March 21, 1974
A reader demands to know how I contracted the infectious conservatism for which he plans to horsewhip me. So if you have tears, prepare to shed them now as I reveal how my gloomy temperament received its conservative warp from early and prolonged exposure to the Chicago Cubs.
The differences between conservatives and liberals are as much a matter of temperament as ideas. Liberals are temperamentally inclined to see the world as a harmonious carnival of sweetness and light, where goodwill prevails, good intentions are rewarded, the race is to the swift and a benevolent Nature arranges a favorable balance of pleasure over pain. Conservatives (and Cub fans) know better.
Conservatives know the world is a dark and forbidding place where most new knowledge is false, most improvements are for the worse, the battle is not to the strong, nor riches to men of understanding and an unscrupulous Providence consigns innocents to suffering. I learned this early.
Out in central Illinois, where men are men and I am native, in 1948, at age seven, I made a mad, fateful blunder. I fell ankle over elbows in love with the Cubs. Barely advanced beyond the bib-and-cradle stage, I plighted my troth to a baseball team destined to dash the cup of life's joy from my lips.
Spring, Earth's renewal, a season of hope for the rest of mankind, became for me an experience comparable to being slapped around the mouth with a damp carp. Summer was like being bashed across the bridge of the nose with a crowbar -- ninety times. My youth was like one long rainy Monday in Bayonne, New Jersey.
Each year the Cubs charged onto the field to challenge the theory that there are limits to the changes one can ring on pure incompetence. By mid-April, when other kids' teams were girding for Homeric battles at the top of the league, my heroes had wilted like salted slugs and begun their gadarene descent to the bottom. By September they had set a mark for ineptness at which others -- but not next year's Cubs -- would shoot in vain.
Every litter must have its runt, but my Cubs were almost all runts. Topps baseball gum cards always struggled to say something nice about each player. All they could say about the Cubs' infielder Eddie Miksis is that in 1951 he was tenth in the league in stolen bases, with eleven.
Like the boy who stood on the burning deck whence all but he had fled, I was loyal. And the downward trajectory of my life was set.
In 1949 I reported for Little League, the teams sponsored by local merchants. My friends played for teams like Rasmussen Masonry Braves and Kuhn's Department Store Cubs. Their team colors were bright red and vivid blue. I was a very late draft choice of the Mittendorf Funeral Home Panthers. Our color was black. An eight-year-old could not face these fires without being singed, unless he had the crust of an armadillo, and how many eight-year-olds do?
Of the sixteen teams that existed in 1949, all have since won league championships -- all but the Cubs. And which of the old National League teams
was first to finish in tenth place behind even the expansion teams? Don't ask. Since 1949 the Cubs have lost more than 2,200 games. That's more than 6,000 hours of losing baseball. They never made me like losing, but they gave me superb training for 1964 when I cast my first vote for president, for Barry Goldwater.
My cruel addiction continued. In 1964 I chose to do three years of graduate study at Princeton because Princeton is midway between Philadelphia and New York -- two National League cities. All I remember about my wedding day in 1967 is that the Cubs dropped a doubleheader.
But the gentleman with the horse-whip should stay his hand. I share his fervent desire that I should quit writing about politics. I still hope to reverse the career pattern of James Reston, who began working in baseball but has sunk to writing a political column (for The New York Times). I hope to rise as far as he has fallen. I want to be a baseball writer when I grow up.
As the 1998 season began, the Cubs had lost 4,120 games since opening, day 1949, more than any other major league team. The second-losingest team in that space is the Athletics, who have lost 4,064.
Copyright © 1998 by George F. Will
For fans of Men at Work and Will's other baseball writings, this book is as pleasurable as a well-executed bunt.