Now that the baseball season is over and we have enjoyed another World Series we have a moment to reflect on the future of this great sport. Living in Chicago I get a lot of news about the Cubs, those lovable losers on the North Side. Some say the Cubs are actually cursed while others just think they are inept. I believe the latter but sometimes you have to wonder.
The Cubs appear to have made a major hiring coup in taking Theo Epstein from Boston, the same guy who turned the other “big” loser into two-time World Series Champs in the last decade. Time will tell. The Cubs may hire the best but will they win?
First, I have to hand out praise to the new Cub owner, Tom Ricketts. Ricketts not only had the courage and foresight to fire GM Jim Hendry but he cleaned up the ballpark and changed attitudes 110%. I decided to go back to Wrigley Field, after several years away from the place, and discovered that the personnel were entirely different in how they treated me as a fan. Thank you Mr. Ricketts. This was greatly appreciated.
Second, can the Cubs win the World Series? Yes, of course they can win it but they still have a lot of work to do. They seem willing to do it, hexes and curses aside, so it is clearly possible. Btu it will not be an overnight job. This is a problem since Cubs fans are tired and want success NOW.
But, and this is huge to keep in mind, this is the Chicago Cubs. To show you what I mean the Sunday Chicago Tribune of two weeks ago ran an uproariously funny page called the “Slippery Slope.” It was a graphic display of Cub futility all the way back to 1906. In the year 1906 the Cubs won a major league record 116 games! But they lost to the White Sox in the only cross-town series ever. In 1907 they won the World Series and did so again in 1908. But that was it. They have never won a World Series since 1908!
In 1916, one month after the Cubs moved into their beloved Wrigley Field, then called Weeghman Park, fans threw seat cushions at the umpire after a controversial called third strike ended a game. In 1918 they lost in the World Series to the Red Sox 4-2 behind the new Sox star, Babe Ruth. In 1929 the first “Cubbie Occurence” (former manager Lou Pinella’s term) came about when they blew an 8-0 lead in Game 4 of the World Series giving up 10 runs in the seventh inning, losing that series 4-1. Then in 1930 Hack Wilson drove in the most runs in baseball history, 191, while he drank whiskey routinely. (It was a different age, or was it?) In 1938 the Cubs enjoyed a 21-game winning streak but lost the World Series to Detroit in six games.
But 1945 is the truly memorable year. It was the last time the Cubs even got to the World Series. Billy Goat Tavern owner William Sianis placed a curse on the team for allegedly discriminating against his goat during the Series, which the Cubs lost again to the Tigers. Since 1945 the Cubs have never been back to the World Series. Listening to many of their fans since 1969, when I got to Chicago, you would think they had won several. But in 1947 they began a sixteen year run without a winning season. (Thanks to the Pittsburgh Pirates this record has been broken and is still counting at 19!)
There are a host of other stories since 1945 but included in them are the 1969 Cubs who are still loved as the best team of them all. They had a black cat walk across Shea Stadium in a game that led to a dropped fly ball that then began a collapse that eventually allowed the Mets to win the pennant and the World Series that year.
Throw in a host of bad trades, bad decisions by managers and the front office and the famous 2003 “Bartman ball episode” against the Marlins and the Cubs have always found ways to lose. They have made bad trades, signed terrible free agents, wasted money and finally, this year, caused the fans to finally start staying away in growing numbers. In 2008 they went so far as to have a Greek Orthodox priest sprinkle holy water on their dugout before their playoff opener with the Dodgers, who then swept the Cubs out of the post-season.
So there it is. The lovable losers can no longer put a loser on the field and expect devoted fans to just show up and fill their park. They finally made a really smart decision and got a great leader in Theo Epstein. But beware Mr. Epstein, this franchise has more “curses and occurrences” than anything you ever saw in Boston. This is the ultimate challenge in sport—win a World Series with the biggest losers of them all. It can be done. Time will tell. All eyes are on Theo in Chicago and beyond. If they ever do finally win the World Series the city might not survive the celebration!