This is why the Chicago Cubs should not have been permitted to win the 2016 World Series: Their fans can no longer appreciate the Cubs of the last week.
They used to be able to properly appreciate the idea of being swept at home in four straight one-run games—“Hasn’t happened since 1919? That’s so Cubs.” They used to be able to shrug off a four-game sweep at Wrigley at the hands of the hated Cardinals with a jaunty, “Last time was 1921? Beauty.” Kris Bryant getting hurt on Sunday trying to foil a double play? Cubs. Six straight losses in the 24th week of a 25-week season? Cubs. Going from a wild-card spot to four games out, and about to be passed by the Mets, who are staying afloat financially only because they get a royalty every time someone says the word “dysfunctional?” Oh so very Cubs.
And yet the ‘16 World Series ruined all of it. The nearly citywide catharsis that lit up the skies in 2016 allows Cubs fans to say, “Well, we got that one at least. Now all my dead relatives can die happy.” It also prevents them from fully absorbing the 2019 flameout with the proper reverence Cubs fans used to be able to supply on command, especially to people who didn’t want to hear about it.
I grant you, this seems a lot like the post-mortem version of the idiotic old postulate, If the Cubs wins, the fanbase will lose its character. That was stupid then, and it’s stupid now.
But it does invoke the Third Law of The Garage: You have only so much space. For everything you get in life, you have to take something to the dump, or the consignment store, or the front lawn with a sign that reads, “Free.” In exchange for a parade in 2016 that everyone not a White Sox fan loved and will cherish for eternity, Cubs fans lost the ability to fully appreciate and process the tracheotomy of 2019.
I don’t really know any of this to be indisputably true, since I know very few Cubs fans, and those I do know have the kindness and decency to maintain a respectful 1,600-mile distance. But I do know that fans who wear their historical failures like a miner’s hat are pretty much the same everywhere—they use those failures as a weight-bearing wall in the temple of their sports fantasies. The Cubs blew that up, so their misery odometer has been reset. Joe Maddon’s sure firing will come with the standard “But he won us a World Series” caveat, and the unhappiness with Theo Epstein’s inability to make his analytics dance is leavened by that baby’s-head-sized ring on his finger.
The Cubs are now just another team that vomited on itself like a thousand others, and their fans have no more conversation starters at the bar like, “My great-grandfather saw the Cubs win in 1908, and I’m afraid my kid will never know that moment.” What they used to hear is feigned sympathy; now they will get, “I’m a Padres fan; go fall down a flight of stairs.”
But objectively, this was a hell of a collapse. They lived on “a century of relentlessly not winning,” so doing two things on the same day that hadn’t happened since the Coolidge Administration and then getting a guy hurt along the way—now that’s historically Cubs. It’s just that nobody will properly appreciate it. Even if they lose their last six games by one run—three at Pittsburgh to a team that fights with itself every two months whether it needs it or not, and then three at St. Louis in front of the one fanbase that can make Cubs fans cry—it won’t matter the way it should. Even if they play 22 innings with two rain delays and Angel Hernandez next Sunday to finish behind the Phillies and Diamondbacks as well as the Mets, it won’t be part of the Cub legacy.
Unless, of course, we’re at the beginning of a new 108-year championship gap, and global warming will burn Wrigley Field into a heap of beer-soaked soot well before then. Let’s keep a good thought, eh kids? This could be the start of something really ... well, Cub.
Ray Ratto has the Jalen Ramsey flu.