A century-plus of dark clouds forming around the Chicago Cubs franchise has one silver lining. By not winning a World Series for 108 consecutive years, they’ve waited around long enough to have the chance to do it in an era that pressures all teams equally with no regard for nuance.
And that’s a good thing.
Joe Maddon’s club entered this season as odds-on favorites to win it all. They delivered on high expectations by winning 103 of 161 games without showing the slightest signs of vulnerability.
They have it all. A pitching staff of Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks is complemented with playoff-proven veterans Jon Lester and John Lackey. An unrelenting lineup with power and speed. Unbelievable defense with tremendous flexibility. They are the best team in baseball and should bring an end to the most famous drought in all of sports.
The pressure not to choke should be suffocating. And sure, there’s a fair amount of people who would love to see them do just that, to remain wandering in the desert when the Promised Land was so close. But the number of neutrals who want the Cubs to do the unthinkable, to exorcise their demons, far exceeds the number who want the haunting to continue.
Compare this to last year’s Golden State Warriors, who were coming off a championship. They entered the season the beloved face of basketball’s future. A record-setting 73-win season turned a title defense into a circus. The drive for history only added weight to their shoulders.
The cry from the masses was clear. It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that ring. Public perception of the Warriors shifted, fueled by Draymond Green’s low blows. At a certain point the love soured. Feel-good stories have a shorter shelf life than ever before.
Golden State did not achieve the ultimate goal. How much the external pressure placed upon them had to do with that is debateable. Stephen Curry’s ailing body and Green’s inopportune suspension were more tangible factors in the equation.
There was a time when the Cubs were have been treated differently, as a special case (1984, 1989, 2003). But now, the sports media is in the business of equal-opportunity scrutiny. If the Warriors’ 2015 title couldn’t provide a buffer, nothing can. The expectation to win, and win now, is universal — even when it’s not based in reality.
The past is irrelevant. There is only the here and now.
There’s an argument to be made that the untenable pressure that’s long lingered under Wrigley Field has been slowly venting into the atmosphere over the last two years. Two straight postseason appearances and two consecutive trips to the National League Championship Series have helped alleviate some of the mounting tension.
For 100 years, the prospect of a Cubs’ World Series crown seemed a matter of “if.” Now, it feels like a matter of “when.” Maddon and his team have smartly embraced their situation with arms wide open. These aren’t your grandfather’s Cubbies. They aren’t your father’s Cubbies. And they’re not playing in the same climate as those clubs.
They are fearless and care not for the curse. They understand they control their own destiny. All the voices from the outside won’t change that. The realization of a century-old dream would be magical but it won’t be achieved through anything mystical.
The ability to get timely hits, for pitchers to hit spots and for defenders to make key plays will determine if history is made. Taking care of business between the baselines is the task at hand.
The pressure’s on. Then again, it always is.