The Cubs fan's psyche consists of two things: hope and scar tissue.
Hope, because really, what else have we had for the last seven decades? Seventy years have passed since the Cubs even played in a World Series, meaning the youngest living humans who have any concrete memory of it are likely in their mid-80s or even older. (My dad, who is now nearly 94, has told me many times that he was serving on a Navy ship in the Pacific, listening via radio to that World Series, just months after World War II ended.) Seventy years, and the last living soul who played for the Cubs in the Fall Classic, the wonderful Lennie Merullo, passed away last May. Seventy years, and the greatest Cub of all, the man lovingly dubbed Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, passed away last January, just before he could have seen this incredible Cubs season. Oh, how he and his longtime teammate Ron Santo would have loved everything we've witnessed in the glorious spring, summer and early fall of 2015.
Scar tissue, because six trips by the Cubs to meaningful October baseball since divisional play began all wound up just tantalizing us, dangling the ultimate trophy just out of our grasp. Those seasons ended either with such abrupt severity that we barely knew what hit us, or with defeats so soul-crushing that it's amazing that any of us who lived them are still here, rooting for this team that's disappointed us so often. Love for this team runs deep, as you surely know.
And now, quite unexpectedly, we stand two days from the beginning of a postseason that we again, yes, hope, will lead us to the championship that has eluded us time and time again. This has gone on for so long that my grandfather was not quite 18 years old and still living in England when this team last hoisted a World Series Champions banner. No doubt most of you have similar stories of your own family members, perhaps as devout Cubs fans as you are yourself, men and women who lived and died without ever seeing their fervor for the Cubs ending in watching their team celebrate on an October field, the last team standing.
I'd like to clear the air right now about some things I've written since Theo Epstein and his team of baseball executives took over this ballclub nearly four years ago. My frustration at seeing the first years of this regime result in some of the worst major-league seasons in franchise history led me to criticize when that criticism certainly wasn't warranted. Of course I saw what they were building; I hoped it would result in success. I had no inkling it would result in this much success, this soon. (And neither did you -- what's going on right now is happening likely a year ahead of their original schedule.) There are many reasons that's happened, from good drafting to shrewd trading to the sheer luck of having Joe Maddon dropped in their laps a year ago.
Three years' worth of disgruntled complaints turned into a season of pure joy. Many of us thought the Cubs would do well this year, perhaps surprise into a playoff spot. I wrote those very words in March in this season preview:
Who knows? Maybe 2015 will be the year the Cubs surprise us and all of baseball.
What an understatement. "Surprise" doesn't begin to describe the winning streaks, the phenomenal rookie year of Kris Bryant, the arrivals perhaps a bit ahead of schedule of Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell as solid, contributing regulars, and the [insert superlative here] year of Jake Arrieta, who did things not done since the Deadball Era. ("Insert superlative here" is intentional there, not a placeholder I forgot to fill. I'd almost have to invent a whole list of brand-new superlative words to describe Jake's season.)
So: I hope that all of you can understand my unhappiness with the big-league Cubs from 2012 to 2014 that occasionally boiled over into an outburst here. I offer my hearfelt apologies to you, and to Theo, and to Theo & Co. I say: Thank you. Sincerely, and with gratitude for putting this year's team together the way you did. Your plan was right on target.
Now, if you, the BCB reader, are waiting for me to say those two little words that have become a site meme here -- not yet. Win the World Series and then...
And why not? Why can't this 97-win team, tied for the most regular-season Cubs triumphs since 1945, win it all? Sure, they have flaws, from the occasional maddening inability to drive in runners from scoring position to bullpen meltdowns when you least expect them to sometimes-shaky starting pitching beyond Arrieta and Jon Lester. But every single one of the postseason teams has a weakness or two, even as they stand prepared for the October tournament that commences Tuesday.
It is almost impossible to quantify the contributions of Joe Maddon to the success of this team. Can you calculate a managerial WAR? Probably not, but Maddon's record of success with very small financial resources in Tampa Bay is well known and beyond reproach, and I think he is the one man who can help this team get past all the inevitable off-the-field nonsense the lazy national media will heap on the Cubs over the next few weeks.
Maddon is the best Cubs manager since at least Joe McCarthy, who the Cubs foolishly dumped late in 1930 because he somehow couldn't will his team to repeat its 1929 N.L.title. McCarthy only went on to win eight pennants and seven World Series with the Yankees. If Maddon can lead help lead us to even half of that, we'll be over the moon and they'll be building statues to Theo and Joe outside Wrigley Field, and the players will be remembered forever. That's one of the best things about this year's Cubs: they are incredibly likeable! Every player on this roster has contributed to wins this year, from stars Jake Arrieta and Anthony Rizzo to role players Jonathan Herrera and Chris Denorfia. Every single one of them has made wonderful memories for all of us to cherish.
Even if this magical season doesn't end in a World Series title, 2015 will have been an unqualified success. This is only the beginning for players like Bryant, Schwarber and Russell, and others will be arriving soon. This Cubs team should be a contender for many years to come. Thank you again, Theo & Co.
But now that we're here, why not win the whole darn thing? In just four weeks' time, we could very well see the 2015 Cubs, our team, the one wearing the blue pinstripes we've all loved since we were kids, be that last team standing. If you're not about to crawl out of your skin with anticipation and excitement and yes, hope, for a long playoff run, you're not doing it right.
Let's win this thing. It is way past time. Go Cubs.