WooLifeReviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 05/08/08 01:30:08
(Worth A Look)
No other professional sports team over time has amounted a greater history of folklore than the Chicago Cubs. From billy goats to black cats to Bartman, the lovable losers from the northside of the Windy City have a status of legend to challenge Arthurian scribes. Despite 100 years of World Series abstinence, the Cubs are not without their joys. As documented recently by the wonderful WGN special, Cubs Forever, that there is a proud history to the franchise populated by such greats as Ernie Banks and Ryne Sandberg, a field of unfulfilled dreams that many baseball purists are still quick to label as a little piece of heaven and a fanbase that is near impossible to replicate in number or enthusiasm. One such fan over the years has been a polarizing staple around Wrigley though. Part loved, part reviled, Ronnie “Woo Woo” Wickers has been a presence at nearly every home game since 1969. With his signature (and constant) cheering, he is now the subject of a documentary that, like the Cubs, has taken too long to have its day in the lights.Filmed during the 2000 & 2001 seasons, Paul Hoffman paints his portrait of fandom not as a canvas of collectibles and body painting but through one man who was introduced to a team at a young age and has remained loyal ever since. Briefly shedding some light on his early family days where his grandmother introduced him to baseball, Hoffman quickly moves on to present day where Ronnie rides his bicycle to the games – sometimes to sit in the bleachers, sometimes to await a home run ball on Waveland – and to cheer his Cubbies on through every pitch. And I mean, every pitch. If you’ve never seen Ronnie in action, it can be an audible assault that local sports reporter, Bruce Wolf, describes “like an owl impaling himself.” Without immediate visual evidence, imagine typing out a roster list and your space bar instead prints out the word “WOO” and you’re only halfway to the experience of sitting in the stands with him.
Hoffman doesn’t shy away from the annoyance factor. There are scenes worth of Ronnie’s rallying while nearby patrons are plastered with expressions ten times worse than those reserved for the guy talking in a movie theater. You won’t know whether to hug him or choke him, but Joe Mantegna recognized the cultural staple Ronnie was becoming and included one such cheering fan in his production of Bleacher Bums. That was 1976. Mantegna (also interviewed to deliver some pearls of wisdom about Ronnie) isn’t just the only name to embrace the Woo man. All the Cubs players can’t help but offer a smile when they know he’s around. Local radio personalities, Mancow Muller and Jonathon Brandmeier, both have offered their support. The latter calling his old boss, John McDonough (VP of Cubs promotions at the time) when it appeared Ronnie had been banned from the Grandstand and Mancow helping to spearhead a campaign to get his teeth fixed which leads to a priceless moment when Wickers asks the dentist if he’ll still be able to “Woo.” None other than legendary negro league champion, Buck O’Neil, bookends the film with his own thoughts on why Ronnie is so special.
Ronnie’s life is not without its dark passages though. In 1984 when the Cubs were having maybe the greatest season of this lifetime, Ronnie had come home to find his girlfriend dead from liver failure and his beloved grandmother gone just two weeks later. For the next six years, he was living on the streets and news reports even reported him as dead when he failed to make his first home game in decades. Less desirable Cubs fans, knee deep in the culture of curses, consider Ronnie to be a contributing factor and in one striking scene is run out of a bar on instinct. All which make his dream of singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the Cubs’ (now 10 year-old) tribute to Harry Caray rootable on the level of a Lucas or Rudy or another Cubs Ron still waiting to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Seemingly a natural fit for the spirit of that tribute, especially with people like a barely intelligible Ozzy Ozbourne and Brewers-rootin’ jackass, Bob Uecker, being invited in, the resistance by Cubs management (and even some fans) at the time seemed incomprehensible. But when this journey nears its completion, Hoffman (with great access to the preparation), draws up such nerve-wracking tension that you’d think you were being brought up to sing yourself.Even the most strident opposer to Ronnie’s antics (and I’m not even sure I’d want to be in the bleachers next to him for nine innings) has to appreciate when his powers of WOO are turned on the opposition in the most unappealing of ways. More than just an ordinary fan and yet nothing particularly extraordinary beyond his undying loyalty. But when Cubs fans have to fight off accusations about not being “real fans” (usually from petty White Sox supporters), the inhabitable spirit of Ronnie can always be looked to even if a wince of scorn is to follow. As O’Neil so eloquently stated, “He always knew there would be an opening day.” If that’s not the true testament of being a Cubs fan, I don’t know what is.
|© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.|