If you have spent the past few days wondering why the internet is flooded with videos of crying octogenarian Midwesterners, let me enlighten you: the Cubs won the World Series on Wednesday. Apparently, it had been kind of a long time.
If you have been a serious sports fan for long enough, you have experienced your team going through tough times. Sports fans are well accustomed to heartbreak and disappointment—only one team can win the final game of the season. Lots of franchises have suffered through championship droughts that felt like they could last forever, but the unique agony of the Cubs went well beyond that—it became fact. The sky is blue, three strikes is an out, and the Cubbies will never win it all. Death, taxes, and the “Billy Goat Curse”.
Over the course of a century, humans came up with airplanes, television, microwaves, satellites and the atom bomb, but no one could figure out a way to end the curse of the Cubs. As baseball fans we grew up with that knowledge, we knew it ever since we knew the difference between fair and foul, and it seemed that it would never change…
And then Ben Zobrist slapped a wormburner double up the third base line, Chicago threw the biggest party in American history, and we all had to re-calibrate our collective reality. The Cubs are champions. The world has changed completely.
To a non sports fan, this all probably seems insane—if you are an adult doing trust falls off of a street sign into a crowd of drunk revelers (one of the many mad moments in Wrigleyville on Wednesday night) because a group of strangers won a meaningless game, you have obviously strayed outside the parameters of rationality. But that line of thinking misses the whole stupid, glorious point—in sports, unlike the real world, things never get so bad that a happy ending is out of the question. The longer the wait, the sweeter the payoff. Nowhere else in life can you get that guarantee.
After a century of humiliation and heartbreak, Bartman effigies and goat sacrifices, Chicago fans can finally feel vindicated in their belief that it would all be worth it. Can you blame them for going insane? They were experiencing an idealized inner fantasy in real time, and they couldn’t have scripted it better themselves.
We may have just watched the greatest Game 7 in the history of baseball. It was a night of big-name pitchers dueling big-name hitters in long, tense plate battles. We witnessed the first lead-off homer in Game 7 history. We saw the base running magic of Kris Bryant (seriously, how in the world did he score on that sac fly?!) and a feel-good home run by David Ross in the final game of his career. We saw two seemingly unhittable pitchers—Corey Kluber and Aroldis Chapman—prove stunningly mortal at the worst possible time. We bit our nails through Cleveland’s stunning eighth-inning comeback and Chicago’s astonishing rebuttal in the tenth. And of course, let’s not forget how unlikely it seemed that the Cubs would even get a Game 7.
After the Indians trounced Chicago in Game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead, fans on the North Side were already grinding their teeth and bracing for another miserable, bitter offseason. And even after pulling off back-to-back wins, the Cubs still faced a winner-take-all road game against the Four Horsemen of Cleveland’s pitching apocalypse. They scratched and clawed their way to a comfortable lead only to see Rajai Davis smash it to kindling in the eighth. As the game headed to extra innings, the storm clouds gathering over Progressive Field must have seemed disturbingly symbolic to the millions of Cubs fans watching on TV with bated breath. It was that close to being another sickeningly familiar sob story, a new punch line tacked onto a cruel running joke as un-killable as Fidel Castro.
But the storm blew over, and the Cubs stood their ground. When Ben Zobrist drove in Albert Almora Jr. to take the lead in the tenth inning, the camera cut to Anthony Rizzo standing at first base screaming “OH MY GOD!!” with his hands pressed against the sides of his batting helmet and a look in his eyes like he couldn’t quite process what he was experiencing. I laughed when I saw that, because it’s exactly what I was doing at that moment—and I would bet that Rizzo and I were not the only ones. We were witnessing the unthinkable as it happened.
I said earlier that Chicago threw the biggest party in American history. That was not an exaggeration. The five million people who turned out for the Cubs’ victory parade on Friday was the largest human gathering in American history, and sixth largest in the history of the world. Say what you will about professional sports, but they bring people together in a way that nothing else can—name a politician, musical artist, or public event of any kind that could draw that kind of audience. A team wins the World Series at the end of every season, but very few championships carry the kind of emotional weight that this one does.
Chicago suffered through the mother of all curses, the magnum opus of sports suffering. With all due respect to the Indians (and the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Toronto Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Clippers, and every other team to whom misery is the norm and a trophy is an impossible dream), there will never be another moment of collective catharsis like the one that took place on Addison St. this week.
There is, of course, another side to this story. While Chicago’s dreams came true, the Indians hung their heads and added another tally mark to their own rich history of disappointments. While the Cubs sprayed champagne all over the locker room, the Tribe watched from the outside looking in, knowing just how close they came to tasting it themselves. The Indians will have their own moment eventually, and it could be soon; remember, they tore through the competition this year despite injuries to Michael Brantley, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. They will be back next year, with a streak breaking mission of their own. For now, though, they will just have to resign themselves to being a footnote in another team’s story. They have to watch the insanity unfolding in Chicago and tell themselves that it will happen for them too, one of these days.
The Cubs got their fairytale ending, and in the process they reminded sports fan everywhere of why all the vicarious frustration and pain is worth suffering through. Because in sports, unlike almost anything else, there is always next season and there is always another chance at getting the ending right.