The 2016 World Series gets underway Tuesday night and it not only features two of baseball’s best teams, led by two of the best managers in the game, but it also promises to give some fan base the cause for celebration that they’ve lacked in decades.
The Chicago Cubs have been the greatest study in pro sports futility this side of the Washington Generals. The last time they won the series, Teddy Roosevelt was President, Fenway Park was not even in the planning stages, radio was little more than Marconi’s dream, and only daredevils had flown in a plane. That ’08 club is remembered primarily for the legendary infield trio of “Tinker to Evers to Chance”, but they didn’t combine on a single double play in that year’s World Series. Tinker did lead the team with six home runs and Evers was the only starter with a batting average higher than .276. Welcome to the “Dead Ball Era”. The Cubs’ keys that year were their top two starting pitchers, Mordecai “Three-Fingered” Brown and Ed Reulbach, who went 29-9 and 24-7 respectively. Brown, who had earned his nickname thanks to a childhood farm machinery accident, tossed 312 innings, with 27 complete games, including throwing two shutouts in one day during a double-header. After dispatching the Tigers for their championship, the Cubbies have endured a drought that is now into a second century. They won the pennant in 1918, losing to the Red Sox, appeared in the series three times in the 1930s, and lost to the Tigers in seven games in 1945, perhaps with the intervention of an angry goat. In the playoff era, a near miss in 1969 and four subsequent trips to the NLCS have all come up short, though only the seriously damaged could blame Steve Bartman,
While the Cleveland fans haven’t suffered quite as long, the Indians have plenty of reason to be hungry for another opportunity. Their last title came in 1948, made possible by a one game playoff victory over the Red Sox in what old timers still refer to as “the Denny Galehouse” game, when Manager Joe McCarthy elected to go with the journeyman pitcher with a World Series berth on the line. The 1954 team was a powerhouse, winning 111 regular season games in a 154 game schedule but got swept by young Willie Mays and his New York Giants. Then came the 1990s teams of Jim Thome, Albert Belle, and Manny Ramirez. Great clubs that always came up short, including two crushing defeats in the series in 1995 and 1997.
For Red Sox fans with a sense of history, there really is no loser in this match-up. Those who remember the thrill of ending the eighty-six year streak can bask in some of the glow of whichever club emerges victorious, made easier with a plethora of Sox connections in both dugouts. Who do you want to see drinking that champagne? Theo Epstein and Jon Lester? Terry Francona and Mike Napoli? Either way, history will be made and for Sox fans who have celebrated three titles this century, it’s an opportunity to tip the cap and smile for fellow travelers who will see their patience rewarded.