Cubs clobber curse (but if I’m dreaming, don’t wake me)

By Friends & Neighbors November 6, 2016 10:55


So what do I do now?

Over the decades I became practiced, even skilled at chronicling the epic failures of the Cubs. As a longtime fan raised in the Chicago area, I had lived through decades of futility, heartbreak and dizzying falls from the brink.

I was poised late in World Series Game 7 to do the same.

Rajai Davis’s line-shot two-run homer off the Cubs’ Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the eighth had pulled Cleveland into a 6-6 tie after trailing by 3 just two innings earlier. The Indian fans at Progressive Field burst into the kind of raucous rapture ordinarily reserved for users of highly illegal drugs.

The thousands of Cub Faithful in attendance, in contrast, looked like they had seen a ghost – or maybe a goat. They had the ashen, shaken, look of car-crash survivors who had lost their entire families – and then straggled home only to find their dogs had been poisoned.

The planned victory parade along Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, I was now convinced, would be – at least figuratively – a funeral procession. It would be the latest among many such wakes. I knew the drill; I had written about it.

In 2003, after the Cubs surrendered the National League pennant with two straight losses to the Marlins at Wrigley, I discoursed in my newspaper column on the Cub-fan psyche:

“We’re about as comfortable with success as Saddam was with free elections. The Cub faithful went into this post-season with all the confidence of Grenada forced into a rematch of its 1980s butt-kicking by the U.S.

“As the playoffs began, so did a series of neck-snapping mood swings among the afflicted millions. Minuscule baseball nuances would bring disproportionate angst or ecstasy from the Cubs’ jittery disciples.”

Davis’s seismic shot Wednesday night, of course, was more stake to the heart than nuance. Then, after a scoreless ninth inning, came the rain delay.

I envisioned the clubhouse: Gripped by self-doubt and with the clouds of more than a century of failure gathering, the shell-shocked Cubs were likely giving in. “At least we made it to the World Series,” I figured would be their post-loss mantra.

I was again ready to sit at a laptop and bare my Cub-stricken soul.

“Still breathing!?” texted a Chicago friend. Barely.

My friend Randy, visiting to offer moral support, figured the delay would last an hour. He headed home to Santa Rosa.

My brother, watching in Phoenix, was wrung out and thinking about going to bed. With little conviction, I told him to hang in there.

My friend Dick called from Arnold where he had been watching the game at a tavern. When the rains came to Cleveland, he said, “the bar closed and they kicked me out.”

In Texas, former Union Democrat reporter Al Mandell sent his World Series headline to the composing room of the daily paper he now works for. “Curse Ends,” it read. “Cubs Win Series.”

“Shouldn’t we wait till the game ends?” asked a staffer.

“Run it!” growled Al, a sports editor and former Chicagoan who on Wednesday night wouldn’t take no for an answer.

History hung in the balance as Cleveland’s ground crew rolled up the tarp.


Chris watches Cubs-Giants game circa 1985; the Cubs almost certainly lost

The Cubs won their last World Series on Oct. 14, 1908 over the Detroit Tigers. Edison, Twain and Tolstoy were still alive, the first Model T had just rolled off the assembly line, Teddy Roosevelt was president, and no world wars had been fought.

Of the 319 million Americans alive today, demographers estimate that maybe 700 were born before the Cubs’ last Series win in Detroit. Were any of these supercentenarians among the 6,210 at Detroit’s Bennett Park for the clincher? The odds of that are even longer than those of a Major League team failing to win a championship for 108 years.

Wrigley Field back in ’08 was six years from construction and the Cubs’ home was the West Side Grounds, now the site of University of Illinois Medical Center. Ty Cobb played for the Tigers, and Tinker, Evers and Chance turned double plays for Chicago.

Electric lights had been invented, but the first Major League night game was still a quarter century away.

