Arriving at US Cellular Field, also known as The Cell, home of the Chicago White Sox, can be an ordeal for any Cubs fan. As if 35th Street isn’t a hike already, it feels like 2011 has been nothing but visits to The Cell, with only a long trip back ahead.
Last season's Cubs-Sox matchups saw the Cubs make the usual mockery of business in the same way that the Keystone Cops enforced the law. It was also the start of Carlos Zambrano's latest series of petulant outbursts and a slide in form that lasted into this season.
On a Friday game in June that started it all, Zambrano got into a first inning shouting match with teammate Derrick Lee. Zambrano got pulled and replaced with Tom Gorzelanny, who immediately starting putting Sox men on base.
The Cubs eventually lost 6-0, and gave the crosstown bragging rights to the Sox yet again.
I should have seen the writing on the wall. As I walked out of The Cell, I turned around and saw a huge banner that read "Welcome to the BP Crosstown Cup." Nice banner, but I couldn't help thinking that BP was responsible for yet another natural disaster, this time for Cubs fans.
It was the first time I remember fans crediting Zambrano for the Cubs’ self-destruction. Since then, Zambrano has taken on a symbolic role in the theme “This Ain’t Working."
I remember when the Cubs’ problems back in the 1990s and 2000s were more predictable but tried and true. Back then, the Cubs main talent was hits and getting on base. The problem was that they could never get men around to home plate.
Beyond that, Cubs pitchers had an untimely tendency kill it in early innings and then blow it later in the game. I remember pitcher Kevin Tapani, a highly-regarded Cub, in his usual patterns. The Tapani Algorithm, as I privately call it, would consist of throwing an amazing no-hitter for four or five innings followed by a meltdown thereafter. The algorithm then ends mathematically when Tapani gets pulled off the mound with the Cubs losing.
Then there was Antonio Alfonseca, an excellent early-career pitcher who won a World Series with the Marlins in 1997 and also was named 2000’s National League Rolaids Relief Man of the Year. The problem was that during his Cubs years, as is typical with Cubs’ pitching, his innings on the mound were dodgy at best and horrendous at worst.
One holiday weekend in 2003, the Cubs were up 2-1 in the eighth innning during a home game at Wrigley Field. Alfonseca took the mound in that inning as a relief pitcher. By the bottom of the eighth, it was 12-2 for the opposing team as Alfonseca moped off the mound. It was days like these that I wished the Wrigley beer man was the one pitching the Rolaids for us fans.
Perhaps now the Cubs’ bad performances don’t feel so catastrophic and are met with less surprise. Failure comes more gradually with each inning, as an expected coda to a symphony of indifference and expected incompetence. Now it is not only bad baseball, but bad attitudes we see, too.
With the 2011 season ending soon, and the Cubs’ Sham at the Cell long over, some offseason moves will give Cubs fans potential for a fresh start come April.
It’s unclear what happens next. Maybe nothing. And Chicago’s North Side will see their club limp across the finish line. Maybe the Cubs will finish out 2011 with some wins and respectability. Who knows?
But in the words of Harry Caray, “Holy Cow” doesn’t even begin to describe the situation.
Andy Frye writes about sports and life in Chicago, and chirps all day on Twitter at @MySportsComplex. His opinions may stink, but not as much as the Cubs do in 2011.