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Chicago Cubs-After 100 years, it might be time!
The Chicago Cubs have a long and storied history in baseball. They have a very large fan base across the world even though they haven't been in the World Series since 1945, the year the "curse of the goat" was placed on the Cubs. But that's another story. The Cubs haven't won the World Series since 1908. Yes 1908, 100 years ago this year. 100 years is a very long time. Longer then probably any of us has been alive to have the pleasure of enjoying the Cubs ever winning a World Series. Heck, you would have to be 70 years old to even have the privilage of seeing the Cubs in a World Series game and actually remember it.
The last time the Cubs won the World Series in 1908, the players best known on the team was their infield. Tinkers to Evers to Chance was a saying that every Cubs fan knew. Evers played 2B, Tinkers played SS, and team manager/player Chance played 1B. That team won 99 games that season and then beat the Detroit Tigers 4 games to 1 in the World Series. For the season, the 1908 Cubs were second in batting average and on base percentage, third with a 2.14 ERA and first with a league high 668 strikeouts. They were also first in fielding pecentage as well. There are some people think that this Cubs team could be the best team in the history of baseball.
The Cubs have come close a very few times in my lifetime. Heartbreaker #1; The first year in my lifetime that I remember and came close to the heart was 1969. Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ken Holtzman and Fergie Jenkins. Oh what a summer that was. I was 13 years old and remember taking the bus and the "EL" short for elevated subway train, to Wrigley Field and sitting in the bleachers with all the "Bleacher Bums" of the time. For $5.00-$10.00 I could get to the game, buy a ticket, and have a Smokie Link or two and a couple of Cokes. It was a great way to spend the summer. The Cubs had an 8 game lead over the Mets at the end of August. Then while playing a game against the Mets in NY at Shea Stadium, a black cat ran onto the field and circled Ron Santo while he was in the ondeck circle. From that point on, the supposed curse of the goat took over and the Mets overtook the Cubs in the last month of the season and went on to win the World Series.
Heartbreaker #2; In the year 1984, the Cubs got even closer to the World Series. That team dominated the Eastern division all season. This was the team with the animal infield of the penguin, Ron Cey, the bowa, Larry Bowa, the ryno, Ryne Sandberg, and the bull, Leon Durham. They had Rick Sutcliffe, and Dennis Eckersley. They won the eastern division and easily went up 2-0 on the Padres in the playoffs. In the heads and hearts of all Cubs fans, this was the year. They went into San Diego and lost the first 2 games to tie the series. In game 5, with the winner moving on to the World Series, the Cubs were up 3-0 after 5 and a half innings and 3-2 going into the bottom of the 7th. Rick Sutcliffe, the CY Young award winner was on the mound. They were going to do it. But with two outs, Leon Durham, a very good fielder, let an easy grounder go right between his legs and it was all downhill from there. The Cubs lost the game and again, there chance to be in the World Series. Later on, Durham said that Gatorade had spilled on his glove and it made it heavy and sticky. The curse was at it again.
The Cubs had their chances in 1989 and again nine years later in 1998. They were swept in 1998 by the Braves and lost to the Giants 1 game to 4 in 1989.
Heartbreaker #3; Then came 2003. The Cubs had a tight race for the Central division crown with the Astros and the Cardinals. They won crucial games in nthe last week of the season to take the crown by 1 game over the Astros and 3 over the Cardinals. They had 2 of the best pitchers in Kerry Wood and Mark Prior along with Carlos Zambrano, and Matt Clement they led the league in strikeouts. They had such heavy hitters as Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou, Erik Karros and aquired Aramis Ramirez, Randall Simon, and Kenny Lofton mid season. The Cubs then went on to beat the Braves and ex Cub Greg Maddux in Atlanta in deciding game 5 of the series. The standing jopke at the time was that the Braves stadium was Wrigley Field south because there were more Cubs fans there then there were Braves fans. The Cubs were on there way. All they had to do was beat the Marlins in the NLCS. The first twwo games were at Wrigley and the two team each won one game. After the next 3 games in Florida, the Cubs were up 3 games to 2. One more game, only one more game out of two in Wrigley Field with Prior and then Woods on the mound if needed. It was a sure thing!
