Constable: I think I'm falling out of love with the Chicago Cubs
It's Valentine's Day and I think I'm starting to fall out of love. And that makes me sad.
I've loved the Cubs since the 1960s. It started the way most love affairs start, as a mild flirtation, borne out of circumstance. I'd hop off the school bus and run inside to catch the last few innings of the Cubs game on our black-and-white TV, saving me from getting sucked into the "Dark Shadows" vampire soap opera. At that point, I would just say that I liked the Cubs.
Then came that glorious 1969 season, when I remember my dad and I working on a tractor in the tin shed of our barnyard while listening to the Opening Day game on the radio. Ernie Banks hit 2 home runs, Willie Smith hit a pinch-hit, walk-off, 2-run homer to win it in the 11th inning, and I fell in love. They broke my heart when they faded down the stretch and didn't win the pennant. But I still loved the Cubs.
We went to a Cubs game (they lost) as a family. My dad and I went to one game every summer with friends. During that decade, I remember cheering my favorite player, Glenn Beckert, chatting with Cubs favorite Jose Cardenal, seeing Pittsburgh Pirates legend Roberto Clemente hit a long home run, and being with a bunch of boys who got flipped off by Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis.
As soon as I got my driver's license, a buddy and I drove to Wrigley Field and got there early enough to park next to Lou Boudreau, the Hall of Famer and Cubs broadcaster.
As a college kid, I stuck with my Cubs, even if they didn't always treat me well. They lost a lot of games. But I met Bill Veeck, one of baseball's most colorful characters, in the bleachers at Wrigley. He took off his shirt and extinguished his cigarette in the ashtray built into his wooden leg.
In 1984, my work schedule allowed me to attend 23 games, and the Cubs won 21 of them, including the "Sandberg Game" when Ryne Sandberg hit home runs off St. Louis Cardinals closer Bruce Sutter in the 9th and 10th innings to set the stage for a Dave Owen walk-off single that gave the Cubs a 12-11 victory before 38,079 screaming fans.
The 1984 Cubs broke my heart in shocking fashion that October by losing three straight games to the San Diego Padres to miss a shot at the World Series.
"That's OK. The Cubs didn't mean to hurt me," I said. "We'll be OK. They won't do it again."
They did, of course, most notably in 2003, when they found new ways to lose playoff games and scar my heart. Sure, we had our issues during the years.
I thought Wrigley Field was beautiful without having to resort to fancy lights or garish video boards. But that didn't change my love for the Cubs. I didn't like that the Cubs traded away young and talented Gleyber Torres for closer Aroldis Chapman, the first MLB player to be suspended under the league's domestic violence rules. But I forgave the Cubs and cheered as they won the 2016 World Series.
Since then, the Cubs have created a few more cracks in our relationship. They raised prices and created new clubs for the rich fans. They struggle with their own domestic violence suspension with shortstop Addison Russell. The emails of Joe Ricketts, the patriarch of the family that owns the Cubs, reveal him to be an Islamophobic old man who spreads lies about Muslims and former President Barack Obama around the internet.
While trying to distance themselves from that ugliness, the Cubs sign a television deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group that will force Cubs fans in 2020 to buy a package from the Marquee Sports Network if they want to watch Cubs games beyond the handful chosen by the free networks. Sinclair's owners donate to right-wing conservatives and the network forced its anchors to read scripts blasting other media outlets for "fake" news. I don't want to give them my money.
So 2019 might be the final year for that love affair between the Cubs and me. It would be nice if they'd do something special, just for old time's sake.