Monday, August 22, 2016

What does Cubs ‘Magic Number’ mean for those fans who could care less?

We’re at that point of the baseball season where teams that have played somewhat respectfully start thinking seriously about the chance that this year could be THE YEAR for their favorite ballclub.
Sox fans have had to fantasize about the past
A league championship! Perhaps even a World Series title. There are at least a dozen of the 30 major league ball clubs who are acting these days as though this is THE YEAR.

INCLUDED AMONGST THOSE dreamers are the perpetual fantasizers who follow the Chicago Cubs. Even though it has been 71 seasons since the National League championship banner last flew over the Lake View neighborhood (and 108 years since “Cubs” and “World Series champions” were tied together), we’re getting the talk.

Particularly in the form of the “magic number,” which is the number of Cubs wins and second place team losses needed for the Cubs to prevail with a first place finish for the 2016 season.

As of Sunday, that number was “28.” Which means they’re not on the verge of clinching anything in the next few days. But it is close enough that 2016 could wind up being just like 1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, 2007, 2008 and 2015.

Years in which there was a Cubs playoff appearance but someone else won the rights to call themselves the championship team for the year.

SO IS 2016 destined to be THE YEAR for the Wrigley Field denizens. Or just another season in which they fall short?

Personally, I don’t really care. And I’m not alone.
That early season start seems like a century ago
For the reality of Chicago is that the character of our city’s baseball feelings is that they’re split between two ball clubs. There are those of us, myself included, who are going to feel apathy toward whatever the Cubs do.

In my case, it’s largely because I’m a fan of the American League and its ball clubs. Even if by chance the Cubs do win their first National League championship since 1945 and the rights to play the AL champion in the World Series, I’ll likely be rooting for the latter.

FOR THOSE PEOPLE who somehow think that’s disrespectful to Chicago or somehow petty, I’d say it’s only natural. I suspect it is the way many Cubs fans went about regarding the 2005 season when the Chicago White Sox managed to win their first American League championship in 46 seasons, then went on to perform many historic moments in beating the Houston Astros in the World Series that year.

There was that segment of Chicago that got all worked up and held that victory parade that stretched from U.S. Cellular Field through the South Side and into downtown. There also were other people who felt a big “ho hum” towards the event.

Which, if the Cubs do manage to accomplish something in 2016 (personally, I’m skeptical they will), is a sentiment that we will see repeated. Some of us will care. Others of us will already have moved on either to the Chicago Bears or to the 2017 season.

It’s just the character of Chicago – no matter how insufferable some Cubs fans get in believing that everybody on Planet Earth somehow cares what their favorite ballclub does.

IN FACT, I’LL be honest. There is a part of me that wouldn’t mind if the Cubs were able in 2016 to share in the feeling of what it is like to have a ball club that does something worthy of note.
The White Sox are 2-1 this season with me sitting in the stands. All photographs by Gregory Tejeda
Because I personally think the “lovable loser” mentality reflects badly upon Chicago as a whole. And while I’ll admit all of our city’s professional sports teams have had their eras of suckiness, it is largely the lengthy stretches of the Cubs that implants that image in the public’s head.

If the Cubs really do win something this year, we can finally move on and quit thinking there is something so special about a ball club that can never win a thing. Then we can get on to the ultimate argument-provoking debate for Chicago sports fans – who’d win a fantasy championship series between the ’05 White Sox (best in the American League that season) and ’16 Cubs?

Of course, anybody with sense could see Mark Buehrle pitching a complete-game shutout and catcher A.J. Pierzynski using his baseball “smarts” to pull off such a fantasy victory for the Sox.


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