I wonder if Cubs fans, deep in their heart of hearts, really love this.
The Cubs are losers again, beaten 9-6 by the Marlins Wednesday in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. But they aren't just losers. They are artists of loss, maestros of defeat. They are to losing what Jascha Heifetz was to the violin, what Rembrandt was to still lifes, what Jennifer Lopez is to overexposure.
With three chances to win a single game and go to the World Series for the first time since 1945, they picked three different ways to lose: They were shut out on two hits Sunday, they kicked away a three-run eighth-inning lead with a bizarre implosion Tuesday and they got outslugged Wednesday.
One gets the feeling that if the NLCS were seven out of 13, the Cubs would have found three more ways to lose. They might have walked in a winning run, hit into a game-ending triple play, batted out of order. They're the Cubs: They can lose to you in so many ways.
TV dutifully showed Cubs fans sitting stunned in the Wrigley Field stands in the aftermath of Wednesday's finale. Some cried, some buried their head in their hands, but most simply stared out at the field. We were so close, they seemed to be thinking. We led 3-0 in the eighth last night. We led 5-3 in the fifth tonight. This was going to be the year, finally.
But winning would have changed the whole dynamic of what it means to be a Cubs fan. "If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all," goes the old blues song. If it wasn't for losing, what would Cubs fans have? They'd be just like everybody else, rooting for the home nine, winning some, losing some, getting rained out once in a while.
Cubs fans are special. They're loyal and true and long-suffering. They have the magic of losing. Other losers must give way. The Red Sox are spectacularly snake-bit, but they're merely a successful team that doesn't win championships. Even the hapless cross-town White Sox, losers of the first order, have won the pennant and the World Series more recently. Nobody loses like the Cubs.
Sometimes the losing is just plain losing, 90-loss seasons and second-division finishes. Sometimes the losing comes later, in pennant races or playoffs. But even when the Cubs are good, they can always fall back on 1908, the last year they won a championship, or 1945, the last year they went to the Series.
When the One Great Scorer comes to write against the Cubs' names, He writes not that they won or lost -- He writes that they lost.
So now Cubs fans are gleefully engaged in their real favorite pastime, assigning blame. It's Dusty Baker's fault for leaving Mark Prior out there for 116 pitches in a blowout in Game 2, and then leaving him out there again as things unraveled in Game 6. It's that fan's fault for interfering with Moises Alou on the foul ball. It's Alex Gonzalez's fault for the key error that opened the floodgates to the Marlins rally. It's the bullpen's fault, Sammy Sosa's, Mayor Daley's.
Imagine if the Cubs had gone all the way. Oh, there'd be wild celebrating, unbridled ecstasy, tears of joy, but these would be momentary pleasures in the scheme of things. Pitchers and catchers would report four months later and it would start all over again. Everything would be the same as ever except Cubs fans wouldn't have their hair shirt. At the end of the year they'd say, "We haven't won anything since ... last year," and it wouldn't resonate.
Cubs fans have the secret: Winning comes and goes, but losing is forever.
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That other team [PERMALINK]
Several people have written to tell me of their lack of interest in a World Series that includes the Marlins. The Cubs playing either the Yankees or Red Sox, who play Game 7 Thursday night at Yankee Stadium, would have been fine with most of them, but they just can't seem to get interested in that team from Florida.
"The Marlins remind me of a shopping trip to Wal-Mart," one reader wrote. "Everything seems cheap, utilitarian, functional but without style (save for Pudge Rodriguez)."
As Rodney Dangerfield used to say: Tough room!
Without style? Juan Pierre? Dontrelle Willis? Slick-fielding Alex Gonzalez (Florida version)? Six dramatic come-from-behind wins in the postseason?
It's true the Marlins have been a crapola franchise in a crapola ballpark. It's true an earlier owner, Wayne Huizenga, betrayed the fan base by dismantling the 1997 championship team and the current owner, Jeffrey Loria, destroyed baseball in Montreal, and probably can't be trusted not to destroy it again in Miami.
But on the field right now, they're as exciting as anybody, and probably more exciting than the Cubs were. They have speed at the top of the lineup and power in the middle. They have established but still young stars like Mike Lowell and Rodriguez -- who is only arguably the greatest all-around catcher in baseball history -- and electrifying youngsters like Josh Beckett and Miguel Cabrera. They have a great story line, coming from nowhere to become the best team in baseball for most of the season after they hired 72-year-old castoff Jack McKeon to manage.
If they'd only stop wearing those black softball jerseys every night and dress like a baseball team, they'd really be something.
This postseason has been as entertaining as any since the fabulous October of 1986, and you turn your back on it at your entertainment peril. Except for the Yankees cold-cocking the Twins, every series has been packed with thrilling games, and there's no reason to believe the World Series, even with the middle three games played in that dumpy football stadium in Miami, will be any different. All those people who turned their backs on baseball last October because they didn't care about the two West Coast teams missed a humdinger of a World Series. Those turned off because the Marlins aren't a marquee team risk the same fate.
Thursday night is the final warmup. Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez will pitch in a rematch of the Game 3 that got so out of hand Saturday in Boston. The Red Sox's bats finally awakened Wednesday as Boston avoided elimination with a 9-6 win in Game 6. Clemens will have to quiet them to keep his career from ending. Yankee Stadium will be rocking.
The Sox last won the World Series in 1918, and their fans cling to that number almost as zealously as Cubs fans hang on to 1908. But the Red Sox can get to the Series by beating New York one more time. The thrill of victory may be transitory and the mystique of long-suffering loyalty a powerful thing, but these are the Yankees.
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