Lovable Winners?

During a recent visit to San Diego I became aware once again of the long reach of Chicago Cubs mythology. I wore my Cubs baseball cap during my daily walks and, without exception, was greeted by strangers with a smile and a “Go Cubbies!” and, new this spring, “This Might Be The Year!” The mythology is rooted, of course, in the team’s consistently dismal on-field performance. The last time the Cubs won the National League pennant and played in the World Series was 1945. They lost to Detroit in seven games. The last Cubs World Series Championship was 1908, 107 years ago. No other major sports franchise comes even close to that futility. “Loveable Losers” the Cubs are sometimes called and it is part of the attraction and the durability of the myth. Preachers who know a bit about baseball and are not adverse to lacing sermons with a bit of baseball discover that a sermon reference to the Cubs is guaranteed to elicit knowing chuckles from the congregation wherever they happen to be located: Dallas, New York, New Orleans and, of course, Chicago itself. Everybody knows that the Chicago Cubs are a template for failure, mediocrity and consequent despair. As such, the Cubs are a perfect metaphor for some of Christianity’s most precious and potent theological themes: long suffering, patience, hope in the face of defeat, light in the darkness, life in the midst of death. It is a rich reservoir of homiletical power to which I have turned regularly and shamelessly over the years.

The place where the Cubs play perfectly mirrors the team’s mythology of ineptness: Wrigley Field, the sorriest facility in all of major league sport. Built in 1914, the Wrigley Field playing diamond and outfield are exquisite, real grass and an outfield brick wall covered with ivy, all of it tucked into a real urban residential neighborhood. Aesthetically it is matchless. People come from all over the world just to see it and photograph it. The structure around the playing field, the stadium, is simply awful. Chunks of cement have been known to fall on unsuspecting fans, there are too few restrooms and the ones there are, even when fully functional, are disgusting. Rudimentary concession stands are squeezed into nooks and crannies and are inconvenient, unsanitary, inefficient and, of course, over priced. New owners of the Cubs are valiantly attempting to transform an early 19th century facility into a reasonably modern one, are spending half a billion dollars, but I fear it will be for naught. We finally have a jumbotron in left field to watch replays and view players’ statistics, but on Opening Night, half the disgusting restrooms on the upper lever were not operational and the amateurish concession stands were overwhelmed, almost as if no one expected 40,000 people to show up, want a hot dog and beer, and use a restroom. The result was misery: missing two and a half innings of play standing in line. The owners, the Ricketts family, in my mind missed a wonderful opportunity to express the beloved biblical observation that “there is a time to tear down and a time to build up”, by tearing it all down and building a a new 21st century ball park.

Three weeks into the 2015 season, however, it appears that the hallowed mythology of “Lovable Losers” may be in serious danger. The new owners began three years ago, hiring smart young administrators who began to invest money in the patient cultivation of future talent. New players have been added to the lineup to buttress the young, developing rookies. The team looks good, very good, in fact. Cubs fans are giddy with excitement at the prospect of a winning team, maybe even contending for a championship. Only the preachers are wary. Not only do we know about the propensity of human frailty, hubris and sin to neutralize rosy optimism, we also see the potential loss of great sermon material if the Cubs should suddenly become winners.

I am willing to pay the price. I no longer preach regularly, but when I do I am more than happy to forego the references to futility and despair and I am giddy myself at the prospect of a winning team.

Rabbi Brant Rosen wrote the foreward to Arnold Kanter’s “Is God a Cubs Fan?” in which he observes that “Both baseball and Judaism are concerned with the mythic archetype of exile and return. The ultimate goal of both traditions is homecoming. In baseball players leave the safety of their dugout and run the base paths, with the hope of somehow finding their way to home plate. Likewise since the destruction of the Temple, the Jewish religion has been a veritable text book for maneuvering through the perils of exile, guided by the dream of finally returning home.”

Christians fully share that motif and add our own layers of meaning: the return of the Prodigal Son, for instance, and in this season of Easter we are reminded that our deepest faith is in hope gloriously realized and fulfilled in resurrection.

So maybe this is the year.


  1. Thank you for letting me know how this season is feeling for you. I follow the Blackhawks more closely than the Cubs, but I have been hearing their good results and hoping that you’ve enjoyed them. As I remember the Blackhawks’ 49-year “drought” ending in 2010 (and dare to look forward to a repeat), I send you hope and wish you joy. Championship droughts are great fun to break!

  2. An ever-hopeful Orioles fan! Ann Forshey Frontain

  3. This is all heresy. It is a well-known fact that God is only interested in cricket

  4. “A ‘home run’ is the definitive kill, the overcoming of obstacle at one stroke, the gratification instantaneous in knowing that one has earned a risk-free journey out, around, and back — a journey to be taken at a leisurely pace … so as to savor the freedom, the magical invulnerability, from denial or delay.”
    “… I see the crowd, so happy… all talking baseball, and I want to be in this game… and it comes to me slowly… that this, this, is what Aristotle must have meant by the imitation of an action.” – Bart Giamatti

    Congratulations, Dr. Buchanan and Cubs fans! I am so happy for you!

  5. timjweaver says:

    Congratulations Cubbies!

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