"He was an avid fan of the Cubs." You see that often in the obits. In fact, outside of religious affiliations, the Cubs might be the most common thread among people of all walks of life.
I always pictured Arnold in a Chicago Cubs cap.
Once in a while, he'd wear a different hat, but he'd mostly stick with a Cubs chapeau.
I never asked him why he worshipped the woeful team. No need. See, he was from Harlan County, Ky., hardscrabble mining terrain that decades ago supplied scads of workers to The Caterpillar Tractor Co. After getting to know a lot of these folks over the years, I've learned three truths about natives of Harlan County:
1. A lot of them are a little bit crazy.
2. A little bit of them are a lot crazy.
3. Every one of them roots for the Cubs.
Don't know why. Eastern Kentucky is another world from Chicago. But the Cubs and Harlan, that's just how it is.
So it didn't surprise me the other day when I saw Arnold's obituary and the photo showed him sporting a Cubs cap. In fact, that's how he rested in his casket, meaning he'll wear a Cubs cap forever.
As he lay there, I wondered about a line in his obit: "He was an avid fan of the Cubs." You see that often in the obits. In fact, outside of religious affiliations, the Cubs might be the most common thread among people of all walks of life.
I checked our obit database, which goes back to 1991. "Chicago Cubs" comes up 225 times, while "Cubs fan" gets 357 hits.
By comparison, "St. Louis Cardinals" gets just 153 hits, while "Cardinals fan" gets just two more.
The White Sox? As a South Side aficionado, I find this sad (if expected) to report. "Chicago White Sox" turns up just 20 times, while "White Sox fan" has but 17 hits.
Cubs passion often flows in the obit prose. Sometimes, hope springs eternal, literally, such as the Sept. 23 obit for David Svymbersky, 78, of Peoria: "The Cubs will win the World Series if Dad has any pull in heaven. But if they don't, give him a break, because it will be his first month in heaven."
Sometimes, bitterness creeps in, such as the Oct. 26 obit for Della Stephens, 81, of Peoria: "She was a lifetime, long-suffering Cubs fan who was disappointed once again this fall."
Often, rivalries roar into the afterlife. The Aug., 22, 2007, obit for Mary Keating, 88, of Havana detailed the last hours of her life: "She was an avid fifth generation Chicago Cubs fan and had a smile on her face ... when she was told that the Cubs were in first place after beating the Cardinals ..."
The May 12, 2006, obit for Gordon, Ray, 76, of Abingdon, included this zinger: "He was an avid Cardinals baseball fan and a fan of any team playing the Cubs."
On April 20, Gary Biles, 56, formerly of Peoria offered this final kick: "He was a lifelong ... Cubs fan and was a reluctant White Sox fan because of his relation to Jim Thome."
There is little crossover between the three teams. Only two obits mentioned dual allegiance for the Cubs and Cards, likewise for the Sox and Cards. Only one touted devotion to both the Sox and Cubs: from the Rev. Robert Warren "Toad" Rigler, 61 of Pekin, who died in March; he probably played both sides as not to rile parishioners.
Anyway, I'd like to think that Arnold and the rest of these fans are still bickering baseball in the Great Beyond. As for all you Cubs fans out there, expect a similar obit when you die - I don't care how old you are.
There's only two ways to avoid a such a regretful obit: Don't root for the Cubs, or don't die.
Phil Luciano can be reached at email@example.com or (309) 686-3155.