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Chicago's Wrigley Field Turns 100; Cubs Blow it in the 9th

I figure it takes an inveterate, die-hard Cubs hater to do total justice to a post acknowledging the 100 years that Wrigley Field has been hosting National League baseball. For myself, when I ask myself what is best in life, I respond, "To crush my enemies, see them driven before me, hear the lamentation of their women, and watch the Cubs lose another one."

Simply put, Cubs fans can't be trusted to talk intelligently about history, since the only history they know is one of heartbreak and total, abject failure.

How bad is it? I wrote this a few years back when the Cubs actually made the playoffs:

It is the most spectacular record of futility in American history, surpassing anything and everything that could possibly be compared to it, no matter how distantly. Fiction writers couldn’t create such a wretched record of sheer awfulness. Musicians could never compose an ode to capture such ineptness. Dramatists couldn’t write a three act melodrama that would glean the essence of failure and tragedy so perfectly.

In short, for almost an entire century, the Chicago Cubs have been losers - lovable to their fans but incomprehensibly awful to the rest of humanity.

To give you an idea of how truly atrocious this record of shameful failure stacks up, the next closest championship drought in professional sports is a tie between the Arizona Cardinals who haven't won a championship since 1948 when they were the Chicago Cardinals, and the Cleveland Indians whose last World Series title was the same year. That's a 40 year gap between the haplessness of the Cubs and their next closest competitors in the hopelessness derby.

And it isn’t only the fact that the Cubs haven’t been champions for so long that makes this franchise such tragic/comic happenstance of history. Simply put, no other sports team has played as badly, lost as consistently, or been as uncompetitive over such long stretches of time as the Chicago National League ballclub. After appearing in 13 World Series by winning the NL Pennant from 1876-1932, they have appeared in exactly 3 Fall Classics since then - none since 1945.

But to get an idea of the true nature of the Cub’s monumental inadequacy, you need to look at the past 50 years or so in order to understand how really appalling this team has been.

From 1947 to 1966 - 20 full Major League seasons - the Cubs had exactly two seasons where they finished above the break even mark for the year. Most of those years, they lost 90 of 162 games. Several campaigns saw the team lose over 100 games. They were a living, breathing joke of a baseball team with some of the most forgettable players in Major League history. And if the team managed by pure, dumb luck to latch on to a prospect who had potential, they somehow managed to trade him away to star for some other team, getting even more forgettable players in return.

It was uncanny. The Cubs found more inventive ways to lose ballgames than the rulebook allowed. Bonehead plays, crucial errors in the field, base running mistakes, decidedly un-clutch hitting, bad bounces, balls lost in the sun, windblown home runs - all contributed at one time or another over that putrid stretch of years to make the Cubs the laughingstock of baseball.

So Wrigley Field has seen it all -- as well as some stuff that a surrealist could never dream of. For instance - The Bartman Caper:

Bartman is the hapless Cubs fan who is accused of singlehandedly keeping the Cubs out of the 2003 World Series by supposedly interferring with a pop foul down the left field line at Wrigley Field in the 8th inning of game 6 of the League Championship Series against the Marlins with the Cubbies up 3 games to 2 and 5 outs away from their first World Series appearane since 1945. Cubs hurler Mark Pryor was pitching a 3 hit shutout at the time and the Cubs were ahead 3-0 with one out in the inning when left fielder Moises Alou ambled over to the wall to catch the ball only to have Mr. Bartman reach out and snag it before Alou had a chance to get a glove on it.

Replays clearly showed the ball was catchable by Alou. But it was the left fielder’s angry, disgusted reaction and his glaring at the poor young man that set the fans off. They pelted Bartman with beer, popcorn, hot dog wrappers, and anything that wasn’t nailed down. They kept it up as Bartman, for his own safety, was escorted from the park by a phalanx of beefy Chicago cops. And they kept right on throwing things on the field when the Marlins, given a second chance, went on to score 8 runs in the inning, winning game six and then coming from behind once again in game 7 to defeat the Northsiders and take the series 4 games to 3.

The aftermath of the incident was surreal. A Da-Daist playwrite couldn’t have come up with anything more bizarre than what happened next. Bartman was hounded by Cubs fans from across the country. A newspaper published his name and address as well as his place of work. He was the butt of late night jokes for weeks. Political cartoons featured Bartman hiding out with Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden. The ball Bartman tried to catch was actually scooped up by a Chicago lawyer who sold it at auction where it was bought by a Chicago resturanter named Grant DePorter for the astronomical sum of $113,824.16. The ball was later blown to smithereens on live television by a special effects wizard from Hollywood with what was left of it steamed - the essence of which was added to the soup at Harry Carey’s landmark restaurant in downtown Chicago.

So how did the Cubs celebrate Wrigley Field's 100th Anniversary? They lost a 5-2 lead in the ninth inning, allowing Arizona to score 5 runs in a sequence of events that prove even to the most skeptical among us, that the ballpark -- and the ball team -- is cursed:

Before a crowd of 32,323 -- about 9,000 under capacity, the Cubs led 5-2 in the ninth. Strop walked Chris Owings on four pitches and Castro allowed Tony Campana's grounder to kick off his glove for an error. Castro tried to keep his left leg on second as he retrieved the ball, and second base umpire Brian O'Nora called the sliding Owings safe -- a decision confirmed by the replay umpire in New York.

Pinch-hitter Eric Chavez walked on a full count, loading the bases, and Gerardo Parra struck out. Prado's bouncer up the middle bounded off second base, eluding second baseman Darwin Barney and kicking into short right-center field as the Diamondbacks closed to 5-4. Strop struck out Paul Goldschmidt for the second out.

Montero fouled off a 2-2 pitch, took a ball, and then lined a tying single to right. Hill blooped a ball down the right-field line and Justin Ruggiano appeared to injure his left hamstring as he tried for a sliding catch near the foul line and the bullpen mound. He needed assistance to leave the field and was replaced by Ryan Kalish.

Have you ever seen the like? Two walks, three hits -- including a windblown triple where the Cubs player was injured --a bizarre error, and a 5-2 deficit was turned into a 7-5 lead. This is the way it's been for much of Wrigley Field's 100 year history.

They are planning a $500 million renovation of Wrigley, including putting up a gigantic scoreboard in right field and a 1000 foot advertising sign in right. Of course, this would obscure the view of rooftops fans across the street who are as much a part of the charm of Wrigley as the ivy on the outfield walls. But like kids peering through a knothole in the center field fence in some old parks, management frowns on anyone making money on the Cubs unless their name is Ricketts.

Sure I hate the Cubs. But I'm enough of a baseball traditionalist to love Wrigley Field. So, Happy Birthday, old Girl. I sincerely hope you don't have to wait another 100 years for a World Series championship.