As It Happens

What happened when a Chicago Cubs rooter offered to be a 'free agent fan'

Don Kostelec was going through his late father’s effects last month when he came across three letters from Major League Baseball teams in plastic folders.

When Don Costello died last month, his son found letters from the MLB teams he'd pitched himself to

Don Costello was a life-long Chicago Cubs fan — but when he died, his son discovered Costello's loyalty strayed briefly in the '80s when he offered himself up as a 'free agent' fan to other teams. (Submitted by Don Kostelec)

Transcript

Don Kostelec was going through his late father's effects last month when he came across three letters in plastic folders to his dad from Major League Baseball teams.

Don Costello had been a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, but curiously, the letters were from the Montreal Expos, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Seattle Mariners.

It turned out that in the '80s — when the Cubs were at a particularly excruciating low point — Kostelec's father had written to other teams to offer his services as a "free agent fan." And some of them wrote back. 

"I started reading them and going, well, these are just witty and fantastic and unique in their different ways, and I got a chuckle out of it," Kostelec told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"We just kind of passed them around and then got a laugh. It's like, that was so like my dad to do something like that."

Costello, left, poses for a picture with his son Don Kostelec and their family dog Ernie Banks, named after the Chicago Cubs shortstop and first baseman. (Submitted by Don Kostelec)

The letters were all dated 1981. The Cubs had just come out of a disappointing decade of baseball in the '70s. In the 1980 season, the team finished 64-98, placing last in the National League East division.

"I think he was just fed up and he offered to sign essentially to play for free as a fan with any club that would sign him," Kostelec said. 

"He probably wrote every single [team] except for the Cardinals and the White Sox. He would have never offered his services to them under any circumstance."

The responses were varied.

The Montreal Expos rejected Costello's offer, expressing skepticism about his ability to dedicate himself fully to the Canadian team, and a concern for his well-being.

"If I know anything about a long time and loyal Cub fan — you will not only REMAIN one — you will withdraw from your Free Agency threat and re-dedicate yourself to the Chicago Cubs," Expos vice-president of player development James Fanning wrote in a letter dated Feb. 6.

"The trauma you would suffer trying to pull — which you really could not do — for another club would imperil your sporting health seriously. Imagine yourself cheering for the Montreal Expos on the last day of the 1981 National League season as the Cubs and Expos go into the final day tied for first place."

The Montreal Expos declined Costello's offer of free agent fandom. (Submitted by Don Kostelec)

The Seattle Mariners also sent a rejection letter — but with some encouragement to try again later.

"In trying to remain consistent with the Mariner philosophy, we are not in the market for free agent fans at this stage of our development. We are trying to develop fans through our system, which we feel [is] the proper direction for a club just four years old," wrote Randy Adamack, the Mariners' director of public relations, on Feb. 10.

"When we reach the point that we are on the verge of going all the way, a fan with your experience may be what we need to put us over the top. At that time, you can be sure that we would be interested in acquiring your services."

Kostelec says he's since heard from some Seattle fans who told him "that explains the Mariners' mentality to this day."

The Seattle Mariners also rejected Costello's offer, but said they might be interested in taking him up on it later. (Submitted by Don Kostelec)

Then finally, on Feb. 16, he got a bite — albeit, only a partial one.

"I'd be happy if you rooted for us in the American League and stayed with the Cubs in the National League since it seems only fair that after all your suffering for two decades you should still be rooting for the Cubs when they turn it around and start to have some success," wrote Milwaukee Brewers' executive vice-president and general manager Harry I. Dalton.

"This offer is open-ended and you may accept when you choose to do so. There is only one condition tied to the offer. If by any chance some of the Cubs' misfortunes the past few years are because of your association with them, then we really would rather you adopt the Yankees!"

The Milwaukee Brewers made Costello a conditional offer of their own. (Submitted by Don Kostelec)

But despite his dad's brief attempt to freelance his support, Kostelec says he ultimately stuck with his home team, and was rewarded for his patience and loyalty.

"When he retired, a friend of his encouraged him to apply for a job at stadium operations for the Cubs, and he started doing that," Kostelec said. "That's when they started to hit their stride."

Kostelec was with the team when they won the World Series in 2016. Every employee got a championship ring, and Costello passed it onto his granddaughter, Kostelec's daughter, when he died.

"This story kind of has the ultimate reward," Kostelec said. 

When Costello died last month, he passed his Chicago Cubs championship ring onto his granddaughter. (Submitted by Don Kostelec)

"He truly stuck it out and was certainly able to live that thing that so many Cubs fans did not get to see in their lifetime."

In the meantime, Kostelec is grateful to have discovered his dad's secrets. When he posted the letters on Twitter, they were shared more than 14,000 times. 

"Here's just a blue collar guy from Chicago who was a fan and got to work there. But now all of a sudden, he's had an impact, right?," he said.

"So for me, it's been therapeutic. It's just blown [me] away that it has touched that many people that I would have never known otherwise."


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. 

 

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