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Why I Can’t Get That Excited About the Cubs

When people think of the Chicago Cubs’ long run without a World Series they will often Billy Goat Curses, The Amazin’ Mets, Gatorade Gloves, Steve Bartman and any other number of bad luck excuses they can come up with. The story is that the Cubs have sucked, but it’s not their fault. The universe is against them, God loves watching the Cubs lose and some other such nonsense.

The truth is that the Cubs just haven’t been very well run and now they are. They’ve always had tons of money and they have always been able to do what they’ve done over the past few years, they just haven’t.

To illustrate this, I decided to look back at the past fifteen years of MLB. I chose 15 years because nearly every team in baseball has made the playoffs at least once in this period (everyone except the Seattle Mariners) and there have been a total of nine different World Series winners with five other teams making their first World Series appearance. This is the age of parity and the opportunity to strike has never been better.

Note: Baseball Reference doesn’t have 2016 payrolls on the page I used so they are not in here. Most sources have the Cubs adding nearly $50m in payroll this season which should further my point. 

TEAM 15-YEAR ATTENDANCE AVERAGE 14-YEAR PAYROLL AVG. PAYROLL WINS WINS PER YEAR $$ PER WIN PLAYOFFS WON WS
ARI 34,303,858.00 2,286,923.87 $987,744,230 $70,553,159.29 1161 77.4 $850,770.22 3
ATL 36,284,016.00 2,418,934.40 $1,327,984,942 $94,856,067.29 1293 86.2 $1,027,057.19 7
BAL 33,547,219.00 2,236,481.27 $1,137,549,326 $81,253,523.29 1140 76.0 $997,850.29 3
BOS 43,841,500.00 2,922,766.67 $1,916,583,894 $136,898,849.57 1340 89.3 $1,430,286.49 8 3
CHC 45,180,640.00 3,012,042.67 $1,401,541,736 $100,110,124.00 1200 80.0 $1,167,951.45 5 ?
CHW 31,399,212.00 2,093,280.80 $1,317,105,265 $94,078,947.50 1221 81.4 $1,078,710.29 2  1
CIN 32,344,859.00 2,156,323.93 $1,048,781,081 $74,912,934.36 1165 77.7 $900,241.27 3
CLE 27,211,981.00 1,814,132.07 $894,773,212 $63,912,372.29 1204 80.3 $743,167.12 3 ?
COL 38,119,241.00 2,541,282.73 $1,003,914,748 $71,708,196.29 1117 74.5 $898,759.85 2
DET 37,578,011.00 2,505,200.73 $1,514,364,985 $108,168,927.50 1191 79.4 $1,271,507.12 5
HOU 36,078,120.00 2,405,208.00 $1,023,711,873 $73,122,276.64 1145 76.3 $894,071.50 3
KCR 26,555,041.00 1,770,336.07 $999,202,419 $71,371,601.36 1091 72.7 $915,859.23 2 1
LAA 47,119,811.00 3,141,320.73 $1,441,170,520 $102,940,751.43 1333 88.9 $1,081,148.18 7  1
LAD 53,285,295.00 3,552,353.00 $1,343,298,712 $95,949,908.00 1307 87.1 $1,027,772.54 8
MIA 23,074,033.00 1,538,268.87 $1,248,252,706 $89,160,907.57 1166 77.7 $1,070,542.63 1  1
MIL 38,118,558.00 2,541,237.20 $980,500,111 $70,035,722.21 1153 76.9 $850,390.38 2
MIN 35,196,612.00 2,346,440.80 $1,032,782,204 $73,770,157.43 1210 80.7 $853,539.01 6
NYM 36,660,226.00 2,444,015.07 $1,369,582,183 $97,827,298.79 1199 79.9 $1,142,270.38 3
NYY 51,792,553.00 3,452,836.87 $2,680,163,744 $191,440,267.43 1410 94.0 $1,900,825.35 11 1
OAK 31,465,131.00 2,097,675.40 $1,185,238,555 $84,659,896.79 1267 84.5 $935,468.47 6
PHI 42,292,880.00 2,819,525.33 $1,553,066,590 $110,933,327.86 1259 83.9 $1,233,571.56 5 1
PIT 30,836,341.00 2,055,756.07 $882,928,531 $63,066,323.64 1116 74.4 $791,154.60 3
SDP 33,240,277.00 2,216,018.47 $852,310,854 $60,879,346.71 1146 76.4 $743,726.75 2
SEA 33,662,779.00 2,244,185.27 $1,197,891,081 $85,563,648.64 1275 85.0 $939,522.42 0
SFG 48,293,734.00 3,219,582.27 $1,505,122,610 $107,508,757.86 1153 76.9 $1,305,396.89 6 3
STL 50,582,474.00 3,372,164.93 $1,386,811,376 $99,057,955.43 1362 90.8 $1,018,216.87 10 2
TBR 27,039,588.00 1,802,639.20 $833,644,114 $59,546,008.14 1157 77.1 $720,522.14 4
TEX 34,780,564.00 2,318,704.27 $1,146,665,644 $81,904,688.86 1252 83.5 $915,867.13 5
TOR 34,426,567.00 2,295,104.47 $1,233,609,806 $88,114,986.14 1220 81.3 $1,011,155.58 2
WSN 32,776,816.00 2,185,121.07 $1,100,971,963 $78,640,854.50 1183 78.9 $930,661.00 3

