Has success spoiled the Chicago Cubs?
I am so excited the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, but what is the price for that success? Two years ago the Cubs players were more receptive to meeting and greeting young fans at their convention, giving autographs and smiles. This time, it was all smiles, little eye contact and no autographs unless you were lucky enough to be chosen for the special team autograph lines.
For the Des Plaines Valley News, the Southwest News-Herald, The Reporter Newspapers, the Regional News, Thursday Jan. 19, 2017
By Ray Hanania
I’ve loved the Chicago Cubs all my life. As they fought to win the World Series but came short, that only made that love stronger.
But now that they have won, has success changed the Chicago Cub? Many Cub insiders hate the phrase “lovable losers,” but have they become the “Complacent winners?”
I was fortunate to attend two Cubs Convention, two years ago before the World Series win and one this week after.
When they were struggling to win, the Cubs lineup was enthusiastic about their fans. My son and other kids didn’t have to work hard to get signatures. They got them not just from the “old timers,” but from the team’s biggest hitters.
Do you know how satisfying that is for a young kid?
This year, it was significantly different. The new Cubs stars were reluctant to sign autographs outside of the structured, controlled convention system. Fans could only get autographs from the biggest players like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Swarber and all of the big-name team players if they were lucky enough to receive a special, limited “voucher.”
Let me explain how it all works. You purchase a convention pass and included is a pull tab that you open that either is a voucher or a $5 discount coupon on a $50 purchase.
The whole purpose of the convention is for players to sign autographs. There are eight autograph sections, A thru H, where you stand in line and the player gives you one autograph. Two sections, A and B, are special and featured 17 big name players. Only fans with the rare “vouchers” could enter those lines.
The voucher system is secretive and many attendees said they thought their distribution is “clouted” through friends, players, season tickets with only a small percentage allotted to regular people, the unlucky majority.
Sections C through H feature 54 players, mostly “legends” from the past, or new drafts. I’m not saying their autographs aren’t worth anything. I love Ryne Sandberg, Gary Matthews, Jose Rosario and Bob Howry. What I’m saying is there has been a noticeable difference at the convention from before the World Series and after.
Before the win, fans could get autographs from anyone during the session and even after. Big name team players signed as they walked around the convention. This year, though, they didn’t. Not Bryant. Not Rizzo. Not Schwarber. Not even manager Joe Madden.
It was noticeable. And many fans were disappointed. I understand the economics of it all. Rizzo’s autograph went from $35 a ball to $375 a ball. Bryant’s is up from $75 to $450.
Is it about the money? I loved getting autographs from the legends like Randy Hundley, Ryne Sandberg, Jay Johnstone, Bobby Dernier, Bill Madlock, and Fergie Jenkins as they mingled among convention attendees. They signed for fans almost anytime and anywhere.
Many Cubs celebrities signed autographs during and after the sessions, too, like the beloved Wayne Messmer, whose rendition of the Star Spangled banner moved fans to tears during the opening ceremonies.
Messmer was signing autographs almost the entire time as grateful fans thanked him and took pictures. So did WGN Sports anchor Dan Roan between interviews. The fans, especially the kids, loved it.
I listened as Schwarber told reporters over and over again that he owed his success to the fans. It sounded good as he was on TV or on stage. For thousands of post World Series fans though, his autograph was out of reach.
Some might say I’m being unfair. I get it. But in all honesty, the change was noticeable from before and after the World Series.
I know superstars like Bryant, who made $7.8 million the last two years, and Rizzo, who made $5 million last year, can’t sign every autograph.
But baseball is more than just beer and hotdog. Strikes and outs. It is about celebrity status. And it is about the kids. Autographs are the lifeblood that keeps the diehard fan spirit alive, especially for the younger kids.
Sure, walk past me. No problem. But walk away from a young kid with the “don’t make eye-contact” attitude and just pretend their not there?
I was disappointed. I expected more. The Cubs were there for the media interviews, the stage light cheering. But, were they really there for the fans?
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and political columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)