Looking back on the greatest week of our lives
The crusade is over. Long live the crusade.
Old things have always had a magnetic attraction for me. I like being in old buildings and looking at old artifacts, looking for that tactile connection to the past.
And this week, it’s been hard not to think about the past, obviously. The multi-generational quest is over: The Chicago Cubs have won the World Series.
If you’re reading this, you’re one of the lucky ones who made it through and lived to see this day while so many others didn’t. So, it’s fitting that we’ve been thinking about them so much this week as well as tipping a cap to our elders, who waited even longer than we did. My dad is 59 years old, and as much as I sometimes couldn’t understand why he passed on this mental illness of Cub fandom to my brothers and me, now all I can do is thank him and wonder how he made it 29 years longer than I did without seeing this. Thanks, Dad.
I know I’m not the only one whose had their Cub life flash before their eyes over the last few days. I went to a Catholic elementary school in a place where the public schools were wealthy and had lots of cool stuff. Those kids had radio studios in their junior high and didn’t have to wear uniforms. We had a post-war era building that looked so old that Bob Love wanted to shoot a movie there about his hard-scrabble life story growing up in Jim Crow Louisiana. And, as a kid, I intellectually connected that experience directly to my experience as a Cub fan. We just didn’t need fancy things like other teams: Good players. Video boards in the stadium. Parking. Stories of great victories past like Yankees, Dodgers, and Cardinals fans. In fact, there’s almost no mention of the Cubs in Ken Burns’ 18-hour, magnum opus baseball documentary that was released in 1995. And you can’t blame him — it’s very difficult to fit the Cubs into the great Baseball Narrative that starts with Cobb and Ruth and stretches ‘til the evening of November 2nd, 2016. But, like any good Catholic, I felt like Cub fans were enduring this lesser-than existence for some greater reward later on.
I now understand that was a bunch of claptrap. The Cubs’ failure to win a World Series for 108 years had nothing to do with the mysterious value of pious suffering. No, it was much simpler: The Cubs had about seven decades of brutally incompetent ownership. But then they got good ownership, hired smart people, and won a title seven years later.
But the simplicity of that truth doesn’t mean that all of that bad baseball we witnessed didn’t happen. For those of us who have an emotional connection to sports, the pain is part of the fun. Sports is a real-life simulator where you get to experience the highs and lows of human emotion, without it actually mattering. As long as everybody participates in the same make-believe at the same time, it feels real. And nothing in sports felt more real than the Cubs’ misfortune.
So, I think it’s ok to wallow a bit in that past to make today even sweeter. You earned this shit.
The weirdness of the New World.
Of course, it will be much better to follow sports without that dark cloud always in the back of your mind. The lingering question about whether you’d live to see the Cubs get there. Every time you saw another team win in any other sport or walked into some foreign stadium that hung championship banners, you’d have that deep, familiar sigh. It was always there. The Cub Thing.
But moving forward, that Cub Thing is gone. And what will that be like?
Remember the stuff that used to occupy our time in lieu of competitive baseball? Questions about whether Ronnie Woo Woo was secretly a Cub employee or the mysterious destruction of Sammy Sosa’s boom box. More recently, we had not one, but two incidents where people were offended by something the Cubs threw into the garbage. (No, like the actual garbage. People were mad the Cubs threw stuff into a dumpster.) There were also controversies involving a goat sacrifice, day baseball, the misuse of a Greek Orthodox priest, windscreens to block rooftop owners, and falling concrete. Bill Murray said that we learned how to be good losers. That’s true, at least when it came to the players, who were loved even though the team was bad. But we weren’t good losers in the sense that dumb shit like walk-up music could send Cub fans into apoplectic rage. Fans like me:
The anger! The self-righteousness!
And look how many people agreed!
This is the kind of noise that occupies a fanbase when the team is bad. When I posted that in 2013, we had lost 101 games the year prior, and a 96-loss team was about to report to Spring Training. Contrast that with Nick Arson and I at Game 3 of the World Series:
We couldn’t give a SHIT what music they were playing.
The other dark matter that filled the vacuum over the years was the obsession with the What If’s of 1969. 1984. 2003. You know what those years mean without any other context.
Cub fans internalized it all to the point that we incorporated the “lovable loser” stuff into our actual personalities. For how many of us is “Cub fan” more than just a sports loyalty, but also one of most defining aspects of our character, of how we see ourselves as people. Admittedly, that’s pretty weird. We are indeed talking about a baseball team here. Albert Burneko did a great job this week explaining how this pathology permeated into pop culture:
For decades, fiction and screen writers have been using Cubs fandom as shorthand for hard-luck moxie, or endearing lost causes, or scrappy optimism, or hopeless romanticism, or childlike innocence. The kid in Rookie of the Year is a Cubs fan; of course he is. The sensitive lonely protagonist of The Sandlot is a Cubs fan; of course he is. The harmless goofball escaped convict in Taking Care of Business is a Cubs fan; of course he is. In the novel The Martian, on which the Matt Damon movie is based, astronaut Mark Watney, who persists in the face of hopelessly long odds while stranded on Mars, is a Cubs fan; of course he is. Ferris Bueller is a Cubs fan; Uncle Buck is a Cubs fan; the Blues Brothers were Cubs fans. And so on.
