Chicago Cubs: Baseball’s Chicago Improv Team
If any sports team deserves to be known as ‘Baseball’s Chicago Improv Team,’ it’s the Chicago Cubs. The North Side of Chicago is the birthplace of the Cubs as well as improv comedy. There’s Second City (Bill Murray) and The Annoyance (Jeff Garlin). And for years, the ImprovOlympic (Mike Myers) was right across the street from Wrigley Field.
I myself have taken my improv classes at ImprovOlympic’s Clark Street theater in the 90’s. There, we were taught the basics of improvisation: being in the moment, thinking with the group mind, making your teammates look good.It’s been a unique joy to watch the 2015 Chicago Cubs, and their new manager Joe Maddon reminds me of a good improv coach. He tells his players ‘Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure.’ He tells his players batting practice is nice, but not at the expense of being in the moment: ‘The players don’t have to be the first ones there and the last ones to leave. That has nothing to do with winning. Zero.’ And when he was asked if he believed in the Cubs ‘curse,’ he said ‘I just don’t vibrate on that frequency, man.’
Guess who said it: Joe Maddon OR improv guru Del Close?
‘It’s not going to be an oil painting every night. You cannot be perfect.’
‘It’s about being able to stay in the present tense, let go when necessary. Breathe.’
‘Reality- reaction. Human behavior deals honestly- Listen. React, don’t act.’
‘Don’t bring a cathedral. Bring a brick, and let’s build it together.’
‘Enthusiasm and effort matter more than accuracy.’
‘The absolute worst thing you can do is be apathetic.’
‘The key to scoring runs is the first 90 feet.’ *
And to me the 2015 Chicago Cubs were like an improv team. They made it up as they went along. In baseball, the pitcher bats 9th – since forever. Not this team: the pitcher bats 8th. Just for the sake of shaking things up. In baseball, there’s a hierarchy: minor league A, AA, AAA and then the Majors. Not the Cubs: Kyle Schwarber was hitting well in Single-A ball, so why not try him in The Show? And what a team player he’s turned out to be. In baseball, there are clear roles: if you’re 2nd base, you stay 2nd base. Not the Cubs: Addison Russell swapped with Starlin Castro at shortstop, and the shakeup improved them both.
And – like a good long-form improv team – sometimes they come onstage and completely shit the bed.
After the 3rd condolence on Chicago’s spectacularly kack-stained implosion, let me clarify: I’m still thrilled. A wise old wag once said ‘In October, it ain’t about who’s best. It’s about who’s hot.’ (okay, the wag was Jon Lester.) And oh, how the Cubs cooled off last week. (Meanwhile Mets, enjoy your 7 days off.) But the Grand Plan is to have the Cubs there every October. And have we ever been closer?
Okay, Joe Ricketts looks like a deranged Ted Cruz. Okay, the Ricketts family cheats their grounds crew & pays millions to oust Obama. Yes, post-game Wrigleyville looks like a frat-rape party. But I’m already looking forward to 2016. And I hope that the next time Joe Maddon needs to shake things up, he skips the magician, the clown, the petting zoo – and he hires and proper improv team for the Chicago North Siders.
Or at least the Blue Man Group.
*(1JM, 2JM, 3DC, 4DC, 5DC, 6DC, 7JM)