There could have been a lot of “oh, shit” moments that happened to the Cubs after 2003. You could almost consider their run from 2003 to 2006 a long, lingering drawn-out “oh, shit.” But you can’t argue that the Chicago Cubs seemed to take their merry time finally snapping. In 2003, it was oh, shit! The team almost got to the World Series, and now the fans might start to expect stuff from us! In 2004, it was oh, shit! The Red Sox just won the World Series, and showed the fans that a so-called baseball curse could be broken! In 2005, it was oh, shit! The White Sox just won the World Series, and our fans will start to think we don’t care enough about winning!
When I moved to Chicago, that was the prejudice, at least from my perspective: The Cubs were the cutesy, fun little group that always drew well so the ownership didn’t have to care about winning. Consequently, I took the baseline less traveled among transplanted baseball fans to Chicago and sided with the Southsiders. The White Sox were tough, scrappy, exciting underdogs who flew out of nowhere and stole the 2005 championship, snapping an 88-year drought of their own and creating a weird bookending with Boston’s baseball titles. (The Red Sox won the World Series in 1918 and endured an 86-year drought that ran until 2004; prior to 2005, the White Sox won their most recent title in 1917.) It probably didn’t make any sense to other baseball fans who knew me that I would adopt a second American League team in lieu of taking the National League option in Chicago that would have evened out my karma for being a Yankees fan, but I detest teams that try to get away with being cutesy rather than good to attract attention. And if any team was guilty of that, the Cubs were it. Hell, they had a statue dedicated to their drunk-sounding announcer Harry Caray outside their stadium before they ever thought to create one of Ernie Banks, their greatest player.
There was also that wild, insane meltdown in 2003. You remember that one: The Bartman catch, the Alex Gonzales error, Mark Prior’s arm falling off and Dusty Baker not pulling him until the Marlins already had the lead. The Cubs squandering the game five outs from the Pennant and then the series, in which they themselves pulled ahead 3-1only to blow the whole thing. I had only been a baseball fan for a couple of years at the time, and I never turned into a Cubs fan, but I think I experienced a true Cubs Fan Moment when that happened. It was one of those flashbulb memories – you never forget where you were when it happened. Neither will my parents, who heard me screaming and cursing at Dusty Baker all throughout a disastrous eighth inning. An otherwise awesome, well-played ballgame turned into a Keystone Cubs show where the Cubs couldn’t do anything right and the Marlins capitalized on all of their countless mistakes. They blew the game, then the series, and the Florida Marlins went on to win the World Series and bring the second baseball title to the least-deserving fans on the planet.
Cubs fans knew it was coming, of course. They conditioned themselves to see the guillotine blade precariously bouncing up and down whenever something good happened to the Cubs. I grew up cheering for the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, and you would figure that would give me some kind of insight into this kind of thing, but it was more different than I realized. The Sabres are a team that just fails. They fail in the regular season. If they make it to the playoffs, they fail there too. Even the one year they didn’t fail at some point, they got screwed by a group of officials who did. But the Cubs just did it differently. Despite a lot of jokes about their futility, they were capable of playing well enough and keeping up with their division to a point where you could believe they might just have a chance. Then at the end of that 162-game marathon called the baseball season, they would show everyone that it was all an illusion. The mask was ripped off, and you would have things like the Cubs blowing a 2-0 series lead in 1984, when the NLCS was just five games. Or pacing the league in 2008, only to get killed by the Dodgers in the first round of the playoffs.
Although they seemed to at least be respectable by the standards of the star-crossed, there was something a little weird about the Cubs’ fortunes. Everyone already knows the Billy Goat Curse story, the black cat story, the 1969 mowdown, and every other major event of the team’s history. During my time in Chicago, though, I was subjected to some pretty weird things that made them look inept. They had a catcher, Michael Barrett, who got into a few on-field fights. They also had a player get conked on his head by a routine fly ball. They had two players once collide with each other on the infield. Mark Prior, a pitcher who was once positioned to become their greatest ever, kept breaking down. Another pitcher, Kerry Wood, had to reinvent himself as a reliever to stay in the league.
Somehow, the Cubs always had a talented core which kept losing. Every year was the same rhetoric: The Cubs are gonna do it this year! And every year, the Cubs developed a knack for rolling over in the moment. Even the years the team got itself up, lived up to its hype, and really did look like the first escorts into a new era, something always went wrong. The Bartman game and those playoff disasters with Lou Piniella are prime suspects here.
That’s why what happened the other night is such an oddity. Chicago Cubs, World Series Champions. Somehow, it managed to happen. And these fans waited long enough – it took 108 years, and yet it couldn’t have been more timely. Cubs fans were suffering so much that everyone decided to be on their side. White Sox fans, Cardinals fans, Yankees fans, and virtually everyone who knew baseball is a thing donned the iconic red letter C and cheered their hearts out for a team that once called itself the Lovable Losers. That old nickname is now in dire need of an update. It’s hard to think of a team this good and call them Lovable Losers anymore, or that other, more wretched nickname: Cubbies. That one won’t do, either. This isn’t a team of lovable, playful, cute little cubs. This is now a team of raging grizzly bears that dines on goats for breakfast.
Think about that: THE CUBS. The team cursed by that goat is the one that knocked down all comers. During the regular season, no one was able to touch them. The San Francisco Giants pushed them in the NLDS, and the Los Angeles Dodgers pushed them a bit further. Then came the ultimate test: They played against the Cleveland Indians in the World Series, thus giving every baseball fan a World Series we could have had back in 2003 when the Yankees and Marlins robbed us of a mouth-watering World Series matchup between the Cubs and Red Sox. Now, unlike the Cubs – who had spent the last few years building up to being a team that could dominate for a decade – the Indians came out of nowhere to win the Pennant. This was a Fall Classic full of juicy stories: Cubs President Theo Epstein and Indians Manager Terry Francona worked together for the 2004 Cursebreaker Red Sox. The Indians hadn’t won the World Series themselves since 1948. But on paper, everything looked like a done deal favoring Chicago. Instead, Francona took The Tribe racing out to a 3-1 Series lead before the Cubs’ bats woke up. The Cubs charged back into the Series and took it in a game seven for the ages.
This is a Cubs team I’ll always remember. Not just because they just made history, but because of the way they unified people. Let’s face it, this past year has been among the most officious and saddest years in recent memory. The country has a fraudulent rapist in the Presidential election who has done everything he can to appeal to the worst in people. His opponent only got to be his opponent because her party screwed over a more qualified candidate. David Bowie, Prince, and Muhammad Ali all died. States tried to cover up real problems by making laws about who can and can’t use their bathrooms. In that atmosphere, it was the Cubs that brought everyone together and inspired the best of us. As one excited player said after game seven ended, they’re going to make movies about this.
The Billy Goat Curse is dead. Long live the Cubs.