The 2016 Cubs could be the 1985 Bears and it's OK

gty-world-series-game7-end-25-jrl-161102_16x9_992A 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:

“If It Takes Forever...”

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.

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  • I take your meaning but consider this... the 85 Bears are the toast of the town because they have only one NFC title in all those years. The first one is always more special, see the Bulls and Hawks, but it doesn’t create the same reaction since there were dozens of big moments, not a handful. But that doesn’t mean Jordan and Pippen, Towes, and Keith are not also revered in the city, but that reverence is not tied to one season.

    Let’s be honest, if you told us in 2015 that the Cubs would win one Championship with this group,we would have all signed up for it, but we would have wondered how many we signed away by that agreement. Like the 85 Bears their will always be joy in the memories, but also some thoughts of what could have been. To that end I hope they win a couple more, like the Hawks, and we can call the era truly special, not a shooting star.

  • While I will forever celebrate 2016, in no way will I be satisfied with one WS win out of this group. Did we really suffer through those years of "here, watch this compost rot while we build the future" for one WS? Are fans in St. Loo really entitled to a a better baseball lifetime than we are? Is this team really no better than the one-and-done 2005 White Sox? Do we, as fans, really want to become those obnoxious pale-hosed doooofuses that must interject our ONE championship into every conversation for the next decade? Do we want to preface our comments, like they did, with "Well... at least we had...."

    One ain't enough.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    I think one difference between the Cubs and the 1985 Bears / 2005 White Sox is that we still have the "core" together.

    The 1985 Bears' success was largely based on Buddy Ryan's dominating defense. Once it became apparent that the state of Illinois (let alone Soldiers Field) was not big enough to hold the egos of both Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan, Buddy left and the slide back to mediocrity began. Wilbur Marshall's defection, Walter's retirement, and Jim McMahon's injuries also took their toll.

    The 2005 White Sox pitching staff was their strength. But, Jose Contreras was already 33, Orlando Hernandez was 39, and S. Tagutsu was 36, The Bobby Jenks saga was short lived, and key bullpen piece Cliff Politte suffered an injury. Kenny Williams gave away 2B Tadahito Iguchi (their MVP, IMHO), traded gold glove CF Aaron Rowand, and brought in the all time choker Javier Vazquez. And, once again we learned that Kenny Williams and Ozzie could not co-exist in the same hemisphere.

    On the other hand, the Bulls retained their core (Michael Jordan, Scotty Pippen, Grant / Rodman) and the Blackhawks (despite having to "remodel" to comply with the salary cap) have held onto their core of Kane, Toews, Keith, Seabrook, Hossa (now gone due to illness), and Crawford. The point is that both organizations were able to keep their core through multiple championships.

    Theo has been very adament that he intends to hold onto his "core" thoughout the 5-6 year "window". KB, Rizzo, Javy, Schwarber, Contreras, Lester, Hendricks, ... while that window is still open. (Although I still puzzle why Theo has John Madden on a short leash during the middle of that window).

    Long winded post, I know, but I like the Cubs following the Bulls and Blackhawks rather than the 1985 Bears and 2005 White Sox.

    (nap time, now)

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Great points! I think the Cubs SHOULD have been following the Bulls and Blackhawks and I've been puzzling over why they haven't. I've also been complaining about a lack of intensity for the past two years (and catching some flak for it), so I was somewhat gratified to hear Theo address that issue. It would be awesome for the Cubs to prove the nay-sayers wrong in 2019!

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    John Maddon is retired. Joe Maddon is still on the Cubs.

  • In reply to John57:

    I guess that is why Theo has "John" Madden on a short leash.

  • It was such a drought for the Cubs that 2016 will never be forgotten, no matter if they win the next 5 World Series. But if they don’t win them, we want the front office to at least try to.

    Cub fan base is so loyal & die hard. We endear ourselves to the players & characters who gave us something to cheer for or about. We hold onto all of the memories. 1969 & all of those HoFers. Santo, Banks, Williams, Jenkins & the rest. The heels clicking & black cats, jack Brickhouse. 70s w/Jose Cardinal, Reuschel bros, Buckner... 1984 with the Sandberg game against the cards. Harry & Stoney. The trade that brought Sutcliffe. Him, Ryno, Sarge, Dernier, Eckersley, & Jody Davis. Playoffs w/Durham & “that groundball”... Sut’s homer. 2003, who can forget? Sammy, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Z, Joe Borowski closer, Fahrnzy, A-Ram, Patterson, Chip Carey. Alou spazzing out. Alex Gonzalez booting the tailor made DP...

