Long run of futility ends for Cubs with World Series victory

illustration by Lauren Fyfe
illustration by Lauren Fyfe

Black cats, Billy goats and Steve Bartman can now all be forgotten. Yes, the curse of the Billy goat is now just a footnote in baseball and American cultural history.

And the Chicago Cubs can now throw those painful memories out the window. But getting those monkeys off their backs didn’t come easy for the Cubbies.

Somewhere, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks and Harry Caray were smiling on an early November Thursday morning and somewhere, Bartman could finally exhale.

It took a grueling seven-game series, with the final tilt decided in extra innings, and temporarily halted by a rain delay after the ninth inning. But the Cubs are World Champions. There is no more talk of next year.

Chicago won the elusive World Series Championship one year after it was predicted to do so when Marty McFly (aka Michael J. Fox) visited the year 2015 in Back to the Future II. In that classic flick, the Cubs beat Miami (a fictitious team at the time).

The Cubs had a chance to make it to the Fall Classic in 2015. But they lost to the New York Mets in the National League Championship series (the same franchise that kept the Windy City’s loveable losers out of the World Series in 1969). The Metropolitans went on to write their own magical story with guys like a young Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver (who would later find a home in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame after stints with the Reds, a return to the Mets, the White Sox and the Red Sox), Jerry Koosman and Tug McGraw.

The Cubs would also blow chances to go to the Series in 1984 (thanks to San Diego’s Steve Garvey), 1989 and 2003.

This year, they finally made it back for the first time in 71 years (70 seasons because there was no World Series in 1994 due to a labor stoppage). And they won with a cast of young and mostly home-grown players, and a manager who is one of the game’s most endearing characters. They had some top starters and relievers on the mound but let’s give the real hero credit.

And that hero is Theo Epstein, the 43-year old president of Chicago’s Northside Major League Franchise.

Epstein and the front office brought in Joe Maddon to manage and then built a championship team. Epstein, who helped the Red Sox break the Curse of the Bambino (as Boston’s general manager) had a plan in place. The plan was supposed to take time.

But when Maddon (a former coach for the Los Angeles Angels when they won a 2002 title and brought joy to Angels fans who went through years of bad baseball and near misses) came in, he wanted to win and win now.

He embraced the fact that he would help the Cubbies turn around rapidly. With Epstein providing him with the key parts of the 2016 machine that won 103 regular-season games and had the Central Division title all but wrapped up by the All-Star Break, they did just that, even though they had to withstand a late charge from longtime rival St. Louis and the young and pesky Pittsburgh Pirates.

There are plenty of people worthy of praise in Chicago as we head to the long winter months. You have World Series MVP Ben Zobrist, one of a few free agent acquisitions on the roster, and Mike Montgomery, a little-known reliever, who got the final out of the season after joining the team in July.

But Epstein is the man.

He helped the BoSox shatter the ghost of Babe Ruth and his curse in 2004 as a 30-year old GM, who started his baseball career as a 22-year old intern. He was also around when Boston won again in 2007.

Now he’s taken the Cubbies to the Grand Old Game’s Promised Land and will now surely be in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

While Cubs fans are ecstatic, there’s a sad story here. That’s the one of the Cleveland Indians, who last won a World Championship in 1948. They had home-field advantage and a 3-2 lead.

They couldn’t get it done and they now own the longest span between World Series titles.

Like the Cubs, they’ve had chances. They lost to Atlanta in 1995 and fell again in 1997 to the Florida (now Miami) Marlins, who won as a Wild Card team.

The last piece of irony here is the fact that Terry Francona (who won with Epstein in Beantown in 2004 and 2007) suffered his own heartbreak with the Tribe earlier this month.

Prior to 2016, Francona was undefeated as a manager in the World Series; he perhaps suffered the most devastating loss of his career recently.

But look for him and the Indians to be back in the Fall Classic again soon. And while you’re at it, don’t be surprised if the Cubbies make a run at a repeat.

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