In the fall of 1986, I watched my first World Series with my grandfather. Despite being from Buffalo, he was a Red Sox fan and despised the Mets. I followed and found myself enthralled with baseball for the first time in my life. In game 6, I watched Dave Henderson hit the series winning home run in the top of the 10th inning. If you know anything of baseball history, though, you know that some things happened in the bottom of the 10th and the Red Sox didn't win the World Series that year.
The following spring, my grandfather, again, got me into baseball when I came home after school to find him watching a Cubs game on WGN. From there, I was a baseball fan. That summer was spectacular for a Cubs fan...to a point. Andre Dawson had, what appeared at the time, to have a great season, culminating in his winning the MVP award. For the life of me, I still don't know how that Cubs team was so terrible. There were three hall of famers on that team: Dawson, Ryne Sandberg and Greg Maddux. In addition to them, there was Lee Smith and Rafael Palmeiro who are both Hall of Very Good players. Rick Sutcliffe was the third most valuable pitcher in the Nation League. Despite all that, the Cubs finished last. But, I was hooked.
On August 5th, 1988, I visited Wrigley Field for the first time. It was the first of a four game series that would culminate on 8/8/88 for the first night game in Wrigley Field history. (Yes, in 1988, the Cubs only played day games at home.) In that game, Mike Schmidt and Andre Dawson hit home runs. The experience was everything I had hoped and I got up to Wrigley a few more times before I went to college. In 1991, when my father was cleaning out my other grandfather's house, an envelope fell out of a book. Inside the envelope was a ticket stub from game 3 of the 1932 World Series between the Cubs and the Yankees. If you know your baseball, you know that was the game that Babe Ruth "called" his home run. And, my great grandfather had been there, sitting in the bleachers and have saved his ticket stub in this envelope for nearly 60 years. I still have that ticket stub.
Though the years, my allegiance to the Cubs stayed around. I couldn't believe Mark Grace's 1989 post season. But, Will Clark's was better and the Cubs were bounced. I followed the Braves, mainly due to TBS and remember running out of my friend's dorm room after Sid Bream scored to give the Braves the pennant in 1992. I enjoyed various other teams as the Cubs bumbled around. I was riveted by Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire's home run chase in 1998 and watched McGwire hit number 62 on national TV while I was back in Indiana for a reunion trip. The early 2000's featured decent Cubs teams. But, I watched the Bartman game from a Houston's restaurant and couldn't believe it as the Marlins moved on. Then came the dark years. During that time, I got the Diamondbacks games locally and started following them. But, in the end, I still rooted for the Cubs first.
Then, came the hire of Theo Epstein. At that point, you kind of knew that the Cubs' streak of futility was likely over. They had an owner willing to spend money and a front office that knew how to find valuable players in the draft. (The Cubs drought was more a product of cheap owners and poor management than any "curse".) There were some lean years, but you knew there was a plan. Before the 2015 season, I went to a dinner with some work collegues. Our company president felt he was a knowledgeable sports fan and he was ridiculing the Cubs' signing of Jon Lester and how there was no way he would put them over the top. I told him Lester was a piece that was about 2016 and beyond as the farmhands came up and started playing. Next thing you know, the Cubs were the in 2015 playoffs.
That lead to tonight. The 2016 Cubs were pretty much a team of destiny. They were the best team in baseball from the get go. But, like all baseball post seasons, the small sample size and short series duration allows for incredible randomness to occur. The Cubs featured some close calls, but won the pennant and got their first World Series since World War II. (To me, the most glaring fact was that when Dexter Fowler lead off in Game 1, he was the first African American player to appear for the Cubs in the World Series. Not that the Cubs didn't integrate with the rest of baseball. But, they hadn't been to the World Series since before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.) In the Series, things went badly for Chicago. But, given enough plate appearances, players regress to their career norms. And, the Cubs did that in the final three games of the series as their bats came alive. And now, for the first time in over a century, the Cubs are World Series champions.
I'm not sure what that means, just yet. The Red Sox were the last lovable losers. But, their fan base became largely insufferable after the wins in 2004 and 2007. It seems the Cubs may follow that route. With large swaths of team controlled, young talent and the main free agents tied up for a couple more years, the Cubs are poised to be good for a nice long time. With the expanded playoffs, winning in the post season has less to do with talent than it does with random luck...at least until you get past the first couple of rounds. By then, hitters get a groove and managers and front office personnel get a better read on potential opponents and their strengths and weaknesses.
For now, though, I'm not going to worry about the future and, instead, enjoy what just happened. I've been a fan for 29 seasons. Not a great amount. But, not a small amount, either. There was a time when I thought I'd never see the day the Cubs won. But, now I have. The world didn't end. Ghosts weren't excised. A well conceived club with a large payroll that got a bit lucky with drafted talent found it's way to the top of the baseball world. If it were the Yankees, everyone would be aghast. But, it's the Cubs and Cubs fans everywhere get to smile tonight. Somewhere, Harry Caray is smiling.