It has been the most arduous quest in professional sports history, and for their fans the most painful—the quest for the first World Series championship since 1908. It has been one full of heartbreak with the constant refrain of ‘wait ‘til next year.’ Optimists, few and far between with this team, have used the mantra ‘it’s gonna happen.’ Every season begins with ‘next year is here.’ You get the point.
I am speaking of the historical lovable losers, the Chicago Cubs. It has been 107 years since the last world championship (70 years since they even played for one), but after six consecutive last place finishes, the Cubs are returning to the Postseason as a Wild Card team. The Cubs are secure in having the third-best record in Major League Baseball, but the problem is the only two better also reside in their National League Central.
The Cubs trail the first place St. Louis Cardinals and the second place Pittsburgh Pirates, whom they just finished a three-game series with at Wrigley Field over the weekend. The Cubs and Pirates will meet in a one-game playoff, the Wild Card Game next Wednesday, to see who plays the Cardinals in the Best-of-5 Division Series. The New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers will face off in the other NLDS.
If you have never visited the ‘Friendly Confines,’ it is a trip you owe yourself to make. It is a pilgrimage I make every year. This year, mostly due to a rainout, I was privileged enough to go two different weekends, the second of which was this past one. It was the first time I had visited during a pennant race. Chicago is a different place when the Cubs are good, and they are this season. It has been an inside thing all season, started by catcher Miguel Montero, the hashtag #wearegood. The Cubs are good. Is this the year they finally break the curse?
The curse is alleged to have begun during the 1945 World Series when a fan, curiously having shown up with a Billy goat, was denied entry to Wrigley Field. It continued in 1969, when the Cubs had an 8½ game lead in the division entering September, only to have a black cat race onto the on-deck circle at New York’s Shea Stadium, delaying a game, in a series where the Cubs were swept four straight by the Miracle Mets who went on to win the World Series.
It lived on in 1984, when the Cubs won the first two in the NLCS, only to lose three straight and the series in San Diego highlighted by a ground ball going between the legs of first baseman Leon Durham in the deciding game. It reached a fever pitch in 2003, when the Cubs were five outs from the World Series and the notorious Steve Bartman interfered with a foul ball, denying a crucial out, and rattling the team—leading to eight Marlins runs and the eventual seven-game series win for Florida. Back-to-back division titles in 2007 and 2008 led to back-to-back NLDS sweeps, and an unreasonable rebuild. But now they return, and with it the hopes of Cubs Nation.
This team has the likely Cy Young Award winner in Jake Arrieta, the likely Rookie of the Year in Kris Bryant, the likely Manager of the Year in Joe Maddon, and a prime MVP candidate in Anthony Rizzo. Arrieta will pitch in the Wild Card Game in Pittsburgh, and carry 107 years of frustration with him.