Monday, July 03, 2017

Still Living the Dream Come True: The World Champion Chicago Cubs Are Mired in Mediocrity...and I Feel Fine

The 2017 major league baseball season is now more than halfway over and the Chicago Cubs have a record of 41-41. Eleven other teams have more wins--the Houston Astros are tops with 56--and 6 more are roughly equivalent.

This is a far cry from 2016 when the Cubs went 103-58--with 8 more wins than any other team despite one unplayed game--dominated the entire season and, oh yeah, won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

Fortunately, the Cubs are in the rather lousy NL Central division, and if they can just play a bit better in the second half there's still a good possibility they can again make the playoffs.

But they almost certainly won't win 100 games, as I predicted along with another World Series title, which is certainly looking like a longshot.

I obviously want the Cubs to play better; I inherently want them to win every game. To date their 2017 season can fairly be called a vast disappointment.

Criticism and bemoaning isn't unwarranted. 

But the truth is, compared to many others--a few friends but more so the press and those griping on social media--I'm really not feeling much, if any, Cubs consternation.

Just the other day, Tribune baseball writer Paul Sullivan--my favorite in the city--wrote a column headlined:

For Cubs, this has become the year of uber-angst

In the article, Sullivan writes:

Remember when you told yourself you didn't care what the Cubs did as long as they won it all just once in your life? 

Admit it: you lied. 

You still care deeply, maybe even more now that things aren't going their way.

I trust this is how he feels, and presumably others as well, but without implying that I don't care, I really don't care all that much. At least not enough to get all worked up and angry, perplexed and agitated, when I still have a happy hangover from what happened just 8 months ago yesterday.

For, besides matters affecting the health and well-being of myself, family, friends and pretty much everyone, the thing I most hoped would happen in my lifetime, did.

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.

As you already know, this had not happened since 1908--the longest championship drought in the history of major American sports leagues.

A lot of diehard Cubs fans have lived long--and hopefully otherwise fulfilling--lives without ever getting to see their favorite team hoist a championship trophy.

Already statistically improbable that it would take so long, it didn't seem impossible that this dream would never come true.

Yes, after the Cubs made it to baseball's semi-finals in 2015, I publicly predicted they would win it all in 2016. And it was certainly a 6-month delight to watch them roll through the regular season as clearly the best team in baseball with a roster full of likable guys and a cool manager.

The postseason was certainly more nerve-racking than one may have hoped. Only a miraculous 9th inning comeback  in Game 4 of the NLDS prevented a gut-wrenching 5th game against a great Giants pitcher, the Cubs were down 2 games to 1 against the Dodgers in the NLCS and looked downright lackluster, and in the World Series the Indians led 3 games to 1.

Even in forcing and leading game seven, well, Rajai Fucking Davis.

All of which made the whole thing feel more historically Cub-like, and their prevailing that much sweeter.

That I was able to go to two playoff games and three World Series games--in both Cleveland and Chicago--before watching the clincher at home with my mom and sister further amplified just how amazing 2016 was.

And believe me I celebrated.

Initially with champagne poured on my head, but also in attending the Cubs' victory parade, going to get a picture with the World Series trophy in subarctic weather and buying & displaying a bunch of stuff documenting that the Cubs are finally World Series champions (t-shirts, caps, pennants and myriad other collectibles).

This is actually still going on with occasional purchases, promotional giveaways at some games this season--a replica trophy, a snow globe depicting confetti at the parade--regularly wearing Champions garb and even having stood in line to meet David Ross at a book signing.

So my high from the night of November 2, 2016 has really yet to dissipate.

While recently in Washington to play the Nationals, the Cubs themselves continued to look back, with glee, by visiting President Trump at the White House.

I don't know why this was necessary as the Cubs had already celebrated with President Obama in January, but I'm clearly not the only one continuing to revel in a remarkable accomplishment...that may not be repeated this year.

Again, on paper, the Cubs seemed like they should be the best team in baseball this season, with a core group of great young players now that much more experienced, especially in October and November.

But baseball isn't played on paper.

And while the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants have all won multiple World Series titles in the 21st Century, none has done so in consecutive seasons (with the caveat that the Yankees' 2000 ring was their third in a row).

I'll never forget being at old Yankee Stadium on Father's Day 2000, when--during a game the White Sox would win 17-4, dropping his second place team to 34-28--a Yankees fans exhorted to me, "Can you imagine anything worse than this?"

To which I either replied, or simply thought, "Yeah, try being a Cubs fan."

The next night I saw the Yankees beat the Red Sox 22-1 at Fenway and, though they'd only win 87 regular-season games, they went on to win their 4th title in 5 years.

After winning in 2008 and boasting one of the best pitching staffs in baseball history, the Philadelphia Phillies seemed poised to win several more rings, but while they managed to reach (and lose) the World Series the next year, they haven't been back since.

Joe Maddon's Tampa Bay Rays lost to the Phillies in 2008 and looked to be a good bet to soon win it all, but never made the Series again.

The Washington Nationals have now been a powerhouse 6 years running, but have yet to make it past a Division Series and in being common favorites to win it all heading into the 2015 season, didn't even make the playoffs.

And though I'm a diehard Cubs fan, I'm also unabashedly a White Sox fan who was delighted when they won the first Chicago World Series of my lifetime in 2005.

The Sox played well in 2006, much better than the Cubs so far this year, but their 90-72 record failed to get them into the playoffs. And despite another playoff appearance in 2008, they haven't really come close to earning another ring.

Reaching beyond baseball, us Chicago Bears fans didn't figure the 1985 season would be the only one to result in a Super Bowl Shuffle to the Lombardi Trophy.

But that's how sports works. (For the few readers who'll understand the reference, I'll also say "Leicester City.")

It doesn't mean I'm not rooting for the Cubs. I'm following every game, attending a few--including tomorrow--and just waiting for them to finally get hot.

If they do, somehow, manage to win the World Series again this November, I'll be extraordinarily ecstatic, perhaps more so because it didn't come easily (not that last year's did).

I certainly believe that with the players, managers, management and resources they have, the Cubs should win another title, relatively soon, and I will be somewhat vexed if this doesn't happen.

But for now, I'm OK. I'm keeping things in perspective and know that I can't really complain.

Or, to paraphrase R.E.M., 2016 was the end of the world as Cubs fans know it, and--though 2017 has been disappointing--I feel fine.

And this won't ever not make me smile...

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