A couple of weeks ago, I was going through photos from Cubs Conventions of my youth. And as I was riffling through pictures of the 1994 Convention (I believe the official slogan from that year was “Someday you’ll tell your grandkids you waited two hours to meet Rick Wilkins!”), I came across a photograph of myself in my favorite sweatshirt.
It featured the Cubs logo front-and-center. Above which was a caption reading:
Yes, back in the days before #FlyTheW, the Cubs seemingly existed solely to answer the question “What if our marketing department was run by Sylvia Plath?”
I bring this up to remind you of how far we’ve come since the days when Wrigley Field was the only place where fans referred to Bud Selig’s decision to cancel the ’94 season as “the mercy rule.” As a fanbase, the World Series championship made a huge difference in all of our lives. In that we had to work to find a completely new set of reasons to be pissed off at our favorite team.
Going into the offseason, #CubsTwitter was angry about getting passed by the Brewers in Game 163. Even angrier about losing the Wild Card Playoff. And then team ownership decided to fix the problems that led to such a drastic end to the season by giving more money to the latest in an endless line of unimpressive DaleySpawn than Bryce Harper. At that point, the federal government could have declared the @cubs mentions a superfund site. Except Tyler Chatwood starts had already made that designation redundant.
There’s been a lot of vitriol directed at the team this season. And as it relates to ownership suddenly not being willing to go the extra mile in free agency, it’s entirely justified. But in the middle of all the sturm und drang, one hot take has kept bubbling the surface. And it’s been one that the Chicago sports media and fans have been trying to push practically from the moment Joe Buck uttered the words “This is gonna be a tough play...Bryant...”
The 2016 Cubs are going to be just like the 1985 Bears!
What a nightmare, right? Such a sentiment is practically guaranteed to stir up the locals into a ticket-buying frenzy for Pitchfork and Torch Night at the ballpark. But just as a thought experiment, suppose the worst happens and the Cubs do not win another world title with the Bryzzo and Javy core before free agency breaks it apart. The ‘16 Cubs turn out to be exactly like the ’85 Bears.
You mean the same ’85 Bears who were the most popular sports team ever assembled in the history of Chicago? The ones who are still the toast of the town whenever they make a public appearance and are the roster against which all other champions are measured? The team that was honored at the White House 26 years after they won the Super Bowl?
Is that the worst case scenario awaiting the 2016 World Series Champs? Because if so...where exactly is the tragedy?
If we use the ’85 Bears as a guide, the worst fate that will befall members of the 2016 Cubs will be that Jon Lester can no longer go hunting without deer being spooked by the 27 documentary crews simultaneously filming his every step. (And sure, he could try to throw something at the cameramen to chase them away, but they’d just protect themselves by telling him they were standing on first base.)
Since Super Bowl XX, there have been a seemingly infinite number of movies and specials made about the 1985 Chicago Bears. So it’s not too much of a stretch to guess that over the next 30 years, the 2016 Cubs are going to be telling the story of Jason Heyward’s rain delay speech to a film crew at least three or four times every week. As you read this, there’s a 95 percent chance that Ken Burns has already recorded a screen test of Morgan Freeman reading the words, “My dearest Kristina, Despite the assumption on the part of my squadron’s daily chroniclers in the newsmedia that I came to Chicago for a haircut, this supposition could not be further from the truth...”
The only way the 2016 Cubs could be a more perfect documentary subject would be if they were an ill-conceived music festival attempting to solve its water supply problems via fellatio. (In retrospect, it turns out that Kyle Schwarber was extremely concerned about keeping Progressive Field hydrated.)
And based on how every one of those ’85 Bears films is assembled, if these Cubs never win another championship, the net effect will be: an eight second clip of a 50-something Anthony Rizzo admitting, “Yeah, that was kind of a bummer” before being called onstage to sing “All the Way” with an 84 year old Eddie Vedder in front of 40 thousand people losing their minds with joy. The legacy of this Cubs core is already set in stone as the group that changed history. And winning additional titles will certainly add to it. But failing to do so is not going to change that fundamental fact.
Furthermore, the current top heavy superteam era of baseball makes it as hard as it’s ever been to win multiple World Series. Surviving three rounds of playoffs (as well as the occasional coin flip game--thanks, Bud!) against a gauntlet of Dodgers, Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox just once is an incredible feat of skill and luck. To do it multiple times in the span of a few years? I’d put those odds at approximately “Down 3-1 in the World Series with Corey Kluber waiting in Game 7.”
Against that kind of competition, an organization can even join the ranks of those superteams and still win nothing. Just ask the Yankees and Dodgers. Nothing illustrates how hard it is to win a championship in present day MLB than the fact that I just wrote that sentence and I was being sincere. Based on the last time such a sentiment was valid, my autocorrect tried to change it to “the Highlanders and Superbas.”
To be clear, this is not to chastise fans for wanting the Cubs to do everything they can to be the best in 2019 and being frustrated that they’re not doing so. And it’s not to castigate the players for using the fear of being one and done as motivation for the coming 162 game grind. The most important baseball still has to be the game being played in the present day or else why are we watching?
And everyone who’s mad at Tom Ricketts has good reason to be. At a time where he’s one of the few people who can actively make a huge contribution to the Cubs winning another championship, Ricketts has decided that the number one priority of the offseason is to sign a new alderman. That way when fans drown their sorrows in a Gallagher Way bar after the bullpen blows a lead, they can take comfort in knowing that even more of their money is going to his brother’s reelection fund.
Those are all valid responses to this winter of our discontent. The point I’m trying to make is that regardless of what Rizzo, Bryant, Báez, and the core of 2016 do on the field from here on out, their legacy as history makers is already secure. And yes, I realize that this is something of a nuanced argument and a baseball blogger going for nuance is essentially John Kruk to the internet’s Randy Johnson.
But it is occasionally comforting to remind ourselves that regardless of what the future holds on the field, the historic accomplishments and good feelings engendered by the 2016 Cubs (with one truly awful exception) will not disappear or morph into the old familiar sensations of disappointment and regret. Even if the future is still a minefield of neuroses, there is a certain amount of comfort in knowing we’ve reached a point where the past will never be that way again.
And it didn’t even take forever.
Filed under: General