Baseball is a humbling sport. It is a game of failure and frustration that can be mentally debilitating. Only in baseball are the best offensive players successful 30% of the time. Only in baseball do the best players go through stretches of their job where they perform terribly; where it’s common to have a bad month or two at work.
I was skeptical of the 2016 Chicago Cubs. While they won 103 regular season games and were the best team in baseball, they were never really challenged. They ran away with the division and made it look easy. Aside from struggling before the All-Star break—playing 43 games in 45 days contributed to that—there was not much adversity. Yes, Kyle Schwarber blew out his knee in the first week, but the Cubs managed to do just fine without him. Their roster was deep enough to cover Schwarber’s absence (which is a huge credit to their caliber of player).
What would happen in October? What would happen against the National League’s best, when everyone’s butthole gets a little tighter? Could they maintain their dominant ways? Could they handle the pressure? Regular season records are meaningless in the Postseason. The Carolina Panthers had the NFL’s best record and lost the Super Bowl. The Golden State Warriors had the best record in NBA history and lost in the Finals. The best team is replaced by the team playing the best—which makes it so exciting to watch. The Cubs were the best team in baseball, but could they maintain their dominance under the October lights?
I thought the San Francisco Giants would give the Cubs the most trouble. The Giants, winners of the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014, are still built to win now. Cubs won the series, 3-1. I thought the Los Angeles Dodgers had a chance up 2-1. Cubs won the series 4-2. The Cubs found ways to win and different players stepped up to carry the team. A home run by Jake Arrietta off Madison Bumgardner. (Pitcher on pitcher crime!) Great defense by Javy Baez. A game-tying home run by David Ross. A pinch-hit, 0-2 grand slam by Miguel Montero. Kyle Hendricks outdueling Clayton Kershaw. This was a team, that when their superstars were struggling, had their teammates pick them up.
Enter the American League champion Cleveland Indians. They steamrolled the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, and if any city is as championship-starved as Chicago, it’s Cleveland. But, with UFC heavyweight champ (and Cleveland resident) Stipe Miocic winning the title earlier in the spring, and the Cleveland Cavaliers coming back from a 3-1 deficit to be NBA champs this summer, was it possible the sports gods were perched above Cleveland in 2016? Were cosmic forces once again rallying against the Cubs? Could Chief Wahoo finally win a World Series?
We know what happened. In what was equivalent to a 7-round heavyweight title fight, the Indians took rounds 1, 3, and 4 while the Cubs took rounds 2, 5, and 6; setting up what would be an epic Game 7. The Cubs took an early lead; the Indians answered right back. The Cubs added on; the Indians stayed within striking distance. Although the Cubs hung onto the lead in the late innings, there was a feeling that anything could still happen. In the bottom of the 8th, Rajai Davis hit a 2-out, 2-run home run to tie the game and ignite the Cleveland crowd. It also ripped the hearts out of Cubs fans.
Momentum shifted to the Indians. The Cubs were done. Aroldis Chapmann and Addison Russell were crying. While the game was still tied, it was a forgone conclusion that Cleveland would win. 108 years of heart-wrenching memories came flooding back to the real Cubs fans. This is how Cubs baseball is traditionally played: they find ways to lose. In 1969 the Cubs blew a big September lead and watched the Amazing Mets take the NL East. In 1984, the Cubs saw a 2-0 NLCS lead over the Padres evaporate. In the 1989 NLCS, they were steamrolled by the Giants. In the 1998 NLDS, they were swept by the Braves. In 2003, after beating the Braves in the NLDS, they were up 3-1 over the Marlins and 5 outs away from the World Series. We all know what happened. In the 2007 NLDS, they were swept by the Diamondbacks. In the 2008 NLDS, they were swept by the Dodgers. In 2015, after beating the rival Pirates and Cardinals, they were swept by the Mets in the NLCS.
Billy goat curses. Black cats. Bartman. Wait Until Next Year. It’s Gonna Happen. In Dusty We Trusty. Lovable Losers. The Cubs have been the laughingstock of baseball for 108 years, and there was every reason to believe it would extend to 109. But, this is not your great-great grandfather’s Cubs team. This is a team of fighters. Both Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo—team leaders to say the least—are cancer survivors. If two Cubs can beat cancer, then a team of Cubs can weather the stress of a Cleveland comeback.
Somehow, the baseball gods forced a 17-minute rain delay, as if to say, “HEY! Get your fucking shit together!” So, Jason Heyward called an impromptu team meeting—earning his paycheck and free Chicago meals for life—and they did get their shit together. The Cubs won Game 7 and are World Series champions.
This is bigger than baseball. This is about achieving what was once thought to be unachievable; about giving hope to the hopeless; about rewarding the loyal. It is the single biggest event Chicago has ever seen and we should all be proud to have witnessed it. Thank you, Cubs, for reminding the sports world that Chicago is a city of champions. It happened.