Sunday, October 23, 2016

Holy Cow, Harry! Cubs are in the World Series!

No one has ever seen a sign like this before ...
       "Write about the Cubs," a friend suggested in a text message late Saturday night. "Wonderful young team."
     The Cubs? C'mon. They never win. Always the Lovable Losers.
     If you know anything about baseball, if you care, you know it ain't so no more. What a great story the 2016 Chicago Cubs are.
     As we begin this Sunday morning, they are headed for the World Series. If you love baseball -- and I love it as much as anything in athletics -- you know how great this is for the game.
     Two Sundays from now, the Cubs might be World Series champions. If not them, then the Cleveland Indians will be. Again, a great story.
     Let's hear it for Ernie Banks ("Mr. Cub) and Ron Santo. Wish they  were still here to see this. They showed Billy Williams watching Saturday night's National League pennant clincher at Wrigley Field; what a magnificent Cubs player he was.
      Somewhere Ferguson Jenkins must be happy. Ryne Sandberg, too (he was at the ballpark last week). And in heaven (or otherwise), Harry Caray is yelling "Holy Cow!" Jack Brickhouse is saying, "Hey, hey." The longtime Cubs' owners -- Mr. Wrigley, Phil or Bill -- would've liked chewing  on this. 

... Or one like this.
     I am happy today for Mark Finley, Roy Lang III, John Dittrich, Dave Olson and even Cubs fan-turned-Rangers fan Keeli Pointer Garza -- my friends, all those long-suffering Cubbies fans.
     Thinking of the media friends with Chicago ties -- Jeff Rude, Joel Bierig and Phil Rogers, who have written about the Cubs (and White Sox) and tried to remain impartial publicly (but privately probably suffered with them, too).
     You are in the World Series. Your dreams have come true.
     If you know baseball, you know this hasn't happened since 1945, so unless you're older than me, not in our lifetime.
     And the Cubs haven't won the World Series since 1908 -- 108 years. Likely not in anyone's lifetime now that they can remember.
     When you consider that the Cleveland Indians haven't won a World Series since 1948 -- when I was 1 -- there's the other half of the great story. 
     For Cleveland, at least there were three American League championships since then (1954, 1995, 1997), followed by heartbreak in the Series.
     But the Cubs have been Team Heartbreak. Most years since 1945, they were terrible. And when they did come close to winning a division or a National League title -- 1969, 1984, 1989 and 2003 -- fate always dealt them a cruel ending.
     (My favorite Cubs player was Lee Smith, the large relief pitcher from Castor, La. -- he lives in Jamestown, my wife's hometown -- who was the Cubs closer for the first eight years of his MLB career. But even Lee was part of the 1984 heartbreak, giving up a crucial playoff home run.)  
       Only the Boston Red Sox were in the Cubs' league for Heartbreak. But we know -- and some of us try to forget -- that the Red Sox ended their "curse" in 2004, then to rub it in, won the World Series again in 2007 and 2013.
       The Red Sox and Cubs, of course, have this in common -- the oldest, most quaint (and, in my opinion, outdated) ballparks in Major League Baseball. OK, I'll give in: There is such charm about Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. 
       Any real baseball fan has to have made a pilgrimage to those places. Mine came in August 1975. 
       Getting to Wrigley isn't all that easy; it's stuck in the middle of an old North Chicago neighborhood -- "Wrigleyville" where finding parking is as big a challenge as, say, the Cubs winning the World Series.
       Best way to go is to ride the "L" (or is it "el) -- the train that stops right behind the right-field bleachers at Wrigley. We did that one day.
       We saw a Cubs-Cardinals single game, then a doubleheader the next day. Doesn't get much better in baseball rivalries (except maybe Yankees-Red Sox, Dodgers-Giants). St. Louis always has lots of fans at Wrigley, and most years the much better team.
       But not now. These Cubs have been built through crafty scouting, drafting and player development, some big-money free-agent signings (well, it's all big money; this is bigger money), and successful trades.
       It's a team with spectacular young talent, and enough seasoned, accomplished veterans for balance, and a daring, upbeat, new-school type baseball manager in Joe Maddon, who keeps it fun for players, fans and the media.
       This is a Cubs team that could be extremely competitive -- champions, perhaps -- for the near future.
       Even Yankees fans like me are a bit jealous of this young talent and this success. We do know what it takes and how it feels to win the World Series ... often.
       This season's mediocre Yankees, at least, can be credited with aiding both the Cubs and Indians, giving up their top relief pitchers in trade-deadline moves (Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs, Andrew Miller to the Indians). Good luck, guys.
       The Indians, too, have a good young team and deserved the AL championship. Most years they'd be the feel-good story.
       But this year, the Cubs are the sentimental favorites. They won 103 regular-season games -- eight more than any other MLB team -- and seven more in the playoffs ... with four to go.
       It was fun to see Roy Lang III -- The Shreveport Times' sports editor and traveling man in search of good stories and events, and the main Cubs' cheerleader on my Facebook news feed -- count down the number of outs they needed to clinch the pennant Saturday night. I have done a lot of those countdowns for my team.
       Part of Wrigley's charm in 1975, and from 1914 when it opened, was that it did not have lights. Only ballpark in the majors without them; the Cubs were the only team to play all its home games in the day. That changed -- for the better, I guess, in August 1988.
        Wrigley looked beautiful in the overhead TV shots Saturday night, and it was packed, and rocking.

