Not all losers are lovable. The 2016 World Series featured two teams, both long-time losers, but it was clear from the beginning which team was the good guys, and which team was just in the way. The Cubbies were the lovable losers, with long-suffering fans who deserved to finally, finally get to win. The Cleveland Indians were just in the way, like Stewart Cink in the 2009 British Open (59-year-old Tom Watson was supposed to win) or whoever beat Nancy Kerrigan in the 1992 Olympics.
The Indians, in their minds, were every bit as deserving, their fans every bit as long-suffering, but it didn’t matter. To the world, they might as well have been the Washington Generals, trying to beat the beloved Harlem Globetrotters. They weren’t there to compete with the Cubs. They were there to lose to the Cubs. A win by the Indians would have ruined the narrative.
For most of my lifetime the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs were the most notorious “losers” in baseball, with championship droughts that lasted for several decades. The Red Sox, unlike the Cubs post-WWII, were often close, but they couldn’t win a game seven to save their life. 1946, 1967, 1975, 1986, and 2003 were reenactments of every western movie template, and the Red Sox were always Black Bart’s gang and never the good guys. They would inevitably get shot dead at the end by a sheriff who rode off with the town hooker, who turned out to be a long-lost relative of the Queen of England.
The Cubs, on the other hand, were more like Lupus. They were the fat kid wandering around in deep, deep, DEEP right field, wearing a football helmet and digging up worms, oblivious to the madding race going on around him. Occasionally the rest of the guys would bring him up to the plate to get a hit, but he would strike out or, if by happenstance the ball hit his bat, he would run down the third base line or back into the dugout.
Red Sox fans were the angst-ridden losers of Shakespearean lore. The Cubs were the bad news bears, but in a never-ending loop of the first half-hour of the movie. Matthau died, Wrigley got lights, Tatum O’Neal traded her glove for a crack pipe, and the Cubbies kept digging up worms. Until, finally, they hired a real general manager who washed the kid’s hair, wiped away the boogers, and showed him the way to first base.
The Cleveland Indians, much like their flesh-and-blood models, spent October fighting against seemingly insurmountable opposition, but ultimately got lost in the shuffle of the sexier national story. I root for both entities to triumph in the end. The world worships Shakespearean tragedy, and they root for the retarded kid to get a hit, but nobody roots for the Washington Generals.
In hindsight, though, a win by the Cubbies was the release of over a hundred years of tension. As sweet as that release was, we are going to miss the tension, the angst. Loveable losers no longer, if the Cubbies meet the Indians next year, who will be the Globe Trotters then? Well, still the Cubbies, but the national sportswriters might learn how to spell Kluber’s name right and be able to tell the difference between Chad Allen and Bryan Shaw.