Shane M. Ruff - Capstone Final:
The Chicago Cubs: 108 years of frustration and curses, loyal fans
and a guy named Theo.
"A little bouncer slowly toward Bryant. He will glove it and throw to Rizzo. It’s in time. And the Chicago Cubs win the World Series! The Cubs come pouring out of the dugout, jumping up and down like a bunch of delirious 10-year-olds. The Cubs have done it! The longest drought in the history of American sports is over, and the celebration begins.”
(Pat Hughes on WSCR Radio 670 The Score calling the final out)
Ladies and Gentlemen…the goat has left the building.
For 108 years fans of the Chicago Cubs were left using the phrase, “Wait till next year…” over and over until it became so natural that, we as fans, started saying it as early as Spring training.
But then, something changed. Something in the way the Chicago National League Franchise would approach the game off the diamond that would break the longest, ‘Length between Championship seasons’ record that the Cubs currently held. Waiting for that change the Cubs not only did not lose fans…they gained them! What was it about Cub fans. Why the perpetual torment year after year, yet they remain faithful. What lifted their faith above the curses?
Cub fanatics are a unique breed. They are…make that ‘were’…use to being the doormat. The team that inevitability gave out a seasonal gift of a heaping spoonful of disappointment. Lisa Stachmus, a homemaker from Ottawa Illinois and lifetime fan, is an annual attendee of the Cub Convention. She’s a fan who named her son Ryne after Cub great Ryne Sandberg. Hope of a new season and another chance were what she looked forward to every year. Lisa wears the Cubbie Blue proudly almost everywhere she goes. A true ‘Diehard’. “ I always identified with both the Cubs and Charlie Brown (who had almost as bad of luck in baseball as the Cubs) as someone who would never get a lucky break in life. My Cubs champs t-shirt is Snoopy holding the World Series trophy.”
Attorney Jeff Schlapp is a season ticket holder. He jokingly remarks that he takes his kids with him to games so they can learn to deal with the disappointment at an early age to make it easier on them as adults. “This way they can wean onto the hurt…it’s expected, so it doesn’t sting as badly.”
Those who follow the game and know the in’s and out’s of America’s game are a savvy bunch. They can tell you pre season what to expect and when to ‘bail’. Former sports reporter Ben Ochoa has seen his share of Cubs games over the years. He is ready to defend or criticize the team at the drop of comment on a forum or social media thread. “I never bought the lovable losers . It usually came from (those) who didn't know the relationship between the Cubs and their fans very well, much less knew anything about their organization. If it (being a fan of a losing team) affected me in any way, it was in looking at other teams and why they were so successful, which made me understand MLB better.
A Cat in the Stadium and a Goat left out.
What was it that kept the Cubs from reclaiming the glory they once had near the turn of the previous century? The Chicago franchise was, after all, back-to-back World Series Champions (1907 and 1908). In explaining the curse, USA Today’s Al Perez explained it could be “Murphy” the beloved pet goat of Billy Goat Tavern owner William Sianis. After being denied entry into Wrigley field with his goat for game 4 of the Cubs previous last World Series visit versus the Detroit Tigers in 1945,” Sianis proclaimed. “You are going to lose this World Series and you are never going to win another World Series again,”. It would take the Cubs 71 years to return to Baseball’s post season big dance.
Perhaps one of lucks famed nemesis; ‘ The Black Cat’ is to blame.
During the 1969 season the Cubs were enjoying a 8.5 game lead going into the final months of the regular season. They had been in first place for 155 days. The Chicago Tribune reported that in a trip to Shea Stadium to face the Mets, a Black Cat appeared on the field and raced across the
front of the Cubs dugout and near team Captain Ron Santo. From that moment on it appeared the season of magic ended as the Cubs dropped 35 of 52 games to finish 8 games behind that year’s eventual champion, the NY Mets.
1969 wasn’t a total loss for Cubs fans. Ochoa said he found a positive to focus on. “It solidified me as a fan of both the Cubs and baseball. Growing up, you just know you love the Cubs. 69 made me realize just how good they were, but also just how good you had to be to win it all.”
Could these curses be real? Could they be the invisible wall holding the Cubs at bay? Convinced fans like Stachmus say yes. “Curses are real.... I'm not sure what the Cubs did to reverse the curse, they aren't saying! Pragmatic fans like Ochoa shake their heads . “Please! Next question…”
The Bartman incident.
