Magic Joe XXL

Ho, ho, ho
It’s magic, you know
Never believe it’s not so
It’s magic, you know
Never believe, it’s not so
- “Magic” by Pilot

When I was a kid, there were two things I most wanted to be when I grew up. One was a baseball player. The other: a magician.

The problem was that I wasn’t all that good at either. It wasn’t from lack of trying. I played baseball almost every day. Even if it was just by myself throwing a rubber ball against the wall, mimicking the pitching motions of Fergie Jenkins.

My turn as a magician began like many a kid in my day with the TV Magic Set introduced by Marshall Brodien, known for his role as Wizzo the Wizzard on WGN-TV’s Bozo’s Circus. Eventually I started putting on magic shows in my house for the neighborhood kids and my parents. During these shows Barry Manilow’s “Could it Be Magic” and Pilot’s “Magic” played on scratchy 45 RPM records.

Jump ahead 40 years and the top movie at the box office is “Magic Mike XXL,” about a group of male strippers reuniting at a stripper convention.

In a magical convergence, the Chicago Cubs manager, Joe Maddon, looking to end a five-game losing streak that included being swept by the archrival and division-leading St. Louis Cardinals, did something most unorthodox. He brought a magician into the Cubs’ clubhouse before the start of a three-game series with the Mets in New York. Not a stripper. A real magician named Simon Winthrop, whose website bills him as a Las Vegas magician, mentalist and mind reader. If one is to believe that website, Simon the Magician is a miracle-maker. “…see Simon’s miracles once and you will be transformed forever,” his website claims.

If ever there was a team in need of miracles, it is the Cubs, a team that has not won the World Series since 1908, the year Ford rolled out the Model T.

One has to wonder if it was more than mere coincidence that Maddon pulled this rabbit out of his hat against the Mets – the one-time “Miracle” Mets. The team that came from eight games back to overtake the Cubs in 1969, the year that was supposed to be the Cubs’ year. It was that year on July 8, almost 46 years to the day, when a 23-year-old rookie named Don Young was playing center field for the Cubs against the Mets. Many old die-hards point to that game as the one that turned the seasons for both teams on reverse courses. Young made two costly miscues that game, losing a shallow pop up in the sun and then dropping a ball he’d snared in his mitt when he banged against the outfield wall. That’s all the opening the New York Mets needed to come back with three runs in the 9th inning to beat the Cubs 4-3, cutting Chicago’s lead in the National League East to four games. Some say that Ron Santo, the Cubs’ star third baseman, never forgave Young for that game.

One can see why the Maddon, the Cubs’ unconventional manager, would not want to see history repeat itself. So why not use a little sleight-of-hand to turn things around for the young Cubs. “We’re trying to lighten things up a little bit,” Maddon said before the first game of the series against the Mets, per Howie Rumberg of the Associated Press. “We’re always trying to create some magic around here, so why not bring a magician in?”

After the Cubs won that game 1-0, Pilot’s “Magic” – the song I used to play for my own magic shows as a kid – played in the team’s postgame clubhouse victory party.

In game 2, when Anthony Rizzo used a little sleight of leg to avoid a tag when sliding into third base on a steal, the team’s star third baseman mouthed to his teammates in the dugout: “Magic!” The Cubs won that game 2-0.

In game 3, the Cubs won 6-1, behind a three-run blast off the bat of Jonathan Herrera, his first home run in two years and only the ninth of his 7-year big league career.

Could it be the magic?

If the Cubs keep it up and miraculously overcome the Cards’ now 8.5-game divisional lead, Joe Maddon will have pulled off perhaps the greatest magic trick of all time.

Never believe it’s not so.

Photo: Joe Maddon / Keith Allison / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Alteration: Cropped