    2016 pushed 2003 way to the back of everyone’s minds & all but erased the stupid goat talk. So, 2016 & the way they fought back will always stand out if they win anymore World Series.

  • Mlb union proposal for a universal dh(along with other rule/roster changes) is on the table for 2019!!! If approved nl will get the dh in 2019

    Kyle Schwarber finally may have a purpose.yes!!!!

  • In reply to bolla:

    One of the proposals is Pitchers will have to face 3 batters minimum , meaning no more one reliever for one batter then another reliever vs another batter Bruce bochy/la Russa specials

  • In reply to bolla:

    Does LF/LHP Travis Wood still need a job?

  • In reply to bolla:

    Schwarber guns down guys at the plate, so yes, he does have a purpose.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Don't go confusing the narrative with facts...

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Deep breath, Cliff. Then, Count to 10.
    Or maybe it's the other way around.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Sometimes you just gotta chuckle. No 10-count necessary!

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    So did alfonso soriano so what? He also botched routine balls like schwarber and sucked as an outfielder and turned into an ok one who hits .240.....like schwarber

  • In reply to bolla:

    Fonzy really worked on his OF game & was better than you think. Of course at first he was a fish out of water there. He was an infielder... Hello. And Schwarber was a catcher.

  • In reply to bolla:

    Take a look at Schwarber's defensive runs saved stat for 2018. It's tops in the NL.

  • In reply to wthomson:

    ...for Left Fielders.

  • In reply to wthomson:

    OK then, we have the best defensive left fielder. Doesn't sound like a bad thing to me.

  • In reply to John57:

    Me either.

  • The dh to the nl would be an unusual major change to be made on short notice. I don't think it happens. Teams have built their rosters.

  • It was probably already discussed, slug. Maybe back in November. Partially why the slow moving FA market. Teams/players waiting to see what happens... There’s also a proposal to expand the rosters to 26.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Let's take another look at Harper! Suddenly, he is more relevant and can fill our 26th player spot.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    That 26th spot would be reserved for Terrance Gore since the MLB commissioner can now unilaterally implement the rule that starts every extra inning (after the 10th) with a runner on 2B.

    Oops.

  • Yesterday, I saw that 1.5M attended the Patriots Super Bowl parade. Nice turnout, but ...

    5 Million people attended the Cubs 2016 World Series championship parade and Granf Park Celebration. That was ranked as the largest human gathering in U.S. history and the 7th largest worldwide gathering EVER!

    So, yes, I'll side with the Cubs 2016 World Series championship. Dang, that still has a nice ring to it.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Well, yes, but when the Cubs are celebrating their 17th World Series win in 20 years and a 58-year old John Lester, who still can't throw to 1st, is the series MVP, will 5 million people still show up?

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    There will be at least two if you will stop by Huntsville on your trip up from Birmingham.

  • I wish "someone" with the keys would post a Cubs Den article concerning the discussed rule changes.

    I read the NYT story and there's a lot more than the couple changes mentioned above. Interesting discussion.

    And, just to clarify, I appreciate all the hard work that Cubs Den writers put into this. Thanks for sharing your time and talents with us.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    I didn't see any of it until after I left for work.
    I'll try to get something up later.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I've added a new post for discussion.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Nice Athletic article about it, too. One interesting proposal was to expand the MLB roster to 26, but limit it to 28 in September (not the 40-man). I could see a page or two of discussion on that topic alone.

    I wouldn't be surprised if one of the hard-working, ever diligent crack Cubs Den journalistic team is working on a piece on the proposed changes at this very moment!

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Apparently, I didn't post this quick enough...

  • Proposed rule change: It shall be a violation of the rules of the universe for a video of Aaron Judge or any other Yankee to pop up on the Cubs Den website, punishable by moving the entire franchise to Monowi, Nebraska and changing the team name to "Cowpies."

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