But now, having reached Mt. Olympus, we’ve got to let that shit go. 69 and the September collapse. 84 and the Gatorade on Leon Durham’s glove. 03 and the Bartman-Alex Gonzalez dichotomy. Put those stories away. No one wants to hear them. Let’s take Drew Magary’s advice to Cavs fans:
Don’t dredge up your past self-loathing when things go awry in future seasons. I guarantee you that if LeBron gets hurt next year and the Cavs revert to form, there will be a handful of fans calling into sports talk radio being like, “SAME OLD CAVS!” No. No, you don’t get to draw from that well again. It’s been sealed shut. You have been reborn as a competent franchise. Act accordingly.
Now, Cub fans, too, are not allowed to go back there anymore. It’s going to be difficult — the identity of this fanbase was built on grief.
You don’t really know any of the athletes you follow, so it’s dangerous to moralize much about them. But I’m going to break that rule just to say that it really does seem like this wonderful team had some great young men. Anthony Rizzo’s speech at the rally was really something. In addition to the emotional tribute to Ross, he took time to thank the team’s traveling secretary.
We can be proud of the fact that they play for the Cubs. I loved the way they stuck together and weren’t afraid to get emotional about it at the end. It’s corny as hell, but also true: This really was the group of players we always dreamed about.
Trying to pinpoint a Day Zero.
Someone pointed out on Twitter last week that this all began at a Starbucks at Racine and Wrightwood:
Yep, that was the first sign of a light at the end of the tunnel, the day the final chapter of the century-long crusade was set into motion. From that day forward, it’s been only good news. Theo would jump ship. Rizzo was acquired. The big three became the big four when Bryant was drafted and then the big five with the Russell trade. Joe Maddon became available. All those guys reached the major leagues. They weren’t busts. We win the World Series on November 2, 2016.
The final trial.
It’s difficult to describe the soul-crushing feeling I had after Rajai Davis’ game-tying home run. I was sick to my stomach in a way that was, frankly, kind of alarming. I kept thinking, “How am I going to have the strength to get through the rest of this game? I just can’t do it. I can’t add another horror story to the baggage. I might be out. For good.”
I gotta do the ungrateful fan thing for a moment. Joe owes us another shot and a beer for the stress of Game 7. The recurring nightmare of Joe’s panic bullpen management in Games 6 and 7 will haunt my subconscious — even though it made the final outcome even more special. I say this as someone who has supported literally every decision Joe’s made since he got there (including the ones that turned out to be bad.).
And no, we aren’t second-guessing him. My groupchat from that night proves Joe was first-guessed as it happened:
Which led to the wild pitch off Ross’ noggin and two runs:
At least we can laugh about all of that now!
None of this removes the fact that Joe Maddon’s one of the smartest guys to ever manage baseball. He’s the reason the Cubs moved to the next level. And he’s the one who caught the white whale. (And I still think he should win manager of the year over Dave Roberts.)
Imagine if an unlabeled VHS showed up at your door in 1993, and all it contained was this video, with no context:
Thank you, Allison
You know, this past season could not have been easy for my wife, Allie, or any of the wives and husbands of Cub fans who put up with their partner’s insane, ludicrous hobby of following a baseball team every goddamn day for 7 months. And even though I don’t exactly have a lot of free time these days, Allie was cool letting me dedicate the little free time I did have to a silly baseball team. Whether it was staying in on weekends to watch games or not being embarrassed when I streamed the radio feed from my pocket while we were in stores or restaurant lobbies, I can’t thank her enough for letting me go crazy on the Cubs this year. She traveled with me to San Francisco and watched three games in the cold. She didn’t roll her eyes when I flew up to Oakland for a regular season baseball game. And, of course, there were the jolting emotional swings of these playoffs. She was just cool about all of it, and it means the world to me. I won’t forget it.
Other stuff I’ve been collecting over the last few days.
Three good moments from the group chats during Game 7.
After Ross’ homer:
Zobrist’s go-ahead RBI double.
I’ll never forget Rizzo’s “Oh my God” in that clip.
The final out.
It’s not often you get to group text with your Mom about sports.
“Dreams do come true.” — Bill Murray.
What it sounded like in Chicago at the moment they won.
Les Grobstein’s update.
After Game 7, I was streaming The Score at 2:15am in L.A., 4:15am in Chicago, and I had to save Les Grobstein’s first post-World Series Scoreboard Update. It’s the sweetest sports talk radio moment you’ll ever hear:
Theo and almost shirtless Travis Wood on the roof at Murphy’s.
Theo wearing a bear costume and pouring champagne on his head.
Friday Night Lights treatment.
WWE sent the Cubs this belt.
(I def. said a Hail Mary during the break headed into the bottom of the ninth.)
And I’ll end it with this incredible Wright Thompson passage about watching Game 7 with a Mary Beth, whose mother, a 93-year-old, lifelong Cub fan named Ginny, had died between Games 2 and 3.
The Cubs scored two runs, then got the final three outs, and the bar around Mary Beth got loud. People jumped up, and the young people to her right hugged and danced and high-fived. Others pounded on the bar, and the stereo blared “Go Cubs Go!” Mary Beth remained quiet, holding her victory shot. She raised her glass and tipped it toward the ceiling, toasted her mom, but then the sobs hit so hard, her shoulders shaking violently, that she couldn’t drink. Until faced with it, she’d never known how she’d react to the Cubs winning a World Series. Turns out, she thought about her mom. The glass stayed in her hand for 30 seconds or more, until she finally steadied herself and knocked it back. Then she put her head in her hands and began to cry. That night, she fell asleep wrapped in her mom’s Cubs blanket, the one Ginny wore the night she died.
Congrats to everyone who did get to see this. It happened. It really happened.