The Cubs were up 3-0 with 5 outs to go in the game. 5 outs with Prior on the mound. They couldn't lose and cub mania was going crazy. Then the inevitable happened. The curse of the goat took over again. On a pop fly towards the stands on the left field line, a fan, Steve Bartman, went for the foul ball not realizing that Moises Alou had a chance to make the catch. He prevented Alou from catching the ball and then the flood gates opened. The marlins went on to score 8 runs in the inning and the Cubs lost the game. They went on to lose game 7 as well and another World Series chance faded into the past.
Heartbreaker #4; In 2007, the Cubs had a new manager in Lou Pinnella. The Cubs had a rough beginning to the season, but played very well during the final 2 months of the season and overtook the Brewers to win the Division. They were in the playoffs again and hopes were high. But as usual, the goat took over, this time very quickly as the Cubs were swept 4 games to none in the NLDS by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Another one bites the dust. Wait till next year! Again!
Well, next year is here!. The season is almost upon us and because of last years success, hopes are again high in Cub land! And for very good reason too. They have an abundance of pitching and will have choices to make before the season. There are currently 7 pitchers eyeing for 5 spots. Three starters are already set with righty Carlos Zambrano, lefty Ted Lilliy, and lefty Rich Hill. The other two spots will be a dogfight between righties Jason Marquis, Jon Lieber, and converted closer Ryan Dempster. Lefty Sean Marshall is also in the mix. Right now my money is on Lieber and Dempster. Marquis has demanded a trade if he doesn't start because he doesn't want to pitch in the bullpen. My gut feeling is that after his tirade his wish will be granted.
The bullpen looks like it could become a very good unit as well. Kerry Wood, Bob Howry, and Carlos Marmol are all fighting for the closer spot. And the two pitchers who don't become the closer will pitch as setup men, along with lefty Scott Eyre in the 7th and 8th innings. As far as middle relief, I believe lefty Sean Marshall will be put there because he has been a starter and has the ability to pitch numerous innings at a shot. They have an abundance of other pitchers fighting for a spot in middle relief which is a very good problem to have during spring training.
They have an excellent batting order with power ability in Soriano, Lee, Ramirez, Soto, and the newcomer from Japan, Kosuke Fukudome. They have speed on the basepaths as well with Soriano, Theroit, Fukudome, Lee, and Pie. Their defense will be much improved with Soriano, Pie and Fukudome in the outfield. They all are very fast and have good arms. Soriano especially who led the majors in outfield assists last year. Fukudome will be a huge improvement in right field with speed, a good arm and excellent techniques. In the infield, the defense should be very good as well with Ramirez at third, Theriot at shortstop, DeRosa at second and Gold Glover Lee at first. Behind the plate, rookie Geovany Soto has worked very hard to learn the pitching staff and improve his all around catching abilities. He also has Henery Blanco, a veteran catcher as a back up that has been teaching him the ins and outs. He did very well last year after being called up in September. He took over the starting job and was the starter during the playoffs. He also was the only player to hit a homer for the Cubs in the playoffs. They also have some excellent choices for bench players in Derrick Ward, Ronny Cedeno, Mike Fontenot, Matt Murton and sam Fuld who can fill in for the starters to give them a rest or in case of injury.
So in the world of Cubs fans, we all hope that this year as we do every year, that it might be the year the Cubs finally win the World Series in our lifetimes. They play baseball in the most beautiful ball park in the world at Wrigley Field. With the ivy on the walls, the skyline beyond the outfield walls, and the large manually operated scoreboard above center field, there is no other with the aura or history behind it. Wrigley is nestled within a great Chicago neighborhood, the rooftops across the street loaded with people on gamedays. And no matter what exit you walk out of after the game, there is a bar across the street. You can go to either drown your sorrows or to celebrate victory. We long to see the Cubs celebrate victory and the crowds going crazy in the stands, in the streets, and beyond. This year if all goes right and the goat sleeps through the season, the playoffs and the World Series, it just might be the Year of the Cubbies. All I ask for is that the Cubs can do it just once in my lifetime. Just once in my lifetime, is that too much to ask? Here's to hoping and keeping our fingers crossed.