There is only one evil empire in baseball. According to a poll conducted during the 2014 season, the Yankees were the most widely hated team among baseball fans polled in every state as well as 10 Canadian provinces and territories. Among 10 teams listed, the Yankees garnered 722 "most hated" votes, nearly twice that of their arch rivals, the Boston Red Sox.
Granted, the poll, done by an ambitious Reddit user kmhokies35, was far from scientific and relied on voluntary responses. But the results show what many in sports know: people will go out of their way to let you know they hate the Yankees.
It could be their outrageous payroll and penchant for buying the best players in the league. Or perhaps that many of those players are noted jerks. Or, of course, their total of 27 World Series wins. Over the decades, the New York Yankees have been studied tormenters of many teams, from the Los Angeles Dodgers (in the late 1970s) to the Atlanta Braves (in the 1990s) to the Boston Red Sox (throughout history).
Then there’s the Cubs.
Decades of missing out on the World Series has done wonders for the North Side team’s likability. Tourists still flocked to Wrigley Field every year, and the Tribune's fan map, quantified by social media numbers, shows the Cubs to be popular throughout the industrial Midwest.
"Let's face it: Losing was sort of their thing," wrote Rolling Stone’s sports editor Jason Diamond—this was right after the Cubs triumphed in Game 7, showing they still couldn’t erase their 108 years of failure, not even with an epic extra-innings World Series clincher.
Now, imagine a day when the Cubs stopped being what they were, lovable losers, and started being the opposite, hateable winners. Just like the Yankees. Since the Cubs have broken the curse and won a world championship, doing so by building a powerhouse from scratch, the conversations about the Cubs have completely changed.
Could the boys in blue become as hated as the Yankees? A Cubs fan can only dream.
There have been some promising steps toward this alternate reality. In December, Major League Baseball reportedly sent the Cubs a bill for $2.96 million; their total payroll had surpassed $189 million, making the team one of six in the nation to pay a luxury tax. The others were the Dodgers, Red Sox, Giants, Tigers, and of course, the Yankees.
The press has made its best effort to pummel the public with gushing praise for the team, ensuring most of America will be sick of them even before they return to Wrigley for the home opener on April 10. ESPN The Magazine dedicated an entire issue, called "The Cubs Issue," to the North Siders. And it’s not just sports media: Fortune last week named Cubs President and chief architect Theo Epstein the world's greatest leader. Theo beat out a few very important people—Canada's prime minister, Chief Justice John Roberts, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the Pope, to name a few.
Press and payroll aside, winning (and winning and winning) is what makes of every sports fan hate you. Just ask the New England Patriots, who have won five Super Bowls in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era. But to the Patriots' credit, since 2000 their management has constructed a highly functional organization from top to bottom, not just a lineup of good players.
The Cubs have done the same; they are truly deep at every position, with a solid pitching rotation in Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey, and more, buttressed (finally) by a reliable bullpen. Plus, Cubs position players excel both at hitting and defense across the board. Even better is that these players are here to stay.
Almost all of starting infield players, including National League MVP Kris Bryant as well as fellow 2016 All-Stars Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo are young and long under contract. So too are the prodigious Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, and catcher Willson Contreras. Even Albert Almora, a young fill-in last year, is slugging this preseason in the mid-.600s, and looks like a center field starter.
Rolling Stone's Diamond wrote, "So where do we go from here? The Chicago Cubs erased all [the] pain. They rewrote the entire script in a totally Hollywood way. This season will no doubt be a movie."
Couple a Hollywood blockbuster with a real-life Cubs team yearly in contention (and maybe a Dancing with the Stars crown for Grandpa Rossy), and you've got the recipe for a new, widely hated "evil empire.”
After 100-plus years of bad seasons, nearly getting there, and blowing it, fans of the old "lovable losers" just might love reveling in endless wins and being hated for it.
And if being hated means success, not all is lost for the South Side. According to the Reddit poll, the Chicago White Sox are also the most hated baseball team in Nunavut, Canada's largest, least populated and most remote territory.