The one question Cubs fans get asked more than any other this time of year is a simple one: Is this the year? That is…will the Cubs, after a 108 year drought, finally win the World Series? They’re poised to do so, having secured the best record in all of baseball, their pitching rotation solid, their lineup of hitters dominant. Some would even say that there is some urgency to win now. Sports Illustrated picked them to win. One national columnist, in fact, recently said that they must win the title this year. Their pitchers are getting older, other teams are catching up…they better not miss this chance.
I say Hogwash. Malarkey. This is precisely the attitude that should be nowhere near Cub Nation at this moment. For starters, baseball players, perhaps more than any other athletes, need to be relaxed in order to excel. The more pressure they feel, the worse they tend to do. But these are professionals, so I’m not as worried about them. I’m much more worried about us, the fans. See it’s not the failure that trips us up; it’s the success. We know exactly what to do with failure—failure is a familiar friend. She feels like home. Success…this is new. And we don’t handle it well. Consider 2008.
2008 feels eerily similar to this year. The Cubs had the best record in the National League, and it was the second straight year they’d qualified for the playoffs. It was also the 100th anniversary of the last World Series team so naturally we all drank the Kool-Aid and believed that this was The Year. Why wouldn’t it be? I was, in fact, at Game 1 of that first playoff series. Chicago took an early 2-0 lead and the optimism in the park was palpable. Until the Dodgers hit a grand slam. They went on to lose the game, and then the next two. Three and out. Not what we had in mind. Cub Nation wasn’t just disappointed; we were confused. Hurt. This was supposed to be our year! It wasn’t.
Let me go back a bit further. Consider the Atlanta Braves of the 90s and early 2000s, who won 14 straight division titles. It was unprecedented, and will likely never be matched. They were absolutely dominant. Do you know how many World Series they went to? They went to four. You know how many they won? Just one. Every year, diehard Braves fans must have thought: This is The Year! They were the best team in baseball for many of those years, and have exactly one (1) round trophy of flags to show for it.
Fans of other sports may have a hard time understanding this. Take basketball. In the NBA this year, there was about a 95% chance that the Cavaliers would make the Finals. Because when you have one of the most dominant basketball players on your team, he can touch the ball on virtually every possession, impose his will, and guarantee success. In baseball, you can have the most dominant player on your team, but he only gets to bat every ninth time. You can have the most dominant starting pitcher on your team, but he only pitches every five days.
And baseball is funny. People don’t want to admit it, but there’s a fair amount of luck in baseball. It truly is a game of inches, and sometimes inches separate success from failure.
Which brings us back to this year. Once again, the refrain is thrown about. “This is our year! We have the best team so it’s gonna happen!” Well here’s the deal, folks. You know how we’ll know it’s our year? When we’ve recorded the final out in the final inning of the final game of the World Series, and our team is on the field celebrating. Then and only then will we know.
And it’s way better for the emotional health of every Cubs fan to assume that this is in fact not The Year. Isn’t this the way we best enjoy gifts? The ones we don’t expect, that we don’t feel entitled to…those are the ones we appreciate the most. Sure we have a great chance to win it all, a better chance than the rest of the teams, but it’s not even close to guaranteed.
So Cubs fans, join me in basking in the glow of a historically great regular season. Wait expectantly, full of hope, for a World Series, because I believe with all of my heart that it will happen. But it may not be this year.
This is not the year. Until it is.