What is the appeal behind the underdog in sports? To answer that question you must first establish what being a true underdog is; I mean, to truly be an underdog you have to raise up against overwhelming odds with a team that had little-to-no chance of ever consistently winning a contest, much less a championship of some sort. The team is really hardly a team at all, but a rag-tag bunch of players who make no money, no one knows their name and they still show up and play hard every day.
Well, I guess I answered my own question, I mean, we all root for normal everyday men to beat the prima donnas and super stars because we feel like we can all do what they did and for any sports fan we see our dreams of becoming a professional athlete a little closer. This is the way I used to feel watching the Chicago Cubs, but lately, I haven't felt that for the lovable losers.
The Chicago Cubs have the second highest payroll in the National League and the seventh highest payroll in all the MLB. They have signed big name players like Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano and Derek Lee to contracts that give them 17, 18.75 and 13.25 million this year respectively this year; but while the salaries for the players on this team increase, they still aren't winning.
Before this season even started this year, the Cubs passed on re-signing Kerry Wood, the hard-throwing injury plagued right-hander who at one point struck out 20 batters in a one-hit game. After that game, Kerry became the unofficial face of the young cubs and the promise of wins in the future. Things went south for the young man, when he had Tommy Johns surgery in 2000, missing the entire season and then more games in the 2004-06 seasons. The cubs then signed a two year deal with wood and put him the bullpen, Kerry was named the Cubs closer in 2008 and while he started off slow throwing his fastball in the high eighties, low nineties to start the season towards the end he was throwing mid to high nineties.
Now, I bring up Kerry wood as an example because when the Cubs traded for Kevin Gregg from the Marlins, I felt I was betrayed as a fan, slapped in the face by a franchise who would rather trade for someone new then keep around our work horse. I grew up with Kerry Wood and watched him dominate and struggle over ten seasons, he was still a great pitcher and even if he wasn't, how could they just turn their back on a man who has worked so hard to earn a spot on this team? Kerry was always proud to wear that jersey, always honored to be a Cub and when they didn't re-sign him, a lot more than a player was gone from the club house.
All these things flashed in my mind as I listened to the Cubs (and Gregg) lose to the marlins on back-to-back home runs, solo jacks at that, in the bottom of the ninth and I thought, what am I rooting for in this team? growing up, the cubs had players that I rooted for because they just liked playing the game, Mark Grace, Ryan Sandberg, Shawon Dunston and the like. Those players never made tens of millions in one season, they just went out and played the game. No giant payroll. No forty five dollar bleacher seats. Just Baseball. We've lost sight of that, and we don't realize that that's the reason teams like the Red Sox and the Rays and even the Yankees are so fun to root for, They love the game, and though teams like the Red Sox spend more than the Cubs they pay it to players who came through their system. Players who have something more then just a paycheck to play for.
The Underdog Cubs are dead, they no longer deserve that title, because they are not normal guys that don't have a chance; they are a random group of super stars who just can't win for some reason or another. It may take twenty years for the organization to understand this, but good clubs are made great by the fans, not the players.