If it’s July, What are the Cubs Doing in First Place?

by Jeff Siegel

The newspaperman Bob Vanderberg, who does perhaps the world’s finest Harry Caray imitation, used to do Harry announcing the final baseball game before Armageddon. The punchline? Bob’s beloved Chicago White Sox were about to win the World Series, if only they could hurry up and do it before the world ended.

Which is how I feel with the Chicago Cubs in first place, and with the best record in the National League, at the All-Star break. Is the world about come to an end?

The Cubs, of course, are baseball’s most storied losers. The team hasn’t won a World Series since 1908 and hasn’t played in a World Series since 1945. The White Sox and Boston Red Sox ended their Series droughts in the past couple of years, but the Cubs have continued on their merry way, bumbling here and stumbling there. Those of us born at the end of the Baby Boom have come to accept the Cubs’ mediocrity as part of our lives, like snow in winter and bad movies. These things just are.

Yet there is a real chance that could change this season. The Cubs are actually pretty good this year, with decent starting pitching, an adequate bullpen, and a solid everyday lineup. Plus, most of the rest of the National League isn’t very good, which makes the Cubs seem that much better. And the quality of play in the American League isn’t that much better than in the National League. All of this has a lot of Cub fans excited. The blog, Bleed Cubbie Blue, does as good a job as any at showing just how close Cub fans are to going over the edge because of their team’s success.

Frankly, I’m not sure how to handle all this good fortune. It’s much easier to follow a team that loses, if only because of diminished expectations. You can’t get your heart broken if your team never wins. I’d be lying if I didn’t note that there’s a part of me that wants the Cubs to go on a nice, little 12-game losing streak to get this World Series foolishness out of the way.

My other fear? That if the Cubs do win, it will change the dynamic of Cubness. When a team loses consistently, its fans (or at least Cub fans) appreciate winning as the exception that it is, and they really appreciate the game. Of course, that’s pretty basic: If your team stinks, you’d better learn to love the game.

The last thing I want is to see Cub fans turn into Dallas Cowboys or New York Yankees fans, insufferable boors who think their team deserves to win just because. There is, sadly, precedent for this. Red Sox fans, who used to look wistfully at the horizon and speak lovingly of Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski, have turned into unbearable louts. Today, after two World Series championships in four seasons, they are almost as obnoxious as Yankees fans.

And besides — I really don’t want the world to end.

For another take on the long frustration of Cubs fans, please also see: "Curses? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Curses."

(The photo shows the Chicago Cubs playing the New York Giants on Aug. 30, 1908 in Chicago. The photo is from the Library of Congress; the George R. Lawrence Co. held the original copyright but that has since lapsed. The photo is in the public domain. The Cubs begin a series against the San Francisco Giants beginning this afternoon in Chicago.)

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