For many decades— even across entire lifetimes—being a Chicago Cubs fan wasn’t lonely; futility and heartbreak were always companions.
Glencoe native Rich Cohen, who became a fan when he attended his first game (a loss) at age eight, used personal knowledge buoyed by exhaustive research to write “The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse,” published recently by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. “Being a Cubs fan has created my cast of mind,” he writes. “I know how to enjoy what I can while I can because I know that disaster is coming.”
So how did he react to the long-awaited World Series win in 2016? Cohen, who also penned the book “Monsters” about the 1985 Chicago Bears, spoke with Chicagoly about how he became a Cubs fan against his father’s wishes, what it’s it like being a Cubs fan now that the curse is broken, and the one deceased Cub he wishes he would have met.
Chicagoly: What prompted you to write this book?
Rich Cohen: That’s simple. The 2016 World Series. I’d been thinking about writing a Cubs book since I was ten. I’ve written newspaper and magazine stories about the team over the years, and they’ve been prominent in several of my books—“Lake Effect,” “Monsters”—but I could not tackle the big thing, the story of the curse and all the history and heartbreak coiled around it, until that story had an ending, which it finally got in the fall of 2016. As the philosopher said, “You have to wait till evening to see how glorious the day has been.”
You note in the book that your dad told you not to be a Cubs fan. How did you resist his plea?
Resisting various Herb Cohen pleas has long been my primary occupation. He hated rock ’n’ roll, so I made a religion out of the Rolling Stones. He hated convertibles, so that’s what I drive, even in winter, top down. He tried to warn me away from the Cubs—he said they would break my heart—so I became a fanatic. If he had had his way, I would be a conservative, sedan-driving attorney rooting for the Yankees. Years ago, when my first book came out, I asked him where he thought I’d be in ten years. “In ten years,” he said, “You’ll be turning forty and just finishing law school.”
What was your best and worst Cubs’ memory as a kid?
Best memory was meeting Bill Buckner on the field before a game in the early eighties, the summer of Fernando Valenzuela, when REO Speedwagon dominated radio. He dropped a big hand on my shoulder and smiled at me and called me kid, saying, “Don’t worry, kid. We’re gonna win it for ya.” Worst memory: the 1984 N.L.C.S., dropping three straight to the Padres, folding like a card table with the World Series just a handful of putouts away. I went outside my house after game five and cried like a baby.
Can you imagine life without being a Cubs fan?
Yes, I can imagine life without being a Cubs fan. It would be placid, peaceful, sane, balanced, and boring. I wouldn’t be a writer, because the Cubs made me a writer. They gave me this tragic sensibility. I wouldn’t be hostage to these terrible swings in mood. But my life would also be much less interesting, much less fun.
What’s it like being a Cubs fan now that the curse is broken?
Basically the same. I thought, if the Cubs ever did win it all, I’d be changed into a well-adjusted man. I told my doctor to look for it in my blood pressure. And he did. Still high. In fact, 2017 was among the most stressful seasons I’ve experienced as a Cubs fan. Mostly because, when you’ve got the big flag—I just learned this—you are not happy, but anxious. You now have something to lose. A Cubs fan is like a long-impoverished person who has come suddenly into money. You are mostly focused on not losing what you never really had.
What surprised you most when you interviewed Theo Epstein?
That he was almost exactly like me and my friends—just smarter. Same influences, same culture, same taste in music. It was like a regular guy—not a former player nor scion of a first baseball family—has gotten behind the glass and proved just what a baseball fan can do if that fan is super-intelligent, has a philosophy, lots of money and a bunch of time.
Which former Cub who’s no longer with us do you wish you had met?
Three Finger Brown. I’d like to get an up-close look at that mangled hand, then stand in and try to hit one of those wicked trick pitches he could not help but throw. If he still owned the gas station he operated in retirement in Terre Haute, Indiana, I’d drive hours out of the way just to fill up at his pumps.
Are there any other Chicago sports books in your future?
Can’t say yes, can’t say no. But I can say this: If I do write another, thereby completing the trilogy, it won’t be about the Chicago Sting team that won the indoor soccer championship. I’m not even sure when that was, but I know it was a long time ago. ←