Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Postseason wish: Please, Cubbies, don't win the Series
By Jim Caple and Eric Neel Page 2
The Cubs must go down. It must be gruesome, painful and tragic. They must, like Icarus and his wax wings, come tantalizingly close, and then, like Wile E. Coyote and his ubiquitous anvil, plummet to the canyon floor.
We love Sweet Lou and the Cubbies. But we just can't root for the Cubs to become the Red Sox.
Don't get us wrong. We like the Cubs. We love the Cubs. We love Soriano slamming one onto Waveland, Zambrano firing from the mound, Lou exploding at an umpire, B-list celebs singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," Ronnie Woo-Woo wandering the bleachers and, most of all, we love Wrigley Field. If foreign tourists had only one afternoon to capture the quintessential American experience, we would slap a bleacher ticket in one hand, a beer in the other and point them to the Friendly Confines. And it's because we love all this about the Cubs that we want to see them fail. It's because we love them just the way they are that we want them to flame out in the 2007 postseason, just as they did in 2003 and 1998 and 1989.
Let us explain.
Baseball, unlike the other sports, is deeply rooted in its history, its folklore. What happens today matters because of what happened yesterday and last year and the year before that and the year before that and on and on all the way back to when your great, great grandparents were yelling at Frank Chance to get the piano off his back. ("Peerless Leader, my ass!") Thanks to this, two great story lines developed over generations. One was that the Red Sox, no matter what, would always fail tragically in the end, and usually to a New York team. The other story line is that the Cubs, no matter what, will always fail. Sometimes it's painful failure (the Steve Bartman game) and sometimes it's comic failure (the College of Coaches), but usually it's just plain old failure.
We came to trust in these story lines. They comforted us. In a world in which Britney goes from fresh-faced ingenue to rehab flameout in the blink of an eye, the Cubs and Red Sox were steady certainties, things we could believe in. We didn't know what tomorrow would bring, but we knew it would suck for the Cubs and Sox, and there were days when knowing that was all that kept us from the nihilistic abyss.
Well, we lost one of those story lines in 2004 when the Red Sox rallied from a 3-0 deficit to embarrass the Yankees in the ALCS and then went on to win the World Series for the first time in 86 years. For Red Sox fans, this moment rearranged their perception of how the world worked and gave their lives new, optimistic meaning. For the rest of us, it just meant we lost a great part of baseball's folklore and gained another group of obnoxious, arrogant fans plus Jimmy Fallon in "Fever Pitch" and a "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" makeover of the Sox. This was as bad a deal as Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen.
Losing the Red Sox to, well, winning, was painful. While their fans rightfully celebrated and danced and poured across the borders of Red Sox Nation like East Germans following the Wall's collapse, the rest of us felt frightened, saddened, abandoned. While their fans bragged and bought souvenir caps in every imaginable color (did we really need pink?), the rest of us mourned in black, sat shivah and buried our Boston jerseys and caps in shoe boxes beneath backyard flower beds.
And in our time of suffering, we held tight, tighter than ever before, as tight as the yarn covering the inner core of a baseball, to the Cubs.
The Red Sox proved no different than the Yankees, slaves to the ring, soulless grubbers for fame and fortune. But the Cubs are special. They hold to a higher (by which we mean, lower, of course) standard.
Steve Bartman gets blamed for the Cubs' failure in 2003 but dare we suggest that he might have save baseball?
You don't develop tales as rich as the Cubs' misery overnight. Sure, Cleveland has gone 59 years since winning the World Series. The Giants haven't won the World Series since moving to San Francisco. The Astros have never won the World Series, period. And we know their fans have suffered mightily and cruelly (Jose Mesa, Scott Spiezio, Geoff Blum -- these are names that have the same convulsive effect as Steve Bartman's). But as long as those agonizing droughts have been, they still don't compare to the Cubs.
Their story is 99 years in the making. Ninety-nine years! It predates the computer, television and 24-hour talk radio. It's as much a part of American folklore as Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed and Jesse James. This story has been forged as surely and steadily as any railroad spikes driven by the mighty John Henry (though Chicago's were usually driven directly into the heart).
Think of what's lost if the Cubs win the World Series. History takes a beating. Something truly unique, something so deep and rich in pathos, it wordlessly bonds fans throughout the country and around the world, shrivels up and dies. Winning is no bond. Winning is as fleeting as post-coital bliss; a breathless flush in the cheeks, an endorphin rush to the neurons, and then it's gone. Losing abides. Losing lingers, painfully, yes, but constantly. Winning might bathe you in glory, but it does not define you. Someone snatches it away too quickly for that. Losing, more than something you do, is something you are. The Cubs are losers. This isn't sad. It's noble. It's brave. It's timeless.
But this isn't just about us and our selfish wishes and emotions (though admittedly, it mostly is). It's about Cubs fans, too. Not even Cubs fans should welcome what would follow a world championship. The team is already for sale. A championship banner would only drive up the sale price, resulting in faceless, corporate owners so lacking in humanity that it would make the Tribune Company seem like volunteers at a homeless shelter. To cover the purchase price, the new owners would squeeze every bit of revenue out of the team. And you know what that means. A leap up in ticket prices so staggering -- midweek games in April would be reclassified as gold premium while weekend games against St. Louis in August would be Velvet Rope Secret De-Coder Ring Platinum -- that you could attend games only if your children married into the Bill Gates family. And even then, you would be sitting behind a post.
Worse, changes would be made to Wrigley. First, the ivy would be ripped off and replaced by advertising for Halliburton, Wal-Mart and Starbucks. Next, the hand-operated scoreboard would be torn down, the scorekeepers callously thrown into the unemployment line beside Lee Elia and the whole shebang replaced by a gigantic, noisy video screen showing animated Oprah races between innings. Then the bleachers would be replaced with luxury suites for United Airlines executives.
And then would come the ultimate blow, the saddest of possible words. The owners would demand a new billion-dollar stadium. Citing a need for revenue streams as wide as the Amazon, they would take a wrecking ball to Wrigley Field. Your ballpark, your Fortress of Solitude, your home for nearly a century, would be turned to dust for the sake of an owner's bank account. And not only that, you, the hardworking taxpayers of Chicago, would have to pay for it. Perhaps worst of all, while waiting for Blackwater USA Field to be built in a faraway suburb, the Cubs would need somewhere to play. And you know where it would be. Yes, that's right, Cubs fans. You would have to pay money to sit in U.S. Cellular Field for a couple years. Oh, the horror. Oh, the humanity.
Do you really want that? Is any championship banner really worth all that?
Oh, if push comes to shove, we suppose we would accept the Cubs' reaching the World Series. Cubs fans have suffered enough to deserve at least that much. (Putting up with Todd Hundley alone should have earned it by now.) After all, Cleveland and the Giants have each been to the World Series three times since last winning it, and it's only added to their own compelling backstories. So we could accept the Cubs' finally winning the pennant for the first time since World War II.
But that's it. No further. There is too much to lose. After all, how amazing will it be to have the 100th anniversary of your last World Series championship next year? You don't get to celebrate the 100th anniversary of anything like that very often. Not even the White Sox got that far. Safeguarding the possible souvenir T-shirts is reason enough for the Cubs to hold out at least until next fall.
Of course, we're not suggesting that any fan actively root against the Cubs for the greater good. Not at all. For one thing, that's asking too much. It's like asking a parent to pray their child gets in a car accident while wearing torn, dirty underwear.
More importantly, we don't have to.
The Cubs will lose anyway.