When I woke up this morning, the Chicago Cubs were still World Champions. So that really happened. And if I feel like the whole thing is surreal and dreamlike, I can only imagine what the Cubs and fans throughout Chicago must feel like. Congratulations Chicago!
There have been a lot of comparisons to show just how long 108 years is. The airplane was just 5 years old. You couldn’t listen to baseball games on the radio. Mark Twain was still alive and kicking. As Neil deGrasse Tyson pointed out,
Halley’s Comet has appeared TWICE in our skies since the last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) November 3, 2016
But despite all of the differences between now and 108 years ago, one thing has remained constant, and that, of course, is baseball. There have been small, subtle changes to the rules. And the pay is better today than it was when the Cubs last won the World Series, even accounting for inflation, but the core of the game is the same. Despite the lights, a fan from 1908 transported 108 years into the future to watch the Chicago Cubs play the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the World Series would have recognized the game, and followed along without trouble. After all, baseball is a simple game. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.
Six hours after the game ended, I am still unable to call to mind a better baseball game than the one I saw last night. I’ve seen games with better plays, but for an overall game, and given the stakes of the situation, I don’t think I’ve seen a more exciting baseball game in my life. Game 7 of the 2001 World Series comes close, but even there, the stakes weren’t quite the same as what we saw last night. The Cubs and Indians battled, and left nothing in the dugouts. There were hits, home runs, errors, stolen bases, close plays, pickoffs. The Cubs shot ahead, and Cleveland caught up and tied the game in dramatic fashion. And then, just as the game was going into extra innings the rain started to fall and out came the tarp.
It was as if Bernard Malamud’s The Natural was playing out in real life. I wouldn’t have been surprised if a Cubs player came to bat, and as he swung, lightning exploded across the sky, and he knocked the cover off the ball.
Over the years, the Cubs and their inability to win a World Series has become a staple of fiction, and a touch-point of science fiction. In my story, “Take One for the Road” (Analog Science Fiction, June 2011) I have a reference to the Cubs winning the series. The Cubs winning the series is a plot point in John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. They famously win the World Series in Back to the Future II.
Perhaps nowhere do the Cubs have a more storied history in fiction than in the writings of W. P. Kinsella, author of many wonderful baseball stories, and novels, including Shoeless Joe, which was adapted for the big screen as Field of Dreams. In another of his novels The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, the Chicago Cubs play a kind of scrimmage game against a team in a small town in Iowa–a game that lasts more than 2,000 innings.
A more formidable part of the Cubs past–the double-play combination of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance–was captured poetically in “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” written in 1910 by Franklin Pierce Adams:
The saddest of possible words:
“Tinkers to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs and fleeter than birds:
Tinkers and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our Gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double–
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinkers to Evers to Chance.”
As that final out was made, and the Cubs players came storming onto the field, I was elated, jumping up and down in our family room on the bottom floor of our house, screaming, laughing, crying. I was swept up in the moment. As things settled down, I thought about that long drought, and I was a little sad, too. W. P. Kinsella died earlier this year, and never got a chance to see the Cubs win a World Series. But neither did countless Cubs fan. Generations of Cubs fan have lived and died since that 1908 World Series without seeing a Cubs World Championship.
I wanted to watch last night’s game, rather than hear about it later, because it will become a game of myth and legend. Players will have “crushed” home runs when in reality, the several of the home runs hit in the game were mere feet from the glove of the outfielder. Baseball has a way of seasoning its games in the mythology of baseball itself. There will be books and movies, romantic comedies perhaps, that begin with a voiceover narration: “We met in the crowd outside Wrigley Field on the night the Cubs broke their 108 year drought and won the World Series in extra innings.” I wanted to see the game with my own eyes, and experience it for myself, knowing that I’d have that experience, no matter how much the mythology of baseball alters it going forward.
And what an experience. Talking about it this morning with coworkers, I still found my heart pounding at the thought of the game with its drama and excitement.
The Cleveland Indians had something of a World Series drought as well, but at 68 years, not nearly as long as the Cubs. Nevertheless, they played an amazing series, and an amazing game last night as well. What we saw on the field was the baseball equivalent of two boxers standing toe-to-toe in the center of the ring, letting it all out, leaving nothing in reserve. The Indians played a much cleaner game in the field, making only one error compared to the Cubs 3 errors. If the Cubs had lost, it would have little to do with Joe Maddon’s questionable decision to pull Hendricks in the 5th inning in favor of Jon Lester, and lot more to do with those three errors.
The Indians were part of the best baseball game I’ve ever seen, and while they didn’t ultimately win, they played an amazing game, and made it as difficult as possible for the Cubs to win–which made the Cubs victory all the more sweeter when it finally happened.
In baseball, context is everything. If the same teams make it to the World Series next year, if the series is just as good, if the games are edge-of-your-seat thrillers, it still won’t quite reach the level that things reached this year. That is because the dry-spell for Chicago is over, and while Cleveland has a dry spell of its own, it is not the longest dry spell in major league sports, the way the Cubs was.
In many ways, the Cubs win last night was the last big milestone in baseball. The perfect game is the platinum standard in baseball. There have been 19 perfect games since the Chicago Cubs last won a World Series. Perfect games have always been held up as the most precious of baseball gems. I’d argue that a Cubs World Championship is more precious. There’s only been one since 1908, and that was last night.
They’ll be a lot of people saying a lot of things about this series, and particularly last night’s game. For me, it demonstrated that baseball is the best. Congratulations, Chicago! I leave you with this.