The Chicago Cubs are World Series champions.
That will remain one of the strangest sentences you’ll see for a few days, maybe weeks. After a century and change, the curses, the failures, long days in August after the summer was already out of reach, the promises, the scapegoats and actual goats, the Cubs failure was just something we’d all just come to expect. It was just the way it was. That was natural. Cubs fan or not, you could set your watch to the team’s season ending and the approach of autumn. You got used to it, it was the natural order of things.
Last night in Cleveland, in what was no doubt one of the most thrilling games in World Series history, the Cubs upset that natural order. They changed everything by coming back from being three games down to their opponents, and they did it in extra innings after yieldings leads when it looked like they were cruising. The Cubs came back in the series, but the Indians came back in the game that mattered. The Rajai Davis two-run homer, maybe the lowest moment any Cubs fan has ever felt in a lifetime filled with low moments brought on by simply loving a team, was eventually erased by Ben Zobrist in the tenth. It took extra innings, the only way it could happen, really.
So now everything has changed. Cubs fans, if they slept at all, went to sleep thinking something along the lines of “You will wake up to find that your whole life has changed,” like Jarvis Cocker of Pulp sings in “The Day After the Revolution.” There were countless tweets after the team got to the World Series about how somebody wished some loved one could be here to see this, how they grew up in some town thousands of miles away from Chicago but loved the Cubs because they grew up in the Eighties listening to Harry Caray and Steve Stone call games when WGN brought the team into countless households all over the country. All the heartbreak, all the strange occurrences, all the ghosts, they can all be put to rest. Blame can stop being misplaced.
Steve Bartman can finally go home.
But there’s something else. There’s something in this year when everything in America looks and feels upside down that baseball’s “lovable losers” would stop being that. It’s almost like this could only have happened in 2016, just a few days before the majority of country will go to the polls to elect a new president after a campaign season that has felt nearly as long and painful to endure as the Cubs’ years in the wilderness. The Cubs winning could seem like it fits into the national narrative that we’ve gone through the looking glass – but it’s not. It’s a very real moment, a very good one. It’s a little respite when we needed it most and a reminder that great things can happen no matter how low things go. The other team can come back when it feels like you’ve got things wrapped up, but you stay strong and can ultimately win. It’s baseball. It’s supposed to be great like it was last night.
OK. Enough with the bigger picture and taking little philosophical tidbits from a sports victory. The Chicago Cubs are champions. What happens next? Sure, by losing the Indians inherited the record for the longest streak without a World Series championship. Obviously it wasn’t from lack of trying, as the team threw everything they had at the Cubs. Manager Terry Francona went into the series with a plan to use their three starters on limited rest, hope they could get a lead and then bring out reliever Andrew Miller. In any other year, the Indians would be champions. Next year, they very well could be. Although the “Wait till next year” belonged pretty much to the team that beat them, now the narrative shifts to when the Cleveland Indians will finally take it home.
And what about the Cubs? Let’s face it: Losing was sort of their thing. The fans still showed up to the park to drink beer and eat hot dogs, sort of accepting the life they’d been born into long ago. When you’re born a Cubs fan, you learn pretty quickly that losing is something your great-grandparents, grandparents and parents possibly all endured. Doomed from birth. Yet now there are kids whose earliest memories will forever be Anthony Rizzo saying he’s a “glass case of emotion” or David Ross hitting a very important home run in his last MLB game. They’ll also remember Kyle Schwarber’s comeback at the start of the series; Addison Russell’s grand slam in Game 6; and the names Kris Bryant, Jon Lester, Dexter Fowler and Javier Báez will remain ones they’ll remember for the rest of their lives because they will grow up in a world where the Cubs aren’t losers anymore.
So where do we go from here? The Chicago Cubs erased all that pain. They rewrote the entire script in a totally Hollywood way. This season will no doubt be a movie; plays may be written about it, books galore will be churned out. It will be talked about for decades to come in Chicago the way the championships won by the Bears in 1985, the Bulls dynasty years, the White Sox ending their own drought in 2005 and the Blackhawks picking up the Stanley Cup three times since 2009. An entire city is in love with the Cubs (save for a few Sox fans on the South Side, which is fair), but the World Series win takes them beyond Wrigleyville and puts them square in the spot of America’s team.
That’s not hyperbole. The Cubs, with Bill Murray and Eddie Vedder singing “Take Me out to the Ballgame” where Harry Caray used to do it; Rizzo, Baez and Schwarber becoming the little brothers everybody could want; Bryant’s MVP season; manager Joe Maddon as a cross between a guru, a fun uncle and a baseball genius; Theo Epstein ending the droughts in both Boston and now Chicago; and just the way they did it. Yesterday, the Chicago Cubs were the team you knew were going to blow it. Today they’re the team that did the opposite of just that. And for that, they’ve become the epitome of what makes sports – specifically the sport they play, America’s pastime – so great.