Chicago is a real baseball town. But we have two teams, something that makes for an intense rivalry and much partisanship every year. Only rarely do the fans of the Chicago Cubs celebrate a White Sox success and rarely do White Sox fans do the same for the Cubs. When the White Sox won the World Series in 2005 it ended a streak without a championship that went back for more than eighty years. Their futility was over. With Boston winning twice in the last four seasons their streak is over too. Cleveland now has the longest American League streak, dating back to the 1940s. But the Cubs have not won a World Series, the ultimate championship in baseball, since 1908! This makes 2008 the magical, or dismal, celebration of their 100th anniversary of a championionship. It qualifies as the longest run of any professional team in history without a champion. The Cubs, quite frankly, are the very definition of the phrase often heard in this city, around August most years: "Wait till next year!"
Some of the sayings that Cubs fans employ to make excuses for their team’s futility are more than amazing. After forty years in the area I still haven’t quite gotten used to it. The last major excuse was the fan, Steve Bartman, who tried to catch a foul ball in game six of the NLCS a few years ago. This poor guy had the temerity to do what every fan would do with a baseball hit into the stands—he tried to catch it. Because Moises Alou thought he had a chance to catch it for an out, and because the hitters that followed this play got huge game-winning hits (which had more to do with pitching than a fan), including a home run, the Cubs fans still talk about that fateful evening as "The Bartman Game." The poor guy had to go in absentia. And he was a die-hard Cubs fan too.
Perhaps the funniest excuse for Cubs futility is the hex of the "billy goat." I am not kidding. Many years ago a Cubs fan tried to enter the park for a post season game with his billy goat. He was refused entrance with his goat and thus put a hex on the Cubs. One season the Cubs management actually had a billy goat on the field for opening day. The players were not amused. This year a fan brought a goat down Clark Street on opening day. The curse of the billy goat is alive and well at Wrigley Field. I am not making this stuff up folks.
The Cubs have begun the season slowly, with a 1-3 record. Lou Pinella, the manager, referred to the cold the other day and then quickly said that was not an excuse for not hitting. ("So why did you say it Lou?") Some, at least on ESPN, have predicted the Cubs will win the pennant this year. For the Cubs this is the kiss of death in most seasons. There was a time when they were known as the "lovable losers" but the fans are paying huge prices now for a big payroll team and the park is always sold out. (Cubs fans are perhaps the most loyal, along with Boston and St. Louis fans, in all of baseball.) I still do not think they have the pitching to win the pennant, much less a World Series. It sure seems like come October the Cubs will have to remember 100 years of futility. If I were a Cubs fan I would be down about it all but I’m not. This means I watch with sheer amusement as I listen to all the new reasons for why the Cubbies keep losing. Each season offers some real surprises. Cubs loyalists will find a way to create new ones before 2008 is over I will guarantee you.
All I know is that I am really glad baseball is back. It is sunny outside as I write, they even say it will be above 60 degrees today, and baseball is here to stay. After a long winter I can feel spring, literally, in the air and my spirit. "Take me out to the ball game . . . take me out to the crowd." And go Sox!