Fergie Jenkins is a part of Chicago Cubs lore. He was awesome. I get it. Chicago loves him. I get that too.
So it did create a little buzz in town the other day when the Cubs announced that they’re going to build a statue to Jenkins and put it outside Wrigley Field with the other statues. Ironically, even the metal statues of Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo — the ones there now with announcer Harry Caray — would hit better than this year’s Cubs.
And you know how little things can bug you sometimes, even when you know they probably shouldn’t? Well the Jenkins statue makes my head want to explode.
There is no way on earth the Cubs should be building a statue to Fergie Jenkins. This isn’t to rip on Jenkins, but instead on the Cubs and on their relationship with the fans and their disrespect for them.
Banks, Williams, Santo and Jenkins? That’s it? Those are the only players the Cubs have built statues for? The Cubs have been around forever. Pitcher Mordecai “Three Finger’’ Brown, who got his nickname due to a farm accident and won consecutive World Series for the Cubs in 1907 and 1908? No statue. How about Swish Nicholson, who led the 1945 Cubs in home runs? That team got to the Series too, though that’s sort of an embarrassing year in some ways. But still: no statue.
But all those years and all that history — mostly, losing history — and the Cubs are going to have four player statues, and all of them are for players on the city’s beloved 1969 Cubs team.
As a lifelong Cubs fan, I will say this: I resent the 1969 Cubs.
Until five years ago, I spent my life hearing about how the Cubs were lovable losers.
That’s what the Cubs are honoring now. Lovable losers who were losing lovably. (Say that 10 times fast.) It could be the most insulting nickname ever. Not only were they losers, but they were lovable.
I mean, even the Chicago Bears — who were losers in the Banks-Williams-Santo-Jenkins era too and who won just one game in 1969 — used to brag about how their opponents would always lose the week after beating the Bears. That was a point of pride because the opponents were still too beat up the following week.
If you don’t win, at least take a piece of your opponent with you.
You’d watch on network TV when they’d pick up the Cubs, and the announcers would talk about keys to the game. The keys to the Cubs somehow always included being lovable.
It took until 2016, when the Cubs finally won the World Series for the first time since Three Finger Brown’s teams, that the Cubs were finally lovable no more.
And now they are dismantling the team, trading off their best pitcher, Yu Darvish, because he cost too much. The Cubs have stopped trying to win and at the same time have decided to add to the fan-popular honoring of the 1969 Cubs, the team that created the Amazin’ Mets.
I know that 1969 team connected with Chicago and really made the Cubs the city’s dominant team over the White Sox. That’s because all of the games were on TV in Chicago, WGN Channel 9. That was sort of a new-ish thing.
And the Cubs had been so awful for so long before 1969. Even that 1945 team got to the World Series only because the other teams had able-bodied, young players who were called off to war. The Cubs were old guys. Nicholson couldn’t go to the war because he was color blind.
The Cubs actually tried something through the 1960s that they called “College of Coaches.’’ They didn’t have a manager. I’m not making that up. They’d use a manager for a while and then rotate around with minor league managers and get a new one up with the Cubs for a while until it was time to rotate again.
Finally, they gave up on that and brought in tough guy Leo Durocher to be the manager. He apparently didn’t believe in days off, so while the Cubs took an 8 1/2 – 9-game lead into mid-August, they wore out, fell apart and choked.
There were four Hall of Famers on that team, and they couldn’t even win the division. Imagine that.
Anyway, this city warmed up to the Cubs because they thought something was going to change and the team was a bunch of everymen working hard together. But nothing did change. They just went back to losing.
And Chicago stayed in love with the 1969 team for decades while the Cubs kept being lovable.
It’s not a good sign that management is giving up on winning now and honoring the lovable thing again. For years, Cubs fans loved to talk about the goat curse of a Greek tavern owner who tried to get his goat into the 1945 Series. He was thrown out and cursed the Cubs forever.
How cute? How lovable? Maybe the Cubs should have a statue of the goat.
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