It was a beautiful afternoon for baseball Saturday, so I ventured out to the Wrigley Field bleachers to see how Chicago Cubs fans were coping with the rebuild that can’t be called a rebuild.
The bleachers were packed for the game against the Atlanta Braves as fans stood behind the last rows in left and right field and congregated behind the concessions to socialize without the obligation of watching the actual game.
In other words, business as usual at the corner of Waveland and Sheffield avenues.
Cubs owners throughout the years have counted on fans being oblivious to the failures of the team on the field, knowing that no matter how bad it gets there always will be young fans looking for a party atmosphere at Wrigley.
The bleachers have been a prime spot for tanning, beer drinking and people watching forever, which is why tickets are so expensive for seats so far away from the action. Even former Cubs President Theo Epstein made a trip out to the left-field section Friday afternoon to soak in the sun and have a few cold ones with friends.
After selling the White Sox in 1981 to a group led by Jerry Reinsdorf, Hall of Fame owner Bill Veeck spent his summer days sitting in the front row of upper center field at Wrigley, which he called the “best seats in the house.” In an interview from his perch in 1983, Veeck told me: “It’s one of those rare places where people of my generation can get along with young people.”
Back in the days when bleacher tickets went on sale only on the day of the game, regulars would line up early along Sheffield to ensure their favored spots. But the former owner, Tribune Co., did away with that long-standing policy in 1985 in a money grab that changed the bleacher vibe.
Veeck, who helped plant the ivy on the outfield walls in 1937, began his celebrated boycott of the bleachers because of that policy change.
Every generation of Bleacher Bums decries the younger generation encroaching their territory at least since I was a 20-something sitting in right field in the 1980s before heading to work on the Chicago Tribune city desk. Years later, after becoming the Cubs beat writer, I spoke with longtime Cubs fan and rock star Billy Corgan about the trendiness of celebrities attending games.
“The emphasis has to be on the people who support the team — day in, day out — and I always defer to that,” Corgan said in a 2004 interview. “I’m a common Cubs fan. I was a common Cubs fan long before I became famous. I’ll never forgive the yuppies for moving in back in ‘84. I’m still mad about that.
“When the Cubs stopped selling bleacher tickets the day of the game, that was the end of that old Bleacher Bums culture. Now it’s just fake Bleacher Bums.”
The yuppies may have caused the demise of the bleacher culture four decades ago, but now it’s the “Cuppies” who’ve taken center stage. You may have caught them on recent national TV broadcasts, including Fox Sports and ESPN telecasts of the Cubs-Cardinals series two weeks ago.
The Cuppies are young fans who spend a significant part of the game collecting empty beer cups to stack high enough to cover several rows. These are usually referred to as beer snakes or cup snakes. It has been going on for at least five years but lately has become a nuisance to some.
The regulars I spoke to Saturday in the left-field bleachers were adamant: The Cuppies are ruining the bleacher experience. But they also agreed there was nothing anyone could do to stop them.
A security guard I spoke to said orders from on high were to stop the Cuppies from going section to section collecting cups and to remove those tossing cups for beer snakes from one section to another. When I mentioned that beer snakes received obsessive coverage on both Fox and ESPN, the guard said the Cubs couldn’t do anything about the national telecasts but that Marquee Sports Network won’t allow shots of cup stacking during its telecasts.
The security guard asked not to be named to avoid being reprimanded by the Cubs.
At least Cubs security bosses have their priorities in order. As someone once ejected from Wrigley Field for accidentally spritzing a fan with a water mist from a spray bottle on a sweltering afternoon in 1983, I can attest that bleacher high jinks can lead to a life of crime. Fortunately, I turned my life around by moving from the bleachers to the press box, where I’m no longer a threat to the organization.
I asked some of the Baby Boomer bleacherites if the current Gen Z and Millennial inhabitants really are any worse than the Boomers were during their heyday. In case anyone had forgotten, I reminded them the Cubs installed the baskets at the bleacher wall in 1970 because fans had been jumping onto the field after wins, a deed far worse than stacking beer cups.
They assured me the original Bleacher Bums were there only to root for the Cubs and have some fun, while the Cuppies are a blot on bleacher society and not even “real” Cubs fans. Someone pointed out that one fan caught a Manny Machado home run during the Cubs-San Diego Padres game Wednesday and refused to throw it back. Oh, the horror!
I have no quarrel with the Cuppies. They have the right to be oblivious to the Cubs’ plight, just like the generations that came before them. If someone wants to pay $100 or more to not watch the Cubs from the bleachers, that’s their prerogative.
Back in the summer of 1987, for an article on the 50th anniversary of the construction of the bleachers, I interviewed 57-year-old fan Marv Rich, a Bleacher Bum since 1943. Rich insisted the yuppies had taken over the bleachers and spoiled the vibe for everyone else.
“They don’t care about watching the game,” he said. “All they care about is getting a good tan and being able to tell everyone later that they got it in the bleachers.”
The Cuppies have taken over from the yuppies, but the song remains the same. The bleachers are part of Wrigley Field, but watching the game isn’t mandatory.
It’s going to be a long, hot summer. The Boomers and the Cuppies will have to coexist.
Can’t we all just get along?