3 reasons why the Chicago Cubs were so horrible for so long
As we all know, the Chicago Cubs didn’t spend much money
The most obvious theory explaining the Cubs’ miasmic performance would be that the team failed to maintain a competitive payroll. The evidence that exists (or at least that is easily obtainable) suggests this indeed may have been a factor.
From 1977-79 and 1980-83 the Cubs generally ran middle-of-the-pack player salaries. Out of 26 teams, the team’s payroll typically ranged from 11th to 15th, with one outlier year (1981) where the payroll fell to 21st. Given the size of the Cubs’ market, these payrolls were quite low. An innovative organization could perhaps win with such consistently modest resources, but the Cubs during this period were not such an organization (at least not between the lines).
Some have suggested Cubs fans brought this misery on themselves; their willingness to get plastered with Old Style and watch crap baseball meant that the Wrigleys were never motivated to put a good product on the field. The numbers don’t bear that out. From 1946-83, Cubs’ attendance was routinely below the league median, and often at or near the bottom. Their average MLB attendance rank was 13th, although that needs to be taken with salt given the increasing number of teams over time.
Here’s another way to look at it: during this 38-year span, the Cubs were fifth or better in attendance just four times, three of which came during the relative success of the Durocher years. It appears the fans accurately assessed the quality of the team on the field and generally stayed away accordingly.
In this way, unfortunately, the Wrigleys were visionary leaders, foreshadowing the revenue sharing parasite ownerships that have sporadically polluted the game since revenue sharing was introduced. During their long march of mediocrity, the Cubs demonstrated that it was quite possible to run a baseball franchise as a successful business even with an unsuccessful team. (Shhhh – don’t tell him!) This is their most unfortunate legacy, one which the ongoing CBA negotiations should address, and quite possibly won’t.