Note: I know we're all about college football at TMG. But this Cub thing is bigger than both of us. I'll be needing to ramble on about The Drought from time to time. Thank you for your indulgence.
Clinching the division will mean nothing without taking the steps that follow. Everyone in Chicago knows that.
After 108 years of solitude, and with this marvelous team, Cubs fans will view anything less than a World Series victory as a disappointment.
I understand the sentiment.
I was born into a Cubs family, and have embraced it since Ernie Banks was the shortstop.
But at this point, after more than half a century of waiting till next year, I have a different perspective. Of course, it would be great if they won. But it’s not going to be the same feeling as it would have been 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago.
[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]I will enjoy it, same as I have enjoyed the 2015 and 2016 regular seasons. They have been the most entertaining regular seasons of my Cub-watching career—and that includes up-close views of 1969 and 1984.
But the very real possibility that the Cubs might actually win the World Series brings up a whole spectrum of emotions.
Some people will see an opportunity to drink too much, set off fireworks and maybe even loot.
I already am thinking about the loved ones for whom a Cubs World Series championship will come too late. Especially my dad.
It is a bittersweet thought. Decades of sportswriting have thickened my skin to the unabashed joys of fandom.
Covering the Cubs’ three-game meltdown in San Diego in 1984, I realized the price of sportswriting was rooting. You could certainly enjoy the moment when your team soared to heights. You just couldn’t be all in the same way you would be if you were watching with buddies and beers.
In the San Diego press box, my dear friend and mentor, Sun-Times columnist Ray Sons, gently offered me a giant bottle of antacid tablets.
That was not a solution for me. I chose mind control: I would root for the story, and for athletes I knew, not team colors. It worked great when the Bears won Super Bowl XX. I even have credential No. 1 as a souvenir.
When the Cubs finally do break their drought, I will enjoy it immensely. I will be especially happy for the younger generations of Cubdom, who will be spared the burden of this ridiculous drought that we old-timers have endured.
But I will be sad that it came too late for my dad.
A mild-mannered pharmacist, he took me to Wrigley Field for the first time more than 50 years ago, to see Ernie Banks face Willie Mays. The first time I walked up those steps and saw the understated majesty of Wrigley Field, I was hooked.
I wound up working there for three years to help pay for college, as a vendor and on the ground crew.
To this day, one of the great thrills of my life was a rainy Sunday morning before the Cubs played the Cardinals in a doubleheader.
In those days, ``22,000 tickets went on sale the day of each game.’’ People had waited through the drizzle for hours after arriving early to buy up those 22,000 seats. When the rain finally let up, I went out with the ground crew. As we removed the soggy tarp, the cheers were deafening.
What a moment.
When I worked at Wrigley Field—It was never ``Wrigley’’ in those days. It was either ``Wrigley Field’’ or ``Cubs Park’’—we often would arrive at 7 or 8 a.m., to finish cleaning the park. Then I would sell peanuts or Cokes or hot dogs during the game. By the seventh inning, though, sales would drop off, and we would watch the last few innings from the upper deck, where we would begin our cleaning routine.
And then we would sweep until 7 or 8 p.m., or even 10 p.m. and beyond if there was a doubleheader or extra innings.
What a way for a young Cub fan to spend the summer. What a way to pay for college.
Even then, I was starting to temper my unabashed rooting. i still cherish the moments. . . getting a clean look at Banks’ 500th home run while clutching a tray of Cokes in the lower box seats, near the plate. . . watching from the upper deck with a broom as Ken Holtzman finished his no-hitter, with the sailboats bobbing on Lake Michigan in the distance.
No alcohol or fireworks were needed to enhance those moments.
Wrigley Field was a special place. It still is. It’s had more work done than an aging Hollywood starlet. And it can feel claustrophobic, given the way the marketers have gobbled up every inch of available space with concession stands and extra seating.
But it’s a wonderful throwback—the model for every major-league park built since the White Sox new ballpark, which is arguably the last bad ballpark built in America.
The Cubs have even done an excellent job of incorporating their video boards, which are a welcome addition. Think of all the people who are either gabbing or drinking or texting. Where would they be without larger-than-life replays?
But as the Cubs take on history as well as the best of the best in the major leagues this fall, the replays in my mind will be as vivid the ones on video.
I still remember my dad diving five seats to our right to come up with a batting-practice ball off the bat of the immortal Julio Gotay, a Cardinals infielder. Never mind that he had scraped his elbows. He had a baseball for his sons.
That ball is long gone. But I have another that Dad collared at a Dodgers’ spring training game in Vero Beach, where my parents spent the winter. I just hope 75-year-old Dad didn’t dive for that one.
I thought this drought thing was over in 1969. I was certain it was over in 1984. Up 2-0, needing only one win in three games in San Diego?
What people forget is that there was an umpires’ strike that post-season, and the scab umps were not kind to the Cubs. That’s a rant for another day.
By the morning of Game 5, when we were sitting in the dugout with Jim Frey, the kindly Cub manager’s face was whiter than the baseball.
That day was not going to go well.
And we won’t even talk about 2003, when the Cubs were five outs from the World Series, only to meet their Bartman.
To recap, of course it will be great if the Cubs reach the heights this fall.
But it would have been greater if my dad were around to see it.
NEXT: WHY THIS CUB TEAM HAS THE BEST CHANCE TO ENJOY POST-SEASON SUCCESS SINCE ANDY PAFKO, HANK BOROWY AND THE OTHER HEROES OF '45. . . . AND WHY THAT DOESN'T MATTER, ESPECIALLY ON THE NORTH SIDE OF CHICAGO.[/membership]