November 2, 2016. Where were you at 11:47 p.m. Central time, when this happened?
All right, so it was actually November 3 in Cleveland, 12:47 a.m. Eastern time, when Kris Bryant’s throw nestled into Anthony Rizzo’s glove and the Cubs ended the longest championship drought in the history of American professional sports.
But November 2 is what it says on the boxscore and so here we are, one year later, looking for the next Cubs World Series championship. While we’re reminiscing about what happened one year ago today, let’s take stock of where the Cubs franchise is at this point in history.
It’s interesting to note, a year after that triumph, our reaction to being bounced out of the National League Championship Series this October, compared to how we felt two years ago. In 2015, which felt like something of a gift of a season. I don’t think anyone here was too upset about losing to the Mets, who simply shut down the Cubs offense with airtight pitching and scored a bunch of runs mainly thanks to Daniel Murphy.
This is likely because it seemed as if the Cubs were set for several postseason runs to come, that 2015 would be the first of many, and of course the ultimate such run came last year.
Now? After a similar dismantling in the NLCS in 2017, what happens? Recriminations and wholesale changes in the coaching staff.
Obviously, expectations now are higher than at any point in Cubs history. It’s now not good enough just to get to the NLCS, even though it was clear that the 2017 Cubs were flawed in many areas and the 2017 Dodgers were a buzzsaw. It happens, even to teams that were better than this year’s Cubs. Just ask this year’s Indians what it meant to win 102 games and have the best regular-season record in the American League. They all watched the World Series at home with the rest of us.
What we do expect is smart decisions to be made, and I think Theo & Co. have already made some in the recent changes to the coaching staff. This stands in contrast to what William Wrigley did to this franchise after 1930, when they didn’t repeat the 1929 N.L. pennant, winning eight fewer games and finishing two games out of first place. Wrigley fired manager Joe McCarthy, thinking he wasn’t a “winner.” That was one of the worst decisions in the history of the franchise, as McCarthy went on to win eight pennants and seven World Series with the Yankees. Now, clearly a lot of that was Yankee talent, but the Cubs of the 1930s were talented too. We’ll never know what they might have done with McCarthy in charge. We’re lucky to have Joe Maddon now — he’s the best Cubs manager since McCarthy.
This management team is smart enough to know that repeating as winners is hard, really hard, and they appear to have a clear idea of what to do to get back there. Nine teams played in the World Series at least once between 2011 and 2016: Giants, Rangers, Cardinals, Tigers, Red Sox, Royals, Mets, Cubs and Indians. Of those teams, just three made the postseason in 2017 and five — Rangers, Tigers, Giants, Red Sox and Mets —have had 90-loss seasons since their World Series appearances.
It is, then, hard to sustain success but I believe the Cubs will get back to the World Series at least once more over the next few seasons; further, I believe they will win at least one more time with the current core of players. While that’s not guaranteed, I have a strong feeling this front office and field management understands well how to accomplish this goal and will do so.
In the meantime, 2016 will eternally be special in the hearts and minds of every Cubs fan. Not one of us here had experienced what it felt to be the champion of all of baseball prior to one year ago today. Now we all share in that joy. No matter how many championships the Cubs win in my lifetime, the feeling of November 2, 2016 will remain with me forever. It can't be duplicated. Repeated? Sure. But that first time will always remain the most special.
As I wrote in that exhilarating early morning of November 3, 2016: Let’s do it again next year!