October 21st, 2015 and the Chicago Cubs

cubslogoTeaching as a Cubs fan on the south side can be challenging in October.  My students knew I was going to Game 4 of the NLCS between the Cubs and Mets.  They anticipated my sorrow and didn’t believe me when I told them I was glad I went to the game.  A lot of my students are too young to have seen the Cubs play in October, therefore never receiving a formal education on the History of the Cubs. I decided to write this recap to try and help them understand what it means to be a Cubs fan.

Seventy-seven degree days and Cubs baseball are rare occurrences for late October. Maybe, in the back of my mind, I knew this was the day that the season, just like the warm temperatures, was going to end. Helplessly viewing from the comfort of my couch wasn’t an option. I had to do my part, show my support. It was the least I could do after a season of hope. This was a team that attracted attention since April. April baseball in Chicago is often cold, but full of hope and promise. October baseball, when present, is usually cold and unforgiving. The Mets had been equally cold and unforgiving. Thirty degree wind chills and 95+ mph fastballs delivered by a young Mets rotation doing their best to live up to the legend of Sidd Finch had iced the Cubs bats in Citi-Field. The Mets also had taken advantage of every youthful mistake committed. In the NLDS the Cardinals may have been too old, hobbled, and forgiving to jump on these same mistakes, but not the Mets. If a miracle was about to take place or a farewell was to be given, I needed to be present. So I braved the 38.3 mile trek through rush hour traffic and construction to take it all in.
Seventy-seven wasn’t just the temperature, it was also the year I became a Cubs fan. Back when television offered around 6 to 8 networks and WGN was every child’s favorite. Mornings gave us Bozo and Ray Rayner and his Friends. Afternoons gave us Chicago Cubs baseball. Rick Reuschel, Mike Krukow, and Bruce Sutter on the mound. All-Stars Bill Buckner and Dave Kingman swinging the lumber. Billy Buck was anything but a goat to Cubs fans. The 1980 NL batting champion and 1981 All-Star gave the fans someone to root for. And Dave Kingman, known as “Kong” (another childhood favorite), treated Cubs fans to 48 home runs in 1979. I happened to be watching on May 17th, 1979, the day “Kong” clobbered a colossal blast over Waveland and smacked the side of the third house down on Kenmore Ave. The Cubs scored 22 runs that day; Bucker delivered 7 RBIs. They lost. In ‘84, the first year I would experience Cubs post-season baseball, my favorite player, Buckner had lost his starting job to Leon Durham and was traded to the Red Sox for future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley. Although not happy about the trade, the Cubs would go on to win 96 games that year, one less that this year’s team, but good enough to finish with the best record in the National League. They went on to face the San Diego Padres in the NLCS. Even though the Padres only won 92 games that year, MLB made the Cubs forfeit home field advantage because Wrigley Field didn’t have lights and we couldn’t have a pennant clinching game take place while most Americans were still at work, or worse yet, suspended by darkness. So the Cubs won the first 2 games at home and then went on to blow 7th inning leads in each of the next 3 games. The 5th and deciding game lost when an easy ground ball miraculously bounced through the legs of Leon Durham. He did everything right to stop that ball. Lowered himself to one knee, glove on the ground. How did it get through? They never should have traded Buckner. (We all knew Buckner would have made that play.) How did we lose this series? Why are people talking about billy goats and black cats? I was still an adolescent in ‘84 and would learn all the details of the curse and Cubs lore through ominous Octobers to come. The future followed:

1989 93 wins, one more than the San Francisco Giants, yet lost that NLCS 4 games to 1. This time it was Will Clark who tormented the team from Clark and Addison.

1998 90 Wins, but were swept by the Braves in the NLDS. In ‘03 they won 88 games and defeated the 101-win Atlanta 3 games to 2 in the NLDS. They took a 3-1 lead in the NLCS. Game 6. 3-0 lead. 8th inning. 5 outs away. Bartman. Gonzalez error. 8 runs later it was over.

2007 85 wins, but they were quickly swept away by the Diamondbacks in the NLDS.

2008 97 wins, best in the NL, but swept by the Dodgers, who only won 84 games that year, in the NLDS.

2015 97 wins, they took out the Pirates 98 wins in the Wild Card Game and the Cardinals 101 wins in the NLDS.

