Thursday, December 8, 2016

THE YEAR OF THE CUBS - 2016

I should have written something about this historic event two months ago.  Work and family health issues have slowed my writing down however.  Now is as good of a time as any to write this tale.

I follow a few teams from my days as a child.  Teams that we would go see play the Athletics down at old Municipal Stadium.  I liked and followed the Boston Red Sox, the Chicago White Sox, the Baltimore Orioles and the Minnesota Twins.  It was a time before interleague play so I did not know much about the National League teams except for the St. Louis Cardinals who my uncle Jack would talk about everytime he came to town.  Along with his talk about the Cardinals, he would often mention another team with derision.  The Chicago Cubs were mortal enemies of the Cardinals and in that way I became acquainted with the Senior Circuit Chicago team.

As I grew up the Athletics moved to Oakland and I said goodbye to them.  It was difficult not to follow them since I knew so many of the players on that team but as time wore on I found it easier to dismiss the team in California and learned to put the Kansas City Royals at the top of my list.

I grew up and eventually got married.  When cable television came to town, we signed up.  In the early days of cable there were only about twenty five channels available one of which was WGN in Chicago.  WGN was owned buy the Chicago Tribune Corporation who also had a sizable stake in the Chicago Cubs.  I started noticing that WGN broadcast every game of the season that the Cubs played.  This is somewhat normal these days but back in the late seventies/early eighties it was not heard of.  I did not much of the cubs games.  Their stadium, Wrigley Field, did not have lights so all of their home games were played during the day.

I will never forget the day I became a Cubs fan.  I had arrived home from work to find an empty house because the wife was still at work.  I turned on the television and found my self looking at a ballgame from Wrigley.  The camera was from ground level at third base and a player with the number 23 was on third.  I would learn later that number 23 was a future hall of famer named Ryne Sandberg.  Then I heard that voice.  A voice that almost sound like the announcer was spitting out the words.  This voice would become one that was dear to me as it belonged to the immortal Harry Carey.  I heard Carey say that it was the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, nobody out and the Cubs were down by only one run.  It became painfully clear that the Cubs winning a game during this season had become a rarity and Harry was totally immersed in the excitement that the game was there for the Cubs taking.  I decided to sit and take in the half inning to see if this group could pull out a win.  It unfolded quickly.  The batter at the plate hit an infield pop up, keeping all the runners pinned at the bases.  One out.  The first pitch to the next batter was a ground ball to second base that resulted in a double play.  Game over.  The Cubs had lost again.

It was Harry Carey's reaction to the Cubs having the bases loaded with no outs and not getting a run across the plate that caught my imagination.  I guess I fell more for the voice then I did for the team.  "Holy cow, this team can't buy a win this year.  The game was there, bases loaded, no outs and they blow it again..." and Harry went on for another five minutes ripping the Cubs to pieces.  He held nothing back.  I had never heard an announcer who was employed by a team tear a team down the way Carey was doing.  It was refreshing in a way.  As that summer went on I watched the Cubs more and more and began to learn some of the players names and their talents.  There were some very good players on that team but like Harry had said, it just seemed like they were meant to lose.

I picked up with the Cubs the next season, watching the last three or so innings of the Cubs in the afternoon and the Royals at night.  I came to learn that the Cubs had not been to the World Series since 1945 and had not won a series since 1908.  What a streak!  This was a team that you just HAD to love.  Day after day. season after season, always ending up out of the running for a spot that might get them back to the Series.  When Brett joined our family 1982, I raised him to watch the Cubs and I had set him up with a full set of Cubs t-shirts along with ball caps and a batting helmet.

In 1984, Brett's second season as a Cubs fan, the Cubs made it to the playoffs for the first time since they had lost the series in 1945 to the Tigers.  They made it to the League Championship Series only to lose to the San Diego Padres to keep them out of the series.  That same year the Royals had made it to the American League Championship Series only to have their hopes dashed at a series return.  The streak remained alive.  No series appearance since 1945 and no World Series Championship since 1908.  That season gave me hope however.  Both of my teams were just THAT far away from a series appearance.  And so as the season dawned upon 1985, I expected to see both the Royals and the Cubs in the Series.

