“The only way to prove that you’re a good sport is to lose.” –Chicago Cub Ernie Banks (aka Mr. Sunshine)
“Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s successes or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.” –Cleveland Indian Bob Feller (aka Bullet Bob)
Game 7 of the World Series, the zenith of postseason baseball, starts in just a few short hours. It’s also the first even year since 2010 that the Giants haven’t gotten to the Series, and as many an other-team fan has said to me, “It’s about time someone ELSE had a turn!” Yeah, yeah, I hear you 🙂
San Francisco fans have been living in an every-other-year oasis since 2010, and while I have certainly enjoyed my time there, I really feel for the fans who have been wandering in the desert, who can’t remember what it’s like to taste water. The Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians are parched. The last time the Cubs won a World Series was 1908; the last time for Indians was 1948. Droughts of 108 and 68 years can make a person awfully thirsty.
As far as ball clubs go, no other teams have had droughts as long as these two, with the exception of the Boston Red Sox, who broke their 85-year curse when they won the World Series in 2004. There are 8 teams in baseball who have never won a World Series at all (which includes 4 who have never even BEEN to a World Series.) The oldest of these no-win franchises–the Texas Rangers–have only been a team since 1961, making that 55 years without a title. Before the Giants won in 2010 for the first time in San Francisco, their drought had lasted 56 years. Ironically, the Giants beat the Rangers in 2010, and their last time before that, when they won in 1954 as the New York Giants, they beat the Indians.
But I digress. Back to 2016.
A lot of people have asked me who I’m rooting for, seeing that my favorite team is out of the running and all. To be honest, it’s a tough call; I really like both the teams gracing this year’s series, for different reasons.
My interest in the Cubs (beyond wanting to see a game in historic Wrigley Field) began during a late-night, long distance drive, when I flipped the station to a local public radio music show. As a lover of both baseball and great music, I found myself completely captivated by a brilliant and funny song by folk singer/songwriter Steve Goodman entitled “A Dying Cubs’ Fans Last Request”. Goodman–a Chicago native–had an extensive career, loved the Cubs, and wrote many a song about his hometown, including two about the Cubs (the most famous one being “Go Cubs Go”, which is played in Wrigley Field after every Cubs win). The Cubs may have been baseball’s biggest loser, but Goodman never lost his sense of humor; his version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” included the Cub-altered lyrics: “It’s root, root, root, for the home team, If they don’t win, what else is new.” Sadly, this amazingly talented man died in 1984 from leukemia at the young age of 36. Some of his ashes were scattered in Wrigley Field.
Cubs fans are an interesting breed, having endured bad-luck baseball for so many years, entire generations being born and then dying having never seen their beloved team get that elusive World Series win. You’ve got to hand it to a town and a fan base who can lose for 108 years and still have such a fierce love for their team. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, a native Chicagoan himself, also wrote a lovely little ditty about the Cubs called “All the Way”, in which he describes Cubs fans as “not fair-weather but far-weather.” This is something I have definitely witnessed and admired about Cubs fans. If baseball is like a marriage, they certainly know how to stick around for the worse of “for-better-or-for-worse”. A Dying Cubs’ Fans Last Request so beautifully and amusingly illustrates the angst and loyalty of an old man who has lived his entire life like this, and Goodman’s lyrics so cleverly capture this man’s essence that every time I hear the tune, I feel like I’m stepping into the shoes of a long-suffering Cubs fan. There is a terrific video on YouTube of Goodman playing his guitar and singing the song from one of the rooftops at Wrigley Field. Give it a listen if you’ve never heard it before (the video is a bit grainy, but hey, it was filmed in 1983. The sound is perfect). It’ll be at the top of the search, and it’s so worth a listen.
My fondness for the Indians, our other Series team, is due to a combination of friends and film. Granted, the city of Cleveland hasn’t suffered a baseball drought as long as Chicago’s. It has endured plenty of hardship in its own unique ways however, one of which was illustrated in yet another song by another brilliant singer/songwriter, Randy Newman. The song is played in its entirety during the opening credits of the 1989 film that gave me such a soft spot for the Cleveland Indians, “Major League.” Who couldn’t have a soft spot for the underdog Indians after seeing this movie, which includes one of Charlie Sheen’s best roles before he turned into… well, Charlie Sheen. If you love baseball, like comedies, and haven’t seen it yet, you’re really missing out.
Back to the music. The song I speak of, “Burn On”, is a reference to the time in 1969 when Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River was actually so polluted that it caught on fire. That’s right, a river caught on fire. Sparks from a passing train were enough to ignite a blaze in oil-soaked debris floating on the water’s surface. And that wasn’t even the first fire. The river–so saturated with sewage and industrial waste—had caught fire a dozen times before. The upside of it all was that the flaming Cuyahoga became an example, and sparked (no pun intended) public awareness of the mistreatment of the nation’s waterways, leading to the passage of the Clean Water Act. Your history lesson for the day 🙂
Cleveland’s drought has been 40 years shorter than that of Chicago, but 68 years is still a pretty damn long time. I may not have lived in Cleveland, but I did have two native Clevelanders as housemates for a few years. Having spent 75 percent of their lives in Ohio, I got quite the lesson in the town’s sports history and culture from them. They became two of my favorite people in the world, and like family to me, and let me tell you, they feel the drought strongly too. Cleveland fans carry a sense of impending doom, always waiting for the other shoe to drop when it comes to baseball, having had so many tastes of victory ripped out from under them at the last minute (i.e. Jose Mesa’s blown save in a previous Series Game 7). When you love two people as much as I love my friends, you want to see them happy, and being big sports fans, nothing would make them happier than seeing the Indians win. Then again, they did get a Cavaliers win last year… but this is baseball we’re talking here 🙂
The Indians also strike me as more of the underdogs in this year’s Series, despite the Cubs longer drought history. Their team’s payroll is astonishingly low for an MLB team, half that of the Cubs’. Some of the stories of the guys in the ballclub are incredibly touching, especially pitcher Josh Tomlin’s. In mid-August, Tomlin received word that his dad had fallen severely ill, having suffered from a rare condition that required emergency surgery. He became paralyzed from the chest down, but massive efforts were made to make sure he got to one of the World Series games to see his son. Seeing his Dad in the stands, especially after losing my own, was a real tearjerker. Tomlin has been quoted as saying, “My mom and my dad have instilled a positive attitude in me my entire life, they are both very positive people, they are hard-working people, they’ve tried to earn everything they got. When this happened it wasn’t, ‘Woe is me.’ It was, ‘This is the hand I was dealt. I have to deal with it.” It’s hard to not root for a great guy like that. But one of the things to love about baseball, and life, is that everyone has a story–whether you’re an Indian or a Cub.
I have no idea who is going to win, but some lucky and long-suffering city is going to be very happy in a few hours. I’m already feeling the pain of whichever many-year drought team leaves with the loss. Whoever the winner is though, I will be thrilled for that team and their fans; they’ve earned it.
May the best team win!