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The Cubs Break The Curse — And Maybe Only Red Sox Fans Know How Sweet That Feels

A Chicago Cubs  fan celebrates during the eighth inning of Game 7 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the Cleveland Indians Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, in Cleveland. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
A Chicago Cubs fan celebrates during the eighth inning of Game 7 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the Cleveland Indians Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, in Cleveland. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
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COMMENTARY

During the roller coaster that was Game 7 of the World Series, I began texting my two best pals from childhood, my two brothers, and my sister (who now lives in Cleveland) as the drama played out. Only one of that group still lives in Chicagoland, where we all grew up, but unless you move to Cleveland, in which case Chief Wahoo apparently warhoops his way into your lovable losing heart, Cubs fans are sentenced to life.

Everyone (except my sister) was pretty upset (read: apoplectic) at Cubs manager Joe Madden when he removed starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks from the game with two outs in the fifth, and by the time overworked reliever Aroldis Chapman had blown a three-run lead in the eighth, we were all throwing handfuls of hair at our TVs. Except my sister, who was prematurely gloating about the joys of living in Believeland. It was agony, bearing witness to the suffocation of a lifelong dream. Longer than a life, actually. 108 years. But I’d been through it all before.

Between 1945 and 1984 the Cubs never even played in the post-season. Not once ... They didn’t break your heart. They broke your spirit.

You see, after growing up in Chicago, I spent most of my adult life in Boston, where I shared the pain of baseball failure with my Bostonian friends. The way others can tell you where they were when JFK was assassinated, I can tell you where I was (and with whom) when the Spaceman lobbed his Leephus pitch to Tony Perez in Game 7 of the 1975 World Series. Or when Bucky Dent blooped one over the Monster in the one-game playoff of '78. Or when Bill Buckner let one dribble through his legs in '86, after Schiraldi and Stanley had blown a two-run lead with two outs in the ninth. Or when a tiring Pedro Martinez gave up three-eighth inning runs to the hated Yankees in Game 7 of the 2003 League Championship series, a loss decided in the 11th inning after a walk-off homer by Aaron Boone.

So much pain over so many years. But at least the Red Sox were knocking on the door. Which was worse: To have your heart repeatedly broken by a horse in the race that keeps losing by a nose? Or to have a horse who never breaks from the gate? It’s a good question, and one I pondered often.

While the Red Sox, who hadn’t won a World Series since 1918, kept finding new, improbable ways to collapse in the post-season, the Cubs, who hadn’t won a World Series since 1908, did their collapsing in June. Between 1945 and 1984 the Cubs never even played in the post-season. Not once. They never won a single playoff series until 2003. It was decades and decades of ineptitude. They didn’t break your heart. They broke your spirit.

While the Red Sox labored under the Curse of the Bambino, the Cubs were saddled with a curse from the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern. Both teams played in beloved, small ballparks before passionate, loyal fan bases and boasted superstars who never knew the joys of winning it all: Ted Williams, Carl Yazstremski, Ernie Banks. But poor Ernie, “Mr. Cub,” never played in the post-season. Unlike Yaz and Teddy Ballgame, he never played on baseball’s biggest stage.

A Chicago Cubs fan holds up a sign during the eighth inning of Game 7. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
A Chicago Cubs fan holds up a sign during the eighth inning of Game 7. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Of course in 2004 the Red Sox broke through, and the entire city lost the chip on its shoulder. Until it happened, until the final out, you kept waiting to see how they would blow it this time. I remember there was a total eclipse of the moon the night the Sox completed their sweep of the Cardinals, which seemed totally appropriate, even necessary. That’s what it would take to end the curse: a unique alignment of the heavens. Old Red Sox fans could now expire in peace. God did not hate them, after all.

But it took years and years of “nearlys” and “almosts.” The 2016 Cubs, who were built by Theo Epstein, the same genius architect who built the 2004 Red Sox, were young, new to the weight of 108 years of expectations. Yes, they had the best record in baseball this season, but the team with the best record in baseball seldom wins the World Series: it had only happened twice in the past 12 years.

Then, taking a page directly from the playbook of broken dreams written by the pre-2004 Red Sox, the Cubs blew their three-run lead after being within four outs of the World’s Championship. Like Pedro in 2003, their closer was gassed. Momentum was all Believeland’s. And while I watched in horror, I thought of my 93-year-old father, who was watching from his bed in his Chicagoland retirement home. We both thought: Here we go again.

A final text from my friend Pete summed it up nicely for Cub fans everywhere: “Die Happy.”

Then came the rain, a literal reprieve and reboot from above. It was past midnight already, but every Cubs fan felt a sigh of relief. We needed that rain. The Cubs held a team meeting during the 17-minute delay, collected themselves, reminded one another they were the best team in baseball, and then proved it in the 10th by scratching out two more runs with great base running and timely hitting.

But because they were the Cubs, they had to make their fans suffer just a little longer by allowing Cleveland to score one in the bottom half of the inning, and have the winning run at the plate, before a grounder to third ended one of the greatest games in baseball history. Despite three errors, a missed squeeze bunt, and a blown save, the Cubs had finally won the World Series over the Indians, 8-7.

It was perfect.

A final text from my friend Pete summed it up nicely for Cub fans everywhere: “Die Happy.”

Chicago Cubs celebrate after beating the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in 10 innings to win the series 4-3. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
Chicago Cubs celebrate after beating the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in 10 innings to win the series 4-3. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Related:

E. M. Swift Cognoscenti contributor
E.M. Swift wrote for Sports Illustrated between 1978 and 2010, covering a wide range of sports but specializing in the Olympics. He is now a freelance writer living in Carlisle, Mass.

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