins have been handed over to a new ownership group and it's set to mark the break between the Tribune company, this just seems misguided to me.

You can't keep a foot in both worlds, expecting fans to flock to Wrigley (now with acceptable women's restrooms!) as a cathedral of baseball, while signifying a clean break with the past. As a fan, I was looking for something more substantial than this and think it's dismissive and off target. I would have been happier with some sort of joking admission of past mistakes as the kickoff campaign, but this just rubs me the wrong way.

With the bar set high following the takeover in Boston that's yielded two championships and counting, Cub fans are understandably anxious to see if the change in ownership will mean the same thing in Chicago. While it's certainly apples to oranges on a handful of factors, Cub fans see themselves as the last holdouts of star-crossed franchises.

They've seen the Red Sox elevated from comrades in futility to fair weather fan bait on par with the Yankees, Duke University and the Dallas Cowboys. They've seen their truest rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals win it all and watched as the Sox paraded through Chicago in 2005 with the World Series trophy. Suddenly, the waiting room is a lot less crowded, and the Pittsburgh Pirates keep staring creepily at them from the corner.

So, from where I stand, Year One doesn't offer me much comfort. While I can sympathize that promising a championship in under a decade would be suicide in this town, I do expect more than a blind eye turned to a century of failure. Making things worse were the radio ads that ran leading into the season, where a breathless announcer reminds you of the great players and chilling moments in Chicago Cubs history. Everything is fine until the copy lets it slip that whoever wrote it wasn't really "sporty" when they remind us of the coaches (not managers) who have led the team in the past. While I'm sure there have been many fine coaches in the past, I'm not thinking of them when I remember confusing my third grade teacher when I spelled it "Freyday" on a spelling test after months spent in the summer with baseball cards as my reading material. Jim Frey cost me one point on that exam and he's never formally apologized.

The Ricketts family didn't need to fall at the feet of the fanbase, nor did they need to Joe Namath the hell out of the airwaves and guarantee multiple championships, but a nod to the past would have helped.

As I've written here before, the biggest plus I've seen in this situation was the change from a corporate ownership base to an actual owner to look to when the team breaks the bank and still pulls up miles short of the post season. It always felt like the Tribune company had other priorities in mind instead of putting an end to the title drought. While individual owners can be worse (looking at you, Peter Angelos), I'd personally rather take my chances with one person or family, instead of a group that can pull the team in different directions.

It's nothing short of heartbreaking to feel that not only was your team going to continue to lose, but the owners didn't seem to care as long as people kept making the pilgrimage to the ballpark, putting butts in the seats and keeping the profits healthy. I guess I hope that having actual people who will hear it from the fans will produce different results.

All winter long we're heard stories about how the Ricketts family is ready to lead this organization, how the matriarch was out with coffee in the cold when tickets went on sale for the season, how the new guys were out at the XRT Home Opener on Monday. I desperately want them to pursue a championship as passionately as anyone who has followed the team for decades.

I want them to get it. This ad campaign seems to indicate otherwise.

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