Monday, October 19, 2015

Cubs doomed


     A grim Monday morning.
     The Cubs down, two games to zip in the National League Championship Series. Last week's carnival air of inevitability turned to gloom or, more likely, completely forgotten. An embarrassing, temporary mania.
     Of course, as I write this on Sunday afternoon, the Cubs have as yet only lost the first game to the Mets Saturday night. But I'm going to go out on a limb, take one for the team, and brazenly assume they've lost the second too, because a) it's the Cubs and they probably will b) it might be the best chance of ensuring they'll actually win Sunday night.
     How can that be?
     Baseball is not just bats and balls, throws and catches. Baseball is our most spiritual sport, sometimes more of a religion than a display of athletic prowess. It's karmic. The Cubs and their famous curse are only the beginning. In our age of the dominance of flashier, faster, more TV-friendly sports such as football and basketball, the mere survival of baseball is a true miracle.

     The baseball gods demand caution, modesty, and they must be appeased. When they are ignored, when you cross the Great Wheel of Baseball Fate, there are consequences. I saw this disaster looming last week, when the whole city started skipping around Wrigley Field as if it were a maypole, glorying in the team's surprising victory, like Israelites driven mad by the golden calf. They did things they shouldn't have done, and said things they should not have said. I kept my mouth zipped shut -- well, one tweet on Friday:
     "Chicagoans are so excited about the Cubs, I'm reluctant to whisper, 'Isn't this the point where they collapse and break your hearts again?'"
     No one noticed or replied. No one wanted to face the truth.
     Then came what was to me — averse as I am to challenge a colleague — the Kiss of Death, Saturday morning.
     "THEY'RE GOING ALL THE WAY" screamed the headline on Rick Morrissey's column.
     Oh no, I thought, aghast.
     "They look unbeatable."
     No!
     "A force of nature."
     No, no!
     "The Cubs have become America's team."
     No, no, NOOO!     

     I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that Rick Morrissey is not Jewish. So he is not familiar with a concept that in Yiddish is called the "kine hora." The evil eye. I suppose the closest equal in English is "counting your chickens before they're hatched." I think of it as "Flipping off Fate."
     I suppose its a result of all the "Moneyball" sabermetric number crunching that has so afflicted baseball in recent years, as if you could measure Rizzo's bone density and the humidity of the air blowing in from right field and call the series for Chicago. You can't. Baseball isn't math, it's poetry. Not science but philosophy. Baseball breaks your heart ("It is designed," baseball commissioner A. Bart Giamatti once wrote, "to break your heart.")
     Although the Cubs droopping the first two --if that's what they have done -- might be a secret kindness. What makes the Cubs such a special team, such a valuable commodity? Obviously not their string of championship victories. Just two things, really, in my estimation: 1) They play at Wrigley Field. and 2) their incredible World Series drought, which grows year by year.
     The two are not unrelated. A winning team would have moved out to DuPage County years ago. The Cubs are like Naples--success eluded them, they were spared the ravages of economic progress, and now failure is their success. When the Boston Red Sox ended their streak in 2004, it was a moment of joy, yes, but the joy that comes from leaping from a high place. Then they hit hard reality, won two more championships, and are now just another winning team, a sort of New York Yankees Lite.
     Is that what you really want? Fine. Consider this column my sacrifice on the Sacred Baseball Altar. The illusion of the fan is that they matter. That if they wear their lucky hat, and cheer loud enough, the team will win. I'm not a fan, I've only been to one game this year. But I know how important this is to people, and want to do my part. Boldly predicting defeat Sunday night and standing by that prediction, even if wrong, is the best guarantee that they may somehow win. If they lose, when they lose, then I will have been correct. And if through some miracle they somehow manage to win, well, I'll look bad, but I'll also know that I've played my part in their victory.  It worked for Br'er Rabbit.
     And if this all sounds crazy well, remember, it's sports commentary. It's supposed to sound crazy.

29 comments:

  1. I knew the Cubs would blow it, because they went nuts celebrating that almost meaningless division win last week.
    They should've acted like real winners & waited until winning the pennant, which the Cubs haven't done in 70 years!
    There never should have been champagne in the clubhouse, as that's for actually winning the pennant & the Series!

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    1. I totally agree.They have become Americas affirmative action team.
      While they've had an outstanding season, they finished third in their division. Were it not for.baseball creating an extra wild card in addition to another wild card in addition to a league championship series,the Cubs wouldn't even be in the.playoffs. Who benefits? The Ricketts and other baseball owners who get high draft choices by fielding lousy teams and then citing "The Plan". and how they're doing it the "right way". Take heart. cub fans, as one of the great philosophers of our time once said,"it ain't over til it's over"!!!

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  2. Don't count them out, the Cubs can still pull this off. Though that is a bit harsh writing about the loss before it was final, kind of like chucking a black cat onto the field. This is the year they go all the way. Granted, I say that every year, but this time it's going to happen.

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    1. Yeah, I fully acknowledge that I'm one of those deluded fans in their own happy world, but it's a nice place, there's gummy bears ;).

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    2. Nikki, don't apologize for keeping hope. The Cubs won 97 games this year for cryin' out loud, so please don't feel that you're "one of those delusional fans"; It's not a delusion if it's based on reality. So, let's get the "W" tomorrow night and move forward with optimism! :)

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    3. I mean deluded like thinking my lucky mojo hat has any relevance to what's happening in the game, my lucky socks though.....
      It's not weird, it works. Go Cubs! Go!!!

