In the wake of the non-tender deadline, I wrote an article detailing the Cubs’ moves. In particular, I focused a lot of my attention (and angst) on the Cubs’ decision to cut loose Kyle Schwarber. If anyone who read that article also happened to be a fan of our Northside Show podcast, it would not have come as a surprise. I have never been shy about my irrational love for all things Kyle Schwarber. Perhaps this fandom drove me to interact more than usual with the readers of the article in various social media discussions.
One thing from those conversations that really stuck out to me is the growing modern belief that it is silly to love a decidedly mediocre player. It seemed that every other comment said something to the effect of “Cubs fans are idiots. Schwarber was trash.” While I could make a solid argument that Schwarbs was undoubtedly not trash, that is not the point of this article. Instead, I am here to say that this concept of fandom needing to be reserved for elite players only is patently ridiculous.
The core of my argument is this: baseball is a game of moments. In a sport that features a 162-game season, it can become so tempting to grow overly enamored with the stats that are measured over time. It’s easy to celebrate the guys who lead the league in home runs, WAR, or wRC+. Most people remember the individual awards handed out at the end of the year, but baseball is so much more than that.
It’s the clutch RBI single in the game you will never forget.
It’s that memory of the diving catch that sealed the no-hitter.
It’s that feeling you got every time that reliever came into the game. Nobody was getting a hit off that guy.
It’s the stuff between or beyond the stats. The swagger, the athleticism, the big swings, the ability to place a cutter on a dime.
There is something romantic about sports fandom. We don’t always fall in love with the most popular or most attractive options vying for our attention. Our hearts are drawn to the players and teams that capture our imaginations and our hearts. It’s not about the stats. Not really. The stats are a byproduct of what we fell in love with: the game itself.
So, when Cubs fans mourned the end of the Kyle Schwarber era, they weren’t thinking about his career WAR, his batting average in 2020, or how reliable he was with runners in scoring position over a 162 game season. We were remembering his home run off Gerrit Cole into the Allegheny that closed a franchise’s window of contention. The homer on top of the scoreboard that told the world it was the Cubs’ time now. The tears were for the guy who defied all odds to return from a devastating injury to play a vital role in ending a championship drought that nobody outside of the Cubs fan base will ever truly understand. And that’s okay because Schwarber meant more to his fans than the counting stats might justify.
Maybe our world could use a little more of that kind of rose-colored fondness. We live in such a “what have you done for me lately” culture. Our heroes seem to be discarded as quickly as they earned their spot. Sometimes this is a good thing. Accountability has real consequences. But what I’m talking about here isn’t merely cancel culture. It’s okay to reserve a place in your heart, your memories for someone or something that left an indelible mark. For Cubs fans, there will never be a mark quite so impactful as that 2016 World Series. And yes, before the comment section blows up, I fully agree that it is time to stop living in the past as an organization. But as a fan? I, for one, will never want to stop remembering that rain-soaked morning in November.
So, maybe you are like me, and you are still mourning the loss of Schwarber. Go ahead and wallow in it a bit longer. Don’t feel the need to defend yourself. You loved Schwarber because he came up big in moments that you will never forget. Maybe he wasn’t truly worth the projected $7.1M the arbitration process would have earned him. I’m not the GM (despite being available for the job…still waiting for that phone call, Jed). That doesn’t mean I can’t miss the memories.
Go ahead and be a fan of whatever player you choose. He or she does not need to have the best stats, the highest honors, even the most titles. You need no justification for the jersey or sports memorabilia you choose to buy. Allow the romance of the game to guide your heart. Live and relive the moments. It’s the best part of the game.
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