MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Finally this hour, baseball is a game for kids both young and old, so you'd think when a baseball team introduces a cuddly, new mascot, what could go wrong? Well, this week the Chicago Cubs introduced Clark, an appropriately adorable cartoon bear that looks like it came straight out of a Disney movie. But it was not a hit with Neil Steinberg, a columnist with the Chicago Sun-Times - and that's putting it mildly.
NEIL STEINBERG: Had they had a severed calf's head on a stick, dripping gore and buzzing with flies, and said here's our mascot - Holly the heifer head, I could not have been more revolted.
BLOCK: Ouch. And Steinberg is not alone. Social media is shaking with outrage over Clark the Cub. So why? Well, for thoughts on that, we turn to sports writer Wayne Drehs, a native Chicagoan who writes for ESPN and is a self-described Cubs geek. Wayne, thanks for weighing in on this.
WAYNE DREHS: Hey, thanks for having me.
BLOCK: And why do you think Clark the Cub is drawing such outrage among fans? Why is the mascot such a big deal?
DREHS: Well, you have to understand the backdrop right now in Cubs nation, if you will; and that is the fact that the Cubs fan has finally stood up after 106 years, and said he's had enough of losing and he's tired of it.
BLOCK: (Laughter) Oh, is this the first time? I see.
DREHS: Yeah, right? And I mean, they are very grouchy and angry; and on social media and on Cubs blogs, these people look for anything and everything to complain about. And the Cubs introduce a cuddly mascot - ooh, that's just ripe material for these folks.
BLOCK: Yeah. Well, one stream of thought that I've seen in comments online - and they get far worse than this - but some people are saying, like, look at this cub. His eyes are sad. He'll fit in perfectly with the rest of Cubs fans.
DREHS: Yeah, I just don't know how you can analyze the eyes of a cartoon character as like, sad and droopy. And I'm questioning - you know, Mr. Steinberg - listened to what he had to say. I'm just wondering what kind of presents he buys for his children, if he has any, if that's the kind of mascot he'd like. I'm very confused.
BLOCK: All right. Well, Neil Steinberg talked to us a bit about the whole notion of appealing to children with this mascot for the Cubs. Let's take a listen to more of what he said.
STEINBERG: It's an insult. It's a backhand to the idea of children, to say that we have to come up with something corny and stupid and clip-arty and generic, in order for kids to embrace it. That's ridiculous.
BLOCK: Wayne, what do you think? I mean, was this the best the Cubs could do, if they wanted to appeal to kids? - which is what they said is the whole idea here.
DREHS: Yeah, I widely disagree. I mean, as someone who's taken his, you know, then 5- and then 6-year-old daughter to a Cubs game, and had her try to sit through an entire nine innings at Wrigley Field, you know, the Cubs may have had the sort of least family friendly environment of any sports team in Chicago. My daughter used to ask me: How come the Bulls have Benny the Bull, and the Hawks have Tommy Hawk - and there's just nothing for the Cubs, right? And so to me, when they announced it on Monday, I thought: This is a great idea.
BLOCK: Do you think the Cubs fans took pride in the fact that they were one of the very few teams that didn't have a mascot?
DREHS: Absolutely. There's no question. I mean, this is where we go to watch baseball. You bring your team. You watch the game. You look at the ivy. You have a cold Budweiser. It's a beautiful day. The Cubs lose and then you go home frustrated, and complain about it. That's the way it's worked for so long, right?
BLOCK: (Laughter) Isn't America great? Yeah.
DREHS: Exactly. And the Cubs have said, look, we're not going to have Clark jumping up and down in the dugout and - I think he's going to greet some fans when they come in, and help the kids smile. I don't really see what's wrong with that.
BLOCK: Well, there is this, too - I mean, and you do see this a lot in comments online - you know, OK, great. Get a mascot. But what do the Cubs really need? Well, maybe we need an ace pitcher. Maybe we need a great free agent.
DREHS: Yeah. Again - and this is the Cubs fan complaining that they're not winning. And they don't seem to realize that the organization has completely rebuilt itself. They have one of the top five minor league systems in all of baseball. Maybe Clark can, you know, help people settle down for a couple years until those baby Cubs are ready.
BLOCK: Wayne Drehs, it's good to talk to you. Thank you so much.
DREHS: Thank you.
BLOCK: Wayne Drehs is a sportswriter with ESPN, and a self-described Cubs geek. We were talking about the new mascot, Clark the Cub. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.