It’s been called “America’s Last Great Sports Story”. The Chicago Cubs haven’t won… well, we all know how the rest of that sentence ends. That is, until just after midnight on November 3, 2016 in Cleveland, when Mike Montgomery got the Indians’ Michael Martinez to ground out, third baseman Kris Bryant to first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Finally, after 108 years, the Cubs are World Champions again.
In recent days, I’ve seen lots of articles around the web that have declared “America’s Last Great Sports Story” to be over. For decades, one of the biggest parts of baseball lore was that three of its most storied franchises – the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, and Chicago Cubs – had championship droughts that dated back to the early 20th century. When the Red Sox ended their 86-year drought in 2004 and the White Sox ended their 88-year drought a year later, the Cubs stood alone as the undisputed “kings” of futility, not only in baseball, but in American sports.
But it wasn’t just the long winless streak. It was Babe Ruth’s called shot. It was the Curse of the Billy Goat. It was the black cat at Shea Stadium. It was the Lee Elia rant. It was the Steve Bartman Play. It was all those long summer afternoons at Wrigley Field, as fans drank beer in the Bleachers and sang along with Harry Caray as the team was giving up one wind-blown home run after another. Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and the Cubs losing. It was what America was all about.
But Joe Maddon and Co. turned all that on its head this year. Baseball – and American pop culture – will never be the same again. Think of all the stories – and all the gags – from TV and movies that reference the Cubs’ never-ending streak of futility. What will we make fun of now? The Arizona Cardinals’ 69-year streak without an NFL championship? The San Diego Padres never having won the World Series? I just don’t see it catching on.
Admittedly, something is now missing from our collective American psyche. And some fans may lament this. But not me. And I’m sure millions of Cubs fans agree – certainly, at least the estimated five million fans who showed up to the Cubs’ victory celebration in Chicago. Those jokes about black cats, goats, Bartman, and just plain being awful had their charm to all the haters out there, but they were an endless source of frustration for Cubs fans everywhere, including myself.
This World Series victory was long overdue. Time is always marching on, and the time to move on from this so-called “great story” passed many years ago, at least in my opinion. I’m sure there will be plenty of great stories in baseball and in sports for years to come. It was time for a new great story: one about how a group of 25 players and their eccentric manager overcame a late deficit in Game 4 of the Division Series against the Giants, back-to-back shutouts in the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers, and a three-games-to-one deficit against the Indians in the World Series, including a Game 7 for the ages, to defy history and bring happiness to millions who had waited their whole lives for this championship.
And just because the Cubs have now won the World Series, that doesn’t mean we have to totally break from the past. We can still celebrate the baseball time capsule that is Wrigley Field, the legendary broadcasters like Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray, the legendary players like Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, and Ryne Sandberg, and all the other memories in between. Everything we went through as fans of this team – both good and bad – led us to this day. It may have been a difficult story for all of us, but it eventually had a happy ending.
And that’s what we need to celebrate now. For years, we will be discussing this incredible this season and sharing our memories of it with future generations. To me, that sounds like a truly great American sports story that’s just beginning. And whether the Cubs win many more championships or never win another in our lifetimes, we’ll always have this:
In 2016, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.
Brian Johnston is the author of the book The Art of Being a Baseball Fan, his story of following the 2015 Chicago Cubs, available on Amazon. He lives in St. Joseph, Michigan with his wife and two children.