The Chicago Cubs, fresh off winning their first National League pennant since 1945, are nearly 2-1 favorites to win the franchise’s first World Series since 1908. A fanbase that’s been wandering in the desert, dying of thirst, for over a century, can see the Promised Land.
They are a good team, possibly a great team. The roster is full of likeable characters and also Aroldis Chapman. Joe Maddon is easy to root for based on both personality and creative brilliance. All of these factors, plus the immutable buzz of history, has the Cubs bandwagon packed to the gills like an L train on St. Patrick’s Day. Think 2004 Boston Red Sox, only nicer and with more North Face jackets.
Now, what I’m about to admit is not a hot take. It’s an honest admission.
Not a single cell in my body contains any sympathy for them. In fact, the over-the-top coverage of the Cubs’ quest to win a World Series long ago became annoying.
Look no further than the inequity between the former Loveable Losers and Cleveland, their opponent in the Fall Classic. That’s right. There’s an American League representative playing this week. You may not have heard this. And it’s not some soulless axis of evil that buys its way to annual championships. The Indians haven’t won it all since 1948. That’s 68 years.
Is there really that much difference between 11 decades of failure and seven? Mention of the Tribes’ dry spell is only included as an afterthought to be tagged on. Is their pain lesser — or just not as celebrated?
Before I go any further, let me be clear. I don’t have particular animus toward the Cubs or their fans. If they were to beat the Indians it would be one of the greatest moments in sports history. Joining the rush to buy a W flag and wave it for the Cubbies is appealing on some level. Who doesn’t want to see the Cubs win it all, to exorcise demons and end curse talk forever?
The answer to that is simple. Someone who is selfish. Someone who is myopic. Someone who is bitter.
And I must admit, deep down, I am all three.
Everyone has one team they care about more than any other. For me, that’s the Detroit Tigers, who last won the World Series in 1984, when I was 10-months-old and unable to retain memories. I learned to love baseball just in time to enjoy two decades of lackluster ball clubs. When success finally came, it ended short of the ultimate prize with embarrassing performances when it mattered most in 2006 and 2012.
I’ve never known the ultimate joy — the joy Cubs fans may experience in the coming days. My contemporaries who root for Baltimore, Texas, Seattle, Houston, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and San Diego have also never felt the high. Supporters of Tampa Bay, Colorado and Arizona, as well as the Expos-Nationals franchise can sympathize.
Here’s the premise.
A passionate 39-year-old Mariners fan’s pain is equal to the pain of a 39-year-old Cubs fan. A passionate 61-year-old Indians fan’s pain is equal to the pain of a 61-year-old Cubs fan’s pain.
The difference is that other fanbases’ disappointment is not fetishized. All heartbreak is not created equally poetic. The Rangers were inches away from winning a World Series in 2011 when David Freese’s line drive barely missed Nelson Cruz’s glove. The Cubs were five outs from reaching the World Series in 2003 when Steve Bartman and Alex Gonzalez happened. The Indians blew a ninth-inning lead in Game 7 of the 1997 Fall Classic. Jose Mesa is not a household name away from the shores of Lake Erie.
A cynic would say Cubs fans have embraced, perhaps even demanded the attention. Failure and heartbreak became the franchise’s identity and it would be inaccurate to suggest they’ve done much to run from that existence before Theo Epstein arrived. A cynic would say they courted sympathy.
So add that to the list, I guess. I’m a cynical, selfish and bitter person with a myopic view.
But dammit if I’m not honest.
If the Cubs win the World Series, it won’t change the fact that nearly half of Major League franchises haven’t won it all over the last 30 years. Seeing the impossible happen and a long-suffering group find ecstasy won’t alleviate that widespread pain.
If anything, it will deepen my personal disappointment and turn my eyes green with envy.
Heartless? Maybe. But if you think there’s a single Cubs fan out there shedding tears for other teams on a dry spell, think again. If they wouldn’t do it for you, why should you be guilted into doing it for them?
Look, it’s going to be a fantastic series. I’m greatly looking forward to it. The Cubs bandwagon and sympathy train will just have to leave the station without me.