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  3. Cheer up, the Cub and their fans should be proud of everything they achieved this year. Hope springs for all eternity in the heart of a Cub Fan, many aged Cub Fans cling to life well beyond a normal life span in the hope of witnessing a Cub's World Series victory. I worried that if the Cubs had won this year, thousands of Cub fans across the Northside, and elsewhere, would finally be at peace and pass away. I raise a glass and toast, here's wishing the Cubs keep hope, and the elderly Cub Fans, alive.

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  4. you'll notice that hockey players won't even touch the Stanley Cup until they've won it.
    they know the bad karma that comes with celebrating too soon.

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  5. Mike Royko once said that he wanted his children to be Cubs fans so that they would understand the inevitability of death.

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  6. How does one say CHOKE in Yiddish?

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. [Apologies, everyone; strangled by the blog's inhospitable attitude toward amendments. Instead:] Sorry, Anonymous, tried to help out but failed. Had a brief amusement of cut/paste CHOKE into Google Translate, English>Yiddish. There's nothing applicable as a reflexive verb for a non-speaker to choose. Gotta have it in the blood (language), I guess.

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  9. Cub fans indulging in optimism at this early stage is foolish, but understandable. As Francis Bacon had it, "Hope makes a good breakfast but a bad supper."

    Tom Evans

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  10. If the Cubs win tomorrow night (which I fully expect them to do), you will all hop back on the Cubbie bandwagon. #WeAreGood

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  11. Lots of interesting stuff in this column. But some folks prefer being whipped by a dominatrix, to pick a timely example, many more prefer rooting for the Cubs. "Who am I to judge?", to quote the Pope, though he wasn't referring to Ronnie Woo-woo.

    I find it odd how baseball is all about tradition and the continuity of the stats (if somebody batted .313 this year, one compares it to somebody else batting .313 in 1950, etc.), yet few have any problem getting all excited about these rounds of playoffs that never existed for the first hundred years, or so, especially the second wild card, which is about as "traditional" as the iPhone 6. At least the Cubs have a very good team this year, not like a 6-6 college football team going to a bowl game.

    Having said that, and while I, personally, agree with Clark St. that I won't consider this all that meaningful unless they win the pennant (as if it has any meaning at all!), I can certainly understand post-season-starved fans being ready to celebrate whatever there is to celebrate. Win or lose from here on out, I don't think many who are buying W flags and wearing jerseys 5 days a week are going to regret the fun that they're having along the way. And one can safely assume that the Ricketts family won't regret all the extra cash flowing their way...

    After all, while NS hits it on the head with "The illusion of the fan is that they matter", that works both ways. While wearing one's lucky hat won't affect the outcome, neither will being optimistic tip the karma in such a way that they'll lose. Many years there are teams like the Cubs that come out of nowhere, defy expectations and make it to the playoffs. Their fans are no more reasonable than Cubs fans with regard to their hopeful expectations, hard to believe though that may be. Often those teams flame out, but... but... occasionally such a surprise team actually wins it all. The opinions of the sportswriters or the fans, alas, have no bearing on the proceedings...

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    1. Ah...thank goodness for Jakash, the voice of reason on this blog...

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  12. When we came back to Chicago ten years ago, I got enthused again. Even went to the 2008 Cubs rally at Daley Plaza. Ron Santo was on stage with Mayor Daley, Billy Williams, Cubs chairman Crane Kenney, Jim Belushi and "Governor" Blagojevich. That's the last time I was sucked in. If the Cubs get in to the you know what and win it, I'll watch the reruns of the win and the celebrations. Here's hoping! It'll be an historic day.

    Doug D.

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  13. Stay strong Cub's fans. As a Red Sox fan I can tell you that a ton of us are rooting for you out here in New England. Just keep believing.

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  14. Love the Red Sox. They were better when pitcher Beckett and manager Francona was there though. Down with the Yankmees. Saw a great White Sox/Red Sox game a few years back at the Cell. Boston had a lot of traveling fans.

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  15. It was a good year for the Cubs. If they continue to win, it will be a great year. As a long time Cub fan, I'm enjoying this. "Let's play two!"
    By the way, Bob Greene wrote a nice column about Ernie Banks in this Saturday's WSJ.

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  16. Many of us will always prefer the Cubbies as LOVABLE LOSERS. For so long now is been about drinking and socializing at Wrigley Field. Why upset this harmonious melody? Cubs fans over celebrated and got way ahead of themselves this year, believing inevitability was their destiny. Well...it ain't! Hopefully we will NEVER have to endure a World Series with them as a participant.

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  17. Superstition is the vampire of baseball, times ten with this team. I'm not surprised at the superstitious reaction in this post. Forget it! With all due respect to black cats and billy goats, it's the confidence and ability of the team on any given day, with a few minor factors included as well. My attitude is to go with what the Cubs have achieved so far, one day at a time. As an almost 50 year fan, I'm hopeful, but able to deal with the reality of how the game plays out. (Though I'll never forgive Bartman's interference.)

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  18. It's terrible what Bartman went through. Death threats and all- he deserves sympathy. Some Cubs fans need to get their priorities straight and put things in perspective.

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    1. Agreed, Sportsman. He did nothing that a big percentage of other fans wouldn't have done had they been in his position, and should never have been vilified for it. Well, nothing except behave with a lot of class and composure afterward, unlike many of his detractors.

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    2. The reason Bartman was vilified was that he looked like an idiot wearing those headphones while at the game. Since the radio broadcast is on a seven second delay, he really had no idea what was actually going on & just stood up & raised his hands like everyone around him were doing.

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