I was raised in Connecticut, a state without any professional teams. So when I first started playing baseball, my favorite team became the first team I played for, which so happened to be the Philadelphia Phillies. Which was troublesome because the Phillies in the early and mid 2000s were as talented as the five and six year olds I played with. But then 2008 came along. Philadelphia was a team filled with players they had drafted and developed into bunding stars. In the postseason that year, the Phillies had the 2nd best record in the National League, behind only the 97 win Cubs.
Chicago would play the LA Dodgers in the first round as Philadelphia played the Milwaukee Brewers. All I was thinking was, “Okay, get past Milwaukee and prepare for a tough, seven game series against the Cubs.” The Phillies did get past the Brewers, while the first place, best record, favorites to win it all Cubs, got swept against a Dodger team that had the worst record of any team that postseason. That season marked a full century since the last Cubs World Series Championship.
When Spring Training began this February more than nine months ago, the favorites to win the World Series were the Chicago Cubs. 2015 saw the very youthful team seemingly skip multiple steps and learning curbs and became a championship caliber team that could win postseason series. With another year under their belt, the young core of Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Addison Russell, where on the cusp of entering the best years of their young careers. Players such as Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arrieta were already seasoned veterans whose youth had still not faded away.
During the off-season, Team President Theo Epstein (who, seemingly at this point, is in fact the modern day human personification of legendary King Midas) was able to ink Gold Glove winner, Jason Heyward to a massive contract, sign baseball’s swiss army knife Ben Zobrist to a four year deal, and was able to take a one year flyer on All-Star Dexter Fowler. With Joe Madden at the helm, on paper, this might have been the best Chicago team the city has ever seen.
And they proved it on the field. Arrieta looked unhittable during the first half of the season. Kris Bryant looked at every pitch he saw as hittable. Even after losing Schwarber in the first week of the year with a torn ACL, Chicago’s offense was comedic with how many players could hurt any opponent. The best way to describe Chicago’s offensive depth would be the scene in “Deadpool” when he fills up a duffel bag with machine guns and rounds of ammunition, promptly forgets about them in his taxi, then still kills everyone with two katanas. In this metaphor, Bryant and Rizzo are the katanas.
So, with the best offense in the game and last year’s best pitcher who threw a no-hitter less than a month into the year, how do you make your team more dominate? Add the game’s top closer in Aroldis Chapman who throws faster than the top speed on most cars.
Look, the Cubs were hands down the best team. They won over 100 games. Beat the three-times World Champion San Francisco Giants and talented Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Playoffs. Even down 3-1 to Cleveland, the team threw out to pitch in the final three games, a Cy Young winner, a two time World Series winner in Jon Lester, and the NL’s E.R.A champion in Kyle Hendricks. Oh yeah, they found this guy name Kyle Hendricks this year who’s really good, because why not give more to the one percent. From any analytical, statistical, eye test, ouija board, the Cubs were the best team with the best players. But that’s been the story many times before.
They had the best team with the best players in the 1960s, with four Hall of Famers on their roster in Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and Fergie Jenkins. And lost. They had the best team in the mid 1980s, with Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Ron Cey, Andre Dawson, and Rick Sutcliffe. And lost. They had the best team in the 2000s with Sammy Sosa, Alex Gonzalez, Mark Prior, and Kerry Wood. And lost. The Cubs aren’t the Cleveland Browns, a franchise that has wallowed in mediocrity for decades with only an occasional blimp of year long hope to be snuffed out by a better team or better player. The Cubs are the team that normally finds themselves with teams filled with talented, sometimes legendary, players that seem to lose. And that hurts more than anything as a fan: Watching your team be so great all season, just to see that washed away in the most important moments of the season; like having a great dinner, movie date night just to walk out the theater to see a bright orange ticket on your car.
And in game seven, with the questionable pitching changes, Cleveland tying the game with only four outs to go, and over a century of disappointment and heartbreak in every Chicagoans mind, for a team of players whose grandparents weren’t alive to read, not listen or watch, but read in the newspaper about the 1908 World Series, is amazing when you sit down and think about it. Maybe this will be a one time champion or maybe we are at the beginning of a new dynasty in baseball, but fans of the team have enough joy in their hearts right now to last them until the 22nd century.