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Losers

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As a fourth-generation Cubs fan, I fully understand how thrilling and downright bizarre it is to wake up on a lovely morning in late September and realize we're still in first place.

Like most other serious Cub people I know, I find that these rare periods of playoff contention occur on an almost theological plane. Cub fandom is fundamentally about hoping for possibilities not seen, such as a glimpse of our team playing when the ivy on the walls at Wrigley has turned to the brown and gold of fall; or the thought that someone besides the Tribune Company really will own and run this operation soon; or the vision of a lineup that doesn't get shut down in big games by karma, in the form of opposing pitchers who once were in the Cubs organization. Of course it's also about the persistence of human fallibility (Leon Durham, 1984; Brant Brown, 1998; Alex Gonzalez, 2003), the reality of evil (the New York Mets, 1969; the New York Mets, 2004), and the inability of our lowly human minds to understand acts of God--not that we don't try. As I walked out of Wrigley after witnessing the Bartman debacle four years ago, I overheard the thick-necked fan in front of me weighing the deeper meaning, the moral and ethical consequences, before sighing. In a tone revealing both repentance and rage, he said, "He oughta do the honorable thing and kill his self."

If the Cubs blow it this week, I'll be crushed, and I'll blame it on the hubris of the City Council.

As the Sun-Times reported today, quite a few aldermen are more than happy to accept an offer of rights to playoff tickets from the Cubs organization. If you and I want to go to a playoff game, we get to wait vainly in line with all the other unconnected mopes out there, or we could try paying exorbitant prices to a scalper, such as Wrigley Field Premium Tickets, the legal scalping operation the Tribune company runs itself. Right now, in fact, the Cubs are being especially magnanimous to anyone who wants to get season tickets for next year: " The Cubs Season Ticket Wait List allows Cubs fans to get in line for season tickets," the organization's Web site says. That's right: we're allowed to wait.

For members of the City Council, though, playoff tickets are "one of the perks that come with the job," as 41st Ward alderman--and apparent Sox fan--Brian Doherty told the Sun-Times.

Here's how the Cubs organization explains setting aldermen up with playoff seats: "We do it as a courtesy to the aldermen. But, we also believe this is a citywide celebration. So, it's appropriate for aldermen, as representatives of the city, to have a chance to participate in the celebration."

In other words, it's a bribe. The Cubs will need favors when they decide their cash cow isn't producing enough money to cover the salaries of Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano and they need to add more seats to the ballpark--or whatever the next cash-generating scheme will be.

If the Cubs have 50 extra sets of tickets and want to make sure more of the city is involved in a potential celebration, they could, say, reward some public school kids who have perfect attendance--or find some other representatives of Chicago who aren't already getting free parking privileges and $100,000 salaries from public coffers.

I know, I know, this city is so full of corruption, waste, and official incompetence that insider dibs on baseball playoff tickets is small stuff by comparison. 

On the other hand, though, this is the perfect symbol of the political opportunism and routine payoffs that characterize city government here. If the Cubs are playing well, hey, it's time to be a Cubs fan. When the Sox won the World Series a couple of years ago, the City Council was full of honorary south-siders. When Mayor Daley was under pressure from the feds and the hired truck scandals two years ago, aldermen kept their distance from him, and a few vowed to push ambitious legislation. When it became clear Daley would face no serious opposition in his reelection bid earlier this year, many of these same aldermen returned to yielding to his judgment on affordable housing policy, police misconduct investigations, and the rest of the City Council agenda.

When gubernatorial candidate Roland Burris cut in front of everyone else at a city auto pound a few years ago, he was excoriated in print as a hypocrite and cheat. If a stockbroker or business leader offered aldermen the "courtesy" of a can't-miss buy-in opportunity, we'd call it insider trading or fraud. If family members of the mayor were somehow getting huge moneymaking opportunities through city workers' pension investments, we'd demand accountability.

Well, maybe that's not the best example.

I'll be cheering hard for the Cubbies the next few days, but I'll still be shocked if they make the postseason because, well, they're the Cubs. 

Yet I have even less confidence that the City Council and mayor won't turn whatever happens into an opportunity for additional privilege or political gain. (Perhaps a tax on Milwaukee beer as a way to plug the city's budget hole?) 

Then again, maybe I'll only have my own lack of faith to blame.

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