(Non-sports fans, sorry. I don’t usually do this in public. I’ll wash my hands after, promise.)
108 years is a long time. Longest drought in American sports history. In my family, it spans three distinct generations — my father’s father, my father, and myself. All of us Cubs fans. And until yesterday, only one of us having ever seen the Cubs win a World Series.
Well, in fairness, Grandpa didn’t see it, and likely didn’t hear it, either; no commercial radio in 1907 and 1908. The first baseball game broadcast was in 1921. More likely he read about it in the Peru, Indiana newspaper a couple of days later (or was told about it; he was only 9 or 10 at the time).
Dad was born in 1925 and the Cubs appeared in the Series in 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, and 1945. He probably read about the last one in Stars and Stripes, as I think he was in England at the time.
After that, nada. Zip. Zero. Nothing. Although they did participate in post-season play and won six division titles and had a couple of wild-card berths (the latest of the latter being just last year). The received wisdom is that the closest they ever got to a World Series in these later years was in 2003, when the infamous Steve Bartman “incident” occurred — of which the less said, the better.
I am just a few years away from entering my seventh decade, and I had never seen the Cubs win so much as a pennant. Like Wilford Brimley in The Natural, all I wanted was a pennant. A Series win would be icing on the cake. Just get me the pennant, Cubbie Bears.
When the Ricketts family bought the team in 2009, my ears perked up. Because ownership of the team had been for so long held by faceless corporations who really didn’t care about baseball and who refused to put the time, effort, and (most important) money into building the team, any new thing was welcome. And the first thing Tom Ricketts said when he took over was that he wanted to win. That caught my attention. And when Ricketts suited action to words and actually started building his team, that definitely caught my attention.
And now Mr. Ricketts has got himself a World Series title, after eight hard years of work, tirelessly building this young Cubs team of the future, never losing faith, and sticking to his program.
Fly that fucking W, Cubs fans. Fly that fucking W.
I have extended family (well, my wife has extended family) in Cleveland. The smack talk out of one of her nephews was almost too much to take. This from a guy who dissed LeBron James when he abandoned Cleveland and then welcomed him back with open arms a few years later. The impression I had was that Cleveland fans went into this thing assuming they were going to win it because they had the better team. (Better team? The Cubs won 103 regular season games. Nobody else got even close this year.) I mean, I get that you passionately love your team and want it to succeed, and when it wins the league pennant and goes to the Series, you naturally assume that you’re one of the best two teams in baseball, even if the regular season record doesn’t show that.*
To digress for a moment (and it will make sense), the most amazing thing about the win last night is that I haven’t thought about the election all day. Because the election isn’t important.
I don’t care who you are, for one shining moment, a whole bunch of Americans got together and watched that most quintessentially American sport, and for once it didn’t matter if you were backing Trump or Hillary or Johnson or Stein. It just didn’t matter.
Because prick the skin and draw some blood, and it turns out that we’re all Americans.
That’s why I can say, with complete honesty and absolutely no irony, congratulations to the Cleveland Indians and their fans. You fought hard and you nearly won. You were worthy opponents and I have no doubt you’ll get to celebrate a World Series championship in the near future. And you’ve been gracious in defeat (from what I’ve been reading). You play great ball. You’re a credit to the sport.
The people out there who say that sport isn’t important and denigrate it as a waste of time and little more than a distraction are just plain wrong. Sport creates, builds, and maintains communities of disparate people. Somewhat like fraternalism, it brings people together who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance. There is something to be said for non-political activities that pull us together like sport does. It’s much healthier than politics, if you ask me.
Baseball will outlive the current unpleasantness, just like it always has. And in a year, we’ll be wondering what all the fuss was about.
* This is one of the reasons I hate the playoffs. Before 1969, it was just the best records in the two respective leagues facing off against each other. The division series (which later turned into the LCS when MLB further split things into three divisions per league) did nothing but dilute that. Because in any series, it’s entirely possible for one team to get cocky and the other team to take advantage of that cockiness. Hell, it nearly happened any number of times to the Cubs this year. Hell, I remember when Reggie Jackson was crowned “Mr. October”, and people bitched because the Series was stretching out of September into October. There’s really no damn excuse to be playing baseball in November — except for the greed that calls itself TV money.