That season was not kind to the Cubs though.  They did not make the playoffs but not all was lost as my Royals did go to the Series and beat the Cardinals, which was somewhat satisfying from my point of view as both a Cubs and a Royals fan.

Through the following seasons the Cubs made it to the playoffs six times as they headed into the 2015 season.  Once again as the seasoned opened I fully expected to see the Cubs and the Royals in the Series.  Once again it was not to be.  The Cubs had a season for the ages.  During the course of the season they had managed to win a total of 97 games.  This is what every team drives for each season.  It was a strange season in the National League Central though.  Pittsburgh won 98 games and St. Louis, those nasty Cardinals had won 100 games.  The Cubs had ended up in third place while winning 97  games.  They did played a one game wild card against Pittsburgh and won.  Then they played the divisional playoff against the Cardinals and won?  Once again they were in the League Championship series with a chance to go to the Series but had to get by the Mets to do so.  They failed.  The good part of that year was that the Royals went from the one game wild card all the way to the Series and won the World Series over the Mets.  However once again, both my teams were THAT close to playing each other in the Series.

Then came the magic.  The 2016 season opened and by July things were not looking good for my Royals.  Indeed they would end up out of the playoffs.  While the Royals were dealing with an off season though, the Cubs took the National league by storm.  They ruled it and most important, they ruled that nasty Central Division.  They ended up with 103 wins during the regular season.  When they clinched the division, the second place Cardinals were 17 games behind them.  At he end of the season, the Cardinals found themselves still 17 games back of the Cubs.  It was SO sweet.  As the playoffs began, it looked like no one would touch the Cubs and they didn't.  The Cubs beat the Giants in the Divisional Championship series 3 games to 1.  It was during the series with the giants that I received a package in the mail.  It was a flag pole and a big Cubs flag to fly on my our house sent to me from my sister Elaine.  I hung it in the front window during the Giants series, and after the Cubs beat the Giants the pole went up on the house and the Cubs flag was displayed in all its glory for the League Championship Series with the Dodgers.  The dream of the Cubs breaking that streak from 1945 came to an end as the Cubs beat the Dodgers 4 games to 2.  The Cubs were in THE SERIES!  It wouldn't be easy though.

Representing the American League in The Series were the Cleveland Indians.  The Indians had been to the series a couple of time in the 90's and 2000's but had not won a World Series since 1948.  These two teams were the record holders for the longest dry spell of a world championship in Baseball.  It had been 108 years since the Cubs had won a Series title and a mere 68 years since the Indians had.  The year of 2016 would break one of these two dry spells.

It was a tough Series.  It opened in Cleveland for the first two games in which the teams split winning one game each.  The next three games were in Chicago at Wrigley and it was then that things began to look pretty ominous for the Cubs.  Cleveland won the first two game in Chicago taking a three game to one lead over the Cubs.  The Cubs would have to win the last game at Wrigley plus two more game in Cleveland.  It did not look good.

The Cubs won that game at Wrigley and then the teams returned to Cleveland.  All the Indians needed was one win at home to break their dry spell.  The Cubs needed to win both games.  The Cubs came out and took game six from the Indians setting up the ultimate game seven.

Game seven was a classic for the ages.  The teams swapped the lead a couple of times and at the end of nine innings found themselves tied as rain started coming down.  The officials called a rain delay and so the last game of the season was temporarily put on hold.  During the delay the Cubs players had a meeting in their locker room.  They were NOT going to let this get away.  They  built each other up and came out after the delay intent on winning.  It was the top of the tenth inning when the Cubs scored taking the lead and putting all of the pressure on the Indians in the bottom of the tenth.  When all was said and done, when the Indians had received the third out in the tenth inning, the world was silent for just a second.  The Chicago Cubs, the lovable losers, the most cursed team in all of baseball were no longer cursed.  The Chicago Cubs were World Champions.  What a night in Chicago and around the league.  Even Cardinal fans were glad to see the Cubs break the spell.  The Chicago Cubs.... THE CUBS ... had won their first World Series since 1908.

It had taken the Cubs 103 wins through the regular season, a romp through the National League Playoffs and then seven games, a rain delay and ten innings to break a spell that had lasted 108 years.

With all of that in mind, I kept my Cubs flag flying proud for over a week after the magic of 2016.

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