Sunday, October 5, 2008

Misery

The Chicago Cubs have done it again, collapsed in futility in their first playoff series for the second year in a row after winning the National League Central Division race. After a lot of hoopla about how things were different now and a genuinely good Cub team had a chance to break the century-long curse and go all the way, the whole thing turned sour and depressingly familiar.

I watched the second and third games in a bar, surrounded by twenty-somethings who reacted to the unfolding disaster with curses, bowed heads, hands thrown up in despair. Me, I laughed. And I was rooting for the Cubs. I told one of them, “Son, I’ve been watching this kind of thing for forty years.”

I decided in 2003 that I wasn't ever going to let this team depress me again. I’ve been a Cub fan since 1967, when my father took my brothers and me to a game in Wrigley Field and the Cubs beat Juan Marichal and the Giants on two Billy Williams homers and a clutch Ron Santo triple. I was hooked, and I thought I was on to a good thing. Little did I know. I lived through the 1969 collapse, the 1984 collapse, the 2003 collapse. I’ve been watching the Cubs collapse for a long time. I finally realized I don’t have to let it affect me. I'm happy when they win, but when they lose I don't have to care. My kids still love me, I don't have any less money in the bank... I don't give a damn. Life is easier that way.

The Florida Marlins have won two World Series titles in little more than a decade of existence; the Arizona Diamondbacks have won once. Meanwhile the Cubs have had one miserable season after another, with occasional brief spasms of competence ending in excruciating failure in post-season action. How do you explain this? What gives? How can this happen again and again? This is anomalous, eye-catching, epic, spooky failure.

I don’t think there are any curses involved. I think at this point the weight of past failures is so heavy that any Cub team going into the playoffs just can't avoid being tight. They can't just relax and play the game like any other team. It's like thinking about breathing. When you start to scrutinize what you normally do on reflex and muscle memory, it's over. And that's where the Cubs are at this point. Any little thing that goes wrong makes them start to think about what they are doing, and it just goes downhill from there.

I don't expect to see a Cub title in my lifetime. It's just not ever going to happen. It's not a curse, it's just psychology. Each failure makes further failures more inevitable.

But, of course, I don't care any more.

The pity is that this was a really good Cub team-- they won the division, and that's what you put a team together to do. There is a large element of chance in baseball-- you can nail one and have it go into a fielder's glove or nub a dribbler that gets through for a hit. That's why they play series-- one game can be decided by chance, but over a series of games the breaks are supposed to even out. And the more games are involved, the more chance there is that the best team actually wins. That's why the old-fashioned pennant race was a better test of who the most talented team really was. In a short series, anything can happen, and mistakes get magnified.

So give the Cubs credit for being the best team in the National League over the course of the year, and the worst in baseball at handling pressure that will only get worse each time they make the playoffs. I’m not making excuses for them—it’s called choking, and they choked big-time, once again. But I’m starting to think that choking comes with the territory for this old, tired, sad franchise. If this Cub team couldn’t handle the pressure, what Cub team ever will?

If you are a Cub fan, you just have to accept this.

But, of course, I don’t care any more. I’m laughing...

Sam Reaves
www.samreaves.com

1 comment:

Spiros said...

Damn, you rock!

You have just perfectly described how I feel with my soccer team, here in Greece. And we're only 14 years without a title!

BTW, I LOVED your Pascual Rose trilogy. I had bought Gitana and could never find the first two here in Greece. Just managed to order the last copies from Amazon UK, had a friend send them to me and read them both over last weekend.

I'm gonna start on your other books soon :-)