There are a lot of numbers to unpack here so let’s start with the average attendance. The Cubs rank sixth behind the Dodgers, Yankees, Cardinals, Giants and Angels and just ahead of the Red Sox. All five of the teams ahead of them have more playoff appearances during this stretch and the only the Dodgers haven’t won the World Series. The Cubs were under .500 in eight of these seasons which shows that they are far less reliant on winning to fill the stadium than almost any other team here.

Also, for context:

Stadium Capacity Avg. Attendance Avg. % Full
Dodger Stadium 56,000 3,552,353.00 0.78
Yankee Stadium 49,642 3,452,836.87 0.86
Busch Stadium 43,975 3,372,164.93 0.95
AT&T Park 41,915 3,219,582.27 0.95
Angel Stadium of Anaheim 45,483 3,141,320.73 0.85
Wrigley Field 41,268 3,012,042.67 0.90
Fenway Park 37,949 2,922,766.67 0.95

As for ticket price, for the 2016 season the Cubs ranked 3rd in baseball at $51.33/per ticket. Compare that to the Cardinals who always rank high in attendance thanks to their large stadium and winning ways had an a average price of $35.24/per ticket.

If we look at payroll, the Cubs rank 7th behind the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Tigers, Giants and Angels. They are sixth in costs per win which is not where you want to be at. That ignores the point though, the Cubs have money. Lots and lots of money. They’ve always had money and they’ve either spent it poorly or had owners who didn’t want to put it back in the team.

This team is different, of course. They spent on and put their faith in a smart front office, suffered through a rebuild because they knew the fans would come anyways and then spent big when they knew they had a chance to win it all. It’s a smart way to do things and a thing they probably should’ve done 15 or 20 years ago when the Marlins and Diamondbacks bought themselves World Series rings.

Winning the World Series is very hard to do. You need a little luck, a whole lot of talent, people to get hot at the right time and for everything to break your way with injuries, chemistry and everything else. It’ll be a great accomplishment if the Cubs win the World Series, but it probably won’t be as impressive if the Indians win it with a payroll that is $74 million less (or the 2016 Milwaukee Brewers less) than theirs.

I feel much the same way about the 2016 Chicago Cubs as I once felt about the Boston Red Sox. It’s been a long time since it happened and that is too bad for fans of that team, but with the amount of money these teams are spending to build their teams they should be winning the World Series. Not just once, but all the time. The Red Sox “broke their curse” and then won two more. The Cubs will be the same and we’ll all look back at this time as a happier day. Before their fans became insufferable and you could go to Wrigley for less than two hundred bucks.

If you want to root for the Cubs, that’s great. Just call it what it is: rooting for the Yankees of middle America. If you want to root for an underdog, you’ll need to find another team. The Indians had the misfortune of being based in Cleveland, the Rays stupidly based their team in Tampa and the Brewers are from Milwaukee. These are financial burdens that they will never be able to overcome and compete with the Cubs of this world. If they want to win, they have to develop their own talent and hope everything breaks just right.

The Cubs are the favorites, they are Goliath and the Evil Empire. They should win the World Series this year and if they don’t do it, they’ll be back next year. It won’t be a curse if they don’t, it’ll be an upset. The Cubs aren’t lovable losers and they never will be again. Deal with it.

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