The best story, from the very beginning, has been this: the Cubs get close, but they lose. In Game 7. Maybe even to the Cleveland Indians. And so on and on it would go, the never-ending quest for the elusive white whale.
Now, before you overreact, understand the argument. This isn’t about wants. It’s about needs. And what baseball needs is more of the story that allowed Game 5 of the World Series to beat the NFL (Eagles-Cowboys, no less) in television ratings on Sunday night for the first time in a long time, which was no small feat.
Ironic, right? If the Cubs lose, baseball wins.
Before you get too technical, it doesn’t matter that the Cubs actually won Game 5. They were down in the series three games to one entering the night. There was no chance of them winning the World Series that night. Win or lose — but mostly lose — the Cubs are an indisputable draw, the best lure baseball could possibly have at a time when we continue to talk about things like declining participation rates, pace of play and countless options. The Cubs provide baseball with something no other team in North American sports possesses, the longest championship drought in history.
As such, Game 7 tonight is likely to do stratospheric television ratings, especially if the game is close, tight and tension-filled. And if the Cubs are winning by a large margin, it won’t matter. People will tune in to see the celebration that Chicagoans have been anticipating for more than a century. MLB and network executives everywhere are beaming at the possibilities tonight — and they should be.
But you know what they’re beaming about even more? The possibility of extending this story into next season and, perhaps, beyond.
How can we get more out of this?
And the answer is obvious. By the Cubs losing.
There was a time, of course, when baseball was America’s pastime, a truly national sport that ruled the sports landscape. That was before the NFL became a titan, before LeBron James, before Michael Jordan or even Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Today’s game needs reform, for lots of reasons, and current MLB commissioner Rob Manfred seems to be angling toward progressive tweaks like a pitch clock.
This is all good. It will help some. But what baseball truly needs is compelling theater, the kind of storyline that will prompt everyone to stop and take notice because something might happen that, well, you’ve never seen before.
Like the Cubs winning the World Series, for instance.
Only here’s the problem: once the Cubs win it, the story is gone.
Of course, Chicagoans are chief among those currently rolling their eyes at this poetic, even romantic notion that winning will somehow ruin everything. So I’ll spare you the flowery garbage about the resiliency of the human spirit and the drama comes in the chase — the capture — and not the kill. Cubs fans haven’t necessarily had their share of heartache over the years — the Cubs haven’t even really been close, for goodness sake — but they’ve had more than their share of failure. Sooner or later, most everyone gets some reward, and the Cubs certainly deserve theirs.
But the game? Well, the game needs more of the Cubs, more of this great pursuit, more of the drama that existed in Game 5, with the Cubs on the brink of another failure, desperation all but tangled into the ivy at Wrigley Field.
Sorry, folks, but it’s a better story if the Cubs lose, at least for now. It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s just business.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.