Last weekend, the Cubs' playoff hopes were officially eliminated. While they have conceivably been out of contention for weeks, Saturday night made it official: The '09 playoffs were out of reach. The Cubs had such high hopes coming in to this season on the heels of back-to-back division championships. They had their stellar pitching staff returning, aadeep bench, and they finally found their middle-of-the-order, left-handed bat in Milton Bradley. Unfortunately, the season turned out to be a relative disaster. While their pitching staff held together most of the season (in spite of all their injuries), the offense just could not find a groove all year.
So on Sunday, I was watching Mad Men with the Cubs in the back of my head and paid close attention to the following exchange:
Conrad Hilton: Having me in your life is going to change things.
Don Draper: I look forward to it.
Conrad Hilton: They always say that.
That exchange, believe it or not, got me thinking hard about the 2009 Chicago Cubs. Now that they've sucked me in, my life has changed a little. I watch or follow online over 100+ baseball games each year. That adds up to somewhere between 200 and 400 hours each spring, summer, and fall that I dedicate to watching baseball.
It also got me thinking, how many quotes from Mad Men can I apply to the 2009 Chicago Cubs? Let's see:
Anna: Are you Donald Draper?
Don Draper: Yes, I am. If it's about my circular, many of the models are gone. But, uh, I'm sure we could find you something.
Anna: Oh, I'm not here to buy a car. You're a hard man to find.
Don Draper: Excuse me?
Anna: You're not Don Draper.
One of the key scenes in the early couple seasons, Don Draper is accused of not actually being Don Draper. (Watch the show). Looking back at this scene, all I can think of is "Alfonso Soriano". The Cubs' Soriano isn't the same as the Nationals' Soriano or the Rangers' Soriano, or the Yankees'. The Cubs Soriano, instead, is the team's highest paid player, someone who plays the easiest position in the game, but still makes plent of errors. He is someone who just a couple of seasons ago broached the 50 home run/50 stolen base plateau, a feat that has never been done before. The Cubs' Soriano has stolen 19, 19, and 9 bases during his brief Cubs career. He's only 33 years old, but his production across the board seemed to have peaked at ages five years ago. The new Soriano had to be dropped in the batting order from 1st to 6th. And possibly worst of all, the new Soriano has 5 years and $90M left on his back-loaded contract. Basically, the current Soriano this is not the Soriano he used to be.
Joan Holloway: One day you'll lose someone who's important to you. You'll see. It's very painful.
This quote from Joan Halloway, downtrodden the day Marylin Monroe died. For the Cubs, though, this is particularly summed up the feelings of Cubs fans who lost Mark DeRosa. DeRosa was traded on New Year's Eve, a seemingly fitting day where we lose the past year and look forward to the blessings of the next. Regular Joe's who watched the Cubs in '08r knew DeRosa was their glue guy. A problem at 3rd? Put DeRosa in there. Poor production from Fukudome? Move DeRosa out there. When Soriano had to go down for a couple of games in '07 and '08, guess who the Cubs put out in left field.
Injuries and poor offensive production killed the Cubs in '09. Hindsight may be 20/20, but can you think of someone the Cubs could have used to put up some offensive numbers this year at third base, left, and right field?
Don Draper: I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie, there is no system, the universe is indifferent.
To all of the folks out there that think the Cubs are cursed: Stop it! At the start of every season, each of the 30 teams technically has the same odds of winning a championship. Only 1 team this decade has one more than one: The Boston Red Sox. The thing about baseball is, while curses don't exist, team chemistry and momentum do play a big role. The Cubs going in to the '08 Playoffs, they were the best team in baseball. There was no where to go but down. When the Soriano, Lee, and Ramirez triumvirate were striking out right and right (get that?), then the negative momentum was just cyclical. Bill Simmons, who chronicled the Red Sox winning their first championship in 86 years, always said the Cubs need to overcome something great in order to make that Great Leap. Maybe its true, maybe it's not. But I remain steadfast: there are no curses. The universe is indifferent to the Chicago Cubs.
Gene Hofstadt: You think money’s the answer to every problem.
Don Draper: No, just to this particular problem.
To the fans who complained about the $140M payroll: Stop it. The Cubs have actually been saving for their recent giant spending spree for quite a while. Going back to the '05 season, the club's payroll for players on the field was roughly $80M, they just had to pay $16M to Sammy Sosa, $11M to Kerry Wood, and $4M to Mark Prior, who seemingly combined to play in five games that year.
After that year, the answer to their problems was "Go get the biggest free agent"-- who unfortunately happened to be Alfonso Soriano. In order to secure Soriano and not be outbid by teams like the Dodgers or the Phillies, the Cubs threw an 8-year, $136M contract at him. Looking at $136M may make you go just a little crazy, but you have to keep in the back of your mind that baseball players all make a lot of money for what they do, because that's what the market dictates. He was the biggest free agent of that offseason, so he was going to make the most money, no matter what.
Plus, if you can charge fans $30 per seat (at minimum) and they still fill the seats, isn't it your job as a general manager or ownership group to pay for big-name players? Given the circumstance, I can't blame Hendry and the owners for going after Soriano. At the time, it made sense.
