Nigel Aplin with a little love for the Cubs

A little love for the Chicago Cubs

By Nigel Aplin
Sports Editor
True North Perspective
 
Fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs think they have it bad: no Stanley Cup since 1967. If the Leafs fail to win the Cup again this season, the drought will mark its golden anniversary. That’s nothing compared to the Major League Baseball teams competing in this year’s World Series.
 
Either the Chicago Cubs of the National Baseball League or the Major League Baseball team based in Cleveland, Ohio, will win the World Series this fall, probably in early November. One very long drought will end and another will continue. The Cubs last won baseball’s top prize in 1908, some 108 years ago. Cleveland’s last championship year was 1948, a mere 68 years ago. These teams carry baseball’s two current longest winless streaks into the World Series. Could they both lose? Some fans on either side could be convinced. Losing might be what keeps them going.
 
When the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, they ended an 86 year drought which stood as the third longest one in baseball at the time. Then, some Chicago baseball fans experienced the joy of an ended drought as the White Sox broke their own streak of futility the following year, winning the World Series in 2005 for the first time since 1917 — an 88 year break between championships. But, Chicago was then and remains a divided city with the Cubs being the team of the wealthy north side with the White Sox turf being the much rougher south side. Amazingly, there is very little cross-over between the two teams’ fan bases. The 2005 White Sox World Series win did nothing for Cubs fans but further irritate them.
 
There are roughly seven billion people on our planet. There are likely only about 400 or so who were alive in 1908 when the Cubs last won the World Series. They last played in the Fall Classic in 1945, two years before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s colour barrier. So, there aren’t many Cubs fans who count the team’s last World Series appearance among their living memories. Accounts of the 1908 or 1945 World Series are easily available in the historical record but, for most Cub fans, it almost seems hard to believe that these events took place at all.
 
Futility has been the enduring signature of the Chicago Cubs and their fans for decades. Some Cubs fans claim that it’s really what keeps them going. Since helping to establish the National League in 1876, the Cubs did enjoy considerable success in the early years, appearing in three consecutive World Series starting in 1906, winning it in 1907 and 1908. Other than the 1945 World Series appearance, success for the Cubs has been almost non-existent over the past 108 years. The team’s on-field failures are reciprocally matched against the dedication, commitment and enduring patience of their fan base which has consistently packed Wrigley Field, the team’s 102 year old stadium named after the club’s long-time owner and chewing gum magnate, William Wrigley. Lights were installed at Wrigley Field only in 1988, against the objections of many fans who felt that baseball is a game to be played in natural light.
 
Cubs fans take their team — and its history of ineptitude — very seriously. Too seriously sometimes. Meet one of the most famous (or infamous) Cubs fans — a man named Steve Bartman. In October of 2003, Bartman, a self-proclaimed life-long Cubs fan, was sitting in his front row seat far down the left field line at Wrigley Field for game six of the National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins. The Cubs appeared to be in comfortable position to reach the World Series: they led the series against the Marlins three games to two and held a 3-0 lead in the game with one out at the top of the eighth inning. They were five outs away from ending what was then a 58 year absence from the Fall Classic. On a 3-2 pitch, the Marlins Luis Castillo hit a foul ball down the left field line and directly toward Bartman. Cubs left fielder Moises Alou ran to the edge of the stands and reached for the ball just as Bartman did the same.
 
Bartman’s attempt to catch the ball caused it to deflect away from Alou, landing harmlessly in foul territory and preserving the inning with one out. Castillo drew a walk and then the roof fell in on the Cubs as the Marlins went on to score eight runs in the inning, winning the game to tie the series at six games. The Marlins won game seven the following day and then the World Series a couple of weeks later. The unravelling of that game six and the Cubs 2003 season began with Bartman’s ill-fated attempt to catch that foul ball. Chicago fans had found their scapegoat.
 
Shortly after the incident, Bartman was escorted by security staff from Wrigley Field as he ducked projectiles. His name was soon discovered and then published on Cubs fan boards and he became a pariah in Chicago. Fearing further reprisals, he changed his telephone number, became reclusive, began suffering from depression and has never returned to Wrigley Field.
 
The team has recently tried to reach out to Bartman now that 13 years have passed and a social media movement recently began to try to draft Bartman back to Wrigley Field for one of this year’s World Series games to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Bartman, through a friend, declined. He has never agreed to an interview over the past 13 years and remains committed to staying silent and out of sight. Some Cubs fans have probably decided to forgive and forget Bartman’s actions that October night, but many probably have not. Even if the Cubs win the World Series this year, Bartman’s legacy will endure.
 
Chicago Cubs fans are as dedicated as they are long-suffering. Over the course of the drought, Cubs fans have grown to expect their team to lose. Famous Chicago native and Cubs fan Bill Murray said, after the Cubs clinched their first World Series birth since 1945, “to root for a team that has never won, it’s character building.”
 
I am rooting for the Cubs in the World Series for two reasons: the first is that their fans have clearly earned the right to celebrate over multiple generations. The second is that their opponent, the Cleveland team, uses an offensive name and, even worse, a logo, known as Chief Wahoo, which is clearly unacceptable. I don’t want to see that name or image associated with a World Series Championship.
 

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