Sunday, October 23, 2016

Karmic kollision

Somewhere this morning in the great celestial man cave, Mike Royko is writing a column, and it's better than this column, better in fact than any column ever written anywhere by anyone about anything.

Somewhere, Harry is pounding a Bud, falling out of the broadcast booth, giving the shout-out of all shout-outs to Myrtle and Merle from Winnetka.

Ernie Banks just yelped "Let's win four (more)!" Ron Santo clicked his heels once, twice, a million times. And the College of Coaches re-convened, looked at each across the table and said, "Nah. Joe's got this."

That would be Joe Maddon, manager of your National League champion Chicago Cubs, and go ahead, say that again just to make it real. The Cubs are going to the World Series for the first time since the boys were coming home from Europe and the Pacific at the end of Big Two, and what a magical thing it is. Bill Murray cried. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra played "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." And somewhere up there, my dear grandmother, the formidable and esteemed Maggie Smith, is cackling as only Maggie Smith could cackle, and asking her sportswriter grandson, "What do you think of my Cubs NOW?"

Well, Grandma ... I think they're about to enter the Twilight Zone of World Series.

This is because it's the Cubs vs. the Cleveland Indians, one a bunch of lovable losers and one just a bunch of losers, and there will be a great disruption in the cosmos. One team hasn't won the World Series since Teddy Roosevelt was president. The other hasn't won one since Harry Truman was. It's the Somebody's Got To Not Lose Series, two ballclubs with the worst karma in baseball doing battle to see whose history of misfortune and calamity will cry uncle the loudest.

You want to know how Rod Serling-esque this deal is?

The Indians, if they win, are going to be viewed as the bad guys by most of America. The Indians. From Cleveland. A franchise so short on lore, their most iconic figure of the last 50 years is a fictional film character named Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn. A city that, until LeBron brought the Cavaliers back from the dead in June, was the undisputed hard-luck capital of America, unadorned by a champion in anything since 1964. A city where everything that could go wrong went wrong in such spectacular fashion, even its very rivers once caught fire.

Not even nature could get it right in Cleveland, it seemed.

Now, though, it's the overdog in this scenario, because not even Cleveland can stand, misfortune-wise, against the Cubs' epic futility. They not only haven't won a World Series in 108 years, they haven't even been to a World Series in 71. Most years, they haven't come close. The other years, something awful and usually stupid happened,.

There was Moises Alou, blaming some poor guy named Steve Bartman for costing him a catch he wouldn't have made anyway. There was Leon Durham letting a baseball roll unmolested through his legs. There was the Great Unraveling of 1969, when a Cubs team that seemed as formidable as this one for much of the summer inexplicably expired in the stretch, allowing  the Amazin' Mets to find their place in World Series lore.

Indians fans, of course, will come back with Jose Mesa, who couldn't hold the 2-1 lead in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series against the Marlins. After which Cubs fans will come back with the NLCS collapses of '84 and '89 and '03.

"Oh, yeah? Well, how about no postseason appearances, four 100-loss seasons and only four winning seasons between 1969 and 1993?" Indians Fan will retort.

"Yeah? Well, how about 18 losing seasons in 20 years between 1947 and 1967?" Cubs Fan will rebut.

And so on, and so on.

Let the Series, and one-downsmanship, begin.


  1. What a great article Ben. One Maggie (my Mom) would love. Yes, "Grandma Smittie" was a great Cubs fan. Having been born in 1903 she could remember the Cubs in 1918. Just too bad she will miss the thrill of seeing her Cubs win another. But,listen for "her cheers."

  2. Wayne Schurr lives in South Milford, 79 years old now. I haven't seen him since we had a talk in Laycoff's back in the late 80s...Wayne was showing his laminated 1964 baseball card to a guy, Chicago Cubs, 1964. He's my second cousin, and a life long Cubs fan and alumni. I hope the Cubs win for him. In 1969 I was 19 and I spent weekends and also a two week solid stretch as a Bleacher Bum. In late August the army dragged me away and I learned of the Cubs crash via Rick Talley articles from Chicago Today, mailed to me from a Chicago friend. In '84, Jim Frey decided to hold Sutcliffe back for game 5. All the Cubs had to do was win one stinking game and they lost three straight after 2 victories. In '89, Zimmer had them cooking again. They faded away. In 2007 the oldeer Cubs had a bunch of fuzzy cheeked Arizona snakes run circles around them...over and over again, just beaten out, year after year. 2016...World Series. And they play Tito's boys, my "hometown cable team", as we get Tribe, Tigers, and Reds here. After all these years, I now can't root for the Cubs against thew Tribe. It's another dilemma, more confusion the Cubs have given me. But, oh it for cousin Wayne! W

    1. Great story. Did you know the Tribe's second baseman, Jason Kipnis, grew up in Northbrook, Ill., as a huge Cubs fan? He said his first thought when the Cubs clinched Saturday was "Why does it have to be the Cubs?" So he knows where you're coming from.

  3. Royko, yes. God, how frustrated he'd get over the inconsistent play of Shawon Dunston. Royko died very young, about 60 as I recall. Just the best.