TELANDER: Cubs can’t escape their history
BY RICK TELANDER email@example.com March 31, 2013 11:38PM
For SPORTS 10/15/03 Photo by Joe Rimkus Jr./Miami Herald Staff.. Game 6 of the NLCS, The Florida Marlins vs. Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Fan shows off sign after the Cubs scores their first runs
Updated: May 2, 2013 6:35AM
The Cubs are such a
remarkable franchise that they approach the
benchmark known as mind-
Back in the early 2000s, as they zeroed in on 100 years without winning the World Series, they prompted a bunch of creative, mostly lighthearted T-shirts to be made, with mottos such as ‘‘Party Like It’s 1908’’ and ‘‘Anybody Can Have a Bad Century.’’
There were no embarrassing ‘‘Cubs Suck’’ or ‘‘The Hell With This Team’’ T-shirts because that’s not how Cubs fans thought — or think — about their long-suffering club.
Indeed, as the 21st century began, the Cubs had company with the Red Sox and White Sox, two other traditional ballclubs that hadn’t won the World Series in nearly 90 years. The losing wasn’t funny, but it was kind of cute, like a ferret somebody gives you as a birthday present.
Then both Sox teams won the World Series in a space of two seasons, and even cute was gone for the Cubs.
They stood alone, naked for inspection, and they didn’t have enough hands to cover the flaws. But summer comes each year, hope springs eternal and people still say, ‘‘How do you think the Cubs will do this year?’’
My answer is always the same: ‘‘They’re the Cubs.’’
In fact, there is no reason to believe the Cubs ever will win the World Series because it’s an achievement no living person actually has seen. Yes, some centenarians were alive 105 years ago, when the Cubs beat the Tigers four games to one. But they weren’t in the ballpark, and they likely didn’t watch the Series on their cable-TV provider. Yes, the Cubs did go to seven World Series after 1908 — the last in 1945 — but they lost each one.
Some critics will say, ‘‘For God’s sake, can’t we leave the past alone? Can’t we all just move along?’’
No, we can’t. Not with the Cubs.
The past is the Cubs. Any player, coach, manager, president or owner who comes to the Cubs must realize the World Series Improbability is the spine — nay, the entire skeletal system — of the Cubs. And Wrigley Field, now in its 99th year, is the skull — or maybe the business suit — that cradles and wraps the whole crazy thing.
That the antique ballpark can be a gem and a dump at the same time, which it is, is another essential and mind-twisting aspect of the Cubs. Go use the men’s community urinal in one of the restrooms or check the roof above you with its fascinating and sturdy net stapled to the concrete — there to keep chunks of cement from falling on patrons — and you only can wonder how the structure yet stands.
But watch a child walk up the steps in a portal and see the emerald field below the city skyline, revealed in all its splendor for the first time, and you will have witnessed the definition of awe.
There is only one other baseball park in the world that compares to Wrigley, and that is Fenway Park in Boston, the home of the Red Sox. If you recall, then-Red Sox chief executive officer John Harrington announced plans in the spring of 1999 — five years before the Red Sox would win their breakthrough World Series — to build a new Fenway near the existing dumpy park. It would have the same dimensions and feel of old Fenway, plus a Green Monster in left field, Harrington said.
He might as well have announced Paul Revere was a British spy. Fans went bat-crazy. And old Fenway, improved, remains. And the Red Sox have said it’s good to go for another 50 years.
‘‘Fenway and Wrigley have inspired modern architects to add hominess to new ballparks,’’ Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo wrote Sunday. ‘‘They are like comfort food for fans.’’
Yes, after the curse is gone. And, too, the endless bickering about signage, rooftops, taxation, income, on and on. But all that detracts from any serious Cubs baseball team. You can’t bicker about a 6,000-square-foot Jumbotron and concentrate on pitchers, too.
We all know about the black cat, the clueless, reaching fan, that ‘‘Wrong Way’’ Merkle dude, the busted water pipe after the Dodgers’ postseason sweep in 2008, the billy goat who wasn’t let in and dozens more symbols, hexes and signs of Cubs failure. But the Sianis family has lifted that goat curse about a million times, including in 2003, when the Cubs and Mark Prior were five outs from the World Series.
It goes on. In other ways.
I think of the greatest hero in modern Cubs history, Sammy Sosa, going down in flames of Jheri-curl oil and disgrace. And how many baby stars have folded with the Cubs? I’ll mention just one: the beautifully named Felix Pie. He was a comer, then . . . nothing.
Now the Cubs have Starlin Castro, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Jorge Soler. Are any of them Bryce Harper or Mike Trout? Ah, we can dream. We can hope.
Imagine, the Washington Nationals, formerly a Canadian team nobody wanted, are picked by a lot of experts to win the World Series. Some folks are picking the history-free, interest-free Tampa Bay Rays to win the Series.
But nobody has picked the Cubs. Not last season, not now.