MLB.com Columnist

Paul Hagen

World Series return meaningful for former Cubs

World Series return meaningful for former Cubs

CHICAGO -- Randy Hundley sat in the upper deck at Wrigley Field last Saturday night, cheering along with the rest of the sellout crowd as the Cubs beat the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, advancing to the World Series for the first time since 1945.

Hundley, the Cubs' catcher for 10 years, including the ill-fated '69 season, couldn't get enough of the celebration going on below. He stayed, he said, "until they ran us out."

The World Series returns to the Friendly Confines for the first time in 71 years with Game 3 against the Indians tonight. That's special. It's why Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg and Billy Williams returned for the NLCS, why Kerry Wood, Ryan Dempster and Rick Sutcliffe were among the former stars who joined them.

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 25 CLE 6, CHC 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 26 CHC 5, CLE 1 video
Gm 3 Oct. 28 CLE 1, CHC 0 video
Gm 4 Oct. 29 CLE 7, CHC 2 video
Gm 5 Oct. 30 CHC 3, CLE 2 video
Gm 6 Nov. 1 CHC 9, CLE 3 video
Gm 7 Nov. 2 CHC 8 CLE, 7 (10) video

With that in mind, MLB.com spoke to a handful of prominent ex-Cubs about what having the World Series back at Wrigley Field means. They represent a cross-section of the heartbreaks and near-misses that have bedeviled the franchise over the years.

Shop for Cubs World Series and NL champs gear

Hundley, who caught an incomprehensible 160 games in 1968, is a Spring Training instructor for the organization. He was nearly as durable the following season when the Cubs had an eight-game lead on Aug. 19 before losing 25 of their last 40 and were edged by the Miracle Mets. For him, it's all about those, like Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, who didn't live long enough to see this day.

"Mostly, I'm thinking about the people who didn't get to be a part of this," Hundley said. "They've passed on and never had a chance to see the Cubs win and go to the World Series. My old teammates and the people around those teams, those are the ones I'm thinking of.''

Gary "Sarge" Matthews was an outfielder for the 1984 Cubs team that was one win away from making it to the World Series before losing three straight to the Padres. For him, this is an exorcism.

"It really gives me goosebumps," Matthews said. "I asked [Sandberg] one time how often he thinks about that collapse we had in San Diego. He said, 'Every day.' And I believe it. I've had Bull [first baseman Leon Durham] call and say he wishes they win it because he's tired of people talking about that ball that rolled between his legs [for a crucial error]."

Durham confirmed that.

"They got there and now they have to win it, because that way I don't have to look at that ball rolling through my legs no more," Durham said. "It doesn't bother me, because I know I gave it my best. ... It's a good thing seeing these guys doing it, and I'm so happy for the fans and the city of Chicago and the organization. They've always been great to me."

Fans enjoy Wrigley atmosphere

Durham and Matthews both plan to attend the games at Wrigley. It will be Durham's first time in the ballpark since he played for the Cardinals in 1989 and his first time watching a baseball game from the stands.

Doug Glanville was the Cubs' first-round Draft choice in 1991. He made his Major League debut in 1996 and then returned to the North Side on June 30, 2003, after stints with the Phillies and Rangers. That was the year the club took a 3-1 series lead in the best-of-seven NLCS only to lose three straight to the Marlins in what has been known as the Bartman Series. For him, it's all about the fans.

"It's going to be something we've never seen," Glanville said, "and that's what makes it exciting with all the possibilities. And then you have a bunch of young guys who are like, 'Hey, it's another ballgame' in a way. Because they're not carrying that burden. Most players don't.

"Fans have generational and institutional knowledge. The grandfather passes it on to the father. They're lifelong fans. It's a little harder to shake, but I think they may have a little greater appreciation when it does happen. As opposed to, maybe, Addison Russell, who's in his first full season playing shortstop every day. If he wins a world championship, it has to be a very different feeling from the lifelong, 93-year-old Cubs fan."

Schwarber on Game 3 atmosphere

The Cubs won their division in 2007 and '08, but they were swept in the Division Series both times. Mark DeRosa was one of the most popular players on those teams. He said the whole Wrigleyville experience was unique.

"When I was sitting at home watching them clinch their spot in the World Series, they kept doing so many scenic shots of the fans," DeRosa said. "And you could tell, there was almost a sense of not knowing how to react, a sense of not believing this day would actually come. I expect it to be a culmination of 108 years and a generation.

"What makes this place so special -- I always said this -- I really felt like the team blends into the fabric of the community and the town. A bunch of guys live within walking distance of the ballpark. They get to know their neighbors. I know for me, it was like having a normal job. You'd wake up at 8:30, you'd grab your cup of coffee, you'd say bye to your wife and kids, and you'd be home at 5 o'clock pulling in with your neighbors, say hi to them and maybe grill out on the back deck or something.

"I played on seven other organizations, and this is the only place where I lived within walking distance of the field and really felt like you can ingrain yourself into the community."

Shortstop Shawon Dunston, now a Giants coach, has three World Series rings with San Francisco. He was selected by the Cubs with the first overall pick in 1982, broke into the big leagues in '85 and played the first 11 years of his career for the team, making the postseason in '89. The Cubs won only one game and were eliminated.

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Dunston was touched when he saw 100-year-old fans on television and realized they weren't alive when the Cubs last won it all in 1908.

"I started with the Cubs, and they wanted to win so badly," Dunston said. "And they deserve to win."

Others never made it to the postseason with the Cubs.

Mike Krukow started his career by pitching for the Cubs from 1976-81. Now a radio and television analyst for the Giants, he feels for both the players and the fans.

"This is a small comparative, but I was in the big leagues for 13 years, and I didn't make an All-Star team until the 10th year," Krukow said. "The previous nine years, I watched as my teammates were selected and honored. I always wondered what it would be like, and I was kind of on the other side of the fence. If you're not in it, you want to be in it. You want to be there badly. You want every part of that experience.

"And I think to a degree, it is a parallel with cities that watch the World Series every year and their team's not in it. Now, imagine what that's like and magnify it by 100. Or 108, you know? They've been looking through the fence at the World Series for a long time. Now they get to partake in it. So this is going to be their interpretation, their version of it. They are going to have fun with it, they are going to embrace it and they are going to enjoy every second as if they're not going to have another one for 108 more years."

Paul Hagen is a national columnist for MLB.com.

Jason Beck, Anthony DiComo, Chris Haft and Phil Rogers contributed to this story.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.