Simply put: I love this photo. So much.
I’ve been a Cubs fan as long as I can remember. My first memory was a flash of watching Fergie Jenkins on WGN in his twilight at my aunt’s and uncle’s old house in Plano.
I was too young to truly know how devastating Steve Garvey was in 1984. I ate, breathed and slept the 1989 Cubs. I spent most of the 1990s as a complete meatball homer: Harry was a treasure, the evil national media never gave the Cubs a chance, and Ryan Sandberg was the greatest second baseman of all time.
Years pass, you grow older, you supposedly grow wiser, and you learn better. Harry was a cartoon character, the national media owes terrible teams nothing, and Sandberg… is still the greatest second basemen of all time, but may not necessarily be a great guy just because of it.
I remember being really pissed at Steve Bartman for about six hours (five of them were while I was asleep), and then I woke with my anger turned toward Moises Alou, Dusty Baker and the Cubs fandom for what they did to him.
Even in my 30s, I played and sang Eddie Vedder’s rather sanctimonious love song to the Cubs, “All The Way,” throughout the fall of 2008. Mostly because of the last verse.
And when the day comes with that last winning run
And I’m crying and covered in beer
I’ll look to the sky and know I was right
To think someday we’ll go all the way
And then James Loney hit that grand slam in Game 1 of the 2008 NLDS, and the team that won 97 games in the regular season and the optimism of its fans were done. You could hear it the silence as Loney rounded the bases. Series over. Because Cubs. Because goat. Because black cat. Because Steve Garvey.
No matter how far we stray from that true-believing fan we were as kids, no matter how many collapses and “curses,” I still say this verse rings true. Whenever that day comes, Vedder will be proven right.
Damn the goat.
Damn the cat.
Damn Steve Garvey.
Damn the 1989 Giants.
Damn Baker for doing his best to ruin Mark Prior (successfully) and Kerry Wood (not so successfully).
Damn Alou and Alex Gonzalez.
Damn Fox for irrelevantly and relentlessly replaying the Bartman play.
Damn the same snake-bit Cubs mentality.
It will all be over. That will be it. That one moment of joy will surpass the Yankees combined titles or those of the Cardinals or the Dodgers.
Don’t believe me? Look no further than the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks victory parade, celebrating a Stanley Cup champion that only four years earlier was held down by an owner who didn’t want you to watch his team on TV, a team that didn’t want to pay star players, and an atmosphere so bleak, it seemed the Blackhawks would never be good again.
That all changed in the fall of 2007. Mr. Wirtz passed. The Blackhawks hired a strong front office, they had already drafted generational talent (the one perk of being perpetually bad). They signed talented players, hired talented coaches, and carried themselves as professionals.
The Blackhawks came out of nowhere in 2009 to make it deep in the playoffs, and the next year they won the Cup earlier than anyone had the right to expect. Two million people in the street, and perhaps 25 percent of them could identify Eric Daze or Alexei Zhamnov if the players were wearing their sweaters, showing their names, and the fan was given 25 guesses. But the joy of seeing what was very recently thought impossible was undeniable, and it will be the closest measure of how the town will react to a Cubs title that we will see until the moment it actually happens.
Enter Tom Ricketts and the current era of the Chicago Cubs. The team cleared out the old regime, hired arguably the best GM in the league to run baseball operations, razed the entire organization to the ground and built it up right. They drafted what is considered by many to be generational talent (the one perk of being perpetually bad). They hired arguably the best manager in the league.
Don’t be fooled; it took time. While the Cubs were struggling on and off the field to get out from under years of bad contracts, you heard blips about how these kids were doing in the minors. You started to see it coming over the horizon last year when they brought up Alcantra, Soler and Baez.
Now the Cubs are 20-plus games over .500, with one of the five-best records in the league. Out of nowhere, some would say. Teams with this many contributing rookies don’t usually fare this well–you can count on one hand how many times a team like this makes the playoffs. Now the Cubs have the best record since the All-Star break, and they are having so much fun doing it.
Whether it’s the onesie trip, the silly hat rub everyone does when they get a hit, the little bat flips that send a certain sect of Cardinal fans into a rabid frenzy, or reliever Pedro Strop running the last leg of Bryant’s game-winning home run (shown above) against Cleveland a few weeks ago, it’s evident that they are a bunch of talented kids who should not know better on a run no one expected.
The front office spent most of the winter attempting to temper expectations. When team leader and first baseman Anthony Rizzo said the team could win the division, people scoffed, and the team tried to backtrack. Sure, they’re still in third with little chance of winning the division, but it took two equally-gaudy records to keep them there, and it would take a Cubs-like collapse to prevent them from getting a wild card spot.
So here we are. A fan base that has spent most summers since 1945 waiting for the inevitable other shoe to drop is watching a team on the precipice of title contention for the next 5-7 years. Do I expect this team to win three World Series in six years like their skate-clad neighbors? No. But it’s becoming harder and harder to see scenes like the one depicted on the SI cover and dismiss it out of hand with the mentality of imaginary curses, false scapegoats, and bad luck. It’s getting harder and harder to stop myself from singing the last verse of that Eddie Vedder song.
In the end, that is good enough for me. Because let me tell you something about the 2015 Chicago Bears…