CHICAGO — TELL North Dakotans or Nebraskans you're from Chicago and, as often as not, they'll ask about Cubs baseball. So it was that when the Chicago Cubs clinched their division on Tuesday, cheers went up not only locally but from coast to coast.
``I am actually quite happy for them,'' says Dean Baim, an associate professor of economics at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. On Tuesday before the decisive game, even the university chancellor was saying he hoped the Cubs would win their division.
No one's quite sure why the team attracts such universal fondness. But sports analysts have many theories. For example: The club's mostly day baseball schedule draws wholesome fans - businesspeople and families - to the games; WGN televises Cubs games across the country, building a loyal following; or, perhaps, people are naturally sympathetic to an underdog.
The Cubs have been more than underdogs. ``They were just sort of laughably inept,'' Professor Baim says. The team hasn't won a World Series since 1908. The last time the Cubs appeared in a Series was 1945. In 1969, they built a seemingly insurmountable lead, only to lose it. In 1984, the team did win their division and seemed on their way to a Series showdown after winning the first two games of their league championship. But the Cubs lost the next three games - and the pennant - to the San Diego Padres.
Chicago fans never forget those almosts and maybes. But Chicago's sports teams have done relatively better this decade and local expectations have been raised. The bright spots include a championship season by the Chicago Bears football team in 1985-86, a division title by the Chicago White Sox baseball team in 1983, and a surprisingly strong playoff performance from the Chicago Bulls basketball team last year before falling to the Detroit Pistons, National Basketball Association championship winners.
A championship Cubs team would make those bright spots - and fans across the country - glow even brighter.