People often ask me, given my preeminence in the study of Cubness, whether it’s fair to judge the 2008 team based on the Cubs’ gloriously uninterrupted history of failure. Back when I landed my first media job at age 11 delivering the Bridgeport Post in Connecticut, I would have said yes. But as I’ve grown older, my position, as John McCain might say, has “evolved.”
Can the Cubs win the 2008 World Series? It’s a complicated question.
On the one hand, this is a team whose ancestry includes a 1979 squad that scored 22 runs in a game against the Phillies and not only lost but never once led. A 1917 club whose ace pitcher, James “Hippo” Vaughn, hurled a nine-inning no-hitter against the Cincinnati and lost—because Reds pitcher Fred Toney not only threw a no-hitter himself but didn’t wilt and allow two hits and a run in the tenth. A 1909 team that paraded around the Cubs’ old West Side Grounds led by a marching band and then hoisted a banner celebrating their 1908 World Series championship (yes, that world championship) atop the centerfield flagpole—only to have the rope pulley break and the banner fly off beyond the stadium—like a mighty Dave Kingman blast. As everyone knows, I could continue.
On the other hand, there is the Ex-Cub Factor, the most accurate method ever devised for determining who will lose the World Series. Decades ago, the alchemist in me stumbled upon the mysterious virus Cubness. It attacks all who’ve played for the Cubs, even if only for a single day. There is no inoculation, no cure. When traded to another team, ex-Cubs become carriers of this debilitating disease—the ticks of baseball. Any World Series team infested with three or more of them turns addled and confused, losing all ability to win.
Two teams—the Phillies (ex-Cubs Scott Eyre, Jamie Moyer, Matt Stairs) and the Dodgers (Juan Pierre, Nomar Garciaparra, Greg Maddux)—are doomed this year by the Ex-Cub Factor. Frankly, I don’t understand why they’ve bothered to show up for the playoffs.
But the Cubs—they have no ex-Cubs! None at all! They have only Cubs, and though Cubs are given to what Lou Piniella calls “Cubbie occurrences,” Cubness lies dormant until that Cub becomes an ex-Cub.
Consider the last Cubs team to contain three ex-Cubs, the 1983 team, which would have been poisoned in World Series play by ex-Cubs Fergie Jenkins, Rick Reuschel, and Jerry Morales. (That team went belly-up early and finished fifth.)
This Cubs team can win it all!
There’s a caveat, of course. As we learned in 2003, even ex-Cubs-free Cubs teams lose. If these Cubs win they’ll have to win strictly on merit.v
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