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A conversation 108 years in the making

Marquee at Wrigley.

On Michigan Radio, we don’t normally cover baseball outside the state. But we have to make an exception this week, because the Chicago Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.

Cubs Win!
Credit mlb.com
Cubs Win!

If we don’t talk about this now, we might not get another chance for 108 years. And who knows? I could be gone by then.

Why should you care about either team?

Well, maybe you shouldn’t. These are just games, after all, while we’re in the throes of the most serious election in decades.

But don’t tell that to fans of the Cleveland Indians, who last won the World Series in 1948. And definitely don’t tell that to the fans of the Cubs, who hadn’t won it since 1908 – something we only know about through our local libraries.

The same year the Indians last won the World Series, Babe Ruth died, Ghandi was on a hunger strike, and the NBA was entering its third season.

But that’s nothing compared to the last time the Cubs won the World Series, 108 years ago. That year, Oklahoma became our 46th state, General Motors was born, and a church in West Virginia celebrated the first Mother’s Day.

The Cubs go out of their way to embrace their history, no matter how painful.

One-hundred-and-eight years is not a drought. It’s a desert, a death valley of hopelessness that has oppressed Cubs fans for – well, their entire lives. And their parents' entire lives. And their grandparents' entire lives.

The Cubs go out of their way to embrace their history, no matter how painful.

They still play in Wrigley Field, which opened in 1914. Their scoreboard isn’t one of those pyrotechnic billboards, but a metal box, with metal cards with numbers painted on them, all turned by hand. There is no Kiss Cam or sushi stand. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack. Oh, and they sing that every game during the seventh inning stretch. Chuck E. Cheese’s, this ain’t.

But the most amazing thing about the 2016 World Series was this: One of these two desperate teams had to win it, right? Even when Cleveland went up three games to one, I predicted this World Series had to go to seven games, just to ensure maximum agony for whoever lost.

And sure enough, the Cubs came back to set up game seven in Cleveland.

They jumped ahead 3-1 early on, but the Indians caught up. The Cubs went ahead, 6-3, but the Indians caught them again. The game went into extra innings – just like you knew it had to. A 17-minute rain delay added to the tension, as did the endless negative campaign ads, featuring the two least liked candidates in recent memory.

When the rain stopped, the Cubs scored twice in the tenth, to take an 8-to-6 lead.  When the Indians got their turn, they made two quick outs, but then scored a run, with a man on second. They were one swing from winning it all. But the Cubs got the next batter out, and won the World Series.

Let me repeat that, because unless you’re 108, you’ve never heard it before yesterday: The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.

The mastermind behind this was not manager Joe Maddon, who made some amazingly stupid mistakes that night, but the team president, Theo Epstein, whose grandfather actually wrote Casablanca.

In 2002, when Theo was just 28 years old, the Boston Red Sox made him the sport’s youngest general manager ever. Two years later, the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918, when a guy named Babe Ruth pitched for them. Yes, Babe Ruth started as a pitcher.

The Boston team Epstein built would win two more World Series.

In 2011, he took over the Cubs, who promptly finished last three years in a row. But they made the playoffs last year, and won it all this year.

By ending two losing streaks totaling 194 years of fan frustration, Epstein has to be considered the greatest executive in the history of sports.

But, sorry Lions fans: Epstein doesn’t do football.

John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
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