Culture

Is This Year, 'Next Year,' for the Chicago Cubs?

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There was a brief moment in the 9th inning of the Chicago Cubs’ series-clinching victory over the St. Louis Cardinals last night when the Wrigley Field faithful…well, lost faith. With two out and no one on in the bottom of the ninth and leading 6-4, Cardinal 3rd baseman Chris Carpenter lined a single to left field, thus bringing the tying run to the plate.

What had been a raucous, happy crowd immediately quieted. Worried looks replaced grins of joy. You could see the collective wheels turning in the crowd. Is this it? Is this where it all goes south and their beloved Cubbies are denied the glory that has eluded them for so long?

And who can argue with them for thinking that? Too many times to count the Cubs had been on the verge of making history only to see some incredibly bizarre play or bonehead error snuff out their chances. In 1984 in the League Championship Series, up 2-0 in the best of five series, the Cubs’ excellent first baseman, Leon Durham, saw a ball spin under his glove to allow the San Diego Padres to rally and win game 3. The Padres went on to win the next two games and take the series.

There was the famous incident during the 2003 playoffs against the Florida Marlins, with the Cubs needing 6 outs to advance to the World Series . A fly ball barely into the first row of the stands was grabbed by a fan named Steve Bartman. It’s unclear if the Cubs left fielder, Moises Alou, could have caught the ball, but that didn’t matter to the fans who began to pelt poor Mr. Bartman with all kinds of debris. He had to be escorted out of the stadium by 4 beefy Chicago cops. Radio stations gave out his home address and phone number. His boss fired him when fans learned where he worked. The incident nearly ruined the young man’s life.

Oh, and Florida went on to score 8 runs in the inning and won the game 8-3 and the series the next game.

It has been 107 years since the Cubs won a World Series title. And it hasn’t only been bad luck that have prevented them from winning it all. Their radical futility is due as much to horrible management as it is to the vagaries of baseball. Remarkably bad trades, free agent signings that were a bust, awful managers, and a singular ability to find new and inventive ways to lose games. This has been the legacy of the Chicago Cubs — the longest championship drought not only in professional baseball, but of any professional sports team in American history.

But is this about to change? Have the baseball gods finally taken pity on the Cubs and lifted the Curse of the Billy Goat? Has the sheer weight of the law of averages caught up the Cubs, tipping the scales of fate in their favor?

Don’t count on it. It’s early yet. The Cubbies still have to get by the winner of the Mets-Dodgers game 5  in the National League Championship series and then win best out of 7 against the American League champion in the World Series before their long suffering fans can celebrate. And while they looked like a million dollars in bashing the ball all over the yard against the Cardinals, history has shown it can all melt down for them in the blink of an eye.

So you can see that while the exuberance of Cubs fans is unbound at present, they all have that prickly feeling in the back of their necks; that gnawing feeling in their gut; that weakening of the knees, that dryness of the mouth, that sphincter-tightening, breath-constricting, soul-doubting belief that they’ve seen it all before and it’s better not to get too excited so when it all comes crashing down, they won’t be too disappointed. They want to believe. But they never overcommit thanks to their special knowledge that just when things begin to look bad, they’re going to get worse.

Some would call that cynicism. But it’s just the definition of a Cubs fan.