Tuesday, November 8, 2016

"No Cubs BOWG entry?"...

...one of my readers wrote to me yesterday.

And the answer is, I guess it hasn't fully sunk in just yet. I mean, I've been waiting for this moment since at least 1969, when I watched the Cubs collapse and the (hated) Mets rise up and win not only the division, but also the pennant and the World Series. And all this happened just as we were moving from Chicago to New Jersey and I was entering still another new school and a sixth-grade classroom full of brand spanking new Mets fans. (I still bear the emotional scars.)

I've always thought the Mets overtook the Cubs that year on the exact day we moved to New Jersey, but I guess it was a little later. From Wikipedia (my emphasis):

Burdened by a four-game losing streak, the Cubs traveled to Shea Stadium on September 8 for a short two-game set. The Mets won both games, and the Cubs left New York with a record of 84–58 just  1⁄2 game in front. Disaster followed in Philadelphia, as a 99-loss Phillies team nonetheless defeated the Cubs twice, to extend Chicago's losing streak to eight games. In a key play in the second game, on September 11, Cubs starter Dick Selma threw a surprise pickoff attempt to third baseman Ron Santo, who was nowhere near the bag or the ball. Selma's throwing error opened the gates to a Phillies rally.

After that second Philly loss, the Cubs were 84–60 and the Mets had pulled ahead at 85–57. The Mets would not look back. The Cubs' eight-game losing streak finally ended the next day in St. Louis, but the Mets were in the midst of a ten-game winning streak, and the Cubs, wilting from team fatigue, generally deteriorated in all phases of the game. The Mets (who had lost a record 120 games 7 years earlier), would go on to win the World Series. The Cubs, despite a respectable 92–70 record, would be remembered for having lost a remarkable 17  1⁄2 games in the standings to the Mets in the last quarter of the season.

Like so many Cubs fans I was crushed. Beyond crushed. But if you had told me back in 1969, at age eleven, that I would have had to wait until I was 58 years old and the year two thousand and sixteen for the Cubs to finally win the World Series I would have been really depressed. 2016? That would have been long after those science fiction years of 1984 or even 2001! Where on earth would I be in 2016? Back in Chicago, living in Little Italy, married with two grown sons? Hard to even picture!

Over the ensuing 47 years -- I have to admit -- my interest in the Cubs waxed and waned (usually with the team's fortunes). We moved to Minnesota in 1974 and I became a bit of a Twins fan. I always rationalized it by saying that the Twins were my favorite American League team -- the Cubs would always be my favorite team. And I wondered sometimes what I would do if the two ever met in the World Series. (I'd root for the Cubs.) But this season has reminded me how much I enjoyed those 1987 and 1991 Twins.

As I said, my interest in the Cubs (and baseball) came and went, and when I moved back to Chicago in 1981 and attended a game the following spring I said to the people around me, "That guy on the mound looks like Ferguson Jenkins." (It was.) By that time I had really lost touch with the game.

In 1986 I got married and had two sons, in 1990 and 1992.

In the meantime, I endured the Cubs' disappointments of 1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, 2007, 2008 and 2015. After the Steve Bartman incident in 2003 I actually felt a little guilty (I really did!) for raising two sons as Cubs fans. Why would anyone pass along the misery of being a Cubs fan? It's almost cruel.

So after feeling a little like Charlie Brown trying to kick that football held by Lucy, I held back on following the Cubs this year. My older boy had kept me informed in recent years about Theo Epstein, Joe Maddon, Kris Bryant, etc. but I refused to take another run at that damned pigskin. After all, the Cubs beat the Pirates and the Cardinals last year -- the two best teams in baseball -- only to lose (swept, even) by those hated Mets. And that was after beating the New Yorkers soundly during the regular season! Where, I cried out, is the order in the universe? I need more order in the universe! My son told me, however, that -- at the end of the day -- it was "just monkeys hitting a rock with a stick while on a rock hurtling through a vast expanse of nothing. It's just a distraction from the fact that we're going to die." Gotcha.

Well, we all know how this story ended. Seven games, three to one deficit, final two games in Cleveland, last game in extra innings, rain delay, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. (And, as my son told me, the Cubs and Indians actually tied, 27-27, after seven games. Sheesh!) My younger son and I have made three pilgrimages to Wrigley Field on each of the last three Sundays, I bought another Cubs hat (this one with "World Champions" on it) and tried and failed to make it to the rally in Grant Park on Friday.

The good news is we can finally retire that video at the top of this post (although I still like it) and if the Cubs never win another World Series for the rest of my life at least we have this one. My older boy once told me he wished the Cubs would win the Series for my sake. And I always responded that I wished the Cubs would win for my 85-year-old uncle's sake. Well, they won for all our sakes and that darned monkey (or was it a goat?) is finally off our backs forever and ever and ever.

Now let's drag that other blue team -- Hillary and company -- across the finish line today.