Can there be any other lessons from the sad and inevitable fall of the 2003 Chicago Cubs? No.
The 95-year jinx that has haunted the Lovable Losers since 1908 has been extended into the new millennium with a sadistic vengeance. Coincidence? Schmoincidence. It's history. Weak relief pitching and a soft bottom of the lineup? Nope, it's a jinx. A self-fulfilling prophecy, a defeatist attitude, low collective esteem? It's the curse, stupid.
"Wrigley Glum," ran the headline on ESPN Wednesday — Black Wednesday — night. That's a massive understatement of the earned despair of fans in Chicago and the Cubbies Diaspora worldwide.
No puppy is more loyal than a Cubs fan. No Bears fan, Red Sox fan and certainly no Yankees fan has hoped against hope like the Cubs fan. There has never been a sports drought like the Curse of the Billy Goat and there has never been a team so shackled by its history. Only the most cold-hearted can fail to sympathize with the Nietzschean agony of the kin of the Cubs, doomed to be repeated in circles throughout history. No American can be untouched.
I am from Chicago but Willie Mays was my first and only hero in life, stolen from my older brother, and so I pull for the San Francisco Giants. The Cubs are my second-favorite team, though that gives me no special standing from which to offer my deepest condolences.
The Cubs fall to the Florida Marlins was an epic, as was their 1969 fall into second place. Cubs fan or not, every boy who grew up in Chicago around that time can recite the starting lineup of the 1969 Cubs: Hundley, Banks, Beckert, Kessinger, Santo, Williams, Hickman and no real third outfielder. Jenkins, Hands, Holtzman and Selma (big drop-off) on the mound. Jack Brickhouse in the booth. It was one of the great crashes of all time.
So is this one.
Having defeated the forces of evil in the modern National League — the Atlanta Braves, the Sunbelt Yankees — the Cubs marched to a 3-1 lead in the series against the Giant-killing Marlins (which I don't even hold against them). Only a statistical and historic fluke could rob the Cubs of a trip to the World Series.
So they drop the fifth game, big deal. The Cubbies had Mark Prior and Kerry Wood set to pitch games six and seven at home, two young studs fairly compared to Koufax and Drysdale, Schilling and Johnson. Prior and Wood hadn't pitched back-to-back losses all year. Until the League Championship Series, that is.
Enter the Curse of Steve Bartman. Up 3-0 in the 8th inning, Prior was lethal. Then the heavens opened and Marlin runs poured down. The deluge almost was prevented when Moises Alou leaped and stretched over the wall for a catchable foul ball. But a fan, a true fan apparently, got in the way. Steve Bartman. Eight runs came in.
The inexorable wheels of a cruel God were turning and everyone knew the Cubs were dead meat. It was confirmed instantly in the first at-bat of the final game. Lead-off man Juan Pierre tripled. Na-na-na-naaa, na-na-na, good-bye. There were a couple moments of doomed hope, then defeat.
In 12 of the last 13 post-season series that went to a seventh game, the home team won. Wrigley Field, apparently, is a chamber of purgatory, not a home.
The Marlins are not evil. But I would maintain, in the words of Wayne and Garth from Aurora, Ill., that they are not worthy. They have tepid fans and the third worst attendance in the league. They have been blessed with two World Series appointments in 11 years on the planet. They have never lost a post-season play-off.
But the Marlins aren't rats. They were abused by their owner after a charmed world title in 1997. They were a great story this year. But this is not a triumph of virtue.
The Red Sox are still alive. The Cubs' curse was a decade old when the Curse of the Bambino began. But Boston has had plenty of post-season glory since then, though eclipsed by the lack of the ultimate win.
But Red Sox fans have the moderated sympathy of Cubs fans, so long as it is respectfully returned. They are, I think, pulling for the BoSox to go all the way.
The family of the Cubs would probably have more pride in their deprivation if they were the last of the big-time losers. Then the Cubs, not winners but martyrs, would carry the burdens of bad karma, unrewarded faith, before the lonely eyes of the baseball nation.
Dick Meyer, the Editorial Director of CBSNews.com, is based in Washington. For many years, he was a political and investigative producer for The CBS News Evening News With Dan Rather.
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Against the Grain
By Dick Meyer