Martin Scorsese was once asked his opinion of professional sports. “Sports?” he scowled. “Anything with a ball, no good!”
Forgive me Marty, for I have sinned. True, there is no bigger waste of time than watching a bunch of testosterone-fueled gorillas hit, kick, or dribble a ball for two hours. But Chicago is a year-round sports town where even the staunchest sportsophobe would find it hard to avoid coverage of the myriad of local teams.
Wrigley Field had always been a favored destination for summer camp sojourns. The counselors spent more time herding brats in the grandstands than they did watching the game. As soon as we were old enough to ride the Howard Line to Chicago’s Loop without the aid of an adult, the majority of the neighbor kids made a bee-line for the ballpark. Many a day Group A would exit at the Addison stop while Group B continued south to catch a movie in one of downtown Chicago’s decaying picture palaces.
As a kid, there was something magical about being one of 30,000 fans jamming the friendly confines. Today, I’d reach for a Xanax. Some get off on the smell of gasoline, a freshly opened can of tennis balls, or a newly mown lawn. None compare with stadium air steeped in the heady aroma of cigar smoke mixed with stale Old Style, roasted peanuts, and steamed weenies. And urine. The majority of the patrons in the grandstands sweat 90 proof. A drunken Cub fan leave their seat to visit the restroom? Ain’t nobody got time for that!
An aversion to professional sports began to emerge around the time of my bar mitzvah. That was the same year the Cubs famously went down swinging against the miracle Mets. Tribune-owned WGN-TV not only had a lock on just about every sports franchise, they also owned the rights to the biggest movie package in town.
Art always took a back seat to sports in Chicago. Rival station WLS-TV also boasted a rather impressive vault, including the Paramount library and all of the pre-1948 RKO features. Their 90-minute 3:30 Movie slot reduced any film, no matter the running time, to 72 minutes. The station was known to show the Astaire/Rogers musical Top Hat minus the titular music number to fit the time slot.
“Due to the length of tonight’s baseball game, we begin this program already in progress.” It was the one sentence this budding film-lover never wanted to hear. It wasn’t Hitchcock’s fault that the game went into extra innings or that a rain shower delayed the outcome.
Why punish fans who waited past midnight to see North by Northwest in its entirety? Any attempt to prohibit me from watching movies would be dealt with severely. There would be one more game – Opening Day, 1972 – before sports held as much interest to me as did contracting typhus.
I came by my disdain for sports semi-honestly. Larry could have cared less about professional sports – you can count on one finger the number of baseball games he took me to – but Babe followed the Cubs religiously. She’d go to sleep with a transistor radio tucked beneath her pillow. Mom’s macular degeneration was so bad towards the end she’d have to sit sideways at just the right angle to catch the TV out of the corner of her eye. She never missed a game.
The last sporting event I witnessed in its entirety took place almost 30 years ago when the Cubs failed to make it past the playoffs. Unable to name so much as one player on the current roster, this weekend still found me making up for lost time, watching all three of the games televised from Wrigley Field. Something tells me Babe would have wanted it that way. Wherever she is, here’s hoping the view is better. Go Cubs!