Earlier this year — in May, to be exact — the Chicago Cubs hosted their annual 5K, called the “Race to Wrigley.” There are lots and lots of 5K races in Chicago over the course of a year, and it’s sometimes a challenge to find one that stands out; but the Wrigley race certainly does. Not only does it go down the typically congested streets near the ballpark, but it ends up with the runners entering a gate along Waveland Avenue, running inside the lower concourse of the park, and exiting through the main gate at Clark and Addison Streets. From there, it’s a short distance past the Ernie Banks statue out front and across the finish line. No other race can offer that to its participants, and the race is very popular as a result.
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The weekend before the race, I went to the gift shop located across the street from Wrigley Field, to pick up the t-shirt and running bibs for some of the participants. And as I was looking at the exterior of the park, I took a few pictures of the way it had been festooned for the season. I even wrote a piece questioning the wisdom of using a single word — Committed — in their advertising for this season. Errors are what get committed in baseball and, at the time, the Cubs had committed more of them than any other team in baseball. They’ve come down to 11th in the majors as of this writing, in case you’re interested.
If you go to the Cubs’ website today, you’ll see the “Committed” banner on their home page. You’ll also hear the campaign on the radio, with the tagline “The Cubs are Committed. Are you?” The idea being that listening to snippets about hard-core Cubs devotees are somehow supposed to motivate you to go to the ballpark and show your allegiance, too.
But there’s a problem with that line of thinking, and it dates back at least to the Pearl Jam concert on July 19. On that day, I took some pictures of the Wrigley Field marquee, and I didn’t think too much about the missing banners and “Committed” signage outside the ballpark. I was as caught up in the moment with everyone else, and small details like how the Cubs were marketing themselves didn’t concern me at that time.
But as I returned to Wrigley at the end of August, looking for some ideas to write about for this column, I took some more pictures of the marquee, and I noticed that player banners and the word “Committed” were still gone. And a look at the Wrigley Field cam across the street from the ballpark reveals they still aren’t there, and they likely aren’t going to be back before the end of the season, either.
Part of the problem, certainly, is that five of the 12 players who had banners with their likeness back in May — Matt Garza, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol, Scott Feldman, and David DeJesus — have since departed the team through trades with one organization or another. Another, Kyuji Fujikawa, had Tommy John surgery in June and is out for the season. That leaves five holes, at least, which would need to be filled in.
But why not give some recognition to the players who have done surprisingly well this year? Travis Wood has had a fine season, and putting up a banner to take the place of Matt Garza’s would have been a nice honor for him. Likewise, Kevin Gregg has become the closer that either Marmol or Fujikawa was supposed to be, and yet he was not recognized in the way that they were when the season was young. Junior Lake has become something of a rookie phenom on the North Side this season, and Welington Castillo has had a respectable year behind home plate. Even Nate Schierholtz has come up with a season most didn’t expect from him, and while Donnie Moore will never be the Cub Andre Dawson was, he has given Cubs fans reason to cheer for number 8 again.
Any of these players would probably love seeing their name and likeness on the exterior of Wrigley Field, just like Anthony Rizzo and his at-or-below-.200-in-every-month-but-May performance this year. Jeff Samardzija is 8-11 and he had a banner, so why did Travis Wood and his 8-11 record not merit one, as well?
My question is why use a word like “Committed” for an ad slogan, and then not actually commit to keeping it in place for the duration of the season? Isn’t that what “committed” actually means?
Nobody has called the Cubs out on this. In the end, a winning product on the field is more important than the banners hanging outside the park. But if the Cubs want to get some banners to hang inside the park, perhaps they should examine what the banners outside the park really mean.