Many of you have already posted your thoughts and feelings about what the playoffs, which begin today, mean to you. And maybe you were wondering how I feel about all of this.
Or not. But I'm going to share how I'm feeling as the 2008 postseason begins today, first, by looking back.
I was 12 years old in 1969 and those Cubs, for five months, looked as good as this year's team. We all know about the failures on the field and so I don't have to repeat those here. But what it did to me as a fan was crushing. I still remember, every day during the collapse, thinking, "This'll be the game that will stop this, turn it around." It never happened. I even listened to the final blow, the Mets' clinching of the NL East against the Cardinals, on KMOX from St. Louis, which you could easily hear in Chicago at night. Irony of ironies, it was future Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray who I can remember saying, "I raise a toast to the new champs -- the New York Mets", and dying a little inside.
And every year until the great teams of my childhood, featuring Ron and Billy and Fergie and Ernie and others, were broken up after 1973, each summer, I hoped against hope that that would be the year. It never happened, not even in '73, their last hurrah, when they blew a late-June 8.5 game lead.
The 1977 Cubs came out of nowhere and led by that same 8.5 game margin in late June, and I kept thinking, as a song by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes released that year said, "This time it's for real!" It wasn't. You all know about that team, which wasn't as good as its 47-22 record in midseason.
By 1984, when the Cubs again came out of nowhere (following yet another dreary 90-loss year in '83) to win the NL East, I sat in the bleachers on warm early October days reveling in the two wins there, knowing, just knowing, that they could easily win one, just one, game in San Diego. I went with a friend of mine from Los Angeles; the drive back to LA after game five was the longest two hours I'd ever spent. It was made worse by the treatment we got from the San Diego people, among the worst displays I've ever seen toward visiting fans. A friend of mine had nails thrown at him. They almost seemed happier that we lost than that they won.
The same thing happened in 1989 and 1998 -- teams that almost didn't belong in the playoffs, and they seemed to know that and played that way. The '89 defeat wasn't as crushing feeling as '84, because although the Cubs had the best record in the NL, they weren't the best team (unlike '84, which surely was the best NL squad). The fans in San Francisco were welcoming; Don Zimmer got outmananged and the Cubs stopped hitting, and though it hurt, the hurt wasn't as deep. Neither was it in '98 -- we had the marvelous HR race (perhaps now tainted) and wild card race, in which for the final 45 days of the season no more than one game separated the top two teams. I told Dave after the Cubs beat the Giants in the wild card tiebreaker, the first winner-take-all game at Wrigley Field since 1945, "If they don't win another game, it was all worth it." Well, they didn't win another game -- outclassed and swept by a far superior Braves team -- but it had been, for what it was, worth it.
2003, which most of you experienced firsthand (and some of you read about my personal experiences at my old blog; check out the archives to read what I wrote about it at the time) was different. That Cub team wasn't the best team in the league, but they got hot starting at the beginning of September -- they went 19-8 in September, so far different from the September collapses of my youth -- and the soul-crushing defeat in NLCS Game Six still sears my memory. One of the random things I remember as I left the ballpark that night was someone on the street offering his tickets to game seven for sale. I thought, "Why would you do that?" The next night, we found out.
It has been a long journey back to this point, this day, this feeling we all have that the 2008 Cubs are special, are different, are the ones that will take away the hurt, the pain, the empty spot in our souls that can be filled only by the ultimate triumph. Last year was just -- well, it feels now, with a year's perspective, like a warmup. Last year's team roared through September again, only to stop hitting once the calendar turned. The 2007 Division Series almost seemed as if it didn't even happen, a footnote in Cubs history.
This year has felt like an awakening. We have seen our team win an historic number of games at Wrigley Field, total the most wins since World War II ended, seen a Cub no-hitter for the first time in decades, seen performances beyond any that most of us alive today have ever witnessed. It feels wonderful.
It will not be completely fulfilled until a World Series is won. I don't think it boasting to say that the 2008 Cubs should be at the very least, favored to get there, if not win everything. Do I know how I'll feel when it happens? Not for certain.
But damn, I want to find out. We've had enough of losing, enough of reciting and hearing about the miserable history of our team, the team we live and die with every day, and yes, I'm not afraid to tell you that seeing a Cubs World Series victory will indeed fill a hole in my life. Yours too, I bet. Go Cubs.