This article originally appears in The American Thinker
It’s October in Chicago. The days grow shorter, the weather gets cooler, and the long, sad slide toward a dark, despairing winter has begun. There are few things more melancholy in life than watching this transition from summer to fall. And the older I get, the more depressing it becomes. The all too short summer with its life giving warmth, nature exploding with color and marvelous variety, recedes into the burnt umbers and slate grays of autumn while a blanket of bone chilling cold begins to descend upon the land.
Pre-history humans in Europe didn’t like this seasonal transition any more than we did. They were fearful of nature’s forces, wondering if the warmth and heat would ever return to brighten the land and make their crops grow. To make sure that it did, they would sacrifice animals, food, even the occasional captive virgin no doubt. Obviously, such superstitious nonsense was unnecessary, a futile attempt to affect and understand what they couldn’t possibly comprehend. But it made them feel better, didn’t it?
In a similar vein, fans of the Chicago Cubs have no clue of the massive historical forces at work to hand them a World Series Championship in 2007. Like the ancients, North Side rooters are largely oblivious to how the natural world functions in any real sense. They are ignorant of the ebb and flow of time and circumstance, never living in the here and now, sacrificing the reality of today for what might be in the future if they could only “wait until next year.”
All they know is that 99 next years have come and gone and the flag flying over Wrigley Field denoting a World Series winner has failed to make an appearance. 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 havenâ€™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. Thatâ€™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.
Then came the magical year of 1969. The Cubs won on opening day by coming back and winning the game in their last at bat with a pinch-hit homerun. And the sorcery conjured up by manager Leo “The Lip” Durocher that year continued to supply thrills to the long suffering fans who packed Wrigley Field on a daily basis to watch their heroes. Going into August, the Cubbies had what appeared to be an insurmountable 8 1/2 game lead in the National League East and appeared to be headed toward glory.
But alas, it was not to be. In what is still considered one of the most shocking collapses in baseball history, the Cubs went on to lose 17 of 25 games in September and handed the pennant to the Mets.
From 1970-1983 the Cubs suffered several similar implosions, albeit the meltdowns occurred earlier in the season. In what would become known as “The June Swoon,” Cubs teams would be competitive for most of the first half of the season several times during that stretch only to melt like a stick of butter at a midsummer Grant Park picnic and end up with a losing record for the season. This skein of seasons became known “The Dark Years” – as opposed to what I would suppose to be “The Black Hole Years” describing the previous 40 seasons or so of team history. During this run of frightful futility, the Chicagoans finished a combined 165 games under the break even mark.
But the picture brightened after that era with the Cubs appearing in the playoffs 5 times since 1984. Unfortunately, the team’s inventiveness in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory became, if anything, more pronounced. Twice the Cubs came within a hair of advancing to the World Series only to have the impossible happen to deny them.
In 1984, the team won the first two games of the five game playoff with San Diego and was one win away from going to the World Series. But they lost the next two games in hearbreaking fashion and then, leading 3-0 in the 6th inning of the deciding game with their best pitcher Rick Sutcliffe on the mound, the dream vanished in the space between the dirt infield in San Diego and first baseman Leon Durham’s glove when the usually reliable fielder allowed a ground ball to scoot right under his mitt for an error that opened the floodgates to tragedy and loss.
It was worse in 2003. Once again, the Cubbies stood on the brink of going to the World Series, up 3 games to 1 in the seven game League Championship Series. Once again they held a lead in a deciding ballgame late. And once again, they broke the heart of their long suffering fans by blowing the lead, the game, and eventually the series. The details are still too painful to write about. You can read about it here.
And now here we are again in 2007 with history calling and the Cubs poised to enter the post season against Arizona. Cubs fans are already having a heart attack because there will be no over the air TV broadcast of the game. Contractual roadblocks involving the cable network TBS will prevent approximately 500,000 Chicagoans who don’t have cable TV from watching the game at home. Not only that, but the games will not be starting in the Windy City until 9:00 PM Central which has parents up in arms what with school the day after the games. Employers and school officials should expect many bleary eyed adults and children tomorrow and Friday mornings as sleep becomes secondary to the fans once again allowing themselves to become willing witnesses to what many experts are saying will be more tragedy.
But if the last 99 years have shown anything, it is that fans of the Chicago Cubs are the most emotionally resilient, the most annoyingly optimistic bunch in America. And with the sheer law of averages on their side, anything is possible before Summer becomes a distant memory and the long Midwestern Winter settles in, making us pine for spring when the crack of the bat and the shouts of joy on the ballfield hearkens the faithful to another season of Cubs baseball.