The Chicago Cubs are among the very last of the losers, the most lovable in what is a rapidly dying breed. Now the Cubs are on to the National League Championship Series after defeating the mighty St. Louis Cardinals, and the Cubs are just eight wins away from winning their first World Series in 107 years.
If you’re at all like me, you’re rooting for them.
Albeit with a hint of regret.
Look, I’m really not one of these overly sentimental sorts, captivated by the unending quest for the Holy Grail. It’s just that there aren’t that many great stories in sports anymore. At this stage, we’ve pretty much seen it all, done it all, experienced it all. There are a few stories out there truly worth feeling good about, and the Cubs are absolutely, positively one of them.
So let’s say they win. Then what? We’re all left to root for Cleveland, in just about everything, and it’s just not that much fun to root for Cleveland … in anything.
As a Bostonian, know what always ticked me off? The notion that the Cubs and the Red Sox were kindred spirits, at least until 2004, when the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Since 1940, through today, the Red Sox rank fourth in the major leagues in winning percentage, behind only the Yankees, Dodgers and Cardinals. The Cubs rank 25th. Only the Marlins, Mariners, Rockies, Padres and Rays have been worse than the Cubs, and they were all expansion franchises.
The Red Sox were contenders. The Cubs sucked. And they always sucked. They have been the major league equivalent of the Bad News Bears, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, the Keystone Kops. Take Cleveland, in anything, and multiply it by, like, 100.
But make no mistake: the Cubs are now contenders, legitimately good. And they are young on top of it. President of baseball operations, Theo Epstein, who helped bust the ghosts in New England, has built a team that bears some resemblance to the 2004 Red Sox. The Cubs swing from their heels, play hard, act carefree. No team in baseball struck out more than the Cubbies did this year.
In Chicago, if you don’t strike out, you’re not swinging hard enough.
Admittedly, Chicago still has a long way to go. But let’s not minimize what the Cubs have done so far. In reaching the NLCS, Chicago has eliminated both the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cardinals, the only two teams in baseball to finish with more wins than the Cubs did. After going 19-19 against the Pirates and Cardinals during the regular season, the Cubs went 4-1 against them in the postseason, pounding the Cardinals into submission in Tuesday’s series finale at Wrigley Field.
And then the Cubs said things like this.
“I can only imagine what the next thing is going to look like,” starter Jon Lester told reporters. “And the next thing after that.”
The next thing after that.
Good heavens. The Cubs haven’t even been to the World Series since 1945. That was 70 years ago. The Indians have won a series during that time, and they’ve at least been back. The Cubs have been so bad they’ve made Cleveland look lucky.
Of course, there is still a long way to go before Chicago ends the longest championship drought in American sports. In the next round, the Cubs will face either the Los Angeles Dodgers or the New York Mets, each of whom can match (or surpass) the Cubs with firepower on the mound. The Dodgers may have more talent. The Mets may actually have more magic. One way or another, Chicago will face a team every bit as good, if not better, but then, that is what the playoffs are all about.
In the interim, rest assured that most of America will be rooting for the Cubs for the mere fact that their story crosses all lines, from old to young, men to women, hardcore fans to casual ones. Believe it or not, lots of people out there don’t know who Clayton Kershaw is, but they all know the Cubs haven’t won a championship in, well, forever. So the Cubs will win the sentimental vote in a landslide.
If Chicago wins, we will then all celebrate them, and label Epstein as perhaps the greatest ghostbuster of all time. We will enjoy the truly amazing story the Cubs have become, from ace Jake Arrieta to outfielder Jorge Soler.
And then, when everything quiets down, we’ll all look long and hard for the next great story.
And we may have no choice but to root for Cleveland.
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.