The 2003 Cubs had advanced to the NLCS playing the Florida Marlins. Leading in game 6 with a 3-2 series advantage the Cubs were within 5 outs of reaching the World Series. It’s not like Cubs fans to turn on each other. But Steve Bartman was different. Bartman who was seated on the leftfield line reached out as any fan would of for a foul ball. The problem was a quick running and leaping Moises Alou was in position to make the difficult catch look easy. Bartman’s hands deflected the ball away from Alou and the Marlins used the incident as the catalyst to rally from behind and defeat the Cubs in games 6 and 7 to win the series and go on the World Series. Bartman, who is still a Cubs fan today was nearly torn apart by the angry Wrigley field mob. Never mind that Alex Gonzalez made a critical error that would of ended the inning, the mob continued their focus on Bartman…to the point he was escorted out of Wrigley field for his own safety . 13 years later, after winning it all, Bartman has been forgiven to the point the Cubs want him to throw out the first pitch at a game next year. The butter fingered Cubs fan has been offered several lucrative deals…Bartman wants nothing to do with it.
Enter the Answer.
Going into 2004 the Boston Red Sox were right behind the Cubs in the futility race. Boston too had a curse. “The curse of the Bambino” was named for Boston trading their star pitcher George Herman “Babe” Ruth to the Yankees in 1919. A bit of Irony here as Boston’s previous World Series Victory came at the hands of the favored Chicago Cubs (1918). In 2002 the Red sox hired the then 28 year old Theo Epstein to become general manager of the American League’s futility champions. Theo entered his plan of utilizing upcoming players to add to a core and not expect victory right away. It worked. Boston ended their streak in 2004. For good measure Theo added another championship in 2007. Needing a new challenge, Epstein was lured over to become President of Baseball Operations of the Chicago Cubs in 2011.
Could one man make a difference? “The most frustrating thing about being a cub fan over the years, is looking at other teams: their executives, managers, coaches, minor-league organization, players, etc., and how pitifully the Cubs compared by comparison”, Said Ochoa, “between Theo and his appointees like GM Jed Hoyer, manager Joe Maddon, and minor leagues and scouting system, for the first time in my life, there's is complete coordination from top to bottom. Attorney Schlapp states that this off the field position is so important, it’s likely Epstein won’t be looking for work anytime soon. “(Theo’s) a visionary. He knows the recipe for success and if left to work it and given the tools to do so, He could make a champion out of any team. Not that the Cubs will be letting him go anytime soon.”
Stachmus states Epstein’s formula is in tearing down the old and building the new…a new concept to Chicago’s Northsiders. “Theo blew up the team and started over, which was never allowed before. The former Cubs owners always wanted a team that would compete for part of the season, or at least look like they would compete (by signing big names in the off-season) to make sure tickets would get sold. Theo was the first one allowed to start over with young players and allowed to put a team on the field that everyone knew was 3-4 years away from being competitive.”
Ochoa states that although Epstein is the Catalyst, he needed help to pull it all together. “The most symbolic thing done by Hoyer and Epstein, in my opinion, was the acquisition of Joe Maddon”(as Manager).
“Maddon came in last year and almost got the job done.” said Schlapp, “This year he added his slogan , ‘Don’t Suck’.”
One bit of irony to add other than the link of Epstein, the Redsox/Cubs and the ending of two longstanding curses. The Manager of this years losing team, the Cleveland Indians? 2004 Boston Redsox Manager, Terry Francona.
Did God have something to do with the outcome? “Yes of course…Divine Intervention. The Rain Delay”. Pastor Glen Wagner of Good Shepard, Naperville is a life long Cubs fan and a man of faith. It was very apparent to him that the Cubs got a much needed assist from the man up stairs. Wagner explains, “After Rajai Davis homered in the 8th to tie the game the Indians had full momentum and the Cubs were just hanging on. The Rain delay started at the 10th inning and lasted 17 minutes, giving the Cubs time to regroup (with Jason Heyward’s locker room speech) and rally after the delay with the winning runs. “
Be it a magic spell or man to break the curse or the fact that maybe God is indeed a Cubs Fan, Chicago will gleam with pride in her 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.