As the Chicago Cubs entered the playoffs last year, I put my fandom on hold and went to New York City for the New Yorker Festival. It takes place in the first week of October, when Cubs fans are generally free to make other plans, but the 2007 Cubs surprised the baseball world by winning their division.
I had a great time at the 2007 Festival, but the baseball gods punished me for leaving town when it mattered the most. The Cubs were swept out of the first round by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
This year, same deal: I returned to New York for the Festival as the Cubs were again swept, this time by the Los Angeles Dodgers. You know, the same Dodgers who were five games under .500 on the morning of August 30? Those ones. Swept the 97-game-winning, no-hitter-throwing Cubs.
Adding insult to injury, the Chicago White Sox also got steamrolled by the admittedly superior Tampa Bay Rays, winning just one game as Tampa cruised. What do I have to do, skip next year's Festival so we can get back to a League Championship Series?
Unlike many Cubs fans, I like the White Sox just fine. I worked at both ballparks for eight years and see no reason not to enjoy the fact that ours is one of just four metropolitan areas in the nation (Chi, LA, NY, SF-Oak; OK, five if you count Wash DC-Balt) to have two baseball teams.
I subscribe to the Jerry Reinsdorf view: we're all Bears and Bulls fans here and there's no reason we can't pull for Chicago on the baseball field. Save your hate for the Cardinals, Twins, increasingly the Brewers, etc. As Reinsdorf says, he grew up a Brooklyn Dodgers fan but didn't root against the New York Giants, or even the Yankees unless they faced the Dodgers in the World Series.
In any event, Chicago's now back where we usually are, watching other cities contend for postseason glory. Quite a comedown from a week ago when the city was talking excitedly about a Cubs-Sox battle royal, or "Red Line Series" if you're trying to sell newspapers.
It reminds me of 2003, when the Cubs and the then-still-yearning Boston Red Sox both made it to their respective League Championship Series. As the Cubs took a 3-1 series lead against the Florida Marlins and Boston kept battling the Yankees late into the night in a seven-game classic, it looked for a few days as if one and maybe both of baseball's two most fabled losers would make the World Series. If that happened then one of them, at least in theory, would have to win. It would have been baseball nirvana and a possible sign of the apocalypse.
As you may remember, a funny thing happened on the way to the quorum and neither team got the job done. The Series was a relatively vanilla set-to between the upstart Marlins and the (yawn) New York Yankees. At least a young Florida hurler named Josh Beckett did a solid for his future employers by pitching the lights out and denying the Yankees their 27th World Series title.
This year's White Sox barely squeaked into the postseason but it was a rude awakening for the Cubs, the best team in the National League during the regular season, to be bounced from the playoffs so early and so decisively.
Why'd they get swept? Forget curses. As manager Lou Piniella bemoaned, they scored just 12 runs total in their six playoff games under his watch. That's not enough, especially when your pitchers serve up home run balls like Jeeves the butler and your defense falls apart (in one of this year's playoff games, which I mercifully had to miss, every Cubs infielder committed an error).
The 2008 North Siders had a magical ride an even 100 years after their previous championship and looked more like a team of destiny than any Cubs team I can remember. Their bumbling performance against L.A. in a short series doesn't mean they didn't accomplish a great deal this year, restoring hope and excitement much like another Chicagoan you may have heard about lately. The Cubs remain loaded and with a little luck they should contend for the next few years.
Can someone please call Si Newhouse, or at least David Remnick, and get this Festival deal moved to November?
p.s. No, I don't really think my travel plans had anything to do with these outcomes, but something's gotta fill all this white space, so for the sake of an angle I'll extend the vanity that named this blog after myself and take the rap for the results of ten baseball games I had nothing to do with.
What the heck, I'll also apologize for the high price of gasoline, the Wall Street meltdown and global warming, but I'm not taking the blame for Sarah Palin. You have to draw the line somewhere.