As the first baseball radio broadcast was 13 years into the future, Cub fans instead heard about the Series win via one of Chicago’s dozen or so daily newspapers. And they probably weren’t shocked, as between 1906 and 1910 the juggernaut Cubs would win four National League pennants and two World Series crowns.

Little did those smug fans suspect what was ahead.

Over the 10-plus decades that followed, the Cub Faithful learned to expect the worst. During my formative years the team was at rock bottom, finishing last or second to last in the National League 15 times between 1948 and 1966. Then the Cubs improved and began losing on far bigger stages, dropping five straight league championship series between 1984 and 2015, often in gut-wrenching fashion.

So when this year’s team fell behind the Indians 3 games to 1 in the World Series, I figured it was over. Then, just before Game 5 at Wrigley, came this New York Times story: “Cubs have smaller chance of winning than Trump.”

Which was upsetting on multiple levels.

Then the Cubs won twice, and more of Hillary’s emails were dug out of Anthony Weiner’s laptop. But Davis’s homer trumped all that.

I went into the tenth expecting the worst.

But, no, there would be no meltdown. My buddy Al Mandell was right: These 2016 Cubs rewrote the age-old script: Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Miguel Montero, Mike Montgomery and company delivered the Cubs a heart-stopping 8-7 extra-inning win that remains the talk of the sports world.

Not only that, but it gave the nation a merciful reprise from a down-and-dirty presidential campaign that makes even those losing Cub teams from decades past look good.

As did those of Chicago fans nationwide, my phone began ringing as soon as the game ended. Randy, Dick, Al and my brother, Chip, called. All were ecstatic. My wife, who doesn’t normally care a whit about sports, swore she had never seen a more exciting game.

“Congratulations!!” said most friends. “You deserve this,” added one. “All I did was wait,” I answered. And maybe gnash through a few mouthfuls of teeth.

In the glow, we Cub fans relived past disappointments, now laughing at the once-painful memories amid our scarcely believable 2016 revelry.

But with the win, something very basic has changed and a few of us might be having a tough time. Back in 2003, I warned that winning might have consequences:

“Maybe we Cub fans are like Sisyphus, who in Greek mythology pushes a boulder up an endless hill. If we ever get our boulder to the top, we’d be lost, without purpose, and probably in the gutter with a bottle of Mad Dog.

“Or maybe our plight has over the decades become an immutable law of physics – or at least an inviolate law of baseball gravity. Maybe Cub success would trigger galactic instability, interplanetary chaos and impending apocalypse.

More than three days have passed since the Wednesday-night win and somehow the earth is still in orbit, that doomsday asteroid has not hit, and I have not had even a sip of Mad Dog.

I now know that these 2016 Cubs are different: upbeat, talented, confident, personable guys who like each other, have won together and will in all likelihood continue to win.

But, I’ll admit, I’ve still played the end of Game 7 back several times on my TV to make sure it really did happen.

Then I take my pulse, confirming it actually took place during my lifetime.


By Friends & Neighbors November 6, 2016 10:55
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  1. Carleton November 6, 15:20

    Harry is shouting “CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN!”
    Nice reflection, Chris, on that fabulous evening.
    ……….Although it should have been a day game!

  2. Scribe November 6, 21:25

    Masterful column, Chris. But please note in any future column that true Cub fans don’t spout the juvenile nickname “Cubbies.” That’s blasphemy.

  3. Wells November 6, 21:52

    We in the Chicago area are still a-buzz. I suggest that this is such a significant event that it deserves a fifth star on the Chicago flag. Mmmm…where to put that star…?

  4. Al Mandell November 8, 14:43

    Chris: You remain the best columnist, journalist, scribe, writer I’ve ever known and this column, perfectly detailing the plight and now excitement of the Chicago Cub fan, could ONLY be written by you, the best and most loyal of Cub fans. This is another classic Chris Bateman column and, I’m betting, the most fun one you’ve ever written! Another classic, masterpiece for “The Best of Bateman.”

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