Monday, October 19, 2015
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."
"A force of nature."
"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.