There was no better way for the curse to end. The Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years last night, in perhaps the most exciting baseball game of all time. I inherited my Cubs fandom from my father, so for me, the final out that sealed the game was joyful, exhilarating and ecstatic. But it was nowhere near as good as the Game 7 that preceded it.
The first thing I did after Chicago won was call my dad, Tom Arthur. He’s been a Cubs fan his whole life. Born on the north side of the city, he moved to the suburbs around 1945. He remembers being excited about the prospect of living near Phil Cavarretta, a postseason stalwart for the last great run of Cubs teams. (Coincidentally, current Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo wears the same number 44 as Cavarretta). The 1945 season was the last time the Cubs made the World Series until this year, and for much of the time in between, they simply weren’t very good.
He wasn’t in Chicago to see the famous Cubs double-play trio of Tinker to Evers to Chance around the turn of the century, but he recalls Miksis to Smalley to Grandstand in ’52 — so named because the ball usually found its way into the stands rather than to the first baseman.
“I was only in Little League, but even I could tell that Roy Smalley wasn’t a very good shortstop,” he told me.1 He remembers better the greats from other teams: Don Newcombe throwing to Roy Campanella for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and kids swarming players trying to get autographs postgame. But from 1946 to 1956 — his prime days as a young baseball fan—the Cubs averaged a winning percentage of only .443, never once making the playoffs.
And yet, his Cubs fandom is strong. Hearing him talk about those afternoons at the ballpark, I was struck by how much he loved the game, and not necessarily the laundry. “We went to [Wrigley] to enjoy baseball, not necessarily to watch the Cubs win,” he said. “You knew the Cubs stunk.” My dad loved hopping on the train before grabbing prime seats at the ballpark for a buck twenty-five, and soaking in the neighborhood afterwards. Sixty-some years later, the experience remains, to some extent at least, intact: the el runs right beside the very same stadium, and Wrigleyville is as lively as ever, though you won’t find seats for $1.25 any more.
As the years went on and the World Series drought seasons accrued, myths began to accumulate about the Cubs’ losing ways. First there was the Curse of the Billy Goat, started in 1945 when the Cubs kicked Billy Sianis and his foul-smelling pet goat out of the ballpark. Then there was the Curse of the Black Cat in 1969. Even the hexes of other franchises can be connected, however tangentially, to the Cubs. My father doesn’t buy any of it. “I’m not sentimental that way,” my dad said. “That curse stuff is kind of ridiculous — they just didn’t play very well!” Others in my family are more mawkish: Legend has it that the ashes of a certain relative of mine were surreptitiously dumped in the ivy of the outfield wall at Wrigley.
My father’s was the variant of Cubs fandom that I grew up with. The Cubs have always been losers, if also sometimes lovable. Not cursed, just not playing very well. That’s what made me see defeat around every corner, and this season of complete dominance so unexpected.
As my dad realized in the ’50s, there’s something liberating about knowing your team is going to lose. With the outcome sealed, you become free to enjoy the game and the experience of the ballpark for whatever it is. Sometime in the middle of the incredible, marathon, rain-delayed epic that was Game 7, I came to that conclusion myself.
Good baseball transcends the teams that play it, and Wednesday had the best baseball I’ve ever seen. That the Cubs won their first championship in more than a century was a pleasant side effect of that matchup. Even with all of those hexes out of the way, I hope that Cubs fans can continue to appreciate the songs, the stadium, the neighborhood, and most importantly the game itself. Curses, droughts and even World Series wins be damned, that’s always been the best part of being a Cubs fan.