On Wednesday at this time, I posted a message on Facebook I called “an open letter to Cubs fans from a St. Louis fan.” A lot of people liked it, and I think that’s because my message, boiled down to its essence, was I feel your pain.
My God, what pain there was to feel! The Cubs had just been shut out two games in a row. They trailed the Dodgers two games to one in the National League Championship Series. Is this how the magical 2016 season was going to end—as just another memorable disaster?
To reach a different audience, I’m reposting that message below to reach a different audience. I say different because Cubs fans who were gagging 24 hours ago are now giggling with self-conscious relief—How could we doubt our Cubs?—after Joe Maddon’s squad beat the Dodgers 10-2 last night to tie the NLCS at two games apiece.
There’s naive giggling and there’s the enjoy-it-while-we-can giggling that’s fully cognizant of a larger reality—the doom just outside the door. There’s the very real possibility that in a matter of hours from now the Cubs will be trailing in the NLCS three games to two and find themselves on the brink of elimination.
It’s just as likely they won’t be. But the air of relief and celebration wafting from Wednesday’s Facebook conversations makes me think of towel-snapping horseplay among Royal Air Force pilots between missions during the Battle of Britain.
When tension’s unbearable, grab every opportunity not to bear it. And this brings me back to my open letter, which had this to say:
Year in and year out, as you know, the Cardinals contend for the Major League title. The goal every spring is a World Series championship, and it is the very rare season—such as this one—that doesn’t end with the Cardinals at the very least in the playoffs.
The response from Cubs fans to this success has been envy, annoyance, and contempt—along with the repeated vow that “our day will come.”
Well, this season that day certainly arrived. The Cubs not only finished far ahead of the Cardinals but had a better record than any other team in the majors. They are, from the first man through the last, unquestionably the best team in baseball.
But as Cardinal fans could tell you, that doesn’t mean much in the playoffs. The Cardinals have won two World Series in this century, both times with teams that were lucky to even be in the playoffs, let alone prevail in them. Every other year ended in failure, and by failure I mean in crushing disappointment, bewilderment, and recriminations. Last year’s team won 100 games but couldn’t get past the Cubs in the first playoff round. Do you think St.Louis fans shrugged off that defeat? Of course not. The better the team, the more unacceptable its defeat. Then, defeat is tragic!
The Cubs now trail LA two games to one and Cubs fans are besides themselves with dread. A win tonight and the picture will change completely—to a tied series with two of the next three games at home and the Cubs’ best pitchers lined up to pitch them. Then again, the Cubs might not win tonight. That’s how it goes.
And so, speaking as a Cardinals fan, I ask Cubs’ fans this: Can you handle success? This is what it’s like to root for a good team. It’s agony year in and year out, once every so often rewarded with a title but most often resolved by crushing defeat. Lovable losers are a lot easier to live with. I hope the Cubs win this year, but if they don’t, expect them to put you through the same turmoil next season. And the next. The Cubs promise to be very good for a very long time. Long-suffering Cubs fans will find out what real suffering is.
Here’s something else worth pointing out: When triumph eventually comes, it’s ephemeral. You have your day or so of jumping up and down, and the parade is amazing, but at some point—which comes pretty damn soon—it hits you that this win had nothing to do with you, and as a fan your only function now is to wait for next year. Which is just like it is when the Cubs lose.
But defeat! That’s forever. Don’t expect a World Series championship to make Chicago forget about the Bartman game, because Chicago won’t. Ask any Cardinals fan—even the ones who weren’t born yet—what happened in 1985 and they’ll say, “Don Denkinger missed the call at first.”