If you are a fan of any sports team, you probably have your share of sad memories and hard-luck stories. But the chances are, you have nothing on the fans of the Chicago Cubs1. What's so upsetting about the years 1908, 1945, 1969, and 1984? Why does mention of 9 December, 1992, cause so much pain? Who could possibly be bothered by the mention of a billy goat or a forgettable James Belushi movie? Come find out through the eyes of a lifelong, true blue, die-hard Chicago Cubs fan.
Who Are The Cubs?
The Cubs are a major league baseball team located in Chicago, Illinois, USA. They were formed in 1870 as the Chicago White Stockings and, a while later in 1876, they were one of eight original teams to join the National League. In 1907 they were renamed as the Chicago Cubs, and in 1916 moved into Wrigley Field, their famous ballpark. They have had numerous stars over the years, from major league runs-batted-in leader Hack Wilson, to Mr Cub Ernie Banks, to current home run king Sammy Sosa.
But the Chicago Cubs have always been associated with failures rather than successes. Their loyal yet masochistic fans are forced to forgive them on a daily basis. What causes otherwise ordinary human beings to endure so much torture? Here are several examples:
The true measure of greatness in sport is how many championships a team wins. Another measure of success, especially with American sport, is how often a team advances to the playoffs. In the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, almost every team makes the playoffs. But in Major League Baseball only eight teams advance to the playoffs and, prior to 1995, only four teams advanced. Naturally, the Cubs have a long history of failing to make the playoffs.
The Cubs were very successful in their early years. Between 1906 and 1945 they reached the World Series (the baseball championship) ten times. But Chicago fans have suffered a lot since the early 1900s. In 1908, the Cubs won the World Series. They haven't won one since.
That's right, it has been 90 years and counting since the Cubs won a championship. But it gets worse. The Cubs haven't been to the World Series since 1945, and in fact, they haven't even won a playoff series since 1945. Adding to the misery, the Cubs failed to make the playoffs between 1945 and 1984, a string of nearly 40 years. The Cubs have managed to earn playoff berths in 1984, 1989, and 1998, but still haven't won a playoff round in over 50 years.
The Billy Goat Hex
The Billy Goat Tavern is a Chicago restaurant and bar that has been around since the 1930s. In 1945, the original owner tried to bring his pet goat to a World Series game between the Cubs and the Detroit Tigers. According to legend, when he was denied admission to the game, the tavern owner put a hex on the Cubs. He vowed that the Cubs would never win a championship until the goat was allowed in the ballpark. As mentioned previously, the Cubs haven't played in the World Series since.
In 1983, a descendant of the goat was invited to a regular season game. The Cubs failed to make the playoffs that year, but the following year they made the playoffs for the first time since the hex was put on the team. Despite this, the Cubs still haven't won a championship and the hex has never been fully lifted.
The Collapse of 1969
In 1969, 24 years after their last playoff appearance, the Cubs appeared ready to end their playoff drought. On 13 August, with a little more than a month and a half to go in the regular season, the Cubs held a 9-1/2 game lead over the New York Mets. Two short weeks later, the lead was down to two games. Rather than regroup and fight back, the Cubs continued to lose, dropping eight in a row in September while the Mets won ten in a row. The Cubs finished eight games out of first place, and the playoffs eluded them once again. It was one of the worst collapses in baseball history.
The False Hope of 1984
After nearly 40 long years, the Chicago Cubs finally broke through in 1984. Led by National League Most Valuable Player, Ryne Sandberg, the Cubs advanced to the playoffs against the San Diego Padres. For long-suffering fans, this was the season they had been waiting for. Even at the age of ten, fans clearly remember what an exciting time this was. But the excitement didn't last long.
The Cubs and Padres played a 'best of five' series to determine who would advance to the World Series. The Cubs won the first two games in Chicago, and needed just one win out of three games in San Diego to make it to the championship round. This was finally going to be the year. The Cubs were just too good to lose three straight games. But that's exactly what happened. Three heartbreaking games later, the Padres were headed for the World Series, and the Cubs were once again headed nowhere.
The Greg Maddux Fiasco
The Cy Young Award is an annual award given to the best pitcher in the American and National leagues. The first Cy Young was awarded in 1956, and the Cubs have had only four Cy Young winners in over 40 years. Ferguson Jenkins won the Cy Young Award in 1971, Bruce Sutter won in 1979 and Rick Sutcliffe won the award during the magical season of 1984. But in 1992 the Cubs proved that they can screw things up no matter how good their players are.
Greg Maddux had a great season in 1992, winning the Cy Young Award and proving that he was a pitcher who could lead the Cubs to greatness in the years to come. But Maddux's contract was up at the end of 1992 and if the Cubs failed to re-sign him, every team in baseball would be pounding on his door offering him a contract. The Cubs decided not to sign Maddux and on 9 December, 1992, Greg Maddux joined the Atlanta Braves. Naturally, Maddux won the Cy Young Award the next three years in a row, something that no pitcher had ever done before. As always, the experience left Cub fans shaking their heads and wondering what could have been.
Incidentally, in 1995 Greg Maddux helped the Atlanta Braves win the World Series, yet again reminding Cub fans that 1908 was a long, long time ago.
Taking Care of Business
In 1991, James Belushi and Charles Grodin starred in a fairly unremarkable comedy entitled Taking Care of Business. In the film, James Belushi plays Jimmy Dworski, a convict who is going to be released from prison in two days. Jimmy wins tickets to the World Series by calling a radio show, but he won't be released from prison until after the game is played. More importantly, the World Series game features the Chicago Cubs and Jimmy is the team's biggest fan. Jimmy does what any true Cub fan would do in his situation: he breaks out of prison and goes to see the game.
The movie only slightly exaggerates how desperate Cubs fans are to see their team win a championship. The movie had some funny moments, but a large percentage of people who saw this movie did so just to see the Cubs in the World Series. Cub fans also got to see longtime first baseman Mark Grace make his acting debut, hitting a home run in the World Series. Clearly, Taking Care of Business is one of the most unrealistic movies of all time.
Wait Until Next Year
Cub fans never give up. Every year they start with high hopes and once the Cubs let them down2, they begin the wait for the next season. But unlike Chicago's other professional baseball team, the White Sox, Cubs fans always support their team. No matter how terrible the season has been, the fans still show up at the ballpark.
This entry would not be complete without at least a few Cub jokes:
Q: What's the second-best baseball team in Chicago?
A: The White Sox
Q: What's the best baseball team in Chicago?
A: Whoever's playing against the Cubs
And a story, possibly true:
A man was at Wrigley Field watching a Cubs game, when he called a security officer over and said, 'Those people are bothering me.' The security officer looked around him at all the well-behaved spectators and said 'Who, sir?' Wearily, the man pointed out to the Cubs players on the field and said 'Them'.