Dexter Fowler’s first at bat on Oct. 25 was less eventful than Wednesday night’s. No home run, not even a hit. As the first person in a generation to play a World Series game in a Cubs uniform, Fowler’s at bat would become an unremarkable bit of trivia — well, unremarkable save for the fact that Fowler, a black American, would not have been permitted to play in the last Cubs’ World Series appearance.
Yes, baseball was still segregated in 1945. And if that feels like a long time ago, consider this: women were not allowed to vote the last time the Cubs actually won a championship — 1908. As if to foretell the passage of the 19th amendment, Mother’s Day was celebrated for the first time that year. Back then, our flag only had 46 stars on it. Brand new Model T Fords — just invented — sold for a whopping $850.
Baseball was equally different. Before there was Bill Murray singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in his best Daffy Duck voice, there was Billy Murray and the Haydn Quartet debuting the soon-to-be classic as a 1908 hit vaudeville song. On the way to the playoffs that year, Cubs pitcher Ed Reuhlbach not only pitched both games of a doubleheader in one day but threw complete game shutouts in each of them, something never done before or since. You could argue that even that last Cubs championship, over a century ago, was an accident: they only reached the playoffs after winning a game thanks to a baserunning error by Fred “Bonehead” Merkle.
Whatever role any “curse” may or may not have played, most Cubs success has tended to feel like an accident. Why have people stuck with the Cubs for so long? Why tie yourself to a perennial loser? “I don’t want to make this too theological,” senior Jimmy Larkin said, “but … fandom with the Chicago Cubs is unconditional.” Before this week, they had never met his ultimate expectations. Yet they were an irreplaceable part of his family — from driving past Wrigley Field on his way to school each day, to going to games with his grandfather for his birthday. Before Game Seven, he told me “if it doesn’t even happen this year, I’m still gonna love the team.”
Perhaps in our winning-obsessed cultural moment, the Cubs are a final vestige of a purer existence. One that values community more than superiority. Senior Jimmy Larkin’s grandfather was cheering them on when they lost the 1945 World Series. Larkin’s father watched in horror as they blew a huge division lead in 1969. Now, all three generations together shared a season that they each have been waiting for.
“Sports have a really cool effect on people,” said senior Madeline Bond. “They can bring together groups of people who otherwise would have no common ground.” In the midst of one of modern history’s most divisive election seasons, common ground in America has seemed like a rare commodity.
Junior Jake Fernandes, who — like Bond — attended Game Four at Wrigley Field, said “It felt like everyone was watching their brothers or sons play in the World Series.” Without regard for politics, race, religion or creed, “everyone around you was your friend.” Anyone who went out to celebrate Wednesday night might be familiar with the feeling.
Of course, getting along with others is easy when you’re succeeding together. But that’s what makes Cubs nation so remarkable: Their entire identity has depended on their status as America’s goats, a shrine to futility, the yin to the New York Yankees’ yang.
If there was a curse, though, perhaps it backfired even before it was broken. Baseball, after all, is designed for failure. Only in baseball can you fail to get a hit seven out of ten tries and be considered successful. The Cubs and their fans simply understood better what everyone else tries to forget: to err is human.
The flip side is that sometimes you succeed, no matter how improbably. How else to explain David “Grandpa” Ross? As the Cubs’ 39 year old backup catcher, he was supposed to be the less important David retiring from Major League Baseball this year. But while future hall of famer David Ortiz was running victory laps during the regular season, Ross — with his 21st professional baseball team — is the one ending his career with a critical home run in the last game of a historic world championship.
Then there’s the Cubs’ own David Ortiz stand-in, wunderkind Kyle Schwarber. Supposed to have been the most potent bat in Chicago’s lineup, Schwarber instead tore his knee ligaments in the second game of the season. And yet, after 200 days of not playing baseball, he made his re-debut on the game’s biggest stage and became the first player in history to record his first hit of the season in the last series of the year.
His success, like the rest of the team’s, came from his hope. Despite being told he would not play in 2016, Schwarber stayed with the team and poured his soul into rehab. He told the New York Times that his teammates used to encourage him and say “Come World Series, you’ll be back.”
No other team would be foolish enough to believe something so impossible. But the Cubs’ trials have made them numb with fortitude. “It’s taught me a lot about perseverance and hope,” Larkin said of their prior winless-ness.
The Cubs needed those qualities to do what they did: winning three do-or-die games in a row, staying positive after blowing yet another lead, and fighting back from a rain delay and extra innings to win — history will prove this is not hyperbole — one of the greatest sporting events of our generation.
After the Indians roared back and rain interrupted the drama, Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward called a team meaning. “I just had to remind them who they were,” Heyward said.
Wednesday night, the 2016 Chicago Cubs were champions. And they will be the rest of history.