We will get them next year. That’s been the battle cry for long suffering Chicago Cubs fans forever, or at since 1945. In my opinion, there isn’t a better baseball city in this country than St. Louis, who absolutely loves their Cardinals. There’s probably not a more passionate baseball fan base than Chicago Cubs fans.
Baseball tries hard to be a national sport, but try as they might, it is not and it will never be. It has passionate regional appeal and there’s nothing wrong with that. You are just not going to find many people outside of the Washington D.C. region who care about the Nationals, or many people outside of the Atlanta region who care about the Braves. Heck, for that matter you are having a hard time finding anyone in Atlanta who cares about the Braves right now.
The Cubs however are different. Maybe it is because the team has been around since baseball’s humble beginnings. Maybe, it’s because Chicago is the nation’s third largest city and Chicago natives have migrated far and wide throughout the Country. It could also be that Chicago Cubs games were about the only thing you could see on television on a consistent basis in the late 70s and early 80s. Chicago Superstation WGN Television held the rights to Cubs games and broadcast them a nightly basis across the country joining WTBS in Atlanta as a Superstation broadcasting baseball. WGN made broadcaster Harry Cary a household name to those of us who frankly had no idea who he was until we got cable in 1979.
Regardless of the reason, the Cubs and their fans deserve a chance at success. I made my first trip to Chicago and Wrigley Field this summer for a Cubs afternoon game. Wrigley Field didn’t have lights until 1985 so the Cubs were a daytime team and despite the fact that their games were played during working hours, nary a day passed without the ballpark being full. Wrigley sits right in the middle of a neighborhood. It’s adjacent to the Addison Train Station and since there’s no parking and I mean NO parking at Wrigley Field, Chicago’s Red Line is the best way to get the corner of Addison and Clark on Chicago’s North Side. It’s not a new ballpark although Cubs owner Tom Ricketts – a graduate of the University of Chicago – has worked hard to give it a face lift with new video boards and a large video scoreboard, but the place retains its character with the bleachers which require a separate ticket and has its own entrance, the famous ivy on the wall and the manual scoreboard. Ricketts has walked a fine line between honoring the past and trying to add some modern features, but from what I observed, Cubs fans are less interested in bells and whistles and more interested in coming to the ballpark to watch their team. If you’ve never been to Wrigley Field, take my advice and make the investment and do it. It was one of those things I always wanted to do and never thought I would and I’m glad I did.
This might be the year that I actually saw a World Series champion on Chicago’s North Side because let’s face it, the Cubs have long been baseball’s loveable losers. The Cubs made 3 straight World Series appearances in 1906 – losing to cross town Rival the Chicago White Sox, 1907 and 1908. In 1906 the Cubs won 116 games and lost 36, only to lose the World Series in 6 games to the Sox. In 1907 the Cubs won 107 games and won the World Series over Detroit 4 games to none, with one tie. Strange? In 1908, the Cubs won 99 games and again won the World Series over Detroit 4 games to one. From 1910 to 1945, the Cubs played in 7 more World Series and didn’t win a single one of them.
Then from 1945 to 1984, Wrigley Field saw things like Chicago Bears football games, but never saw another post season game. In 1984, the Cubs finally broke through winning the National League East with a 96-65 record only to lose the National League Championship to the San Diego Padres. The Cubs lost the National League Championship Series in both 1989 and 2003, and the National League Division Series in 1998, 2007 and 2008, but the 31 seasons between 1984 and 2016 were largely an exercise in futility. The Cubs’ fans suffered through 20 losing seasons and from 2003 to this year, they didn’t win a single playoff game.
So what’s different? Well, the Cubs have figured out how to home grow a large portion of their own talent through their minor league system. When the Atlanta Braves were dominating the National League through the 1990s they were doing so with players they drafted or traded for and developed in their minor league system. Among the contributing players to work their way through the Cubs’ system are Shortstop Javier Baez and Kris Bryant who the Houston Astros unbelievably passed on with the first pick in the 2013 draft. Other players were acquired in trades like pitchers Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arietta. Clearly someone in the Cubs’ front office knows what they are doing. With talent in the minor league system, you can make deals like acquiring flame throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman, an original farm hand of the Cincinnati Reds. Let’s also not diminish the magic touch of Manager Joe Maddon.
Maddon is a straight talking no nonsense 62 year old from Hazelton, Pennsylvania where he grew up in an apartment over his father’s plumbing shop. He never played in the major leagues languishing in the California Angels minor league system. Realizing that his future wasn’t as a player he joined the Angels organization first as a scout and then as a minor league manager. His career record as a minor league manager was a pedestrian 279 – 339. After 31 years with the Angels, in 2006 he was hired as the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays – who without question have the worst ballpark in baseball in that horrendous Tropicana Field – and led the Rays to the World Series in 2008. In 2014 he opted out of his contract with the Rays, and was immediately hired by the Cubs in 2015 where as a baseball lifer he met a collection of young talent and in just two years has ended a 70 year curse by putting the Cubs in the World Series. As late as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 games and from 2010 to 2014 had an overall record of 346 – 464. Maddon wants nothing to do with hearing about famous Chicago Cubs’ curses. He doesn’t run from it, but also knows that his players don’t care and has no bearing on his team’s play.
The Cubs won a Major League best 103 games in the regular season this year. Now, after 7 wins in the playoffs, they need just 4 more to end the longest championship drought in professional sports. .
To do so they’ll face another long-suffering fan base in the Cleveland Indians. Cleveland as a City generally is the butt of jokes. You’ve probably heard the one about the mistake on the lake, but this year the City’s fortunes have turned if you don’t count the pathetic Browns who are winless and led by a loser owner in over paid gas pumper Jimmy Haslam.
Lebron James returned home to lead the Cavaliers to their first NBA title and now the Indians are seeking their first World Series Championship since 1948. Unlike the Cubs however, the Indians went back to the World Series in 1954, 1995 and 1997. From 1995 to 1999, the Indians finished in first place in the American League Central and made the playoffs five straight years. They made postseason appearances again in 2001, 2007, and 2013, but until winning the division this yer, the Indians finished no better than 2nd in the A.L. Central until winning 94 games this season.
And there is an interesting twist to this World Series. In 2004, the Boston Red Sox hired Terry Francona as manager over Joe Maddon. Francona won two World Series with Boston and seeks his third with the Indians by trying to beat out Maddon again.
Baseball’s annual fall classic figures to be a chilly one with games 1, 2, 6 and 7 in Cleveland and 3, 4 and 5 in Chicago and if it goes the distance it will end in November just a week shy of election day which probably shouldn’t happen in a sport best played in nice weather. Regardless, one fan base is going to break a long drought while the other tries to get them again next year.