Chicago's epic run in 2016 may top Boston's curse-busting title in '04
By Mike Bauman
As big baseball stories go, this might be the biggest one in history. These are all subjective calls, except when you have the Chicago Cubs' drought of 108 years between World Series championships.
It ended in epic fashion, the 8-7 victory in 10 innings over the Cleveland Indians in a Game 7 for the ages on Wednesday night. Credit the Indians with creating the kind of compelling competition that this event absolutely required.
It was a huge deal when the Red Sox broke through in 2004 after an 86-year championship wait. It was a very large deal when the White Sox, the next season, broke their own 88-year championship dry spell. Chicago's drought was longer, but Boston's had more poets and playwrights behind them, and thus, more public angst.
But the passage of time put the Cubs in a category all their own. It was hard time, too.
Both the Red Sox and White Sox had other World Series opportunities, although in one case, the 1919 edition, the historical record will show that at least seven of the White Sox were tanking at the time.
This was never the problem with the Cubs. Their problem was not the curse of a billy goat, a black cat crossing their path or any other superstitious nonsense. For the most part, they simply weren't good enough.
The one time the Cubs really appeared to be good enough -- in 1969 -- manager Leo Durocher played his regulars into the ground. The Cubs faded down the stretch, the Amazin' Mets' young pitching came on strong, and that big August lead turned into a demoralizing September deficit.
In 1984 and 2003, the Cubs came within one postseason victory of reaching the Fall Classic. The ball went through Leon Durham's legs against the Padres in '84. For '03, don't tell me about Steve Bartman getting in the way of the foul ball that Moises Alou might have caught. Take a look at the ensuing double-play grounder that Alex Gonzalez booted.
It wasn't bad luck. It was baseball that wasn't good enough. And that's how the Cubs managed to avoid even appearing in the World Series for 71 years.
But all of that outright futility makes this drought-buster an even bigger story. In those 71 years between World Series, there were 48 seasons of sub-.500 records. It wasn't as though the Cubs were persistently knocking on the door of ultimate success.
But it's all over now. And it ended with the Cubs being overwhelming successes. As bad as they had often been in the interim, this season, they were headed in the opposite direction, which was toward greatness.
They had the best regular-season record with 103 victories. There was nothing of a fluke in this. The Cubs led the Majors in team ERA. They were second in the NL in runs scored. They became a better-than-sound defensive club.
The Cubs had become winners. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who had previously masterminded two championships with the Red Sox, was in charge of the rebuild that produced splendid talent at the everyday positions. There were standout prospects from the previous baseball administration of general manager Jim Hendry as well. The Cubs filled in with front-line pitching talent that was traded for or purchased. It was a brilliant combination of organizational strength and depth with the astute application of financial resources.
The hiring of manager Joe Maddon in November 2014 was a master stroke. Maddon combines a mastery of new-age metrics with a humanistic approach to every player on his roster. He helped changed the Cubs' culture.
By the end of the season, you knew that the Cubs were supposed to win the World Series. It was difficult for many people to say that out loud because they had no experience thinking that, much less saying it.
And the Cubs winning the World Series was outside your experience, unless you were roughly 112 years old and started following baseball as a 4-year-old. That is what makes this a biggest baseball story of our time. Or any time.
In baseball, a game built on tradition and history, the 2016 Cubs have changed history. This is a monumental development. Maybe that is why it took so long.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.