Which brings us to tonight’s pilgrimage. A cool, bright haze hovers from the high intensity discharge (HID) bulbs above Wrigley feeding the high intensity discharge from the pregame crowd. The nervous anticipation includes chatter, cheers, flashbulbs, and an inspirational anthem. There is an electric hum to the atmosphere and the only source of desperation comes from the ticket scalpers concerned with turning a profit from a game that has already started. I begin negotiating with a reputable salesmen just outside Murphy’s when the first hindrance to history happens. Lucas Duda deposits a 3-run home run to deep center field and just like that, the power is out at Wrigley. The lights remain bright, but the anticipation is nowhere to be found. Silence. My negotiations are over and the salesman knows he desperately needs to find a new client. The whispers and murmurs begin…”3-0 already? Another first inning hole? … 4-0?” Travis d’Arnaud has followed Duda with a shot of his own to right center field. The Cubs had never enjoyed a lead in the first three games of this series and after this beginning of the end, it was clear they never would.

Outside of buying a ticket to get in, I do what any faithful fan would. I stay in Wrigleyville and tell myself it is early because the Cubs are capable of winning a high scoring affair. So I settle in at the first establishment where I can find a table and a menu and focus my attention to the HD gamecast above me. Between innings I study the crowd. There are no tears. There is no disinterest or changing of the subject. The focus of the fan base continues to look up. Maybe most are watching the game, or maybe some are looking for some assistance from Harry or Ron or Ernie. Maybe a few are looking for Doc Brown’s Delorean which was due to land only 90 minutes before the first pitch on this historical day that so far, is not living up to its fiction. Maybe Doc and Marty will get word of the Cubs dire situation and alter their plans, risking a butterfly effect of epic proportions in baseball lore.

After my meal, I decide a change of scenery might help so I relocate. New establishment, same silent hope. Every couple innings I continue to move, not driven by superstition, but driven by the desire to record these last moments of a meaningful season. There is one young fan, still in his business attire, trying desperately to repair Wrigleyville before it’s too late. He sees that I notice him and he approaches, “What’s wrong with us? Why is everyone so quiet? This place needs some energy! How do we expect them to rally if there is no energy???” A few fans pause and look to his pleading motions, but quickly return to the game. Like the rest, I have no answer for him, but instead wonder if the silence of 42,227 fans can do any lasting damage to these young players. It’s easy to perform when you have to block out the crowd and focus on the opponent, but what happens when there is no crowd to block out? When the silence makes you stop to see if anyone is watching and suddenly notice that everyone is watching. The silence give you time to think, time to overswing, time to misjudge. Crowd silence or Mob silence is a weight that weighs heaviest in Wrigley Field. Previous managers such as Baker and Pinella scoffed at history and dismissed the nonsense surrounding it. But when the playoffs enter Wrigley, and crowd is given reason to worry… that silence is suffocating.

In the bottom of the 8th, Kris Bryant broke that silence. He fought back. After series MVP Murphy (yes, the same name as the infamous goat who Cubs diehards have credited with more damage to Chicago than Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.) homered in the top of the 8th, Bryant put his foot down and launched a two run home run to left center field. One of the Cubs youngest stars was trying to ease Cubdom. “Don’t worry. We’ll fight back. Just give us time.” Some fans have time to give, but others aren’t so fortunate. So while these Cubs are young and may feel like the future is bright, the longer they take the heavier the weight becomes. Good Luck Mr. Maddon, Mr. Epstein, Mr. Ricketts. There is some substance behind the last 108 years and it has nothing to do with a lack of talent or desire, but as all have witnessed, it does have something to do with Murphy. Anyone who wants to dismiss the Murphy connection need look no further than Daniel’s performance in the World Series.  A textbook example of going from hero to goat.

Oct. 22, 2015 -There is another team in town and on this day they have coincidentally decided to parade their team’s colors. It’s their way of lurking like Nelson from The Simpsons, quick to offer their version of “Ha-ha!” as they revel in the latest occurrence of our team’s fate. They are as cold as the black steel beams that make up their home ballpark. Their history is buried under a parking lot and the cell in which they play has no room for romance. The only romantic notion they share is to compare themselves to the team to the North because in their minds a 108 year drought means their 1 title in 97 years somehow puts them on the same level as the Cardinals or Yankees. But this isn’t about them, and when you realize it’s never been about them their misdirected angst make sense.