Tuesday, October 14, 2003. Pearl Harbor day for the shinguard set. An inning that will live in infamy. Surely only divine intervention could have kept the Cubs from leaving Wrigley Field with a win that night. Game Six. An eighth inning lead. Ace Mark Prior on the hill. A routine pop fly down the left field line. It drifts toward the stands, but Alou can clearly get to it. Moises reaches up to squeeze it, and... the sheetrock repair business picks up all over Chicagoland.
Yep, that was an eight run inning for the Fish. How is that possible? And that's only the most recent example. You know the drill.
I know you haven't forgotten 1984. Slow roller to Leon Durham. This could be it. BUT NOOOOOO!!!!! They had the lead for crying out loud. Making matters worse, Steve Garvey, Mr. Clean Cut America gets the game winning knock. Definitely not a Chicago kind of guy, at least not until all the paternity suits. Face it. The Chicago Cubs are Mama Cass and the post season is their ham sandwich.
Five years later, the lovable Cubbies were back in the League Championship Series again. You got to love that. It's becoming a bloody habit, it is. And so was blowing a lead in the playoffs. Clearly ignoring the best interests of baseball, the Giants went to the 1989 Series. I don't think it takes a genius to recognize that the threat of earthquake is slightly lower in the City of Big Shoulders. October just isn't the season for a quake on the lake.
And then there are the times they even coughed up a sure-fire trip to the playoffs. Two thousand four was only the last time a talented Cubs team forgot how to tie their shoes in the closing weeks of a successful season. Is this an inescapable pattern? Of course it is.
Take that famous swan dive in 1969 for example. If Don Young doesn't fail to catch two fly balls in a big July series causing Ron Santo to criticize him publicly, thus destroying any semblance of team harmony that was still left after putting up with Leo Durocher gallivanting around with his new wife on game days, the Cubs go to the NLCS in 1969, right? Naturally they win it, who couldn't have beaten the Braves? Filled with that championship attitude, the team goes back for the pennant the next year. And with all those annual trips to the World Series, it's inevitable that they win it once or twice. I mean even a blind pig beats the Orioles eventually. So it's only reasonable to assume that a blown fly ball is all that kept the Cubs from being the baseball dynasty of the 70's, and separated Cub fans from good mental health and self esteem.
It's a legacy that is older than we are. Let's not forget what team taunted Babe Ruth into hitting his famous called shot home run. Or what long established organization holds the distinction of finishing behind a first year expansion franchise. And remember Joe Garagiola telling Johnny Carson those supposedly amusing anecdotes about the dismal 1951 Pirates? Guess who finished behind them.
Maybe it's the Mets, Padres, Marlins or Cardinals. Perhaps Fate, Kismet, or Holy Providence. The point to remember is that there is always something greater and more powerful. Something just itching to crush the Cub fan like Star Jones sitting on a styrofoam cooler.
How many beers have been consumed across the Midwest during conversations that included the phrase "you know, what the Cubbies need to do is..." ? Millions, that's how many. And how many of them just fueled idle barroom chatter? All of them! (with the possible exception of those beers that came out of Phil Wrigley's Igloo.)
Until you, the fans, become the proud owners of the Chicago Cubs, you are nothing more than the Tribune Company's frustrated prisoners. You're locked in Cub fan jail with the proverbial 300 pound cellmate named Otto, and he just called you "girlfriend".
Let me clearly say that one owner is really no different than another. Why? Because they hire general managers. Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio! Show me the guy who engineered this deal, and I'll show you the guy who thought wife swapping with Jim Bakker was a good idea. Even if you don't realize what you're giving up, you still come home with Tammy Faye. Forgive me Ernie.
There's plenty more. Thank God we picked up Ralph Kiner the year after he ended seven consecutive seasons as the league leader in home runs. Dizzy Dean just when he got down to the single digit win years. Lou Burdette at 39. Yes, the Cubs have always been a good judge of just how much a player has left. Greg Maddux, way too old, not worth the money, never duplicate that Cy Young year. But hey, we got him back in time to add him to the dream rotation that led us to um, third place in the Central. I'm sure that nobody will remember Maddux as a Brave instead of an Cub. Jay Howell for Pat Tabler. Ron Perranoski for two years worth of Don Zimmer,... as a player. Then there was that young centerfielder from the Pacific Coast League that just didn't have what it takes to make the Cubs. He had a hurt knee. No thanks, we don't even want him on a trial basis. What was his name? Right, Joe DiMaggio.
And if it's not the bosses, it's the bosses' bosses. Think about it, even if your brain knew that it would never happen, your stomach did get a little bit queasy when the league office said that unless Wrigley Field got lights, all Cubs home playoff games would be played in ...St. Louis. Sure parking's a little easier, but what el stop is that? How helpless did you feel when you heard that Ryne Sandberg was retiring, even temporarily? Spend more time with the family? What is that? I fail to get the connection with baseball. Did anyone ask if you'd been a fan since you were six and had never even met Sandberg's kids?
And just in case things do accidentally come together someday. There's bound to be another prolonged strike. Picture it: the Cubbies have an infield like '68 and one of those pitching staffs that has four 20 game winners and will someday be the answer to a trivia question. Just for good measure, the rest of the National League comes down with mononeucleosis in mid August. You can't wait to read the standings every morning. Then the owners decide to head off trouble in next year's contract renewal. Can you say lockout? Can you say homicidal?
Yep. It's out of our control. The bottom line is that our sports well being is at the mercy of corporations, labor unions, and various other greed mongers who want to know how much winning is gonna cost. If you're expecting these guys to quit nickel and diming the Cubs to death, you've probably also been checking your mailbox for that IRS letter admitting a mistake in your favor.