         Roy Lang, of course, was there for this one. He's taken up residence there at Wrigley this October, between stops in Shreveport. Good for him.
        Good for the lovable Cubs and their fans. Wave that white flag with the blue "W" proudly. Soon you might have a World Series championship banner to go with it. The one from 1908 is a bit worn.


  1. From Mark Finley: Good read. Thanks for the mention. "Four more!"

  2. From Peggy Comeaux: I am in Chicago; this city was crazy last night! Still is today.

  3. From Ross Montelbano: Great story. Another Cubs/Red Sox connection is that Theo Epstein built both teams. If he pulls this one off, he's in the Hall of Fame.

  4. From Alan Feinberg: About time you jumped on the Cubs bandwagon.
    My Cubbie creds:
    -- Born and raised (north side) of Chicago;
    -- lived walking distance to Wrigley;
    -- went to many games with less than 5,000 in attendance;
    -- attended 13 consecutive Cubs opening games, often wearing a parka;
    -- Born October 1944, less than a year old for previous World Series appearance by the Cubs.
    Good article.

  5. From Bud Dean: As you know, I am a Cardinals fan, but happy for the Cubs to break the curse. Pulling for the Indians, though.
    We flew into O'Hare a few years ago, went right over Wrigley Field while the Cubs were playing. Wish I had taken a picture, it was at night and a perfect setting.
    The next day, my friend former LHSAA commissioner Tommy Henry had arranged for us to see an afternoon game vs. the Giants, but we had other plans. Barry Bonds hit a pair of homers in a 4-2 Giants victory. Shoulda gone!

  6. From Jim Pruett: Thanks. The old flag is a bit faded.
    BTW, I love to watch Kyle Hendricks pitch. Earlier this season, he pitched against the Cardinals. Even THEN, I told Faye, "I love to watch this guy!" Besides, I pull for the Dodgers about as often as I pull for Notre Dame. 😎 Go Cubs!

  7. From Tommy Henry: When I was with the LHSAA we landed Gatorade as our first major corporate partner -- that was in 1987. With this partnership the LHSAA became the very first state high school association (50, plus DC) to have a national sponsor. That's right! The "backward" state of Louisiana actually led the nation in something!
    This was my first experience with Gatorade, which was a division of Quaker Oats at the time and was located in Chicago. On my first trip to visit Gatorade, their representative treated me to a game at Wrigley Field. It was a day game because at the time they didn't have lights.
    Gatorade had a field-level box right behind home plate. I truly enjoyed my first visit to Wrigley Field (I had several others) and was stunned to learn that they had 34,000 in attendance that day. I asked our rep how could so many people break away from work to attend a 1 p.m. game on a weekday? He laughed and informed me that 8 1/2 million people live in the greater Chicago area ...
    A year or so later I actually attended the very first regulation night game at Wrigley (if you'll remember, the first attempt was rained out.) I forgot who the Cubs played, but I do know they lost that game.
    And of course every time, I heard Harry Caray sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."
    It was always a memorable experience to attend a game at Wrigley -- a real colorful and historic ball park. And you know my love for the game of baseball -- it was always special to me.
    And yes, I became a Cubs fan after that -- why not?!!

  8. From Ike Futch: Great article. Who knows, without my injury in 1966, I would have played at Wrigley Field.

  9. From Sammy Fertitta: Even better would be Indians in 4!

  10. From Tommy Canterbury: Great read, thanks.
    Made one visit to Wrigley, four years ago. May and 45 degrees, and wind made it feel like 35.
    Made one visit to Fenway, fortunate to see Clements throw a one-hitter. Great!
    [Went] Once to old Yankee Stadium 10 years ago.
    But blessed to see my Cardinals often as we have office in St. Louis and my client has season tickets ... the true baseball town.
    Suggest you read John Grisham's "The Painted House" if you haven't. Promise: a '60-year-old baseball fan WILL relate.
    Enjoy this fantastic World Series.