Don Draper: Utopia.
Rachel Menken: Maybe. They taught us at Barnard about that word, 'utopia'. The Greeks had two meaning for it: 'eu-topos', meaning the good place, and 'u-topos' meaning the place that cannot be.
Another one goes out to Cubs fans, who look for the former definition for 'utopia', but end up with the latter.
Harry Crane: What the hell just happened?
Pete Campbell: They reorganized us and you’re the only one in this room who got a promotion.
Roger Sterling: Yes! Really.
Looking forward to '09, contracts and good play have put the Cubs in a position where their starting roster has only one room for a promotion: second base. If you go up and down the roster, you see:
- C- Geovany Soto
- 1B- D Lee
- 2B: ?
- SS: Theriot
- 3B: Ramirez
- LF: Soriano
- CF: Fukudome
- RF: Bradley
Now, you can say Bradley may be gone- and that very well may be true. It is hard, though, for me to imagine the Cubbies trading him away when his contract is so massive and un-tradeable. But at second base, the Cubs have Fontenot (who proved in '09 that he isn't an everyday player), Aaron Miles (who likely won't make the team next year), and Andres Blanco (who proved himself to basically be a defensive stopgap as 2nd and shortstop).
Bobbie: This is America, pick a job and then become the person that does it.
This quote from the morally-questionable Bobbie Barret goes to Mr. Jake Fox. Fox is a slugger, pure and simple. The only issue is getting the guy time on the field. Defensively, he can play third base (taken up by Ramirez), left field (taken up by Soriano), catcher (Soto), and first base (Derrek Lee). He isn't better than any of those four (well, three of those four, you be the judge on Soriano), so the only way he can get some playing time is by picking an available spot. What spot is available? I think you remember: second base. If Fox can learn how to play second base-- not even well, but average-- I think the Cubs can solve some of their offensive woes in-house, without spending a ton of money.
Don Draper: American Airlines is not about the past anymore than America is. Ask not about Cuba. Ask not about the bomb; we’re going to the moon. Throw everything out.
Paul Kinsey: Everything?
Don: There is no such thing as American history, only a frontier. That crash happened to somebody else. It’s not about apologies for what happened. It’s about those seven men in the room on Friday, and what airline they are going to be running.
Salvatore Romano: So what does that mean?
Don: Let’s pretend we know what 1963 looks like.
This one goes toward predicting the 2009-10 baseball off-season. I think the Cubs need to forget anything happened-- they need to pretend they know what 2010 looks like. They need to know that 2009 was a disaster offensively- offensive production will go back to where it was in '08. That's the only way they can have any positive momentum going in to next season: forget that 2009 happened. Know that 2010 will be something new.
Don Draper: Nostalgia - it's delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, "nostalgia" literally means "the pain from an old wound." It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn't a spaceship, it's a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards... it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It's not called the wheel, it's called the carousel. It let's us travel the way a child travels - around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.
The best part of Mad Men has to be Don's pitches, where he takes a piece of something vaguely familiar to what he is going through, fudges it around a bit, and sells the idea behind it. He dominates this scene. This quote, I feel, is directly transferable to Wrigley Field. I went to Wrigley six times this year, easily the most I've ever been. But I still love it. Wrigley Field, as old as it is, has never seen a winning home team. Heck, it hasn't even seen a team in the World Series in 61 years (and counting). Wrigley Field symbolizes everything about Cubs fans-- it's old, it's held a lot of old wounds, but it's a place where we ache to go again.
The only question is: Are the Cubs ever going to win there? The new owner paid close to $850M for the team and the ballpark, and by all accounts, he is going to have to sink many more dollars in to refurbishing a that stadium. Is it worth it? It the nostalgia of Wrigley Field worth not fielding a winning team ever, or will there someday be a winning team in Wrigley?
Abe Menken: Can’t I keep what I have and just build on it?
Don Draper: Well, honestly, the unpleasant truth is, you don’t have anything. Your customers cannot be depended on anymore. Their lives have changed. They’re prosperous. Over the years, they’ve developed new tastes. They’re like your daughter, educated, sophisticated. They know full well what they deserve and they’re willing to pay for it.
The final selling point to the Menkens in season one goes to the selling point of the Cubs' ownership to the Cubs fans. Something I noticed during the playoff run in 2003, my first as a full-blown Cubs fan, was that the team gained a huge following during the weeks heading in to and during the playoffs. Now, I don't want to call these fans "fair-weather fans" (Ok, I will), but many of those who I talked to swore off rooting for the Cubs altogether. "I gave it a shot, and they're cursed!" They would say.
Recently, across the board baseball attendance has dropped faster this past season than any season since the early 1950s. This is a problem that needs to be addressed across the sports industry: while costs of going to the ball park (tickets, food, beverages, transportation) continue to rise, the prices of watching these games at home (and at the fans' convenience) keep dropping. Cubs fans used to have to go to the game or watch the games on WGN for a whole afternoon. Now? They can DVR the game and watch it in under an hour on their 42-inch flat screen that costs as much as taking a family of four to a game.
At what point will Cubs fans know what they deserve, and pay (or not pay) for that?